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Books by Jim Lehrer: it's now quite a stack

Paging Jim Lehrer. He's got another novel in hand. Photos: Ed Bark

Many people are seldom at a loss for words. Few can put them on the paper with the ease of Jim Lehrer.

"I can't even imagine what writer's block is," says the 73-year-old proprietor of PBS' longrunning The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. "It's just from so many years of having to deliver and just doing it automatically. I kind of think with my fingers as much as I do with my head . . . I always have one or two books going at a time."

As proof he's in Dallas on Halloween touting his 17th novel, Eureka. It's the humorous/poignant story of a 59-year-old Kansas insurance company CEO who impulsively buys an antique cast iron toy fire truck for the marked up price of $12,350. He then further reverts to childhood lusts with purchases of a Kansas City Chiefs football helmet, a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun and his ultimate means of escape, a 1952 Cushman Pacemaker motor scooter.

At 228 pages, it's another breeze of a read from a native Kansan who cut his journalism teeth in Dallas at The Dallas Times-Herald, The Dallas Morning News and KERA-TV's groundbreaking Newsroom program. He wrote his first novel, 1966's Viva Max!, while in Dallas, and his second, We Were Dreamers, nine years later during the formative years of his national PBS partnership with Robert MacNeil.

Since 1989, his fictional works have hit bookstores at the rate of nearly one a year. Another one, a World War II novel titled Oh Johnny, is already in its final editing stages for longtime publisher Random House. Otherwise he's been soloing on NewsHour since MacNeil retired from television in 1995.

"I need deadlines, and I make deadlines," Lehrer says. "I never miss a deadline. For me it's translated beautifully into my fiction writing."

Ideas come easily to him, although they sometimes marinate while Lehrer takes other brainstorms to the bank. Eureka begins with its protagonist, Otis Halstead, making his out-the-blue buy of the miniature fire truck at a hotel antique show. In real life, Lehrer is a noted bus memorabilia collector who found his latest cast iron treasure, "an old Pickwick night coach," at a Washington antique show.

"As a favor to a friend of my wife, we went to the damn thing. It was at a big hotel ballroom," Lehrer recalls. "The bus cost several hundred dollars. And that was the impetus for the book."

He's still first and foremost a news gatherer, though, and has straight-ahead opinions on a number of topics. For one, he doesn't mind the ongoing, seemingly endless series of candidate-crowded presidential debates.

"I don't give a damn if somebody gets up and asks, 'What's your favorite color?' " Lehrer says. "You at least see their body language, see them reacting to each other. Yes, the audiences aren't that big, but there are excerpts that are used all around the news world. So I think they're terrific."

Still, he doesn't want to pad his record of moderating far more of them than anyone else once the parties finally anoint their nominees.

"I don't want to do any more debates," Lehrer says unequivocally. "I've done my duty for my country. I've done 10 of these things, and they're scorching to the soul. So I'd just as soon not do any more."

Halloween also happens to be former CBS News mainstay Dan Rather's 76th birthday. His recent $70 million lawsuit against CBS, in which Rather claims to have been made a "scapegoat" in the now infamous "Memogate" scandal, has Lehrer more than a little perplexed.

"It doesn't make sense to me. It's a mystery," he says. "I don't know him that well to even speculate (on his motives), but it stunned me."

Lehrer says that Rather might have saved his CBS Evening News anchor job and much of his reputation by immediately telling viewers that the network would investigate intense allegations that it had televised a fraudulent story on George W. Bush's questionable National Guard service during the Vietnam War era.

"Instead he said, 'We stand by that story.' C'mon! Human beings make mistakes. Not through malice, but just because something didn't quite get together right. But what he did was almost kind of defy people, and also defy human nature . . . You don't stand up for things until you check 'em out. I hated it for Rather, because if he had played it differently, he could have had his cake and eaten it, too."

Lehrer remembers a notable mistake he made as a cub reporter at The Dallas Morning News. In writing an obituary, he got the deceased's name confused with the funeral director's. A stern editor didn't mince words, as Lehrer tells it.

"I was told, 'Little boy, the most important thing in this newspaper are the obituaries. And you'd better get the names right or we ain't got a job for you.' "

He didn't need that job for long. Lehrer long has operated at the highest echelons of TV news. His novels have a twinkle, but he's generally perceived as a news traditionalist whose PBS program has never diddled with the hard news of the day. That said, he's pretty much OK with NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams hosting his network's Saturday Night Live this weekend.

