Cover Story: What the Houston Chronicle Got Wrong About Lloyd Oliver (They Forgot to Laugh)
The Houston Chronicle gets a lot of things right. Their investigations are often dogged, and their prose is usually limpid and easy to navigate. Everyone knows -- including us -- they do most of the journalistic heavy lifting in this town, evidenced by a comment a fellow reporter recently made: "Just expect if it's important, the Chron has already written it."
Indeed, the Chronicle had already written about Lloyd Oliver when I started working on this week's cover story, "The Tea Party Democrat." But, wow, have they ever missed the story. And they've continued missing the story, week after week, in recurring dispatches.
Their facts were all right. (Well, almost. Oliver's been indicted once; not three times. And his law license has only been suspended once; not twice.) But the overarching narrative behind their stories has not only been untruthful -- it's also been melodramatic. Yes, Oliver says some strange things. Yes, he's gotten into trouble a few times for doing things other lawyers wouldn't, like giving a giant black man named Perry Mason a pair of size-17 shoes to hand out his business cards outside the county jail. And yes, with his girth and timbre and dyed mustache, he's hard to take seriously.
But a Lloyd Oliver victory in the race for Harris County district attorney will not usher in the apocalypse. Let's not forget that. It may even be pretty interesting.
The Chronicle is mainstream journalism, but that shouldn't preclude the right to laugh at funny things. Not everything necessitates the stern consternation of a parent handling a cadre of petulant teenagers. Please, spare us the moralizing.
Granted, not everything Oliver says is funny. There are lot of comments he makes that are deeply troubling. We don't, for instance, condone his take on domestic violence. Such crime should be prosecuted, and laxness on this may embolden repeat offenders. Still, we understand why Oliver says what he does. Most of Oliver's clients are uneducated, and while not an excuse, he says he empathizes with the struggles of marriage and poverty. He doesn't condemn with bluster and brimstone when people err. He's arrived at this opinion after working hundreds of cases of domestic violence.
More often than not, Oliver says he finds a troubled family begging the judge to let a loved one free. He says the harshness of the law can do more to destroy families than anything else. It can take away an income provider and mire children in a home with one parent. Oliver's opinions on domestic violence legislation -- while countervailing -- aren't extemporaneous. They derive from personal experience.
The fact, ultimately, is that Oliver isn't a politician. He hasn't sanitized his opinions and ideas so they'll reflect what establishment figures -- whether it's the Chronicle or the local Democratic leadership -- thinks is proper. It has allowed him to say unusual things; and it should allow us to laugh at them.
Call Oliver what you want. Call him a buffoon. Call him sleazy. Call him fat.
But don't call him disingenuous. As I was told time and again: Lloyd Oliver is who he is.
And he's not apologizing for it.
Check out "The Tea Party Democrat" here.
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