Breach of Faith

Gayle Reaves-King

Breach of Faith: A Crisis of Coverage in the Age of Corporate Newspapering

Gene Roberts, editor in chief; Thomas Kunkel, general editor

Sept. 30, 2012

When I began reading this book, I knew it was a collection of essays examining the effects of concentrated corporate ownership on American newspapers.  I didn’t know that, for me, it could almost be subtitled “Explaining My Career.” I think the same could hold true for thousands of other journalists who have worked in newsrooms across this country in the last several decades.

The book is the second volume of reports generated by the Project on the State of the American Newspaper.  Few people could be more qualified to oversee such a project than Roberts, who served as executive editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer during a period in which the paper won seventeen Pulitzer Prizes –– and who left that paper because of reductions in the paper’s staffing that he could not support. 1

Each chapter explains another facet of the changes that have helped weaken, transform, and, in some cases, shutter daily papers in the United States, beginning in the 1980s.  At paper after paper, government and international news have been downplayed, and the papers have moved from providing substance toward what one reviewer called “glossy news lite.” 2

The writing is professional and, for the most part, objective. But the picture it paints is nonetheless rather horrifying –– rather like explaining in detail to soldiers who have been through a bloody war how it was fought on the basis of misinformation, greed, and reasons having little to do with the themes of patriotism and duty that drew the soldiers to enlist.

Perhaps the most striking bit of evidence of that failure of mission came from a newspaper analyst looking at the Knight Ridder newspaper chain’s performance. The chain’s “historic culture,” Lauren Rich Fine said, “has been one of producing Pulitzer Prizes instead of profits, and while we think that culture is hard to change, it does seem to be happening.” 3

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was first capitol bureau chief and then a Washington correspondent for the Austin American-Statesman, which had recently been purchased by the Cox Newspapers chain.  At the state capitol, I had to fight the newsroom higher-ups who were convinced that during the legislative session, the state reporters were padding their overtime. By the end of the first week, I was able to show them that wasn’t true. The top editors clearly had little idea what it took to cover a legislative session, especially for multiple Texas newspapers.

The Cox mantra was that the paper was spending too much time covering government and not enough time covering people. I could never understand it ––  what the legislature did affected people in every way from providing funding for their children’s schools to deciding how much it cost to bury their dead.  But Breach of Faith clears up that question: Like too many other news executives in the country, my editors had swallowed the questionable premise that readers wanted more “local” news and less coverage of government at every level from the statehouse on up.

The same thing happened a couple of years later when I joined Cox’s Washington bureau, during an exciting time (or so I thought) when a group of conservative, mostly Southern, Democrats held the balance of power on many important issues. My editors quickly told me I was filing too much copy: They really didn’t care that much about Washington.

At The Dallas Morning News in the early 1990s, many things were different: International and government news was valued, as was investigative reporting. But even then, in what now seems to me to have been a golden age of journalism, the corporate culture created deep dissatisfaction in the newsroom.

When a sheriff sued the News over award-winning stories that I and two colleagues had written about the effects of the drug war on South Texas, the reporters had to get separate counsel, in order to make sure our sources were protected.  One of my colleagues on the story, David Hanners, quoted Jim Sheehan, then president of Belo Corp., which owned the News, as saying, “This company can protect sources or it can protect shareholders. Given that choice, you can rest assured this company will always fall on the side of the shareholder.” 4

In short, again and again my professional experiences have tracked what the writers here have reported: That too many editors were convinced that state, national, and international news weren’t much in demand by readers anymore, and that investments in staff and training should be cut. And they were brought to those conclusions by focus groups and reader surveys –– even though the book makes a strong case that those findings were often erroneously described and have proved quite questionable.

For instance, the idea that readers want shorter stories overall is a myth, said researcher Christine Urban. “For twenty-four years we’ve been finding this,” she said, “and I can’t imagine why it isn’t obvious.” 5

The sources of the information and anecdotes in the essays are hard to fault:  The writers sought out reporters and editors at many levels at different kinds of papers to interview, along with the researchers and corporate managers who had been studying and carving on those papers for many years.

Clearly, the book struck a chord with journalists. Frank Blethen, publisher of the Seattle Times, wrote in Nieman Reports that the changes described in the book paralleled what he had seen at the Charlotte Observer earlier in his career.

Breach of Faith, he wrote, “speaks volumes about what is wrong with our industry today and why concentration of newspaper ownership and Wall Street control is ultimately incapable of providing the community connection and journalism essential to an independent press and the survival of democracy.” 6

Unfortunately, the rate of change in the news business has been so rapid that much of the material in the book reads more like history than a comment on the current state of affairs.  The editors have provided updates in each section that, for the most part, show that the problems they wrote about have continued. The internet, social media, economic downturn, and continued consolidation of news media ownership have only exacerbated most of the trends the book details. But it is fascinating history nonetheless and one that I would recommend to anyone considering –– or in the midst of –– a newspaper career, or who cares about what happens to the institution that is so critical to our world.

