I have some advice for District Attorney Nico LaHood. He didn’t ask for it and he is unlikely to take it. But it is good advice, friendly advice.
Nico should call off his war against the Express-News.
The conflict became public two months ago when Nico used Facebook to post an angry screed accusing the paper of dishonesty.
“There is clearly an agenda to attack me and the District Attorney's office,” he wrote. “They continuously ignore the truth and fail to report the facts.”
After proclaiming his own courage and honesty, Nico wrote, “I fully expect the Express-News will continue this slanted journalism. Many of us see the unsettling reality that journalism is turning from objective reporting to profit-driven opinion creation.”
More recently, Nico barred an entire Express-News contingent — a photographer, a reporter and a columnist — from his bombshell press conference announcing that he would seek the indictment of Genene Jones for murder. She’s the ex-nurse who has served more than 30 years in prison for killing babies in Kerrville in the early 1980s. She was sentenced to 99 years, but is scheduled to get out early. Nico wants to prevent that by resurrecting the unprosecuted cases of babies who earlier died under her care in Bexar County.
It was a ham-handed move by the DA, and as history shows, a self-defeating one. In the short run, the Express-News got the news in other ways and gave it a favorable ride, but perhaps not with as much depth as if they had access to Nico.
In the long run, history shows a more corrosive effect of warring with the press.
Example number one: A top aide to Fred Rodriguez, one of Nico’s DA predecessors, complained to an editor about my coverage of him. She suggested that they sit down and talk to me. His direct quote: “Oh no. He’s our enemy for life.” Rodriguez lost his next election.
Rodriguez didn’t lose because he quit talking to me. He lost because that was symptomatic of a condition that is fatal to politicians: thin skin. Let me give three examples of politicians who handled criticism much more effectively.
I almost could set my clock by the mid-morning phone call I would receive from Mayor Lila Cockrell any time I wrote a less-than-favorable column about her. It would always begin the same way. “Rick,” she would say in a friendly tone, “I would like to visit with you about your column.”
She would calmly lay out her objections, often ones of nuance rather than fact. They were good points. The result wasn’t that I would never criticize her, but it encouraged me to check out her reasons first and to be inclined to praise her when the opportunity arose.
When Nelson Wolff objected to a column, his phone calls were loud, forceful and unprintable. But the next time I would see him or call him he would be as friendly and open as ever.
Then there was an event with City Manager Lou Fox. I had enraged Lou with a Sunday column on the infamous 1988 police union contract. He was so angry that the next morning he fired the city’s finance director, Carl White, who had been with the city 36 years. White’s sin was to have given me an actuarial report that showed the cost of the contract’s retirement health benefits was going to be much more than staff estimates. Carl believed all such information belonged to the public.
As it happened, I worked out at the YMCA that Monday during a lunch break and, afterwards, found Lou with his back to me in the shower. It was a typical men’s gym shower with spigots coming out from the four walls and no stalls or other barriers. So there was no avoiding an encounter. “Good afternoon Lou,” I said. And the response of the angry man?
He turned around, stuck out his hand and said, “Hey Rick! How are you? How are the wife and kids?”
And we stood there naked, shaking hands and making small talk. That helps explain why Lou set what was then a San Antonio record for city manager longevity.
Think about it Nico.