Awkward

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Aguilar, who credits her rival for being one of the best reporters in the market, says Dodd is upset at how some of her colleagues have reacted to the gossip about her relationship with the chief.

"I think she's very hurt that some people in her own newsroom are salivating that 'OK, now we can hurt her over this Kunkle stuff instead of showing support.'"

There is certainly some jealousy at Channel 11 over how Dodd is able to consistently break some of the biggest stories in Dallas. Last year, she was the first to report the news of the FBI investigation of City Hall; this year she broke the story of Mayor Laura Miller's decision not to seek re-election. Last Thursday, Dodd was nominated for three regional Emmy awards for her stories on Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill.

Not even Dodd's harshest critics call her a bad or lazy reporter, but journalists at Channel 11 along with other competing stations charge that Dodd's success comes, in part, from being too close to the people she covers, particularly the mayor.

"You'll never see her do anything critical of the mayor," said one colleague of Dodd's, accurately pointing out that many of her exclusives, in one way or another, serve the mayor's interest.

That line of criticism angers Dodd.

"I do have an impressive résumé for someone who is only 32, and it's heartbreaking for someone to say that I've gotten where I am through anything other than hard work."

But Dodd can sometimes be her own worst enemy. Last July, after securing a coveted interview with Miller at her Preston Hollow home, where the mayor first talked about her decision not to run for re-election, Dodd seemed to gloat as she walked past the gaggle of reporters camped outside the mayor's home. The story goes that Dodd acted like a hall monitor, admonishing the reporters for trampling the mayor's lawn. Reporters and photographers at the scene were livid, mostly because they were beat to the news and partly because Dodd almost seemed to flaunt her coziness with the mayor.

"When I walked out [of the mayor's driveway]--there is a gate and they're all standing on the outside of the gate--I had to open the gate and walk through them to get out, and I said something to the effect that 'she's not happy you are here,'" Dodd recalls. "I just wanted to give them a heads-up. To me, I was just being nice."

It didn't help matters that Dodd's interview with Miller came off about as hard-hitting as a one-on-one with Oprah. Dodd referred to the mayor's "softer side" and remarked that most pundits "agree that you are theoretically unbeatable."

To some, Dodd's cozy interview with the mayor was hardly out of character.

"During breaks in council meetings, she'll make comments about the mayor's shoes and tell her she looks good today," says one reporter. "It's a little too chummy."

But the mayor says that she encourages a loose, informal atmosphere among the press corps. "I always kid with reporters about how they look, so, if anything, I've generated that banter," Miller says.

Miller rejects the claim that Dodd is too easy on her, citing the "ambush journalism deal" the reporter did when she broke yet another story--this one about the mayor moving from Oak Cliff to North Dallas a few years ago. "I stepped out of the car, and the camera shined a light on my face, and the camera followed me," she recalls. "It was just a jarring, unnecessary interview."

Miller says she granted Dodd the exclusive interview for no particular reason. It was basically a toss-up between her and WFAA-Channel 8's Chris Heinbaugh.

Also defending Dodd is one of Miller's detractors on the council, Bill Blaydes, whom one figures would be irritated by any reporter who went easy on the mayor: "I can't say she plays favorites; she talks to everybody."

Dodd declined to discuss her relationship with Kunkle, but she insisted that since she is a City Hall reporter, he is not a part of her beat. That's usually true, but there are times when the police chief's interactions with City Hall become newsworthy. Dodd's boss says that the station was already planning to move her out of City Hall anyway and put her to work on investigative and feature stories along with a weekend anchor gig. Of course, even then she's likely to come across the chief, one way or another.

Last month, after a Dallas police officer was shot, Dodd secured the first one-on-one interview with Kunkle. Dodd, who was anchoring the morning newscast, called the chief and urged him to talk to the station. The chief says that at the time the two weren't dating. Later, station employees say, a memo was sent lauding Dodd for landing the interview with the chief. Do it or "feel my wrath," she told the chief. If Kunkle gives Dodd another exclusive, he'll feel the wrath of many of Dodd's competitors.

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Matt Pulle
Contact: Matt Pulle