References (Chicago Style)

1.  Roberts biography, The Investigating Power Project, American University, accessed Sept. 30, 2012 from http://www.investigatingpower.org/journalist/gene-roberts.

2. Vicki Gervickas, ForeWord  Reviews [journal online], Jan-Feb 2003, accessed Sept. 28, 2012 from https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/breach-of-faith/.

3. Charles Layton, “What Do Readers Really Want?” in Breach of Faith: A Crisis of Coverage in the Age of Corporate Newspapering, ed. Gene Roberts and Tom Kunkel (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), 141.

4. Craig Flournoy, “Revolution at Dallas’ Daily,” D Magazine, 1 June 2004, accessed Sept. 28, 2012 from http://www.dmagazine.com/Home/2004/06/01/Revolution_at_Dallas_Daily.aspx.

5. Frank Blethen, “The Consequences of Corporate Ownership,” Nieman Reports, winter 2002, accessed Sept. 27, 2012 from http://www.nieman.harvard.edu/reports/article/101416/The-Consequences-of-Corporate-Ownership.aspx.

6. Layton, 124.

The Deal from Hell

Gayle Reaves-King

The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers

James O’Shea

Oct. 21, 2012

 

It’s considered a bit déclassé these days to make comparisons to the Nazis: It’s a cheap, sensational way to criticize anyone and anything.  Nonetheless, that is the comparison that occurred to me repeatedly as I read The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, James O’Shea’s indictment of the bankers, owners, and executives who brought some of the finest and most powerful news organizations in this country to their knees. 1

The comparison that formed in my mind was not about fascism or racist ideology, however. It was about power and how putting too much of it, unfettered, in the hands of too few people leads to many horrific ends. Those ends always –– if not from the first then unerringly somewhere along the way –– include personal greed that can grow to justify killing people, newspapers, river systems, democratic systems of government, and, of course, ethics.

 The Nazis weren’t just about ideology and territory. At most levels, they personally enriched themselves, exchanging much of their humanity for the ability to take whatever they wanted.  As Lord Action put it much more succinctly, power corrupts. And that’s what seems to have happened at many points along the way of this tawdry newspaper tale.

O’Shea was an award-winning reporter before taking over management of the Chicago Tribune’s national and foreign news operation. He went on to become managing editor of the Trib during a period when the paper won six Pulitzer prizes. After the merger of the Tribune Company with The Times-Mirror Company in 2000 –– and after the Los Angeles Times became a revolving door of editors and publishers –– he was brought in as editor.

A year later, real estate tycoon Sam Zell bought the company with ill-conceived debt financing, plunging it into a financial and journalistic tailspin from which it has yet to recover.  As the author told The New York Times’ David Carr, he was stunned to find that powerful bankers “were basically doing billion-dollar loans with a wink and a nod.”2

His position gave the author great insights and insider information, but it also resulted in a myopia that weakens the book. “The investigative reporter O’Shea would surely have asked the editor O’Shea –– were they not one and the same –– how he could have been taken aback” that his Tribune Company bosses would start pressuring him for staff cuts as soon as he landed on the West Coast, Geneva Overholser wrote in her review for the Los Angeles Times.3

The book is a detailed, deeply researched indictment of how corporate greed and mismanagement led to massive debacles for the Times, the Chicago Tribune –– and, the author believes, for many other newspapers. What is killing American newspapers, he wrote, isn’t just the Internet and declining circulation, but “the lack of investment, the greed, incompetence, corruption hypocrisy, and downright arrogance of people who put their interests ahead of the public’s.”4

True, many American newspapers are going through terribly hard times for reasons other than high-level financial malfeasance on the scale of that perpetrated by the Tribune and Times-Mirror dealmakers.  Even if the merger and sale to Zell hadn’t happened, suggested Jack Shafer in The Washington Post, “Wouldn’t the Tribune and Times-Mirror newspapers still have had to cut employee perks, staff, bureaus, circulation, and quality to prevail? The answer is obvious.”5

 O’Shea acknowledges the other factors that have led the press into such deep trouble. As he wrote in a paper for the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy that was a precursor to the book, “Journalists across America were in denial  about the problems newspapers faced, but nowhere was the disavowal more glaring and public  than at the Los Angeles Times.”6

That, however, doesn’t let these particular villains off the hook. How do you not bear responsibility for a decision, for instance, that systematically removed veteran newspaper managers from the company hierarchy and replaced them with people like Randy Michaels, a radio manager with a long list of sexual harassment complaints in his file who wrote a nine-page plan for the Tribune Company that never once mentioned the word journalism?7

