“Spanish-language reporter wanted for murder! Film at 10.”

That could have been the broadcast tease for a mistake last week that is sure to go down as one of the most colossal screwups in the extremely screwy annals of local television news. While covering the murder of an Anaheim boy, KTTV Channel 11 inexplicably ran the picture of KVEA Channel 52 news staffer Juan Carlos Gonzalez as a suspect. Needless to say, Gonzalez’s only connection to the crime was that he was covering it for his own station. Numerous mea culpas, also known as retractions, went out over the next three days, both on air and over the telephone. But what the hell happened?

Well, it seems that while interviewing neighborhood residents near the murder scene, Gonzalez was asked for his photograph. He obliged with an autographed glossy, then went back to the station to file his report. Enter KTTV’s “news team,” which arrived without an actual reporter to get some footage. Investigative journalists that they are, they quickly deduced that Gonzalez’s photograph must be of the boy’s stepfather, the alleged killer. After all, the suspect was described as Hispanic and male, and Gonzalez is Hispanic and male. Never mind that police were freely offering a mug shot of the real suspect.

Back at KVEA, they flipped on Fox’s 10 p.m. newscast only to see, much to their surprise, a photograph of the putative “suspect” that looked just like their reporter.

“We immediately called over there [Fox KTTV Channel 11] and told them, ‘You just put the wrong picture up,’” says KVEA station manager Eduardo Dominguez. “But by that time the story had already been reported.”

Fox was suitably chagrined. “It was our mistake and we apologize for it,” says Rita Nazareno, a KTTV spokeswoman. Gonzalez did not return telephone calls. But OffBeat wonders whether the chasm between the city’s English- and Spanish-language “news teams” isn’t getting a little too big. Who here thinks colleagues would slap pictures of Harold Green, Paul Moyer or John Beard on the screen as murder suspects without asking a few questions first? If so, I’ve got a building for sale. Name of Belmont . . .—Sandra Hernandez



Little Elian

Elian Gonzalez fever has hit. Images are everywhere of the 6-year-old boy caught up in a bizarre international custody battle between Cuba and the U.S. after the death at sea of his mother. And politicians are scrambling over themselves to make the pilgrimage to Miami or Havana to invoke “Little Elian’s” blessings in the hope of healing their political careers.

The endless news coverage of the story has led to some interesting examples of selective memory on the part of Republicans regarding past immigration practices. Take Representative Dan Burton, who subpoenaed the boy to appear on Capitol Hill in a move to prevent him from returning to his father in Cuba. Appearing on CNBC’s Hardball, with Chris Matthews, the Indiana Republican could not remember his party’s practice of passing “private bills” to legalize favored immigrants, nationalities otherwise excluded by the GOP’s draconian immigration policies. From the program transcript:

Matthews: “You can always just pass one of those special bills, right? Or are those days over where you can simply write a bill for the release of Elian Gonzalez and give that guy the right to stay?”

Burton: “Well, yes, and I believe some of the members of Congress are looking into that right now. I think Connie Mack and some others are thinking of introducing a bill, and they may do that.”

Matthews: “That was a fairly common thing in the bad old days of the Immigration Subcommittee. You remember that when you headed up the Immigration Subcommittee, don’t you? You used to be able to buy those babies. It was rampant up there. If you were Immigration Subcommittee chairman, you were the gatekeeper of immigration, weren’t you? With those special bills they used to pass on those interesting Wednesday afternoons? Or whatever they were?”

Burton: “You have wisdom that goes beyond me. ’Cause I don’t remember that.”

Matthews: “Well, I do.”

Flatly contradicting her colleague, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida) baldly declared on yet another talk show that private bills are used routinely to legalize favored immigrants. And she ought to know: In August, Ros-Lehtinen co-authored (along with two other Florida Republicans) a bill to grant undocumented Colombians and Peruvians living in the U.S. (namely Florida) immigration amnesty. Not coincidentally, the generally conservative immigrants could help the GOP in upcoming state elections.

Among the bill’s co-authors was Representative Bill McCollum (R-Florida), who was dubbed the “Darth Vader” of immigration for his attitude toward less politically desirable new arrivals.

And what does Little Elian make of all this? Although, to our knowledge, the question hasn’t been put to him, we already know the answer: absolutely nothing. A 6-year-old child doesn’t look further than the PlayStation joystick in his hand to decide what to think. That hasn’t stopped Republicans from trotting out all kinds of purported “statements” from the bereaved child — and from the nun who arranged his reunion with his grandmothers, even from his dead mother — to bolster their claims to keep him in the U.S —Sandra Hernandez

Real Estate Bingo

Whenever OffBeat despairs of finding something decent to read in the local monopoly rag, we turn to what is indisputably the best newspaper product of its kind in the nation: the L.A. Times Sunday real estate section. In the Hot Property column, we thrill to the news of every sitcom washout or studio executive-we-never-heard-of making $.2 million on the sale of their $4.7 million Lake Sherwood estate. Last week, we were particularly intrigued to read that Robert Nesen, Reagan’s ambassador to Australia and a former Valley Cadillac dealer, has his Hidden Valley ranch up for sale. The Doric-columned brick classic was remodeled in 1995 to resemble the American embassy in Canberra, we learned. Not that anybody outside of the southern latitudes has ever seen the embassy in Canberra, but we’re thinking of adding the house to our out-of-towners’ driving tour.

The R.E. story of the week, however, came not in the Hot Property column but in the conveniently titled “Hot Properties” ad that ran right below the column jump. There, nestled amidst the Brentwood Cliff May contemporary and the Encino knoll-top 9,000-square-footer, was a picture of a desert airstrip. That’s right, an airstrip, although the ad helpfully states that Agua Dulce Airport could be purchased for $3.3 million to build your dream estate(s) or subdivision, as well.

Built in 1958 as part of an abandoned fly-in subdivision, the desert strip north of Los Angeles between Palmdale and Newhall has fallen on hard times. Much of its revenue now comes from film-shoot fees. We tried to talk to real estate guy Geoffrey C. Lands about this unique property, but he rang off a bit testily after telling us, “I’ve been working very hard to sell this property for the past six months. If you’re interested in buying it, then I’m interested in talking to you.” We were left to contemplate what it means to live in a soap-bubble city where pretending to be an airstrip is worth more than actually being one, and where one man’s dream estate can turn into another’s tract-home nightmare with a flip of a real estate agent’s hand.

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