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This just in: a night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Wed., Feb. 13)

Bennett Cunningham, Richard Ray, Steve Stoler and Scott Friedman

Worthwhile enterprise reporting should be applauded when witnessed. And D-FW's major late night news providers all had a little somethin', somethin' Wednesday.

CBS11 investigator Bennett Cunningham found ample red meat in his latest expose on junketeering public officials. Even if some instead "feasted on lobster" instead of steak while many taxpayers ate gruel.

"Here's a riddle for you," he said for starters. "How many county officials does it take to tour a courthouse?"

More than a dozen, Cunningham answered, referring to a group of Collin County judges, clerks, commissioners and administrative staffers that spent three days in Orlando and Tampa. They supposedly needed that time to check out those cities' electronic court systems. Collin County is preparing to spend $20 million on one.

The Florida excursion cost $20,000, and a subsequent "technology tour" in Las Vegas weighed in at $10 grand. Using public records, Cunningham detailed the spending of taxpayer money on luxury cars, opulent meals, plush hotel rooms, etc. And he had a quotable naysayer in Michael Q. Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.

"They do these things with the presumption that nobody's going to find out," Sullivan said.

"But we did," added Cunningham, who also talked on-camera to the judge who heads the Collin County Commissioners Court. He defended the trips and also confirmed that, unlike all other North Texas counties, Collin has no caps on travel expenditures.

Cunningham has toned down his presentations to the point where they're much more effective and convincing. Investigations of high-living public officials may be typical sweeps period fodder. But they still resonate when you've got the goods.

"They are purporting to benefit the taxpayer, and it's nothing more than an additional paid vacation," said Sullivan. You could feel viewers nodding in unison and saying, "He's got that right."

Over on NBC5, reporter Scott Friedman got an almost shockingly long time -- more than three-and-half-minutes -- to personalize the thousands of layoffs that resulted from North Texas-based American Airlines' merger with TWA.

The standard reporter-driven story on fast-moving NBC5 is supposed to clock in at 90 seconds or less. Friedman not only doubled that, but was allowed to travel to Kansas City. Holy steak and lobster, which Friedman probably had to pass up. He did a solid job on the story, interviewing several former AA employees scrapping to make ends meet. Two of them finally are being hired back, Friedman noted at story's end. And he made it feel good to hear that.

WFAA8's Steve Stoler likewise had an interesting story on what seemed to be totalitarian Home Owners Association restrictions in a Frisco neighborhood. A couple that bought a colorful playhouse for their children had still pictures of it being lifted from their yard by a crane. A Vietnamese man who painted his fence an unobtrusive light green also has been ordered to re-color it in the mandated earth tones.

"That's just like a Communist country," he said, referring to the country he'd fled for that reason.

Stoler noted that state law allows Home Owners Associations to be forced on owners without their consent. These particular owners seem to have every reason to protest such big-footing.

Moving on to Fox4, veteran Richard Ray revisited the alleged UFO sightings in Stephenville without making an idiot of himself. Much explaining still needs to be done, he said. And Ray made that case in restrained and convincing fashion before noting that The History Channel hopes to capitalize by bringing its UFO Hunters series to the community.

"This story's not going away," he told anchor Heather Hays. "It's really got legs." Maybe even little green ones.

Fox4's Steve Eagar and WFAA8's Cynthia Izaguirre

And In Other News . . .
Fox4 sports anchor Mike Doocy returned to the living on Wednesday's 9 p.m. newscast after being dealt out of the previous two nights' shows. It was a big sports day, though, with both the Dallas Mavericks' attempted trade for Jason Kidd and the steroids standoff in Washington between pitcher Roger Clemens and former trainer Brian McNamee.

"News time gets tight with expanded special reports during sweeps," Doocy said in an email Thursday to unclebarky.com. "We in sports quite often pay the price. It can be frustrating to a hard-working sports department, but I'm afraid it's an industry-wide trend. We'll try to do the best with the time we have."

***Contrastingly, WFAA8 sports anchor Dale Hansen got additional time Wednesday night, at the expense of Pete Delkus' weathercast and attendant happy-talk.

"No time for chit-chat tonight. Hansen's got good stuff, I'm told," Delkus good-humoredly told news anchor John McCaa. After his abbreviated forecast, he jabbed, "That fast enough for ya tonight, big fella?"

"Actually, I kind of like it when you don't talk to me," Hansen retorted. "I could learn to love this."

Hansen got the extra time to go "Unplugged" on the day's steroids testimony before Congress. Athletes indeed are role models for kids,, he said, noting that he imitated Arnold Palmer as lil' Dale by smoking while playing golf.

He even got around to quoting Helen Keller, who once said, "I cannot do everything. But I must do something."

That's basically how he feels about the steroids scandal. And also about lying as a way of life among many athletes, coaches and owners.

"The lying in professional sports drives me nuts," Hansen proclaimed. "I never lie in my professional life. I lie about everything else a lot."

***WFAA8 continues to promote its Daybreak program both during the newscast and in commercial breaks. NBC5 is doing likewise of late in hopes of gaining ground in that key early morning race, which finds WFAA8 holding a narrow lead over defending champ Good Day on Fox 4.

The ABC station understandably is showcasing Daybreak newcomer Cynthia Izaguirre in its promotional spots. She does all the talking while a silent male anchor partner fleetingly is shown grinning in profile. WFAA8 management insists this is lame duck Justin Farmer, who recently informed the station he'll be leaving for a news job at WSB-TV in Atlanta. But his contract doesn't expire until July, so he's still on board in the mornings.

I've looked at this promo a number of times. And that sure doesn't look like Farmer laughing it up with Izaguirre. In fact it looks more like Mr. Generic Actor Anchorman. But whether I'm right or wrong, the point is being made. He's now a mute non-person in WFAA8's grand scheme of things.

***Finally, Fox4 anchor Steve Eagar continues to have a nice skip in his lip. During Wednesday night's "News Edge" segment, he noted that a Princeton University study has determined that biofuels in fact have twice as many green gas emissions as fossil fuels.

"That's what you get when you rely on polls instead of evidence," he said.

Eagar was just warming up. In the closing "Viewers' Voice" feature, an aggrieved area jeweler bitched about consumer reporter Steve Noviello's Tuesday night trumpeting of an on-line jeweler with cheaper prices.

"I will never advertise on your station again," said the man, who claimed to have spent "tens of thousands" previously. But Eagar said he checked with Fox4's sales department, and learned that the jeweler bought just one ad two years ago and hasn't returned since.

"Of course, thank you for that," Eagar sniped. "But if you had never advertised or did so every day for tens of thousands of dollars, the news isn't for sale."

Well, that would make for a very interesting test case. Anyone want to pony up?