Then there’s the email that O’Shea unearthed from bankruptcy court files, in which an analyst with JPMorgan Chase & Company described JPM’s strategy in the Tribune deal as hit-and-run: “We’ll s_uck the sponsor’s a$$ as long as we can suck $$$ out of the (dying or dead?) client’s pocket, and we really don’t care as long as our a$$ is well-covered.” 8

            The analyst may have been a lower-level person, but a thousand other factoids in the book and in the public record these days show how morally bankrupt much of American corporate culture has become, especially at the very top . And, not surprisingly, how the ownership of newspaper companies has been such a disastrously poor fit. As Michael Milner wrote in Chicago Reader, “The larger point O’Shea is making feels right: Nonjournalists rarely get the business of journalism.” 9

O’Shea’s style is conversational, and his facts are so fascinating that they keep the book moving along.  Even great quotes and revelations don’t save weak writing, however. The book is larded with clichés, including several that Shafer pointed out“When he writes that somebody’s eyes ‘twinkle,’ I found myself wanting to poke mine out,” the reviewer said, and I had to agree. The failings would have been less wearisome in a newspaper article; at book length, it is wince-inducing.

In the end, his bill of particulars against corporate ownership of the news business goes far beyond the corruption and greed documented in The Deal From Hell.  The fundamental change has been that of owners and managers reducing their companies’ mission to that of any widget-maker looking out for the next quarter’s profit and their own pocketbooks, rather than as operators of an industry that is a key to the health of democracy.

 

References (Chicago Style)

 

1. James O’Shea, The Deal from Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers (Public Affairs, 2011).

2. David Carr, “Ugly Details in Selling Newspapers,” The New York Times, June 19, 2011, accessed Oct. 19, 2012, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/20/business/media/20carr.html.

3. Geneva Overholser, “Book Review: The Deal from Hell by James O’Shea,” Los Angeles Times, June 28, 2011, accessed Oct. 19, 2012 fromhttp://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/28/entertainment/la-et-book-20110628.

4. O’Shea, Deal From Hell, 12.

5. Jack Shafer, “Jack Shafer reviews James O’Shea’s ‘The Deal from Hell,’ ” The Washington Post, June 24, 2011, retrieved Oct. 20, 2012, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/james-osheas-the-deal-from-hell-on-wall-streets-plundering-of-newspapers/2011/06/06/AGKMANjH_story.html.

6. O’Shea, “Up Against a Saint and a Dead Man,” Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, Discussion Paper Series, 2011.

7. O’Shea, Deal From Hell, 323.

8. Ibid, 265.

9. Michael Miner, “James O’Shea narrates the Tribune Company’s epic collapse,” Chicago Reader, June 30, 2011, accessed Oct. 20, 2012, from http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/james-oshea-deal-from-hell-tribune-company/Content?oid=4152891.

 

Eddye Gallagher letter

Student Publications

Tarrant County College

828 W. Harwood Road

Hurst, TX  76054

March 29, 2012

Dear Selection Committee:

It is an honor to recommend Gayle Reaves-King for a fellowship at the Mayborn School of Journalism. I met Gayle about seven years ago when I was invited to join the board of directors for the Fort Worth Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Before that time I knew Gayle only as the editor of The Fort Worth Weekly, an alternative publication that my husband and I enjoyed reading together over coffee each Friday evening. And, of course, I know her as the editor of a paper that was attacking my employer (rightfully so).

Since then, she has become a good friend, SPJ mentor, sounding board, guest speaker for my students at Tarrant County College and continues to be an outstanding journalist and role model for pros and students.

Gayle’s wit and intelligence show in her writing, in her editing and in her work with other journalists. If Gayle says it is so, it must be — although I have to admit I’m more conservative politically than she. I cannot imagine anyone more worthy of receiving a fellowship than a former Pulitzer Prize winner who continues in her profession, never backs down on her beliefs and in her search for news and facts and remains a down-to-earth dedicated professional, friend and mentor.

Whether researching for the next cover story, leading a professional organization or helping young journalists learn the news business, Gayle gives 100 percent. She would be a great fellow in either research or in the classroom. She is honest, blunt, straightforward in her advice but right on and caring.

As a UNT master’s graduate, I would be proud to say she received a degree from the same school as I. And if in the classroom, she would be a strong voice of reality and a person who could offer clear guidance.

Sincerely,

Eddye Gallagher

Director, TCC Student Publications

Letter from Olive Talley

Excerpted from a letter Olive sent March 29, 2012, in connection with my application for a Mayborn scholarship:

I have known Gayle for more than three decades. I first met her when I was a journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin and part-time employee in the newsroom of a local radio station. Gayle had already graduated from UT and was working for an Austin newspaper, covering city hall and university politics.  I was in awe of her work because she routinely broke stories that I chased.  I regularly stood alongside her as she grilled city council members so that I could learn how to do the same thing.

For the first few years, I viewed Gayle as a mentor.  I meticulously read all of her stories, hoping I could one day be like her.

