Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Dan Patrick vs. the Houston Chronicle

Dan Patrick, the Houston talk radio host, got short-sheeted by the Houston Chronicle, and now he's threatening legal action.

Dan, if I've said it once, I've said it twice, don't pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.

Let's recap.

The Chronicle did a short story that said tax-cutting crusader Patrick owed back taxes. The 238-word story appeared in the newspaper's "Wrap-up" column, where reporters are encouraged to contribute light, breezy, hopefully humorous pieces that ordinarily wouldn't appear elsewhere.

During the interview, Patrick said he told the Chronicle that the tax payment shortfall wasn't his fault, that the taxing authorities had informed him in writing it was their fault, and they gave Patrick until May 1 to resolve it.

The Chron's short story said Patrick owed back taxes, and that it "wasn't Patrick's fault, really."

That's not libel.

The bottom line is Patrick owed the unpaid taxes. Makes for a nice headline, especially if you're an anti-tax crusader, even if it's not your fault.

Patrick also complained the newspaper alluded to the fact that Patrick's real legal name is Dannie Goeb. Not libel. That's just someone pulling the hat on your head down over your ears and running away laughing.

Patrick's been picking on the Chron via KSEV-AM radio a long time now, and since he started The Lone Star Times, he's been picking on them via the Web. So they short-sheeted him, gave him a wedgie, pulled his shorts down in front of the girls gym class, figuratively speaking.

It may not have been the most high-minded thing to do; it may not have been fair, technically speaking. But, shoot, it's not really fair when radio talk show hosts cut off callers who don't agree with them.

Patrick owed the taxes. It might not have been Patrick's fault that the taxes went unpaid, but he still owed.


Now, Patrick can pull his britches up and see about evening the score.

Maybe he'll have his day in court. It could be a nice bully pulpit, testifying under oath and all, if it got that far, which is highly doubtful.

Or, instead of going all the way to the trial stage, Patrick could file suit and see what kind of settlement the deep pockets of the Hearst Corp. might produce. It might be worth a shot. A long shot, but a shot.

I was involved, peripherally, in a libel/slander case one time.

(Now I'm about to reach back for another one of my yarns from the Way Back Machine ... Cue the music. Let's go with Willie Nelson's "Who'll Buy My Memories.")

A photographer and I were sent down to South Padre Island to do one of those Spring Break stories. This is in the mid-80s. We rounded up the usual suspects for a light, bright feature story about coeds and beer and guys on the make.

That evening, after the sun went down, we're wandering through the pool area of one of the nicer hotels when the photographer spots two couples in the pool, locked in sweet embrace. They're in the water, by the edge of the pool, and the underwater lights backlight their profiles quite nicely. Click, click, click.

Then the photographer, a female, does what she's supposed to do, gets their names, ages, hometowns and where they're pursuing their higher education, for the cutline.

I stand there idly. I've got all the material I need.

It turns out of the hundreds of photos that were taken, that's the one the editors chose to run real big. Great shot. Fit the story. Ran in black & white on the section front.

The parents of the two Houston girls were NOT pleased. Turns out the two girls were not locked in sweet embrace with their boyfriends, but with two boys that weren't their boyfriends. And, though the story itself never quoted the two young women or described what they did or didn't do, it addressed what goes on during a typical Spring Break. And there was that picture of their daughters to illustrate the story.

They sued The Houston Post.

I never saw the pleadings. It was all very hush-hush. In fact, now that I think about it, maybe it was one of those deals where the lawyers sent the lawsuit to the paper BEFORE they filed it, to see what the paper would do. I'm just not sure, and, gosh, it was a long time ago.

The paper settled, I think for about 12 grand, if I'm remembering correctly what I was told. It wasn't libel. I know that. But it was worth around 12 grand. Plus attorney's fees, I'm sure.
[Lone Star Times]


Kevin Trotman said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kevin Trotman said...

Thanks for the story about Dan Patrick. I found it after I did a search for "Dan Patrick" and "Taxes" on Google. What prompted me to search for that? I had just received a call from the "Harris County Tax Federation of Republicans" as they identified themselves. They wanted to inform me of disturbing news about how Dan Patrick owed back taxes. I thanked them for informing me of the news, told them I'd have to check out the story myself, then asked them who they recommended people vote for. She said "Personally, I'm still voting for Dan Patrick. I was hired to read a script, but I understand how things can happen to someone and taxes can get messed up. I'm sure he's either paid it already or is planning on paying it and it wasn't intentional." I thanked her for her honest opinion. I then went searching the 'net for confirmation. Your story puts it in perspective. It's a good thing I don't count on the Houston Chronicle for all my news.