He's baaaack

Marty Griffin, onetime media pariah, readies for his return--this time, on radio

Before we get to the "story" part of this column, please allow me to tell you why I love Marty Griffin.

You remember Griffin, right? For years, he was one of Channel 5's "public defenders," an investigative reporter who muckraked his way throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area, using his TV news pulpit to give viewers an up-close look at fraud, corruption, and his thick, manageable hair. He scuffled with John Wiley Price, shouted at overcharging roofers, showed the elderly being mistreated at nursing homes. His professional acme came during a series of stories that, using a hidden camera and a paid station informant (remember Dennis Pedini?), showed Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin buying cocaine. He was at the center of the city's biggest story. As then-Dallas Observer reporter Laura Miller, who was covering the story, said at the time, "It was his story. The specter of Marty Griffin was everywhere."

Griffin's nadir came soon afterward. On New Year's Eve 1996, he reported that police were investigating Irvin and fellow Cowboy Erik Williams for the sexual assault of a 23-year-old topless dancer, later identified as Nina Shahravan. Ten days later, police would hold a news conference saying that Shahravan concocted the story. Griffin had been had. In July 1997, his station paid Irvin and Williams each "at least $1 million," Griffin says, to settle their libel suit against Channel 5. Griffin returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh to rebuild his career and escape the snickering.

Why do I love the man, then? Not because he foolishly listened to a stripper--although I understand why he did. It's not the first time a man has looked silly after believing a topless dancer's spiel. (Which reminds me: Hi, Christy! Move back to Colorado? Get that nursing degree yet?) No, I love the man--OK, "love" may be a little strong; you get the point, though--because he returns phone calls promptly. Because he answers every question. Because he knows full well that he is the object of some people's ridicule, but he doesn't shy away from talking about it. Because he doesn't whine. Because, unlike most other frightened-bunny reporters and editors and writers and executives I deal with on the media beat in DFW, he doesn't duck and hop away when asked for comment. In short, because he nuts up.

"Look, I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid," he says, chuckling wearily, from the Travis Walk offices where he has been trying to launch Internet, TV, and radio programs for his start-up company, Converged Media, since April. "My past is a double-edged sword. If I were any other reporter, you wouldn't be calling me. My company wouldn't get publicity. I hope you will talk about what the Converged Media is doing, some of the exciting things we've got going on. But I know the business. You want to talk about my past; I understand. I don't shy away from it. I did a lot of good work as a reporter, got laws changed, helped a lot of people. But all most people care about is one story. I understand that. Nothing I can do about it except deal with it and move forward. So let's go."

Now, we get to the "story" part of the story, where we talk about all the forward-looking stuff, the part that doesn't satisfy your (or my) gossip-loving curiosity. The part where I don't so much look like someone who is interested only in scandalmongering.

Griffin says that although he was enjoying his time in Pittsburgh as an investigative reporter, he had long felt stifled by television. (He said as much to me four years ago during a lengthy interview for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, well before the Shahravan blowup occurred.) He said that when a dot-com opportunity came about in December--with a company formerly called Howto.com--he jumped at the chance to come back to Dallas. But early in the year, the business plan changed, the site went from a consumer-oriented site to a "business-to-business" site. "And I was on the street, looking for work," Griffin says. "But this idea, doing consumer-based shows that use TV, the Internet, and radio, was one that I knew would work, and I knew it would work here."

Why here, the city that he should hold not so dear in his heart? "I understand why you'd think that, but no, I still love this town. The people here have been great, very supportive...All our business partners know me, know my past, but don't care--they're excited at what we're building here. In fact, I couldn't have done this anywhere but Dallas. The city's energy and willingness to take a risk makes what we're doing possible."

He found a believer in Ron Lusk, head of Phoenix Healthcare Corp., who had worked with Griffin on his nursing-home stories. In April, Lusk created Converged Media as a subsidiary of his corporation and hired Griffin and Channel 11's Timm Matthews, Griffin's best friend, to create programming that would work in all three mediums. In June, after focusing the company on this goal and changing its parent's name to The Phoenix Corp., he hired EDS and Perot Systems executive Gary Castleberry.

According to Griffin, Converged Media's first program, On Your Side Radio, is being honed now and is set to debut August 10 on KRLD-AM. Griffin will host the show, a consumer activism program that will converge only two of the three mediums (radio and the Internet). After Texas Rangers games, Griffin will broadcast from the company's Deep Ellum studios, helping callers and e-mailers (the show will be available through the Net) find the best landscaper, or best roofer, or car dealership, or grocery-delivery service, or...you get the idea: an interactive, local Consumer Reports.

"I understand that people may hear 'Marty Griffin' and think I'm going to jump out of the dark and say 'Gotcha,' but it won't be that way," Griffin says. "We'll use a feather, not a hammer. We'll have experts, doctors, lawyers, folks to help consumers make the right decision."

The show will also be on the air online (www.onyoursideradio.com) Monday through Friday, live from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Ignoring for a minute your well-founded cynicism about Internet Radio--our own Robert Wilonsky, who co-hosted a Dallas Observer Net radio show for two years, says one can reach the same audience with two cans and a string--Griffin is hopeful that he can succeed. And, he notes, if the show is a success, there are plans for dozens of other such shows, including a sports-oriented program with pal Matthews.

"I understand, though, that everything hinges on how this program does," Griffin says. "It's the showcase, the one that has to work so that we can move forward on our other ideas.

"And I know that there will be a curiosity just because I am who I am. I'm a train wreck. People hear my name and say, 'Oh my, I don't want to watch.' But they do. I know I have that reputation, and I hope to use whatever I can to get people to listen. But once they do, I hope the concept itself and the quality of the show keep them around. I hope they can get past the fact that I did one story that blew up years ago and judge me by everything I've done, what I'm doing now, what we will do, not by one story."

OK, that's his story. I'm not sure it clears up everything re: Mr. Griffin. I'm not sure his good intentions should absolve him of a lot of the grief he's caused. I'm not sure Marty is the brightest cat in the shed. But I'm sure glad he's back in town, because at least the man isn't scared to return a call and answer some questions, unlike many of the local media cowards who still mock him.

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