We became friends, but the personal regard for each other was rooted in our shared passion for journalism.  A couple of years after I graduated, I was working at a news-talk radio station in Houston, covering federal courts. Gayle was a reporter at the Austin American Statesman.  And we teamed up to cover an unfolding bribery scandal involving then-Texas House Speaker Billy Clayton.

She went on to the Fort Worth paper and I went on to work for UPI , The Houston Post, The Houston Chronicle and eventually The Dallas Morning News.  The DMN wisely chose to hire her away from the Star-Telegram and, after more than a decade of following each other’s careers, we worked side by side in the same newsroom.

Finally, I got to see up close what I’d seen from a distance:  her tenacity, her passion and her fierce dedication to the truth.

Gayle’s resume will list The Pulitzer Prize and the dozens and dozens of awards and honors her work has garnered. It will show you the progression from reporting, editing and managing.  What her resume probably does not reflect is the deep and abiding respect and high esteem in which she is viewed by so many in the journalism field – nationwide.

She has mentored countless other journalists – young and experienced alike – and become a stellar role model in our field.

She’s devoted untold hours of volunteer work and held numerous leadership positions in a variety of professional organizations, including Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS), the Society for Professional Journalists, as well as groups devoted to investigative journalism and alternative weeklies.

Even after I left the Morning News and joined the ranks of network television as a producer at ABC Prime Time Live for Diane Sawyer, and Dateline NBC in NY, I kept up with Gayle, her work, and her move from the DMN to Fort Worth Weekly.

If you’re looking for someone with a proven track record of excellent journalism, dedication to this industry, and personal commitment to truth and integrity, look no further than Gayle Reaves.

As a former Nieman fellow, I know firsthand the value of a fellowship like this. Gayle will bring a wonderful spark to your program and everyone involved will benefit from her being a part of your team.

I wholeheartedly endorse and recommend her. And please feel free to contact me if there’s anything else I can tell you about this incredible woman – a real star in this profession.

Sincerely,

Olive Talley

Dallas-based freelance journalist

6133 Prospect Ave.,

Dallas, Texas 75214

Letter from Bill Minutaglio

THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

1 University Station  •  Austin, TX  78712-0548  •  (512) 471-3434  • www.utexas.edu

This letter is written in support, and highest recommendation, of Gayle Reaves.

I’ve had the honor of observing Ms. Reaves and her brilliant work for three decades. I have seen her practicing journalism, and I have seen her teaching journalism to advanced university students. There is no one with greater abilities on both fronts.

She is one of the finest journalists in America. Her work has been honored at the highest levels – including being recognized with a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk award. She has countless other awards, recognitions and accomplishments.

The awards point to a fierce willingness to abide by the ideals of the profession: To shine the light on truth and bring forth justice. She embodies the tenets of true journalism – and practices them in a collegial, disciplined, way. She is legendary for overseeing serious projects, tackling the toughest subjects.

She is also an extremely inspiring presence in the classroom: I have seen her deeply immersed in interactive workshops with undergraduates and graduate students – and she has an empathy, a connection that is very rare. Students warm to her because they could sense her passion, her enthusiasm, her eternal curiosity. She is, flat out, an expert listener –and wonderfully humble, inquisitive and persistent.

After she visited my eager students, many of them came to me to express their admiration for her. Several said they considered her a pure role model: “I want to be just like Gayle,” is how one student framed it.

She will bring prestige and a work ethic that are simply unparalleled. My regret is we can’t “steal her away” to be affiliated with our institution.

My work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, etc. I’ve written books about President George W. Bush, Molly Ivins, etc. In my career, I’ve never encountered a finer journalist, a better person, than Ms. Reaves.

Please contact me if you have questions about this excellent candidate.

Bill Minutaglio

Clinical Professor, Journalism, University of Texas at Austin

BROKEN SHIELD

Fort Worth Weekly

April 20, 2005

 Broken Shield

Without protection from being forced to reveal sources, journalists can’t give voice to the voiceless.

