Whoa, Baby

Too easy to blame the lawyer: I think Jim Schutze's article about Dan Peavy ("Big Man Bites Back," August 17) may have been too harsh on Paul Watler, Belo's outside lawyer, who has a long and distinguished career representing First Amendment interests. As you correctly note, the lynchpin of the Fifth Circuit's opinion was that the reporter, Robert Riggs, allegedly "participated" in the illegal wiretapping by giving instructions to Mr. Peavy's neighbor, Dan Harman. That "conduct" took place before Mr. Watler ever came on the scene. Watler's legal advice on the First Amendment necessarily assumed that Riggs was not participating in the illegal conduct. There was certainly a rational interpretation of Riggs' conduct which would hold that he was not giving instructions on how to wiretap but rather only to insure that Mr. Hartman was not editing Peavy and taking comments which, in context, were innocent and making them appear sinister. Riggs would say, I am sure, that his instructions to Harman were for the benefit of Peavy (to insure a complete conversation) and not to participate in an illegal wiretap.

If one assumes that Riggs' actions could be construed benignly and not as that of a co-conspirator, then Watler's advice was sound and reflected an interpretation of the law which the Dallas Observer benefited from in Peavy's wiretap case against your newspaper. As Judge [Jerry] Buchmeyer held in the Peavy vs. the Dallas Observer case, the wiretap statute could not be applied consistent with the First Amendment when the information is obtained legally, even though the original source of the information was derived from an illegal wiretap. That reading of the First Amendment makes sense particularly when one looks at it in terms of the Observer case. As you may recall, a transcript made from an illegal wiretap was read during a public meeting of the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees, and the transcript was later released by DISD pursuant to an Open Records Act request. Surely the newspaper or any other citizen could not be held criminally or civilly responsible under those circumstances for sharing this public document with other citizens.

The pivotal point of the Belo case was how one characterized Riggs' instruction to Harman. Two federal judges, the U.S. magistrate judge and the district judge, construed Riggs' action innocently, holding that the tapes had been lawfully obtained. Watler's advice was therefore vindicated. Unfortunately for Belo (and Watler), three judges on a higher court took a dimmer view of Riggs' participation, and the appellate court "trumps" the trial judges. But as one can see, reasonable minds, even reasonable judicial minds, could differ on this question.

As for initially and erroneously telling Belo it was legal to tape telephone conversations transmitted on a cordless phone, you are absolutely right: "Who hasn't made a bad mistake? We're human." Although Watler is certainly responsible for that mistake, I doubt very much that he made it. The routine checking of a statute at a firm like Jenkens & Gilchrist would have been done by a recent law school graduate both to save the time of the senior lawyer (Watler) and money for the client, as the routine checking would be done at a much lower billable rate. That's not an excuse, just reality.

This may sound like a First Amendment lawyer sticking up for another First Amendment lawyer, and in a way it is. But keep in mind that when things work out, reporters write that you are an aggressive First Amendment lawyer and it is a privilege to work with you. When things go south, it is easy to blame the lawyer. My point, I guess, is that this case casts unfair blame on Watler and should not, in any event, erase his almost 20 years of exemplary service to the cause of free speech and free press.

Thanks for listening.

Charles L. Babcock

Editor's note: Mr. Babcock represented the Observer in the Dan Peavy vs. the Dallas Observer case, which was dismissed.

Mutual Paranoia

As for the deafening silence: I read your last commentary about yours and Ms. [Valerie] Brogan's misunderstanding (Stage, September 28) with growing curiosity.

You are free to print this letter if you wish. I hope you will print it in its entirety lest it too be misinterpreted.

As for the deafening silence about Ms. Brogan: I, for one, immediately assumed that you had misread Ms. Brogan's letter. But since the letter was not printed and since only certain parts of it were restated, it did not seem proper to comment on your comments. Indeed, if Ms. Brogan had written a homophobic diatribe, then she deserved the "dissing."

Then again, as you so stated, this is a small theater community, and anyone who knows Valerie, however briefly, knows that she is not anti-gay.

So much of the written word can be confused because of one's perception or ignorance today. When I read that you and Ms. Brogan--two "white" people--had lamented the sad state of multiculturalism in theater, I was rather offended myself. But then I remembered two important facts: Ms. Brogan works for Teatro Dallas--a great theater company that celebrates different cultures at every opportunity, and I must assume that you have certainly felt the anger and disappointment when reading a straight person's laments about the state of the gay community. This is how I feel when a white person comments on the state of people of color/the multi-ethnic community today. Of course, you might have been talking about the multiculturalism of Irish and Polish theater. (My husband is Polish-American--a fact of which we are very proud!)