"It doesn't bother me. It probably should," Leher says. "He is a very funny guy, he's got this whole different side to him and it's all right to show that. If he comes out there and makes political jokes or anything like that, and the wrath comes to him, then he deserves it. If he comes out and just hosts the thing, I don't have a problem with that."

What if it were Katie Couric, though? Would the reaction be entirely different?

"Oh my God, yes," he says. "If Katie Couric did that, they would be all over her like a blanket. 'Oh my God, this is going to destroy the CBS Evening News!' It's a double standard, and it's not fair to her. We'll see if Brian can get away with this. But Katie Couric cannot."

Lehrer says he doesn't watch Couric much, but "my understanding is that it's become a straight newscast again. I've always felt that it was very stupid for the people running CBS to try to do big changes at once.

"They should have let her sit in that chair and just do what (predecessor Bob) Schieffer did, and establish her as a serious anchor of a serious news program. But they decided to kind of jazz it up a little bit. They forgot that there are 30 million people watching these newscasts. If they want to be entertained, they're going to go to the circus. They just got it all wrong, and she's paying the price for it."

One more thing. Lehrer believes there's still an audience for unfettered, unsweetened hard news reporting. Audiences for cable's loudest shouters, including Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor and MSNBC's Hardball, are still lower than the two-and-a-half million to three million viewers drawn to NewsHour, he says.

"Everybody's got a damned pink iPod with their name on it," Lehrer adds before nonetheless praising today's technology as "fabulous." But he cites "increasing evidence that people want that first story straight as an arrow. Before they start shouting and making jokes, just tell us what the (bleep) happened."

Lehrer says he constantly urges PBS stations to partner with local newspapers for a substantive nightly news program that also could be available on the Internet.

"I push this wherever I go. They don't have to mount a huge staff. All they have to do is make a deal with the newspaper."

Whatever happens, Lehrer is notably content and obviously prolific. There are still audiences for both his fiction and his old-school approach to TV news. They exactly fit his lifelong passions -- creating characters who "become very real" and reporting stories that often are all too real.

"I"m just so fortunate," he says. "Couldn't be happier."

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Oct. 26-28)

Fox's fourth and final game of the World Series Sunday night had a nice finishing kick after washing out in prime-time.

The Boston Red Sox sweep of the Colorado Rockies ran third from 8 to 10 p.m. in D-FW, with ABC's lineup of Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters topping the field in total homes while CBS ran second with Cold Case and Shark. But the game's late night closing hour amassed 287,401 homes to easily beat all competition.

Saturday night's Game 3 further showed how relatively little baseball matters here. Would you believe that the World Series was outdrawn from 7 to 10 p.m. by CBS' lineup of back-to-back Crimetime Saturday reruns and 48 Hours Mysteries? Believe it.

Fox also is getting a deaf ear in D-FW for its new Next Great American Band competition, which averaged a sub-dismal 46,276 homes for Friday night's live two-hour edition. That put the show fifth from 7 to 9 p.m., with Band faring no better with advertiser-favored 18-to-34-year-olds or 18-to-49-year-olds. Will the 12 bands play on much longer? Not if that many ear drums aren't listening -- or watching.

In Friday's local news derby, Belo8 returned to the winner's circle after a one-night absence with wins in both total homes and with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. The ABC station also ran the table at 5 and 6 p.m.

Fox4 continued its winning ways at 6 a.m., though, again placing first in both ratings measurements.

Emmy-palooza: Belo8 makes the biggest night of it

Belo8 news director Mike Valentine has a hold on Texas' top Emmy.
Photos: Ed Bark

Late night pizza and lottery tickets were served and multiple models seemingly had walked at least a mile in their high-heeled shoes. At last it was time to punctuate the fifth annual Lone Star Emmy Awards with The Big One.

Not that the suspense was killing anyone. Belo8, time and again a winner during the three-hour ceremony, took the last of 113 awards for "Overall Station Excellence." The Dallas-based ABC affiliate, and Belo-owned KHOU-TV in Houston, won the lion's share of gold during Saturday night's endurance contest at Dallas Trade Mart.

In the climactic showdown, a panel of out-of-state judges elevated Belo8 among fellow nominees KHOU, Fox4, NBC5 and WOAI-TV of San Antonio. Lone Star Emmy Chapter president Kevin Cokely, who anchors and reports for NBC5, gamely presented the hardware before many an attendee hit the restroom. It was that kind of night -- elongated but for the most part efficient. Winners were strongly encouraged to limit their acceptance speeches to 15 seconds, and a majority stayed within that ballpark. Still, five o'clock shadows eventually were overtaken by 10 p.m. stubble during an event that kicked off with a 5:30 p.m. cocktail reception and ended as Saturday Night Live was starting.