By Gayle Reaves

Johnny Lopez didn’t think of himself as a hero. But he had come to hate the corruption that the drug traffic brought to his county along the Texas-Mexico border, drug money that protected dealers and bought politicians and law enforcement agents. In a part of the country where familial and criminal ties are often so strong and pervasive that investigators can make few inroads, he was that rare commodity, a man brave enough to put his life where his mouth was and tell what he knew to law enforcement — and to a couple of reporters from The Dallas Morning News.
For that, he and just about everyone else in South Texas believes, Lopez was shot down outside his house one morning in 1991 by a stranger with an assault rifle.
Though severely wounded, Lopez survived the attack. Because he had given information to federal drug enforcement agents, he got help from the government and was taken into the witness protection program.
Thank goodness he’d helped the feds. Because if Lopez — not his real name — had told his story only to me, I had no witness protection program to offer him. In fact, when a South Texas sheriff sued for libel over stories in the News that I’d helped write, I had only the barest thread of a legal blanket to throw over Lopez’ identity and the identities of dozens of other people who had spoken on an off-the-record basis to me and my two fellow reporters in the course of a year-long investigation into the impact of drug trafficking in the Rio Grande Valley. There was a time during the lawsuit when it looked as if we reporters might have to either go to jail — potentially a jail in a county where we had just written about how many officials, including jailers and sheriff’s officers, were corrupt — or give up our sources. It also looked as though we might have to give up our jobs as well. My then-employer’s support for protecting the gutsy people who’d talked to us didn’t extend as far as the reporters thought it should, even though we explained that people’s lives might be in the balance. So you might say I feel a personal stake in the debate now going on in Austin and around the country about what are called shield laws, which would, in some instances, give reporters the legal right to refuse to reveal their sources — a protection already in force in 31 other states and the District of Columbia. Pushed partly by what seems like a Bush administration campaign against reporters who seek to protect their sources, there are now bills before the Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress to create such laws at the state and federal levels. More than a dozen reporters around the country, including writers at The New York Times and Time magazine, are either under threat of jail sentences or have actually been detained, mostly in federal cases, because they will not turn over their sources of information to law enforcement. Prosecutors insist that journalists have no right to withhold such information and that prosecutors need to be able to compel reporters to talk to continue investigations of various crimes. Judges, by and large, have supported that view in the last few years.
The issue is causing great wringing of hands in news media circles. Outside of the editorial page, we journalists generally are loath to lobby for any help from the governmental bodies that we cover and with which we are frequently in conflict. And for decades, reporters believed, with some reason, that they had something better than a mere law — they had a constitutional right to protect their sources, and new laws might actually narrow their rights, as opposed to preserving them. But the courts’ support for the view that the First Amendment gives journalists a right to shield their sources seems to have faded. And what has replaced it, as Paul McMasters of the First Amendment Center wrote recently in News Media and the Law, is a “dangerously out-of-kilter dynamic between the press and prosecutors.”
So lots of journalism groups have signed onto this, including a national journalists group to which I belong, as well as its local chapter. I signed on in part because I believe press freedoms are increasingly important in a country where information and government are less and less open all the time and because I don’t want any reporters to have to go to jail for keeping promises to sources. But mostly, I think, it’s a debate worth having because of the Johnny Lopezes of the world. If they cannot rely on an independent press for help — in, say, exposing corrupt government officials — then what happens to all of us?

