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Shipp takes heat, rival stations pretend otherwise

Investigator credits DISD Supt. Michael Hinojosa with doing the right thing in making South Oak Cliff forfeit 2006 basketball title.

Newspapers and Web sites of any worth routinely credit rivals for breaking big news stories.

Not so in TV Land, where acknowledging a competitor is rarer than a newscast without a crime story. And so it went with Wednesday's coverage of the DISD's announcement that South Oak Cliff High School must forfeit its 2006 state basketball championship because of grade-fixing.

It made big news throughout the state, leaving Fox4, NBC5 and CBS11 with little choice but to report it. But none of the stations came anywhere near noting the fact that Belo8 reporter Brett Shipp's dogged investigation was solely responsible for the DISD's decision. Nor could they muster the gumption to at least tell viewers that "a Dallas television station investigation" prompted Wednesday's sobering words from DISD superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

Fox4's generally solid Shaun Rabb instead made it seem as if his station was breaking at least part of the story.

On Wednesday's 9 p.m. newscast he told viewers, "The grade change (was) made for one student at the campus level, sources tell us, by a principal and a teacher who are no longer at the school."

Sources tell us? Shipp had that information months ago.

In Chicago Thursday working on another story, Shipp said by telephone that he didn't expect anything more from his rivals.

"I have too many friends at 4, 5 and 11 to blister my ass over who credits me," he said. "It's not important. What's important is that the school district finally acknowledged that that school and that principal had issues."

Principally at issue was a bogus passing grade in an English course for star South Oak Cliff player Kendrake Johnigan, who's now playing hoops for Eastfield College in Mesquite. Shipp said that Belo8 had most of the specific damning information a year and a half ago, but "we thought we would give the DISD the opportunity to do the right thing."

Instead, his initial stories on alleged sexual misconduct and grade-changing at South Oak Cliff were ignored by the district, he says. "They refused to go in there and clean it up."

So the station decided to "pull out the heavy artillery" and revisit the South Oak Cliff situation with reports that began on Nov. 20th of last year.

"I'm just glad that DISD gives a damn," Shipp said Thursday. "Before I didn't have a reason to believe that they did."

Investigations such as this can put a reporter in the cross-hairs, too.

"Yeah, I got bombarded with hate mail," Shipp said. "The heat got pretty tight. But you know, I live with that every day. Every story I do, it never ceases to amaze me the people I piss off."

Representatives of the Boy Scouts of America "wanted to string me up" after an earlier investigation, he said. And his probes into the finances of North Texas televangelist Kenneth Copeland, now being investigated by Congress, generated "hate mail everyday from the best Christians in the world. Nobody hates more than a good Christian, and it is relentless. But it doesn't faze me. That's what the 'delete' button is for on the computer. I just keep going."

Shipp credits Belo8 news management with having his back when the blowback gets hot.

"I'm so excited that I work at a place that allows me to do real journalism," he said.

Belo8 news director Mike Valentine said that the DISD's decision Wednesday "shows our investigation was right on the mark. These types of stories define who we are and continue to be a staple of our overall news philosophy."