Belo8 seemed to have the largest contingent, and each of its dressed up reporters won at least one Emmy. The role call included Byron Harris, David Schechter, Dan Ronan, Jim Douglas and Joe Trahan. The station's George Riba also came up a winner, but he was anchoring back at the mothership.

NBC5's Newy Scruggs and Fox4's Becky Oliver likewise won Emmys but weren't there to collect them. D-FW's biggest news names -- the stations' featured anchors -- also were nowhere to be seen. Semi-retired Belo8 weatherman Troy Dungan was a presenter, though, as was longtime NBC5 entertainment reporter Bobbie Wygant. And besides the Belo8 brigade, NBC5's Ken Kalthoff and Brian Curtis, and CBS11's J.D. Miles accepted their reporting Emmys live and in person.

Here's more of how it looked:

NBC5 veteran Ken Kalthoff takes one for the team.

CBS11 reporter J.D. Miles is all smiles with his first Emmy.

Belo8 sports reporter/anchor Joe Trahan seizes the spotlight.

Still making the scene: NBC5 entertainment reporter Bobbie Wygant.

Rank has its privileges: Lone Star prez Kevin Cokely and associates.

Hyland will remain an early riser through November "sweeps"

The search for Jackie Hyland's replacement has started, although the Daybreak co-anchor will stay with the program until the end of the November "sweeps" ratings period, which begins Thursday.

Hyland, who joined Belo8 in August 2005, is voluntarily returning to her native New York City, where she previously had worked for WPIX-TV.

"There's no spin to it. She's just going home to be with her family," Belo8 news director Mike Valentine said in a telephone interview. "It was her decision. She came to us and we talked. She doesn't have another job there."

News of Hyland's departure broke earlier this month while unclebarky.com took a hiatus to attend family events in the Midwest. Valentine said the station is considering both in-house and outside candidates to join incumbent anchor Justin Farmer on Daybreak. Despite prevalent rumors, they do not include former CBS11 reporter Sarah Dodd, who emphatically ruled herself out in comments to unclebarky.com earlier this week.

Recent Daybreak substitutes have included Belo8 anchor/reporters Shelly Slater and Macie Jepson. The 5 to 7 a.m. program has been running second in the Nielsen ratings to Fox4's Good Day.

Hyland's husband is a former New York police officer. They have two daughters, according to her wfaa.com bio.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Thurs., Oct. 25)

Taco fans and the Peacock cheered up Thursday night.

NBC5's 10 p.m. newscast ended an elongated dry spell with twin wins in the Nielsens for the first time since Sept. 5th. That's right, Sept. 5th. And Red Sox centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury's 4th inning steal of second base in Game 2 of the World Series means a free taco for any humanoid with a pulse.

Taco Bell will be handing them out from 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday (Oct. 30). It should be a seminal event in American history.

The Series ratings again weren't so hot, though, at least in less than baseball-crazed D-FW. The prime-time portion of Game 2 averaged 197,284 homes, up a bit from the 192,412 homes tuned in Wednesday night.

This time, however, ratings peaked rather than drooped in late night, with the Rockies making a game of it by losing 2 to 1 instead of 13 to 1. Game 2 drew an average of 244,372 homes from 10:30 to 11:15 p.m. Thursday. On the previous night, just 134,770 homes were still in the game by that time.

From 8 to 10 p.m., the Series was outdrawn by ABC's league-leading Grey's Anatomy (299,579 homes) and CBS' combo of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (245,996) and Without A Trace (231,382).

Boston-Colorado fared a bit better among advertiser-favored 18-to-49-year-olds, losing to Grey's and CSI but beating Trace.

In the local news derby, NBC5 won a close three-way contest at 10 p.m. in total homes and had a more comfortable winning margin with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. Here's how it looked in total homes:

9:45 to 10 p.m. lead-in: ER -- 191,412 homes
NBC5 news -- 189,977 homes

Lead-in: Big Shots -- 141,265 homes
Belo8 news -- 180,234 homes

Lead-in: Without A Trace -- 236,253 homes
CBS11 news -- 170,492 homes

Fox4 again took both 6 a.m. bouts, twice edging Belo8 while NBC5 continued to lag well back in third place.

Belo8 ran the table at 5 p.m. and also won at 6 p.m. in total homes. The Peacock was tops at 6 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds.

Putting Rebecca Aguilar in perspective -- and ready to take the heat

Bring us the head of Rebecca Aguilar.

