Let's talk about sects

Why didn't the Morning News' Lee Hancock win a Pulitzer? Because of Jasper, Ronald King, and karma.

Ronald King is an old man who suffers from emphysema. He was a point of pity during the trial. He arrived every day in a wheelchair and with an oxygen bottle. But he is still alert today, still clear about what went on when Hancock came to town and sought him out.

First, King shoots down some of the things others said about Hancock's tactics. He says she didn't help him draft the statement he released after his son was found guilty. He says that he didn't, as rumored, run interview requests from other media by Hancock to get her permission. But, he says, she wouldn't have objected.

"I heard she was telling reporters that they had to go through her for an interview, which wasn't true," King says. "And she did try to tell me that it would be against my best interests to talk to certain other reporters.

"She did try to cozy up to me at first," he says. "Tried to make herself a part of the family. But once she printed something I had told her in confidence, something I asked her not to print, well, she screwed me up real good. I'm still bitter about it. After that, I wouldn't walk across the street to tell her hello."

King says he trusted Hancock and believed she wanted to help him tell his complex emotional tale, about how someone could hate what his son did but still love him. He talked to her for an exclusive interview -- an interview every media outlet in the country would have loved to have -- that ran in November 1998. But in another story, in a conversation he considered private, he claims he told her something about another family member that he didn't want printed. (It was about his family, and it wasn't pertinent to the crime, he says. In fact, King said he would confirm this story only if I promised not to repeat it, a condition to which I agreed.) "I cried and begged her not to print it. She just sat there and said, 'Don't worry. It'll be all right.'"

Again, in the strictest sense, there's nothing wrong with this. "Off the record" is a contract made between a source and a reporter, and if two people haven't explicitly agreed that something is off the record, it isn't. In the real world, though, old men in small towns with failing health whose sons are on trial for murder, men who are trapped in the tent of a media circus, men to whom you've ingratiated yourself, deserve human decency. If King's version is true, then he is a perfect example of why so many people hate the media: The quest for the story leads someone to whore himself, trading his decency for the easy money/cheap thrill of an exclusive. Lee Hancock may be a fine person, and she certainly is an excellent reporter, but I take joy when people get what's coming to them, and I choose to chuckle about the empty space on her award mantel.

You won't find Davidian supporters complaining about her tactics or point of view, though. In fact, they gave her another laurel last week. At the anniversary of the Branch Davidian fire, one of the speakers, electronics expert Gordon Novel, said he was awarding Hancock his "straight-shooter" award. Everyone, the folks who've forgiven her for her past Waco coverage and those who are newly interested because of her current Waco coverage, clapped loudly. She used to refer to the Davidians as a "cult." Now, in her stories, they're a "sect," and she is their hero.

Send turkey legs and news tips to Eric Celeste at eric.celeste@dallasobserver.com.

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