By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Those intrepid Investigators from Channel 2 were at it again January 10.
With the "Exclusive" tag firmly entrenched at the bottom of the screen, the team exposed how Harris County Judge Robert Eckels has abstained from voting in Commissioners Court for more than two years.
His actions "raise questions of whether he is fulfilling his duties," the Investigators said.
"It means that Eckels chose not to vote while millions of tax dollars were spent on road projects, jails and sheriff's patrols, on the medical examiner's office and all the business of the county," Investigator Stephen Dean said, in suitably alarmed tones.
Eckels told the station -- exclusively, according to the on-air graphic -- that he votes only when he needs to break a tie or take a stand on an important issue. "I came out of the legislative environment, where the speaker, the chair of the committee, does not vote," he said.
"Eckels," the exclusive report stated, "decided back around September 1999 that he would no longer vote."
Which was just about when the Houston Chronicle wrote about it in full.
Then-Commissioners Court beat writer Joe Stinebaker wrote a story noting that Eckels had started abstaining from votes on almost all agenda items. He quoted Eckels: "It's the standard procedure in parliamentary procedure, that the chair would not make motions and would vote only in the event of a tie."
The Chron didn't put an "Exclusive!" logo on its piece. But then again, it probably didn't realize just what a big news story it was.
Or would be, two years later. Not to mention that, as Channel 2's report noted, Eckels had recently started voting again.
Don't Speak Ill
Papers all over the state noted the January 10 death of W.A. Criswell, the longtime pastor of the powerful First Baptist Church in Dallas.
The Chronicle did its part, with Dallas bureau chief Jim Henderson penning a lengthy obit, duly taking note of the fact that Criswell was once a hateful racist spewing abhorrent bile in his public talks. (Or, as Henderson put it, "He was renounced from the left for preaching against integration, which he declared 'idiocy' in a speech to the South Carolina legislature. After he was elected president of the [Southern Baptist Convention], he renounced that position and opened First Baptist to blacks for the first time.") (Not until nineteen-sixty-freaking-nine, the Chron didn't add.)
Missing from the obit was the nugget that forever endeared Criswell to Irish Catholics everywhere: He was among the most vituperative mainstream preachers when it came to demonizing John Kennedy's religion in the 1960 presidential election. Criswell was in the vanguard of those structural engineers who expounded knowingly on the construction of the hidden tunnel that would be erected between the White House and the Vatican.
"The election of John F. Kennedy will lead to the death of a free church and a free state," he said in a widely quoted Fourth of July sermon.
The Chronicle only omitted mention of this episode. The Dallas Morning News, on the other hand, went one step further. In its own long review of Criswell's career (headlined "'Our Loss Is Heaven's Gain': Baptist Leader Influenced Hearts, Minds, for Decades"), the News's take was this:
"[Criswell] preached and conducted evangelistic crusades on every major continent and was a guest of the White House and of Pope Paul VI in Rome He was a champion of Israel and enjoyed a warm relationship with Jews and with Catholics."
As long as they knew their place, we guess.
Can't Live with 'Em...
The weaker sex -- what'ya gonna do with them? That appears to be the attitude of Channel 13's Don Nelson, if the morning broadcast January 7 was any indication.
A sharp-eyed viewer wrote to tell us that not once, but twice, Nelson noted in his traffic updates that one backup was caused by an accident "between a female driver and a female police officer."
Take my traffic report please.