That seems to be what many people want, judging from the comments posted on this site and numerous others. The veteran Fox4 street reporter must pay for her sins. Fire her. See to it that she never again terrorizes anyone with her pointed questions. The very soul of television journalism is at stake. Hey, it's the Halloween season. Let's have an old-time Salem witch trial. We must rid ourselves of her kind.

And no, I don't get it. Don't get it at all.

Be assured that this isn't coming from a member of the "elitist" media who's out of touch with what real people think. This is a one-person Web site started from scratch after leaving the Belo behemoth behind. Unclebarky.com is run out of a converted upstairs bedroom in Garland, TX. It's beholden to no corporation and bankrolled entirely by yours truly. Without real people as readers, I'm nothing. But I'd like to think I've been around the block a few times, and bring some experience to the table in matters of local and national TV coverage. So here's what I think, and I'm sure you'll correct me. All well and good.

Aguilar is a tough-minded, aggressive and fair reporter who's spent 13 years in the D-FW trenches and a total of 26 years in the business. At age 49 she's a survivor in an industry that increasingly seems to prize youth, good looks and overall vacuousness over experience, grit and enterprise.

It's also best to assume the position and simply do as you're told. Because baby, there are lots of bubbleheaded Barbie and Ken dolls out there in times when even busty, former wrestling vixens say they aspire to be the next generation's Katie Couric (a k a Fox's truncated, one-episode Anchorwoman).

At issue here, of course, is Aguilar's alleged "ambush" interview with 70-year-old James Walton, hardly a doddering old man. Two would-be burglars discovered this in the past month when they invaded his West Dallas salvage business. He shot them both dead, as was his right under Texas law. Many people are extolling him as a folk hero while at the same time contending that a diminutive, middle-aged woman held him against his will in a sporting goods store parking lot after he bought a new shotgun.

Aguilar says she knew where to find him because they'd been talking on the phone shortly beforehand. He called her first, Aguilar says, and I believe her.

I've watched the video of her now infamous Oct. 15th story over and over again. Walton is both cantankerous and amicable. He seems to be a man who'd like to explain himself at least a little, and Aguilar clearly isn't about to dissuade him. Yes, she presses him, most pointedly when asking in an even tone, "Are you a trigger happy kind of person? Is that what you wanted to do, shoot to kill?"

But she also quickly sympathizes with him: "So basically you were scared for your life?"

"What do you think?" Walton asks in turn.

I agree with many of Aguilar's detractors that "trigger happy" wasn't the way to go. But Walton himself didn't seem offended. And your typical TV provocateur might have gone this route: "You're a trigger happy kind of person, aren't you? You wanted to shoot to kill, didn't you?"

When Walton had had enough, he reached over to close his driver's side car door while Aguilar stepped back. He said goodbye, as did she. This wasn't a case of a self-aggrandizing reporter slinging a mike while demanding, "Why won't you talk to us?" We've seen plenty of that in this market.

It's also clear that Walton is a man who can take care of himself, even though a number of commenters seem intent on characterizing him as a poor, fragile old man at the mercy of a pit bull. Aguilar's story fleshed him out and gave viewers a snapshot of who this guy is, and why he did what he did. Is that a capital crime?

Aguilar's Fox4 superiors, none of whom will talk about this, have responded by suspending her indefinitely. Some readers openly wonder whether she's burned too many bridges at the station, and if this is simply the last straw. Others question whether management has caved to pressure from irate phone callers and bloggers.

I don't know Aguilar well. I met her for the first time in person during our interview this week. Otherwise I had exchanged emails with her on several occasions. She knew I'd be fair to her, Aguilar said. And yes, I previously had praised some of her on-air work. I've also commented favorably on a number of other TV reporters and anchors in this market during my 13-months in solitary as the former longtime TV critic of The Dallas Morning News. Nothing's expected in return.

From what I've seen of her and heard from others, Aguilar is tenacious and more than willing to stand up for herself. That's what separates the lead dogs from the lap dogs. You don't complain constantly, but you do make your voice heard. At least that's the way it should be -- or perhaps used to be.

Aguilar's overall tenure at Fox4 otherwise is marked by repeated exclusives and a number of awards. It's certainly fair to question her comportment during the Walton interview. It's not at all fair to discount what she's done for the station.

Aguilar has contacts that can't be replicated and sources who won't talk to anyone else. She shouldn't have been suspended in the first place, let alone be the only Fox4 staffer left out in the cold. Those who see her as an arch villain should be wary of what might await them down the road. Aguilar isn't the overall problem. She and other solid, well-seasoned Fox4 reporters such as Jeff Crilley and Shaun Rabb instead are the ones keeping the faith.

