I have been bugging Sophia Mafrige for over a year to invite Wayne Dolcefino to the Downtown Pachyderm. And, this past Thursday, Wayne gave a tremendous presentation.
For those of you who may be new to Houston, Wayne was the investigative reporter for Channel 13 Eyewitness News for 27 years. Over that time, he won 30 Emmy awards, including the prestigious Edward R. Murrow award, for his investigative reporting.
Wayne gave the group a glimpse into the world of investigative reporting, including his focus on public corruption. It is clear that Wayne had two jobs during his time at Channel 13: (1) investigative reporter and (2) Pseudo-Public Integrity Chief for the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District and the local district attorney’s offices, including Harris County.
Much of Wayne’s talk was focused on the fact that local law enforcement fails to prosecute public corruption – unless forced to by public shaming. Think about it for a second. Jerry Eversole – investigated by Wayne and subsequently prosecuted. Victor Trevino – investigated by Wayne and subsequently prosecuted. HCC. HISD. You get the picture.
No public figure was ever immune to Wayne’s investigative power and indictments usually followed his stories. Law enforcement was always a reactionary force after Wayne’s stories went live. Following Wayne’s reporting, Constable Trevino was charged with four felonies involving public corruption and eventually pled guilty to one felony. He is very lucky not to be serving a lengthy prison sentence. We can thank Susan Brown for this very light sentence.
Wayne began by talking about the good old boy network, which is something that led to Trevino’s trouble. Barbecues that force employees to spend a good amount of their small salaries on event tickets are passé thanks to Wayne’s reporting. Wayne was clear: Harris County elected officials should not be allowed to force their employees to sell tickets or participate in their fundraising and political campaigns.
The point is that investigative journalism is near extinction in Houston. The crooks are happy but what does it say about us?
Wayne spoke at length about the fact that the majority of libel law in Texas is filled with case styles including the name Dolcefino. It sure cost Channel 13 a lot of money; but, the news organization was well represented at the time by Chip Babcock. As Wayne said, the appellate courts usually corrected unfriendly rulings and verdicts in the trial courts. Now, all of the local stations are self-insured, which, in their own mind, prevents the hard-hitting investigative reporting that was the moniker of Wayne Dolcefino.
While local newsmakers leave much to be desired, all is not lost. Voters have the opportunity to elect a district attorney interested in prosecuting public corruption and white collar crimes.
To sustain the reporter’s privilege, Senator Huffman is sponsoring Senate Bill 627 that codifies a protection for journalists. Under this legislation, as long as the journalist can prove that the allegations were made and accurately reported, litigation against the journalist will not prevail. Senator Huffman also authored the Anti-SLAPP statute, which was further strengthened by the Texas Legislature in 2013. Channel 13 recently used this statute to win and obtain attorneys’ fees against a plaintiff in Harris County.
I agree that the reporter’s privilege should be protected for honest reporting. My beef is with reporters who use dishonest sources, which produce dishonest results. My bigger complaint is with reporters who disseminate untruthful stories and then fail to correct the record.
Wayne is a very hard worker and conducted thorough research on his stories. While Wayne seems to enjoy his time away from television, he is greatly missed.