The notion that the First Amendment shields reporters’ sources took root in a 30-year-old U.S. Supreme Court case. Justice Byron White wrote in a 1972 opinion in what’s known as the Branzburg case that reporters must be given some protection under the U.S. Constitution because without that, “freedom of the press could be eviscerated.” He said that official harassment of the press should not be tolerated. Unfortunately, the opinion he wrote was part of a muddy ruling that has had judges and lawyers scratching their heads for 30 years.
“After the Branzburg case, news media lawyers were able to convince the courts through the 1970s and most of the ’80s that there was some [U.S.] Supreme Court recognition” of the reporter’s privilege, said Paul Watler, a First Amendment attorney in Dallas who has been working on this issue for about 15 years, on behalf of the Texas Association of Broadcasters (and who represented me and my fellow News reporters in the South Texas case). “But in the next 15 years they began chipping away at that notion.”
Following the Branzburg ruling, many states began passing their own versions of shield laws. Some are absolute, stating that journalists cannot be legally compelled in any situation to reveal their sources. Others provide a conditional privilege, saying that journalists can keep their sources confidential in some situations but can be compelled to reveal them in others. Under conditional privilege, journalists can still be compelled to reveal their sources if prosecutors show, for instance, that they cannot make a case without that information or if journalists are eyewitnesses to violent crimes.
In many places, including Texas, newspaper groups resisted shield laws for years. “A lot of people in the newspaper industry felt they didn’t need a legislatively enacted shield law because the First Amendment was sufficient,” Watler said. “That’s a fine idea. But the reality has been over the years that courts in Texas and elsewhere have refused to adopt that view.”
And so, since about 1990, American journalists, including a significant handful of Texans, have been going to jail with disturbing frequency rather than reveal their sources or turn over notes or other material to prosecutors in what’s sometimes nothing more than an a fishing expedition for information that officers already have or could get on their own.
A journalists’ shield law is no esoteric idea to Brian Karem. He could have used one about 15 years ago to protect some very frightened people, as well as his own ass. The former San Antonio tv reporter didn’t go to jail just once to protect his sources. He went four times.
Karem, who has since written several books and become managing editor of a suburban Washington D.C.-area weekly paper, had numerous run-ins with authorities over sources when he worked in Texas. A Laredo grand jury in the mid-1980s subpoenaed him to ask who his sources were on one story, but when he wouldn’t tell, the grand jurors let him go with “a stern warning” that they’d find out anyway. And when he worked in San Antonio for KMOL-TV, he said, “I had constant run-ins with police over sources.”
Then came the case in 1990 in which several of Karem’s confidential informants helped set up a jailhouse interview with a man who had been arrested for the murder of a police officer. The man confessed to Karem that he had shot the officer but said it was self-defense. The grand jury wanted to know who had set up the interview, but Karem wouldn’t tell.
Two of his sources eventually came forward voluntarily. But the third feared retribution from the killer’s family. “She made it quite plain that … she would be under threat of death” if her identity were revealed, Karem said. “She went above and beyond the call to help me out. I would never give up that source.”
He went to jail four times for contempt, while lawyers fought the case up through the courts. “I spent two weeks in jail the last time, and I can tell you it’s a harrowing experience,” he said. “No one goes to jail for fun or to further their career. When you go to jail, you give up everything, including your own underwear. You’re wearing someone else’s underwear, that’s probably been worn by hundreds of people and has the stains to prove it.”
The worst part of the experience, he said, “was the sudden realization that you have no control over anything you do in any part of a day. … You are in a cage with a bunch of smelly guys who are in there for lots worse reasons than you are. I slept with my butt against the wall, and anyone who took a swing at me, I fought,” he said. “One kid, nicknamed Baby Huey, thought I was being treated special because I was a reporter. He took a swing at me. I hit him over the head with a mop, and after that, we got along fine. As G. Gordon Liddy says, ‘You can’t be the bitch.’”
Eventually, his final confidential source moved out of state. When she felt safe, she came forward and revealed her identity, or Karem might have stayed in jail a lot longer.
When he hears about the current efforts by various prosecutors to force reporters to reveal their sources, Karem said, “It saddens me that 12 or 14 years down the line, we’re still having to go through what we went through years ago.” His strong feelings about the issue still come through, especially in light of what he sees happening now. “What we do is a vital public service,” he said. “I believe we shouldn’t need a shield law, but I realize the logistics and that the reality is that we’ve got to have [one], something that says, ‘Hey, morons. Remember the First Amendment?’ This is something that gives teeth to the First Amendment.”
Karem saw first-hand the dangers that media law and First Amendment specialists point out about the practice of prosecutors trying to get names — and in many cases, notes, recordings, videotapes, and phone records — from reporters. “What really bothers me is that the police and investigators are trying to use us as a tool,” he said. “I always ask them from the witness stand” why the government doesn’t do its own investigating instead of trying to piggyback on reporters’ work, a sentiment mentioned repeatedly by reporters who’ve been through a sources fight. “They have subpoena power, and I don’t. They have much greater abilities to attract, dig up, and ferret out information than I do. What do they need me for? They’re lazy. They’d rather turn a reporter upside down and shake them out than go and do their job. That’s the dirty little secret that everybody glosses over.”

Robert Kepple sees that process just the opposite from Karem. Kepple is the executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, the prosecutors group that is leading the charge against the Texas shield law legislation.
“It’s real simple,” he said. “A shield law, like any privilege, takes relevant and material information and hides it from the fact-finders in a case. There are very few privileges that exist in Texas law that apply to criminal cases. … The issue right now is whether there is such a public interest in a journalist’s privilege as to justify basically hiding evidence.” With all due respect to journalists who testified for it, he said, “prosecutors don’t believe there’s been such a showing.” Most of them, he said, feel that whatever value there is to society in journalists being able to hold back potential evidence, “it does not outweigh that need to find out the truth in a criminal matter.”
Kepple said that journalists like to emphasize the confidentiality protection needed for government whistleblowers. “But that’s not where most of the fights are with prosecutors,” he said. News reporters and photographers publish or air only a fraction of the information they gather for most stories, he pointed out. Prosecutors are usually asked for the rest of that “evidence,” he said — that is, other pictures, other film, other notes. And names.
He used the example of a television crew setting up what amounts to a new media sting — going on the internet and telling people that a young girl will be alone at a certain address and is looking for sex, then filming the guys who drive up in response. In that situation, prosecutors might believe that the men’s actions constituted a crime, for which the tapes would be evidence.
Kepple maintains that, despite what many courts have held in the last few decades, the “argument of journalists needing to be able to promise confidentiality was overblown,” and there is no privilege for journalists under the First Amendment.
In that last point, those who argue for the Texas shield law, and indeed the proposals in Congress, would agree with him, that there appears to be no recognized constitutional protection, and that’s why legislation is needed. “He’s making our argument for us,” one proponent said.