Whatever happens, station management needs to resolve this situation soon. And it's hoped they'll be be able to act with some autonomy rather than being dictated to from on high as one of the Fox corporation's owned-and-operated stations. Aguilar says she wants her job back, and I think she deserves that much despite the freshly poisoned pond she might find herself wading into.

Good journalists survive in the end. Their work again takes root. In the end, the Fox4 newsroom will be better for having Rebecca Aguilar back in the picture.

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Wed., Oct. 24)

Wednesday's elongated, lopsided Game 1 of the World Series came and went without free tacos for America -- or much of a ratings impact in D-FW.

Then again this isn't a big baseball town. But we do like our tacos.

The prime-time portion of the game, which ended at 11:07 p.m. with a 13-1 Red Sox win over the Rockies, drew a medium-average 192,412 homes locally. That put it in third place from 8 to 9 p.m., well behind CBS' Criminal Minds and just a smidgen lower than ABC's Private Practice. Specifically, the World Series had 186,323 homes at that hour, with Criminal Minds pulling in 236,253 homes and Private Practice 189,977.

CBS' CSI: NY ruled the 9 to 10 p.m. slot with 263,045 homes. The World Series slid into second place (202,155 homes) with its peak numbers of the night.

Baseball fared worse among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds, beating NBC's Bionic Woman and Life from 8 to 10 p.m., but beaten in turn by the two CBS crime series, Private Practice and ABC's Dirty Sexy Money.

The taco offer, from Taco Bell, allows every red-blooded humanoid to claim a free one after the first World Series base is stolen. You could get squeezed out, though. A stolen base during Games 1 or 2 would make Oct. 30th Taco Day from 2 to 5 p.m. local times at all Taco Bell outlets. If a base is stolen during Games 3 to 7, you'll have to wait until Nov. 6th.

Game 1 had nary a steal attempt, but did feature a 5th inning balk that allowed a Red Sox runner to advance from first base to second. Commentator Tim McCarver wondered if that merited a taco.

"No," said play-by-play mate Joe Buck.

"Chips, guacamole, anything?" McCarver pressed.

"No," Buck answered firmly.

Meanwhile, on the local newscast front, the 10 p.m. Big Enchilada again went to Belo8. Its 297,143 total homes crunched runnerup CBS11 (163,185 homes) and third place NBC5 (146,136 homes).

Belo8 also dominated at 10 p.m. among 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming. But it again was a different story at 6 a.m., with Fox4 finishing first in both ratings measurements.

Belo8 countered with twin wins at 6 p.m., and also edged Fox4 at 5 p.m. in total homes. Fox4 nipped Belo8 and CBS11 at that hour in the 25-to-54 demo. The latter two stations tied for second, with NBC5 far back.

Rebecca Aguilar: Speaking out after a draining week "in limbo"

Suspended Fox4 reporter Rebecca Aguilar feels it's time to open up.
Photo: Ed Bark

For 13 years Rebecca Aguilar has hit the streets as an aggressive, scoop-generating Fox4 reporter.

Now she's unceremoniously out on the street, indefinitely suspended by her station in the same month she accepted the Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Aguilar's Oct. 15th piece on 70-year-old property defender James Walton, who had just purchased a new shotgun outside a sporting goods store, prompted a flurry of bloggers and blog readers to brand her as bigoted, anti-gun, an ambusher and a "bitch" among kinder assessments. A since disabled video of her story on youtube.com still brandishes the headline, "Anti-white mexican reporter from Dallas, TX suspended."

"I'm bruised, honey. Yeah, I'm bruised," Aguilar says in her first interview on these matters and more. Against the advice of her attorney, she's telling her side because "I think staying silent makes a person look guilty."

In particular she wants to emphasize that she and Walton had conversed at length on the phone after he first called her at Fox4. In fact, she says, they again were talking shortly before she allegedly "ambushed" him outside a Mesquite Academy Sports & Outdoor store, where Walton told her he was headed because "they've got the best shotguns."

Our tamer interview venue is a Dallas coffee shop, where Aguilar, 49, finds it difficult to keep her composure. Her tears clearly are genuine, not an act. They embarrass her, as did Fox4's Oct. 16th order to pack up and leave after her previous day's story prompted both heavy criticism and a telephoned death threat to her newsroom desk.

"I'm sorry I'm crying but I've been waiting to talk about this for a while," Aguilar says. "It was humiliating. I love Fox4. I love my job, my colleagues. We're very competitive, but we motivate each other. A person does not stay at a station because of the money or the glory. I mean, I live there more than I live at home. It may sound corny, but it's true."

