The FBI Media Merry-Go-Round
The agency gets a lot of local coverage. But what exactly does it do?
The other day I ran into Don Hill, the mayor pro tem, at a restaurant. I asked him two questions: are you running for mayor? Are you going to get indicted?
On the first question, he only offered a big smile. That tells me that, yes, he is running for mayor. On the second, and with the smile only slightly (but suitably) diminished, he told me that the answer is out of his hands, but he has never been questioned by the FBI.
Wait a minute, I said. Never been questioned? Even with lawyers stalling, boxes of evidence to sift through, grand juries and depositions and affidavits to handle, in a year and a half he’s never been questioned?
Let’s go back to June 21, 2005. Banner headlines and breathless TV news reporters announced the FBI’s raid on Don Hill’s City Council offices. Reports were filled with lurid details of Hill driving a BMW owned by somebody else and of campaign contributions from a consultant who, in turn, was linked to a reportedly bribe-paying builder.
It turned out that the BMW was owned by Hill’s future wife. She was also the consultant.
But we learned that later. The media coverage continued full blast. Soon it was reported that the FBI had taped a conversation in which another builder tried to get Comer Cottrell, the hair-products magnate, to help him bribe Don Hill. Cottrell had declined the opportunity. Right now, for all we know, the only true attempt to bribe Don Hill was made by the FBI—and it didn’t work.
So what has been the upshot from all the explosive headlines and breathless TV news reporting in 2005 about a major FBI corruption investigation of Dallas City Hall? It’s 2007, and the answer is nothing, nada, zilch.
Let’s go back a little further, to 1997, and more banner headlines and breathless TV news reporting, this time about a major FBI investigation into fraud in DISD. Everyone remembers Yvonne Gonzalez, the superintendent who went to jail for buying $16,000 worth of furniture with public money. But few people remember that after Gonzalez got caught (when employees leaked the invoices), the FBI organized a task force to probe every nook and cranny of DISD, claiming that Gonzalez was only the tip of the iceberg.
Four years later, on November 19, 2001, the Dallas agent in charge sent a letter to then superintendent Mike Moses that said, basically, “Oops.” What he really said was the FBI had “concluded its business” and that the agency wished the DISD “every success in the important work which lies ahead.” That important work had been stymied for four years because the district couldn’t do a bond program while under investigation. Oops indeed.
In June of this year, the Dallas Morning News ran a great investigative piece on credit-card abuse at DISD. As if on cue, the FBI announced another corruption investigation. For that, it earned another banner headline and more breathless TV news reporting. And, who knows, maybe the FBI will find something the News didn’t already find.
But why do I suspect it won’t?
Maybe they’ll call Don Hill tomorrow, but I’m starting to detect a pattern here. Like the DISD investigation years ago, once the media burst is over, nothing happens. Maybe the agency is too busy chasing the next round of banner headlines and breathless TV news reporting.
So, Don Hill, go ahead with your run for mayor. Why not?