So, perhaps through my overly sensitive perception or ignorance, I misunderstood your comment about "multiculturalism deteriorating from its original best intentions." I was aware that the past slights I had endured because of my brown skin might have caused me to be insolent on impulse.

In the end, I have to ask you this question. What is your definition of a theater critic? Are you a gossip columnist or a reviewer? I hope you are not the former. I have read you reviews and enjoyed many because you explain your ideas--good and bad--about the show you have just seen. You present intriguing reasons for your opinions. Whether I or anyone else agrees with those views is personal. This very same show watched on the very same night may conjure up very different feelings for other people. I may be bored by something that you believe to be the best show this side of the Mississippi.

Thank you for letting me express my thoughts on the subject of mutual paranoia and privacy. (Don't worry--"Dr." Laura will get hers someday. All tyrants do.)

Dolores Godinez

Scary Columnist

Please take your meds: In regard to Robert Wilonsky's review of Meet the Parents ("Sagging Bull," October 5), who gives a shit about that movie. But how could you say The Exorcist was not scary in the first place? You're a critic with a good eye. Did you forget your lithium? Please take your meds so you can get back to normal. And old John Frankenheimer movies are idiotic, right?

Jill Gettelson
West Hollywood

Cheesy Columnist

Go back to Philly: I started to read "Push the Panic Button" (October 5) thinking it was an article on the performance of the Rangers, when I suddenly realized that Mr. [John] Gonzalez is on an "I hate Dallas" tirade and using stats about the Rangers as an excuse to get his message out. Pardon me, but I say, GO BACK TO PHILLY! Since when do sports writers throw in jabs at successful local restaurants and television shows that bring revenue to the city? Mr. Gonzalez, are you saying that you prefer a greasy, fatty, cheese whiz-smothered sandwich to a top-quality beef cheesesteak covered in that famous mustard blend sauce? Well, you're the only one, based on the lunch crowds at Texadelphia. You're right in thinking that it's not the exact sandwich they sell at Jim's or Geno's in your hometown. It's better!

Christine Rossi

Dead Guitar Players

And Leonardo Da Vinci can't draw: It's a similar thing to when people try to convince you that BMWs really aren't such good cars, or that Leonardo Da Vinci couldn't draw. Trying to say that Stevie Ray Vaughan was not one of the greatest guitar players to walk the planet (Scene, Heard, September 21) is just some silly, ill-informed person trying desperately to be profound and controversial in the hope that they might make a name for themselves. It doesn't work, because anyone with any sense can see right through it. Maybe the person who wrote the piece on the SRV boxed set will grow up eventually and realize that there is nothing impressive about ignorantly putting down a person who so obviously does not deserve it. Soon this person will see that the world is split into two types of people: Those who know and love the music of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and those who have yet to experience it.

Claire Jackson
Via e-mail

Slamming a Texas hero: I am responding to that article you wrote about Stevie Ray Vaughan and his boxed set that is coming out. I don't know about everyone else, but it made me mad the way you slammed a Texas hero and the best guitar player of our time. I, for one, am glad they are coming out with unreleased material, and just because it was unreleased doesn't mean that it is bad. His music touched so many people, and I am just appalled that you would talk down on him like that. I hope this boxed set comes out and gets great reviews just so you can eat your words.

Jason Cowey
Via e-mail

Obviously, you are a non-musician: Your infantile attempts to discredit Stevie, his bandmates, and Jimi Hendrix were probably a journalistic all-time low. Obviously, you are a disgruntled non-musician who would have a hard time playing a radio, let alone taking the guitar into the stratosphere and beyond like these cats did.

So when you are done listening to whomever it is that makes your little day better, give pause to reflect upon how many human beings you really tore a chunk out of.

Tony Sloggett
Via e-mail

Don't hurt yourself: You must be a substitute reviewer with absolutely no understanding of huge parts of the wide spectrum of musical styles. I'm sorry if you find this music to be "directionless guitar jams." I'm very sad for you. It's terrible when a great talent such as Stevie Ray Vaughan gets smeared in print by a reviewer who doesn't have the experience even to understand the genre.

As a musician, I find your review beyond laughable, as anyone with an ounce of musical talent (or interest) can clearly hear the genius of Stevie Ray Vaughan. This boxed set will in its first day outsell the amount of papers or magazines your pathetic prose could possibly inspire. Please don't hurt yourself with your pen.

John Rankin Smith


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