Her husband, a colleague at Fox4 whose identity she wants to protect, had to watch her leave the station with a cardboard box in hand.

"He's just been my rock," she says. "But so have many of my other fellow employees."

Fox4 management has declined to comment on the suspension, and again chose that option Tuesday after being informed of the Aguilar interview.

Aguilar, who signed a new two-year contract with the station in March, says she can't detail any of her meeting with news director Maria Barrs, who informed her of the suspension.

"I'm halfway out the door," she says. "So anything else I say (about what Barrs told her), I'm sure they could use to push me the rest of the way out."

She notes, however, that the script for her Oct. 15th story was approved beforehand.

"We have layers of gatekeepers," Aguilar says. "And I'm the only one suspended."

Her first brush with Walton came Monday morning (Oct. 15), but not on camera. Aguilar had covered the West Dallas salvage business owner's fatal shooting of a would-be burglar the previous night. He had sent another intruder to the hereafter just three weeks earlier. In each case, police confiscated his weapons but Walton likely won't be charged with any crimes. Texas law allows him to protect his property. That he did, although some might argue that his measures were unusually extreme.

Aguilar's story prompted a mild complaint from Walton, the reporter says. He called her at the station, but was mollified when she told him that her story said he had the legal right to literally take the law into his own hands.

They talked further, Aguilar says, after Walton deemed the rest of her story "OK." Aguilar says he then added, "But I'm mad at Channel 11. Those idiots had it all wrong."

"He was rather pleasant on the phone," she recalls, but also profane at times.

They hooked up again the same day. Aguilar says that Walton again told her, "I don't have time for you. I've got a full plate."

She in turn told him, "You know I'm a reporter. I may catch up to you."

Aguilar says her only intent was to get Walton's side of the story, which clearly became more of a story when he told her by telephone that his "full plate" included buying another shotgun.

"He never hung up on me," she says. Walton also kept telling her, "I'm not a 70-year-old pity party. You understand?"

"I don't know if he thought I was going to show him to be feeble and weak or whatever," Aguilar says.

She eventually caught up with him as he headed to his car with the new shotgun. During much of their on-camera exchange, Aguilar stood inside the driver's seat door with a microphone plainly in view.

"Can we talk to you briefly?" she had asked.

"Either you shut the damn camera off or I'm not talkin' to ya," he replied.

But the camera kept rolling and Walton kept talking. What most viewers remember is Aguilar asking him, "Are you a trigger happy kind of person? Is that what you wanted to do -- shoot to kill?"

Aguilar asked this in a non-confrontational tone that she maintained throughout the interview.

"The way I asked him was not in a harsh manner," she says. "I'm very careful about my tone. Because since I am a woman, I don't want to be called the b-word."

But the "trigger happy" query has become a national flashpoint, even though Aguilar quickly followed with, "So basically you were scared for your life?"

"I am known for asking questions that I think bring back deeper answers," Aguilar says during our interview. "But I treated this man with utmost respect. In fact, some of the questions I asked him on-camera I had asked him already in our conversations on the phone. That's why you don't see him alarmed . . . I knew that he felt comfortable with me, and I felt comfortable with him. I know from experience when people don't want me around."

Walton called her again about two and a half hours after the interview first ran on Fox4's 5 p.m., Oct. 15th newscast. Aguilar says he was upset that she had mentioned the tears in his eyes.

"He said, 'Well, you made me look like a pity party,' " Aguilar recalls. "Thank you very much. I told you not to tell anybody about my (bleeping) tears.' "

In much happier times, Aguilar accepted her NAHJ award at an Oct. 4 ceremony in Washington, D.C. The organization has denounced her suspension in a three-page letter to Fox4 management.

Someone else called, too, via a cell phone text message a minute or so after the story first aired. It was an envious news manager from a rival station whom Aguilar did not want identified. But she showed the message as proof. "Good job," it said. The name affixed to the message is a familiar one in local news circles.

Less than 24 hours later, Aguilar learned of her suspension. She still doesn't even know whether it's with or without pay. Earlier that same traumatic day, Aguilar says she picked up her newsroom phone to hear a man tell her, "I'm a gun owner. And if I ever find you, I'd like to shoot you in the head."

The same man, she believes, also had called shortly after the story aired the previous night.

"So I reported it to my bosses first, and nothing was done about it," she says. "Nothing was done about my protection. My suspension was a priority over my safety."

Aguilar says she reported the threat to the Dallas Police Department on Wednesday (Oct. 17th).

