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Craig Watkins: No, Steve Blow, You're an Embarrassment

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Seems Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins is no fan of Dallas Morning News columnist Steve Blow -- get in line, Craig (if I may call you "Craig," and I probably shouldn't). Only, the district attorney has a very specific gripe with the columnist concerning Blow's complaint in yesterday's paper that Watkins dramatically and unnecessarily oversold the discovery of those "missing" JFK assassination trinkets and documents earlier this week.

Keith Olbermann already gave Watkins grief for over-hyping the "discovery," but the Countdown-er was brief, saying the district attorney spoke "with a dose of provocation, whether intentional or not." But Blow, who clearly doesn't read his own paper's huffing and puffing, went on and on and on, after first calling Watkins "irresponsible." That prompted Watkins to pen a lengthy rebuttal sent last night to Unfair Park, in which he somehow finds room to mention the fake-drug scandal and all those DNA exonerations; by all means, read it after the jump. In short, Watkins says the citizens of Dallas should be embarrassed by Steve Blow. Um, is today Christmas? --Robert Wilonsky

Craig Watkins responds to Steve Blow’s column, When DA spoke of JFK, he misspoke for Dallas (No JFK conspiracy, just embarrassment)

Someone recently asked me, “What has been the biggest surprise since taking office?” I would have to say after a year that what has surprised me the most is defending this office and myself against what appears to be intentionally inaccurate reporting by certain members of the news media. I read with amazement this morning Steve Blow’s take on our release of the items connected to Jack Ruby and the assassination of JFK that had been locked up in a safe for decades. According to Mr. Blow’s column, he is embarrassed by this administration’s decision to share the existence of these artifacts with the American people and characterizes the news conference we held on February 18, 2008, as “irresponsible.”

Let’s compare the facts of our announcement earlier this week against Mr. Blow’s opinion of why we exposed the information. The headline in the news release distributed to media from our office the morning of the news conference was, “District Attorney Craig Watkins Discloses Historical Documents Connected to Jack Ruby Discovered in DA Office Safe.” Similarly, my comments at the news conference simply state how and when I learned of these documents and that we determined the public should know that this information had been stored at the DA’s Office for an unspecified amount of time and should in fact be examined and preserved in a proper place.

As I mentioned at the news conference, the fact that this safe existed was brought to my attention by investigators at the DA’s Office shortly after I took office in 2007, just as it was brought to the attention of both of the prior administrations who were elected after Henry Wade.

Among his criticisms, Mr. Blow falsely accuses this office of getting off to a bad start in this matter by searching for the Kennedy material because we heard that the gun used by Ruby to kill Lee Harvey Oswald might be found in this safe. Not once did I nor did anyone from this office state that we were searching for Ruby’s gun. The gun was never even mentioned.

Next, Mr. Blow says I overstated the fact that the alleged transcript of Ruby and Oswald was somehow legitimate. We gave no impression of the legitimacy of the transcript. In fact, I stated at the news conference that I did not know of its legitimacy and that it probably was a fake.

When Mr. Blow and I spoke on February 20th, I shared with him what our intended message to the public was. Our message was largely centered on the fact that first, these documents had been secretly stored in this safe all these years; and second, to expose the racial and faith-based prejudices found throughout a number of the congratulatory letters and notes written to former District Attorney Henry Wade, who prosecuted Ruby in 1964. As I stated at the news conference, those documents remind us of the racial climate in this country in the 60s, how a person’s race or religion seemed more important than his guilt or innocence during that era and just how far we have progressed as a nation in terms of race relations. I spoke with Mr. Blow extensively on this subject, but he failed to include anything from our conversation.

In keeping with this administration’s philosophy of transparency, we simply said here are some historical items we found and we think the public has a right to know about it. Whether or not the information has already been seen by investigating authorities in the past or what it means, if anything, is for experts to determine and I have maintained that position from the very beginning. Mr. Blow also cites several international articles and their sensational headlines on the issue. Surely he knows better than most, that headlines are created to sell newspapers and that I certainly cannot control what angle a reporter takes on a story. If I had that kind of power, this would not be the second response to a Dallas Morning News article that I have written in 48 hours.

Finally, Mr. Blow characterizes our news conference on the JFK documents as an “embarrassment.” I wonder if he was embarrassed by this administration when we exposed the fact that innocent people have been wrongfully convicted by previous administrations and collectively served more than 218 years in prison. Was he embarrassed when 34 Hispanic citizens were convicted for crimes they did not commit in the fake-drug scandal?

I would think the citizens of Dallas County are more embarrassed by Mr. Blow’s exaggerated criticism and mischaracterization of a news conference concerning a safe and its contents, when he has had ample opportunities to express his embarrassment over more serious issues like the wrongful convictions, racially-biased prosecutions and prosecutorial misconduct that this administration continues to uncover.

Craig Watkins

Dallas County District Attorney

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