The tire track

KHOU-TV Houston has been credited-even on the floor of Congress-with breaking the Firestone tire story. But, to the consternation of the Belo-owned station, KCBS-TV Los Angeles has also taken credit for the story and following investigations.

Khou-tv's Anna Werner and producer David Raziq reported the story in February. Numerous people, including Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-La.), have cited those reports as the basis for the probes. KCBS-TV said it did its version July 25, shortly before the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommended a recall. The station then ran promos contending that it broke the story and that it was this story that led to the investigations.

However, NHTSA has said it began its investigation in May. "We broke the story locally," said Yvette Perez, director of creative services and community affairs for KCBS-TV. That qualification was not necessary for promos within the market, she added. "And the investigation started a few days after.and it's not unlikely someone saw our report [prompting the investigation]."

When KHOU-TV reporters in Los Angeles for the Democratic Convention saw the promos, KHOU-TV News Director Mike Devlin called to complain.

"The record is clear," said Devlin. "Kcbs-tv called us up and asked us for a tape. We gave it to them because we're a CBS affiliate. They certainly did a story, and they were the first ones in their market to do it. But any suggestion that KCBS-TV was responsible for the federal investigation is absolutely false."

Meanwhile it develops, another Houston station, KPRC-TV, first aired stories on problems with Firestone tires in 1996. Reporter Brette Lea, now with WKRN-TV Nashville, Tenn., first tied problems with Firestone tires to the death of Steve Gauvain, a reporter at another Houston station, KTRK-TV. KPRC-TV News Director Nancy Shaffran said that, when KHOU-TV began its reporting, it had become a bigger story involving many more deaths. She added that federal investigators might be using kprc-tv's reporting to document Firestone's knowledge of the problems.