"I really felt that the DPD had my back," she says gratefully.

By her estimation, Aguilar has done more than 3,000 stories, many of them exclusives, during her 13 years at Fox4. "And that's conservatively speaking."

She says it's all the more reason to be "shocked" by a suspension she never saw coming.

"I don't know if I'll survive without a blemish," she says. "Every time you Google my name now it's like 'Aguilar, suspension or ambush.' Before it was 'Aguilar, award-winner.' It's changed in a week."

"Can I go back (to Fox4)?" she asks when asked. "Of course I'd like to go back. You don't give up after 13 years at a company. I love my job. And I love when people trust me. I love it."

She also loves the thrill of an "exclusive," as does any reporter worth anything at all. But not at any price, she insists, noting that countless people on the receiving ends of her stories have described her as "one of the fairest people in the world."

"I'm a role model for other journalists in the market," says Aguilar, who is the oldest on-camera female reporter at Fox4. "I show that it doesn't matter that you're close to 50 years old. And it doesn't matter how many awards you get. The big thing in TV news is what have you done for me lately. How can I teach others to be motivated and go out there and kick ass every day if I myself am not doing it?"

Against her better instincts, though, she's now betting that Fox4 will fire her after just one fateful interview fired up the blogosphere.

"I don't want to lose my job," Aguilar says. "But as of right now, I don't know. I haven't heard a thing. I'm in limbo, man. That's a weird feeling."

Brown, you're doin' a heckuva job

Belo8 jesters Gloria Campos, Dale Hansen and Pete Delkus

Fat and happy in the Nielsens on most nights, Belo8's 10 p.m. anchors keep showing they can be slap-happy, too.

Actually, subtract John McCaa from that equation. On Thursday's late nighter, he put his head in his hands and shook it horizontally while Gloria Campos, Dale Hansen and Pete Delkus went wild with laughter. In fact, Gloria might well have been heard in the Rio Grande Valley. But hey, it was kind of infectious -- and not like a boil. Let's go to the videotape.

Big Pete as usual was the instigator, coming out of his weather segment with another dig at bigger Dale.

"So Gloria, here's the story," he began. "Last night the big fella made fun of me for wearing a brown suit with a gold tie."

Didn't catch that one. But Pete wanted viewers to know that sports anchor Dale now was sporting the same colors.

"I followed your lead," Hansen jabbed back. "I called my guy. I said, 'Do you have some of those ugly suits like Pete wears?' Sure enough, he got me one."

Dale then turned to Gloria, who also was in brown.

"And I notice you've got the same suit, by the way," he told her.

"That's right," she said. Brown power." Followed by a mega-cackle -- from her.

At this point, John went into the anchorman's version of the fetal position. But wait, there's more.

"Speaking of brown power, let's talk about white power," Dale continued.

"Whitesboro," Gloria admonished him.

"Oh, that's right. Whitesboro," a grinning Dale said. "We'll get to it next."

Gloria kept on laughing -- HUGELY -- all the way into the commercial break. Somewhere in El Paso, a cowboy is still chasing his spooked herd.

As for Whitesboro, its football team hasn't been to the playoffs in the school's entire 71-year history. But the team is 5-0 so far this season, so that finally could change. Ted Madden had the story, and it was a good one.

The brown power-white power hijinks ironically came on the same day that CNN's 7 p.m. Out in the Open program originated live from Irving with a discussion of the city's "recent stepped-up immigration enforcement." But anchors will be anchors, and Belo8's are the peanuttiest in town.

Still, let's watch those colors. Maybe pink next time?

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Mon., Oct. 8)

Let's get right to the tote board for a Cowboys-Bills game that began at 7:40 p.m. Monday and ended in near miracle fashion at 10:57 p.m.

Cowboys-Bills on TXA21 equals 428,853 D-FW homes.

Cowboys-Bills on ESPN equals 427,541 homes.

That's a grand total of -- ding, ding, ding -- 856,394 homes. And yes, that's a record for this season, edging the 854,896 homes tuned to the Sept. 23rd Cowboys-Bears game on NBC's Sunday Night Football.

A few more digits: Ratings for the game peaked from 10:45 to 11 p.m., when a combined 1,020,516 homes had the game in play. During that time, 67 percent of all D-FW television sets in use were tuned to the Cowboys-Bills game. And the kick is -- go-o-o-o-o-od!

Contrast that with the night's second most-watched attraction, ABC's Dancing with the Stars. It peaked at 372,647 total homes between 7:30 to 7:45 p.m., when it had a 23 percent share of all sets in use.

