Blogs » The Write Stuff » Not Becoming Part of the Story


I salute my colleague J.R. Ortega for his blog on the tough day we, as journalists, had Tuesday covering six traffic fatalities and the death of a child and his mom in a separate incident. As much as we like to try and distance ourselves emotionally from the stories we cover, it's often not as easy as it might sound. The same held true with coverage of the father in Lavaca County who beat the man to death he caught molesting his daughter. While we, as reporters, were not part of the story, as coverage of the case became more and more widespread in the state, in the country and even internationally, the phone calls and emails began to come in. First it was the out of town television stations, Houston mostly, emailing and calling asking for directions to the scene, trying to pick our brains on sources, etc. We provided the road number where the incident occurred, but not much else preferring they do their own reporting. Then my colleague Jennifer Preyss who was working the Saturday the incident took place and wrote the initial story, starting getting calls from Nancy Grace's producer, who wanted to interview Jennifer or me during her show. Jennifer and I met with editor Chris Cobler and it was decided that we, as reporters, weren't part of the story and that Grace and others needed to talk to the district attorney, the sheriff, a neighbor, anyone else. And there were others. From talk radio stations in Seattle to Telemundo, the calls and emails continued. And we continued to decline participation as part of the story. Until Wednesday. Then the BBC contacted us. When one of the most respected news organizations in the world asks you to appear on a news talk radio program, you listen. And by this time, the Tuesday press conference had been held, the grand jury decided not to indict the father, the story was over. So it was a little different. There was no ongoing investigation, no ongoing story as far as we were concerned. Consulting again with my editors, they agreed that appearing on the BBC was permissible. So I, telephonically, appeared on the BBC Radio program Up All Night and discussed the case. Most of the questions were about the applicable Texas law, that I had become familiar as it applied to this case, and about public sentiment toward the father.

After my portion of the segment ended and before my phone connection was terminated, I heard the next guest come on to continue the discussion -- noted defense attorney and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz. I heard him answer the first question with the inane comment that in Texas in some cases you aren't considered macho or manly unless you do kill someone. I'm glad the phone connection was terminated. Not sure I wanted to hear more of that! On Thursday, we again agreed to an interview, this time with the Fuji Television Network in Japan. The interview was actually conducted, again by telephone, with a Fuji reporter in their New York Office and aired on the morning news in Japan. While we prefer never, ever being part of the stories we are covering and prefer other news outlets to speak to the sources, not the reporters, the two international opportunities perhaps helped add a better understanding to what happened in South Texas and why. Someone pointed out to me that in my recently published book, Among Murderers and Madness, I interject myself into a triple homicide case and question if that's not contradictory to the theme of this blog. Perhaps. But that was 20 years ago. I was on my own. I had no editors to consult. Maybe if I had, I would have done things differently. But that was then. Things have settled down now, two weeks after the June 9 tragedy. The phones have quieted. Tomorrow is another day.