Maybe it’s coincidence, or something more sinister. Or maybe I’m just full of myself. You be the judge.
In May 2010, I wrote a story criticizing Guardianship Services in Tarrant County and the probate court run by Judge Pat Ferchill. (I’d written a similar story in July 2008.) In a nutshell, the stories describe a court system that appears in some cases to be more interested in financially benefiting itself and its support system of attorneys, counselors, and care providers rather than the local residents who find themselves sucked into the system.
Two months after my second story appeared in Fort Worth Weekly, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram countered with three heartwarming articles about Guardianship Services, the probate court, and Ferchill. All were written by reporter Melody McDonald.
In September 2010, I wrote another story that pointed out Ferchill’s questionable courtroom tactics. That story was among those cited by the Houston Press Club when they selected me as 2010 print journalist of year for Texas newspapers under 100,000 circulation.
Two months later, McDonald wrote a piece on Ferchill under the headline “Tarrant judge collects cars and canines,” all about the judge’s love of dogs and cars. You can either click on the link or just go bury your head in a mound of saccharine and gag yourself to death.
Fast forward to June 2011. I wrote a story that questioned the tactics of 231st District Court Associate Judge Lisa Beebe.
A month later, the Star-Telegram‘s Tim Madigan comes out with this perky profile of Beebe, whose three marriages prompted the laughable headline, “Family law judge cuts through clashes with wisdom that comes from experience.”
I guess it sounds better than “Frequently married family law judge belittles litigants to feed her ego and try to one-up Judge Judy.”
Madigan left out the part about Beebe being a world class musician — she played him like a virtuoso.
Based on the comments at the bottom of Madigan’s story, readers aren’t buying the hype. “What a joke of a fluff piece to cover the stench coming out of the 231st,” a reader commented.
Madigan was selective about whom he named in his story. He pretty much identified everyone except for two people — he said Beebe was married to a “former Star-Telegram reporter” but didn’t name him. And he mentioned “a reporter from another publication” — an obvious reference to me — but doesn’t name me or the Weekly.
So, Madigan calls out everyone by name except media types? That’s rather selective.
Finally, at the risk of sounding petty, I personally object to this paragraph in Madigan’s story:
In a recent telephone interview, a reporter from another publication asked Beebe to comment on her reputation for being short-tempered and mean. She would not.
Notice how he begins with “in a recent telephone interview…?”
Why would he write that? It must be there for a reason. Madigan felt it important to point out that I had done a phone interview.
I can guess. Phone interview is code for “lazy.” It might make the reader envision a big-bellied reporter sitting in his comfy chair, feet propped up on his desk, making a phone call rather than getting up off his fat ass and going out into the real world.
In fact, I did pull my feet down from my desk and get up off my fat ass. I went to Beebe’s court unannounced and sat discreetly and watched how she handled litigants. I called her boss, District Judge Randy Catterton, and arranged to meet him in person to interview and photograph him for the story. Later, I called Beebe to arrange a similar meeting. She wanted to know what my story was about. I responded honestly. We had a professional, courteous discussion on the phone but she would not agree to an in-person interview or photograph. The only quotes from her were gleaned during that short phone interview.
She apparently had no such reservations about sitting for an interview with Madigan and the Star-Telegram. After all, they’re the best spin doctors in town.