You might say the 10 p.m. local newscast ratings were a bit deflated Monday. Belo8 led with 148,572 homes, followed by CBS11 (119,344), NBC5 (107,166) and Fox4 (60,890). On the previous Monday, Belo8 topped the field with 209,462 total homes. All of its rivals had substantially larger audiences, too.

Belo8 also ran first at 10 p.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds, the main advertiser target audience for news programming.

Fox4 continued its winning streak at 6 a.m. with wins in both ratings measurements. And for an impressive fifth straight weekday, the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of its Good Day ran the table against the three network morning shows.

The 6 a.m. numbers also showed NBC5 burrowing deeper into a now prolonged slump. So much so that CBS11 ran ahead of the fourth-place Peacock among 25-to-54-year-olds. That hasn't happened in recent memory.

Belo8 reasserted itself at 5 and 6 p.m. with comfortable wins across the table.

The horror, the horror

Keep reminding yourself that we live in the nation's 5th largest television market.

Then brace yourself for what NBC5 deemed to be the most important local story of the day on Wednesday's 10 p.m. newscast.

Anchor Jane McGarry primed the pump, repeatedly teasing viewers during prime-time commercial breaks with, "Shoppers spooked at Wal-Mart. Why they're mad."

Wow, there must have been a horrific Texas chainsaw massacre there or something. Good ol' Wal-Mart. Always good for a dark, desolate NBC5 live shot.

NBC5 then led its late night newscast with the supposedly gory details after McGarry trilled, "Wal-Mart shoppers angry and disturbed."

Actually it was just a lone mother of three little girls who objected to a semi-scary Halloween display at a Hurst Wal-Mart.

Longtime night ranger Scott Gordon, who looks like he really needs a long rest from all this, told viewers that "what they saw right inside the front door left them with nightmares."

Actually, supposedly traumatized Gracie, 4, mostly giggled or vamped for the camera during Gordon's story. And the 20-month-old girl, nestled in her mother's arms, looked blissfully at ease. But no, this is no laughing matter.

"Now she says her daughters are having nightmares and can't sleep alone," Gordon said of the offended mother.

Wal-Mart officials responded by moving the decorations to the Hurst store's Halloween section. Seemingly prompted by Gordon, the mother said, "I'm happy. Yes, yes, yes, this is good."

No, this is really a very bad use of the public airwaves. But NBC5 lately is on a downhill slide in the ratings, so even its usual low standards for news seem to be getting a further downshift. Really, though, what more can we expect?

Local Nielsen ratings snapshot (Fri.-Sun., Sept. 28-30)

Sunday gave Fox4 its second opportunity this season to gorge on Dallas Cowboys ratings. That it did, with the team's noon-starting rout of the St. Louis Rams averaging 650,305 D-FW homes.

That's the most-watched daylight game so far, outpointing Fox's Sept. 16th late afternoon Cowboys-Dolphins matchup (625,949 homes). The top draw is still the prime-time Cowboys-Bears game on NBC, which averaged 854,896 homes on Sept. 23rd.

NBC's Sunday Night Football faceoff between the Giants and Eagles also did well, luring 284,965 total homes. But it couldn't outpoint ABC's competing season premiere of Desperate Housewives, which had 328,806 homes and also outpaced football among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds.

On Friday night, CBS' new vampire series, Moonlight, drew some blood at 8 p.m. but still was down a quart. It ran second to ABC's 20/20 in total homes and dipped to third -- behind NBC's Las Vegas relaunch and 20/20 -- in the 18-to-49 demo.

Friday's local newscast battles knocked NBC5 to third place for a third consecutive weeknight in the 10 p.m. total homes measurement. Belo8 again won, with CBS11 slipping into second.

But the Peacock rallied among 25-to-54-year-olds, the key advertiser target audience for news programming. NBC5 edged CBS11 in that demo, with Belo8's latenight news plummeting to a distant fourth place, also behind Fox4.

The 6 a.m. ratings again were no contest. Fox4's Good Day easily was the station's most-watched local newscast of the day, drawing 141,265 total homes to rout Belo8's runnerup Daybreak (90,117 homes).

Fox4 also won handily at 6 a.m. with 25-to-54-year-olds. And the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of Good Day easily outpointed the three network morning shows in both ratings measurements, despite a heavily hyped live concert by Bruce Springsteen on NBC's Today.

Belo8 ran the table at 5 and 6 p.m. for a second consecutive weekday, although it barely nipped a slowly improving CBS11 in the 6 p.m. competition for 25-to-54-year-olds.