Infrared photographs showed that contaminants from the pits were seeping into
Galveston Bay. If these poisons entered
the seafood chain, they would cause
"very serious health effects," a Water
Resources Department investigator told
Hochberg. The In Between piece accused
Stewart of covering up the dangers.
"Not until five month's later," wrote
Hochberg, "when state EPA and other
officials called the pits 'a desperate situation' and the 'worst in Texas' during a
January 1980 on-site inspection, did
either paper report again on the waste
site. And neither article mentioned the
former residents of the trailer camp or
the continuing danger of seafood cantam-
ination. Digging below the official level
isn't popular in boomtown Houston."
Stewart told Breakthrough that he had
had one telephone conversation with
Hochberg. "When I read the In Between
story, I was shocked," he said. "There
were several inaccuracies, and many
things I said were taken out of context."
In fact, Stewart had considered bringing
legal action against Hochberg. "But I
couldn't find him," he said. "Nobody
could. Apparently he dropped the story
on the editor's desk and disappeared."
(Hochberg presumably had left foi
California. He is now a graduate student at Stanford University's School of
Did Stewart tell Hochberg that the
trailer park residents were not informed
of the possible dangers because he didn't
want them to panic?
"Yes, I did," he told Breakthrough. "I
think my mistake was in being totally
honest with Hochberg, as I am with
anybody who asks for information. I
explained to him that there is no national
standard for vinyl chloride. When we
went down there and measured, we found
one reading of 30 parts per billion (ppb),
some readings of zero and some in between. Not counting zero readings, we
came up with an average of seven or eight
Hochberg's In Between story mentioned only the one reading of 30 ppb,
not the averages. "And that one could
have been an error," said Stewart. "Because measurement of such low concentrations is subject to error, a considerable
number of samples was taken. That one
was probably twice as high as any other
number we found. That's why we took so
"And remember,"said Stewart, "that's
parts per billion. It's only recently we've
been able to measure in parts per billion.
Most things are still expressed in parts per
Stewart said his board considered informing the residents of the possible
danger, but decided against it. "We talked
at great length about knocking on doors
and explaining our findings," Stewart
told Breakthrough. "But what could we
say? We've been measuring vinyl chloride
in the air. 'Oh, what's that?' It's a carcinogen. 'How much did you find?' One
reading showed 30 ppb. 'How harmful is
that?' We don't know."
Stewart said that the "very serious
health effects" and the "desperate situation" in Hochberg's story referred to
water contamination, which is outside
his province. He did, nevertheless, pursue
the matter with the Galveston County
Health Director, Dr. Walter Kemmerer.
Was there a problem with air? asked
Stewart. The director replied that he
could not visualize the TACB readings as
posing a health hazard. "Everybody,
every day, is exposed to more carcinogens
"The fact is, we just don't know," said
Stewart. "Everybody wants to err on the
side of safety. We have consulted every
expert we can find, and nobody can give
us a safe number. Nobody knows, and I
didn't want to panic people without
being able to give them some concrete
Harold Scarlett also tried to contact
Hochberg after he read the In Between
story, with no success. "He just flat disappeared," Scarlett told Breakthrough.
He felt the CJR story was "full of inaccuracies and distortions. I agreed with
hardly anything in it."
Breakthrough found no evidence of a
cover-up of the vinyl chloride situation
by the TACB. The records are public, as
Hochberg noted, and stories had already
been published in Houston and Galveston
County about the situation. Whether
Stewart should have informed the trailer
park residents of a possible danger is open
to question. Stewart gave Hochberg his
reasons for not doing so. Hochberg saw
fit not to include them in his story.
The most sensational passages in the
story, apart from the alleged cover-up,
were the "striking" infrared photographs
"showing contaminants seeping into Galveston Bay," the "desperate situation" at
the pits, called the "worst in Texas" and
the "serious health effects" of the contaminants.
All of these references were to the
quality of the water, not the air, and are
the responsibility of the Texas Department of Water Resources—an agency
mentioned only once in the story, as being the office where Hochberg came
across the TACB file on the waste site.
Hochberg failed to make that distinction
Both Stewart and Scarlett are professionals, experts in their respective fields.
Obviously, they are fallible, and should
be taken to task when necessary. ("Scarlett has stung me at times," admitted
Stewart, "but he's been honest and
It's disheartening that the Columbia
Journalism Review, with it's long history
of integrity and accuracy, should be a
party to such irresponsible journalism. It
is also ironic that Hochberg's piece, ostensibly an expose of shoddy reporting and
questionable ethics, turned out to be just
that—shoddy and questionable.
As Scarlett told Breakthrough: "The
Review gave this man full license to destroy professional reputations—reputations
that were built on years of hard work and
integrity. That's a shame."
Tne test of the professional is
how hard he tries and how
well he succeeds in keeping
his own feelings out of a
story," wrote Dan Rather in his autobiography The Camera Never Blinks
Apparently, the CBS newscaster has
changed his mind since the mid-fifties,
when he asked a Houston police officer
to shoot him with heroin "so I could do
a story about it."
Interviewed in the July issue of Ladies
Home Journal, Rather said: "In 1955 or
'56 I had someone at the Houston police
station shoot me with heroin so I could
do a story about it. The experience was
a special kind of hell. I came out understanding full well how one could be
addicted to 'smack' and quickly."
Rather had been asked by the interviewer if he had ever smoked marijuana.
"I have not smoked pot in this country,"
he replied. "I obey the law." He added
that "as a reporter—and I don't want to
say that's the only context—I've tried
everything. I can say to you with confidence, I know a fair amount about LSD.
I've never been a social user of these
things, but my curiosity has carried me
into a lot of interesting areas."
Rather was working at KTRH Radio
in Houston at the time of the heroin incident. When the heroin story broke, all
a great business
y for women
Sf fame factory
It's one of the few businesses you can own and open your doors
with an initial cash requirement of less than $20,000* ... which
includes equipment, inventory, training, operating assistance,
and beginning operating capital. Balance is financiable.
rfQllHJ fOClOitJI is the largest and most successful
do-it-yourself picture framing organization in the United States.
NOT ONE OF OUR SHOPS HAS EVER FAILED!
Several prime locations are now available in the Houston Metro
area — Bear Creek, Katy, Fondren/Southwest, Braeswood,
Memorial/Northwest, Hwy. 1960, Greenway Plaza, West University, Gear Lake City, Alief, Baytown, Friendswood, and areas
Learn about this profitable, enjoyable opportunity for a woman
to own her own business.
We're working to make
Houston a city of
If you feel you have received different
treatment in any aspect of housing
because of your race, sex, national origin
or religion, contact the City of Houston's
Fair Housing Division at 222-5411.