On his Sunday show, HBO's news commentator John Oliver came down on local news organizations, including Austin's KVUE, for trading credible advertising for a pretty penny.
In a setup to show how easy it is to get what he called "ridiculous products" with "outlandish claims" on TV, Oliver creates a phony product called The Venus Veil, "a sexual wellness blanket." He hires an actress to promote it on three TV stations, including KVUE.
The product, which is in reality a normal blanket, makes various claims about the use of nonexistent "magnetogenetics" technology. The script states the technology was pioneered in Germany 80 years ago and gets the blood flowing, fixing erectile issues and improving vaginal lubrication.
Showing after the 10 p.m. Thursday news broadcast on FYI Austin, the TV station allegedly accepted $2,650 for the promo, according to Oliver. (18:20) A KVUE reporter spoke with the Venus Veil acting representative who gave a spiel about the "self-contained magnetic field" that the blanket gives to restimulate blood flow, to which the KVUE reporter responded, "very interesting."
"Is it interesting? Or is that obvious bullshit that shouldn't have been on in the same hour of coverage as the cease-fire in the Middle East, a shortage of lifeguards in local public pools, and an investigative piece on criminal justice and bail reform. One of these things is not like the others and is definitely a Nazi-era fuck blanket," Oliver said.
The response from the local community is already showing disappointment in the local station on social media.
John Oliver hit @KVUE hard. Wow, I've lost a lot of respect for the channel.
— James Vinson* (@DoctorShades24) May 24, 2021
It's really disappointing to me as a citizen of #atx that @KVUE cares so little for its viewers that they would promote clearly bogus products on its shows. https://t.co/tgpniyuP1S
— germanny (@germanny) May 24, 2021
Well, I now know not to trust @KVUE , thanks to @iamjohnoliver #lastweektonight
— Mariss (@marissawill7) May 24, 2021
A KVUE spokesperson issued the following comment to Austonia: "'FYI Austin' is a two-minute commercial spot that is not a part of the KVUE newscast. While it is a commercial spot, it was an error to air it, and we are reviewing our processes, so this doesn't happen again."
"Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" also exposed local stations, Utah's ABC 4 and Denver's Mile High Living, in not protecting viewers from baseless claims made by advertisers such as the made-up Venus Veil.
Sponsored content allows local organizations to integrate ads among other reporting, making it difficult to detect, especially when the Federal Communications Commission does not have specific requirements for how content is labeled sponsored. According to Oliver, media groups including KVUE parent, TEGNA, Scripps, Nexstar and Sinclair all have sponsored content programs.
While local organizations can make a lot of their revenue from this—Oliver says KXAN parent company NEXSTAR makes almost half its advertising revenue from spots aired during local news—Oliver says news organizations shouldn't sell themselves out when it could hurt their credibility.
"The integrity of local news is crucially important and there is real harm for everyone if that integrity is damaged," Oliver said.
This story was updated at 12:50 p.m. to include comment from KVUE.
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Officials are asking certain residents in Bastrop State Park to evacuate as crews work to put out a “very active fire” that is currently 0% contained.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has responded to help local fire departments with the Rolling Pines Fire at 100 Park Road 1A, which is consuming 300 acres. Residents of Pine Hill Drive, Pine Tree Loop, Linda Lane and Lisa Lane are being asked to evacuate.
Today’s Bastrop Rolling Pines Fire is burning along Power Plant Road towards Lake Bastrop South Shore. pic.twitter.com/YCvJkIAg1u
— BastropCntyTexas OEM (@BastropCntyOEM) January 18, 2022
Aviation resources have been called to assist.
According to the Bastrop County Office of Emergency Management, the wildfire sparked during a prescribed burn that took place today, despite wildfire warnings. Park Road 1C from Harmon Road to Park Road 1A had been closed for the prescribed burn.
The blaze is in the same location as the Bastrop Complex Fire of 2011, which burned for 55 days, killing two people, destroying 34,000 acres and around 1,700 homes and buildings. The fire, which started in 2011, became the most destructive wildfire in Texas at the time.
A hotbed for fires, the Hidden Pines Fire started at the same location in 2015, destroying 4,600 acres and 64 structures.
Some road closures have been put in place at State Highway 21 South Shore Lake Bastrop and East State Highway 21.
This is a developing story and will be updated as information becomes available.
After months of record-setting periods for Austin real estate, the Austin Board of Realtors announced Tuesday that the metro's housing market accounted for over $23 billion of economic activity in 2021, making it the biggest year yet for both home sales and median home prices in the metro.
The Austin-Round Rock MSA saw 41,316 homes sold in 2021, 2.5% more than a record-setting 2020. Median home prices skyrocketed as well, rising 30.8% from 2020 to $450,000. The housing market also saw unprecedented impact on Austin's economy, with sales dollar volume jumping to over $23.38 billion, and more homes hit the market in 2021 than any previous year, increasing by 5.9% to 46,449 total homes listed.
(Austin Board of Realtors)
As many recent Austin homebuyers have experienced firsthand, Austin Board of Realtors 2022 President Cord Shiflet said 2021 was the most "exciting, complicated, fast-paced and record-setting housing market" in Austin's history.
Shiflet dubbed the market as "complicated" for a reason—Austin became a case study on supply and demand in 2021, with demand far outpacing the number of active listings, which dropped by 48.2% to 2,348 homes in 2021.
The metro ended the year with 0.6 months of inventory, a far cry from a "healthy" six-month supply, and houses were snatched at breakneck speeds, spending 25 fewer days on the market when compared to 2020. The average home was on the market for 20 days.
But low inventory is more due to high demand than a stagnant homebuilding market, Mark Sprague, Independence Title's state director of information capital, said in the report.
“In 2021, the record number of homes sold were demand-driven transactions and that demand was influenced greatly by companies continuing to target the region for job creation and expansion," Sprague said. "Even though more homes are being built, listed and sold than ever before, our region is still nowhere close to having a comfortable amount of supply to meet the demand, which is why home prices continue to rise steadily.”
Over 23,000 jobs have been promised by companies across the metro as of December 2021, breaking the 2020 record, according to Opportunity Austin, the economic development arm of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. With an influx of major factories and offices, including Tesla's Giga Texas, Samsung's Taylor plant and a planned 33-floor Facebook office, Sprague said the region's booming market paired with a struggling inventory and supply chain issues could be a double-edged sword in 2022.
"In short, 2022 will see a robust market for home sales and property values, but the region must do more to address inventory, ” Sprague said.
Shiflet recommended that potential homebuyers make a decision ahead of predicted increases in interest rates and home prices and said that he hopes local politicians will continue to prioritize affordable housing in the election year.
Still, Shiflet said a record-breaking housing market reflects Austin's growing reputation as a hub for talent, tech jobs and a good quality of life.
"With all the new jobs across the region from exciting companies like Tesla and Samsung, Austin was put on the world’s stage and captured the hearts and attention of so many," Shiflet said. "We are lucky to call Austin our home when it has so much to offer from a great quality of life to a wonderful destination for innovation and opportunity.”
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