The war on journalists’ sources cranked up to ramming speed after 9/11, but the Bush administration had started applying the heat even before that. And it started in Texas, with a woman who had never written a single news story and who had already voluntarily cooperated with police.
Vanessa Leggett taught English and legal writing at the University of Houston, but she was fascinated by murder investigations. Before 2001, she had only published a couple of articles in FBI crime manuals. And for more than three years, she had been researching the strange case of the Angleton family. Doris Angleton had been found dead in her Houston home in 1997, shot numerous times. Her brother-in-law, Roger, told police that his brother Robert — reportedly known to be a longtime informant for the Houston Police Department — had hired him to carry out the murder. But Roger reportedly committed suicide in jail. Robert was charged, tried, and, in 1998, acquitted in his wife’s death. In 2002, however, he was re-indicted on federal charges connected with the murder.
When Roger Angleton was still in jail in Houston in connection with the state case, Leggett was allowed to interview him repeatedly. According to articles published in American Journalism Review and elsewhere, she eventually racked up 50 hours of recorded interviews with him, as he told her story after story about himself and his brother. When the two brothers were indicted by a Harris County grand jury, those tapes and other records were subpoenaed. Leggett and her attorney, Mike DeGuerin, agreed to turn over the tapes, and Houston police agreed not to share them with any other agency. When a judge ruled them inadmissible as evidence, they were returned to Leggett. As it turned out, however, police had made copies of the tapes, and when the FBI started its own investigation — according to DeGuerin — the cops, despite their promise, gave copies of the tapes to the feds.
Leggett continued to research the case for a book she hoped to write, and she talked several times to FBI agents who were working on the investigation. In late 2000, the FBI changed tactics: They asked Leggett to become a paid informant for them. She said no. Months later, in June 2001, the FBI made a counter “offer”: They subpoenaed her tapes and notes — they wanted the originals and all copies, and they made no promise to give any of it back.
Fearful that her notes would reveal confidential sources, that the government was trying to control what she published and when, and that she would be left with no results of her years of research, Leggett refused. She was charged with contempt of court and went to jail, where she stayed for more than five months, until the term of the grand jury ran out. Her 168 days behind bars are the most ever served by a writer protecting a source.
Robert Angleton, meanwhile, fled the country. In the extradition process to bring him back, the government agreed to drop the murder charge. He was then charged with tax evasions and other crimes connected to his flight and pleaded guilty to some charges and was convicted on others. Leggett’s book needs an ending — and so publication has been delayed until after Angleton’s sentencing, expected this summer.
Leggett said that she had been ambivalent about shield laws, but “in the final analysis, I’m not in favor of them.”
“No doubt,” she continued, “the situation has reached critical mass,” with the contempt citations against journalists, but “the government is saying we have no privilege — so our answer is to ask them to define the privilege. It’s no different than when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat because she knew the Fourteenth Amendment had her back. In the long run, journalists should understand that the First Amendment backs them. Freedom comes at a price. We just need to keep our seats.”
Leggett said she had agreed to turn over specific tapes to the police because her lawyer told her she probably could not win a fight to withhold them. The information the police sought then was “relevant and specific,” and the police had agreed to return the materials to her. But when the FBI filed a subpoena, she said, their request was broad rather than specific, and there was no agreement to return any material.
While Leggett was dealing with the FBI and a Houston federal grand jury, television reporter Jim Taricani of Providence, R.I., was wrestling with another confidentiality challenge. A federal judge ordered him to reveal the source who had provided him with a videotape showing an ex-city hall official taking a bribe in an undercover FBI sting. Taricani refused. In March 2004, the judge ordered Taricani to reveal the source or face fines of $1,000 a day. In November, when Taricani’s appeals had failed and he still refused to comply, the judge exchanged the fines for an ultimatum: Give up the information in two weeks or go to jail. The reporter again refused and was convicted and sentenced to six months of home confinement — despite the fact that, as in Leggett’s case, the federal prosecutor revealed that he already had the information he was seeking, in this case, the name of Taricani’s source. Taricani was recently released early from his home confinement sentence.
Even more visible than Taricani’s prosecution has been that of Judith Miller of The New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine, two of the reporters caught up in the Valerie Plame case. Plame, wife of former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, was revealed, by syndicated columnist Robert Novak in July 2003, to be an undercover CIA agent. Novak’s column said he got his information from two senior members of the Bush administration; the leak is widely believed to have been an act of retaliation against Wilson’s public criticism of Bush officials’ allegations about attempts by Iraq to buy uranium for nuclear weapons. But instead of the Bush administration, it was Miller and Cooper who came under scrutiny. A federal appellate court has rejected their claim to journalist privilege and ordered them to reveal their sources. If further appeals fail, both face jail time.
In the Plame case, Watler, the First Amendment lawyer, pointed out that even Miller and Coopers’ lawyers were not allowed to see the evidence against them. “Generally speaking, we don’t allow secret evidence in this country,” he said. “We got rid of the Star Chamber some centuries ago, hopefully.”
The general public might think that the new campaign against reporters and their sources is a function of post-9/11 security worries. But few of the cases have anything to do with national security or terrorism — and, as in Leggett’s and Taricani’s cases, the most important information that federal prosecutors have sought with their subpoenas they either already had or were able to get without reporters’ help. Moreover, some prosecutors are now seeking more than just the scribbles in a reporter’s notebooks; the U.S. Justice Department secretly subpoenaed the telephone records of an Associated Press reporter, John Solomon, in an attempt to find out who Solomon was talking to about the investigation of a New Jersey Congressman.
McMasters, of the First Amendment Center, calls the series of cases a deluge. “Federal officials … have gone after telephone records and reporters’ notes and reportedly have tried to enlist journalists as informants, [keep] certain information from being reported, and tried to force reporters off stories they have covered for months or years,” he wrote. These acts, he said, “have seriously compromised the ability of the press to inform the public about urgent matters of public policy and government actions.”
That “deluge” has prompted members of Congress to file several federal shield law bills. All would provide an absolute privilege against being forced to reveal the identities of confidential sources. A version proposed by Sen. Richard Lugar, an Indiana Republican, and a bipartisan pair of House members, would not protect freelance journalists who are working without a contract to a recognized news organization or publisher, and it would not protect those who publish solely on the internet — a major cause of concern to bloggers and publishers of webzines. Another bill, by Sen. Chris Dodd, would cover journalists writing for web-only news sites. The bills are expected to come up for debate in the fall.
The question of who would be covered is another reason that many journalists are ambivalent about shield laws. Few journalists want the federal or state government making decisions about who is or isn’t a journalist. That’s one of the reasons that David Hanners, my former colleague on the South Texas stories, is still on the fence about shield laws. And it’s one of the reasons why the national Society of Professional Journalists only agreed recently to support the federal shield law bill, “with great consternation,” said SPJ President-Elect David Carlson.

