Fleck knocks down Chron "firewall" between news/editorial

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Back on August 4, we noted the delay in the Bromwich investigation of the HPD crime lab, and wrote,

The Chronicle editorial board is really going to have to stretch to blame this on Harris Country District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

A full two weeks later, the Chronicle editorial board finally got around to commenting on the matter, with a clumsy rhetorical effort that goes pretty easy on Chron “good guy” Bill White while taking shots at Chron “bad guy” Chuck Rosenthal:

Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal says he is willing to allocate money from one of several discretionary funds at his disposal to pay a portion of the crime lab probe costs. “I’m a resident of the city of Houston and I don’t want the money coming out of HPD’s budget,” Rosenthal said.

He also says he wants to resolve the crime lab issue quickly because he doesn’t feel it’s as serious as has been reported. The Chronicle believes the scandal, with its faked or botched lab tests, inaccurate testimony and mishandled evidence pertaining to thousands of cases, some of them capital murder convictions obtained by Harris County prosecutors, is deadly serious.

The scandal IS serious, but until the investigation is complete, we will not know definitively if the crime lab’s problems significantly affected the delivery of justice in Harris County.

Today’s related “news” story by the Chronicle‘s Steve McVicker contains an assertion from a defense attorney that Chuck Rosenthal’s motives in helping to get the crime lab investigation moving are suspect:

Although he would not say how much money he is offering, Rosenthal said Wednesday that he has contacted city officials about the possibility of using discretionary funds — such as drug-seizure money — to help underwrite the HPD probe.

Rosenthal acknowledged that he has a “selfish” motive for wanting to get the crime-lab investigation back on track: “I’d like to see it done just to get a resolution to this because I don’t feel like there’s been the immediacy or the problem that’s been painted by y’all and the other media as to how bad things are.”

To Houston defense lawyer Troy McKinney, Rosenthal’s remarks are indicative of the overall crime-lab problem.

“They continue to take the attitude that any problems are isolated, and only anecdotal, even though there is a tremendous quantity of evidence that the problems are pervasive and continue,” McKinney said.

If the crime lab’s problems “are pervasive and continue,” then how in the world has the crime lab under the current leadership managed to gain accreditation in all areas but DNA testing?

In reality, the excerpt we’ve cited seems intended as a shot at Chuck Rosenthal — and it doesn’t seem fair or accurate in light of the crime lab’s recent accreditation. The defense attorney’s assertions NEVER should have made it into a credible “news” story without the reporter at least pointing out the crime lab’s accreditation (which would go a long way toward refuting the quote, which leads us back to the notion that the quote NEVER should have appeared in a credible “news” story).

But therein lies the problem. Sedosi Alhambra noticed this curious credit at the bottom of the “news” story:

Chronicle staffer Tim Fleck contributed to this report.

Tim Fleck is not just any “Chronicle staffer.” Tim Fleck is a member of the Chronicle editorial board!

So, not only did the Chronicle run an editorial today that took a cheap shot at Chuck Rosenthal, it also ran a “news” story in which it used a suspect quote from a defense attorney to take a cheap shot at Chuck Rosenthal, a “news” story to which an editorial board member contributed!

So much for that “division between the opinion pages and the news pages” that one Chronicle editor/blogger once pointed out to us.


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Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX