On Wednesday, June 7, the weekly column by Henry Tatum, associate editor of The Dallas Morning News editorial page, appeared as usual, accompanied by his photograph, on the paper's "Viewpoints" page.
It was typical Tatum. A former City Hall reporter and 25-year News staffer, Tatum, 52, had written the column for almost 10 years.
On this week, as it often is, his subject was Dallas City Hall: Tatum devoted his 700 words to Ron Kirk's inauguration, noting, as the headline put it, that "Dallas mayors always begin with high hopes."
But instead of voicing cynicism about the new mayor's likely future rude awakening, Tatum opined, in classic upbeat News style, about what cooperation between the new mayor and council could achieve.
With that column, Tatum's byline disappeared from the pages of Dallas' Only Daily--without a word of explanation.
It has been suspended, BeloWatch has learned, after editors found out that Dallas police had cited Tatum in an embarrassing episode of public lewdness in an adult bookstore on Harry Hines Boulevard.
In a conversation with BeloWatch, Tatum called the episode a "very unfortunate" and "very isolated" incident.
According to a sworn police affidavit, prepared to obtain an arrest warrant, Dallas vice division detective Steve Hall was working undercover at the Videoland Adult Bookstore shortly after midnight when he purchased tokens from a store clerk to enter a peep-show booth and began watching a video. "It was at this location," the affidavit states, "that Detective Hall encountered the suspect."
According to the affidavit, "Suspect Tatum entered the same booth and while at this location suspect Tatum knowingly engaged in the following act of sexual contact: suspect grabbed detective's genitals through the outside of detective's pants. This act was committed on the person of said officer in the above public place at which place the suspect was reckless about whether another person was present who would be offended or alarmed by his act. After the suspect grabbed Detective Hall's genitals, the suspect exposed his erect penis and began to masturbate himself. It was at this time that Detective Hall identified himself as a police officer and advised the suspect of the violation...The suspect was advised and released at the scene."
Tatum was cited for public lewdness, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4000 fine. On May 25, the affidavit was filed and a county magistrate issued a warrant for Tatum's arrest. Tatum was arrested that day and released after posting bond.
On June 28, Tatum, who had no previous record, pled no contest to the public lewdness charge and accepted a judgment of deferred adjudication. He paid a fine of $350 and court costs of $205; a 60-day jail term was probated for six months. The entire incident will be wiped off Tatum's record if he encounters no further problems during that period. Community service was waived "for good cause shown," according to court records.
Tatum was represented by James Barklow, Jr., a high-profile defense lawyer and a former assistant district attorney.
Police and prosecutors say Tatum's treatment and sentence were typical for such an offense.
News editors learned of the incident before Tatum entered his plea--it is unclear how--and his column was suspended. He has continued to write unsigned editorials for the News and says no further disciplinary action is pending.
Tatum would not say who made the decision to yank the column. "I hope to write a column again," he told BeloWatch. "But I hope to concentrate on editorials right now.
"I felt like it was better at this time to concentrate on other areas for a while."
Tatum says News management "wanted to find out what the legal status of this [incident] was." Though he said he disputes some details of the police account of the incident--he would not discuss which ones--Tatum says he decided not to fight the charge. "For the sake of the paper and my family, I decided it would be better to plead no contest. I decided I wanted to get on with my life."
News editors--who have published nothing about the incident--would not discuss it. "I really can't help you there," editorial page editor Rena Pederson told Belo-Watch. News publisher Burl Osborne did not return a BeloWatch call.
But Tatum, who has worked at the News for almost 25 years, said, "The newspaper's been very supportive. They understood that this was something very unfortunate, very isolated and have been very supportive."
During his News career, Tatum covered Dallas City Hall for almost a decade. He has worked on the editorial page since 1983.
"The key was for me to resolve this and to receive deferred adjudication. The desire is to go on and put this behind me.
"This was just an unfortunate incident. I've decided to handle it in this way, and go on with my life."
The June 17 "corrections, clarifications" box in Dallas' Only Daily carried an interesting item correcting a mistake in a story about Dallas' favorite billionaire.
"On Page 3A of the National section Friday, a photo caption incorrectly stated that Ross Perot was discussing a story about President Clinton's budget proposal while holding a copy of The Dallas Morning News."
The News had given the story about Perot's Capitol Hill press conference on his upcoming issues meeting, by Washington bureau reporter Catalina Camia, substantial play--perhaps because it provided a photo opportunity of Perot wielding a copy of Dallas' Only Daily during his talk.
Clearly this illustrated how one of America's most influential men relied on the News for his understanding of critical events--no wonder the News ran the two-column wire-service picture with the caption: "Dallas billionaire Ross Perot on Thursday speaks to a Texas Breakfast Club meeting in Washington, D.C., about a story in The Dallas Morning News on President Clinton's proposal to balance the federal budget."
The only problem, as the next day's correction pointed out: "Mr. Perot was discussing a story about a small-town barber on the paper's front page.
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