In Texas, legislators on both sides of the capitol building had the same reaction to attempted prosecutorial outing of journalist sources as Dodd and the other Congressional shield bill sponsors. Both Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, and Rep. Aaron Pena of Edinburg filed their versions of shield law bills in Austin without prompting from journalists. Which was just as well — journalist groups in Texas, like those around the country, have been a long time in coming around to the idea of giving up their frail hopes of constitutional privilege and jumping to the smaller but potentially sturdier craft of shield laws. The broadcasters group has long supported the idea of a shield law in Texas; this year, for the first time, the Texas Daily Newspaper Association, as well as the Texas Press Association, representing smaller papers, joined them.
Watler and Jeremy Warren, press secretary to Ellis, both acknowledge that the bills face an uphill battle, especially because of opposition from politically influential prosecutors. Already, Ellis’ bill has been pretty well gutted — approved in committee but only after it was amended to the point that Ellis no longer supports it in its present form. “We’re in the process of trying to gauge whether we can get it changed back into its original form or at least something much stronger than the amended version,” Warren said. “Our goal is to get it to the floor and try to amend it back.” If it can’t be fixed, Ellis will pull it down, he said. “If in reality it’s a sieve and not a shield, what’s the purpose?”
The Texas bills would provide journalists with a qualified privilege — that is, they could legally keep their sources confidential unless prosecutors showed, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the information they could provide was necessary to a case, or unless reporters were eyewitnesses to crimes involving violence, property damage, or a breach of the peace.
Walter and Warren acknowledge that the fight may well have to be continued two years from now, when the legislature meets again. “We got kind of a late start this time,” Warren said. “All three major media groups weren’t fully signed on until a little over a month ago. But I think we have a really good chance next session. We will have this coalition together, and we can spend two years educating the legislators and the people on the need for this.” Warren said Ellis is convinced that if journalists cannot protect their sources, those sources in many cases will not come forward, and important stories will never get written. Accepting information from people who don’t want their names connected with it “is what journalists do every day. Could be about the city council or the dog catcher.” It’s important for the public that reporters have the freedom to obtain that kind of information, he said. “Protecting sources is key to that.”

In the libel suit in South Texas, my fellow reporters and I were saved from possible jail time when an appellate court ruled, in 1991, that a qualified privilege for journalists did exist and that the sheriff’s lawyers had not overcome it. Unfortunately, as Watler says, that ruling was a “tiny island out there, surrounded by very turbulent seas.” Subsequent case law has gone in the other direction.
We never revealed a source. But in the very small world of Starr County, the sheriff and his lawyers made a couple of guesses of who some of our sources might be and started subpoenaing those people for pre-trial depositions.
Belo, the company that owns the News, was still hurting from a multi-million-dollar libel judgment against another of their media properties, obtained in part because a key source reneged on what he’d earlier told a reporter. Gun-shy, the Belo lawyers insisted that, if the sheriff did guess right and subpoenaed any of our sources, and if the source denied having talked to us, they wanted to go after that person right away, during pre-trial depositions, proving without interview notes that he or she indeed had been a source.
The reporters were aghast. We knew that in South Texas that could spell every kind of trouble for our sources. In a dirt-poor county where, if you didn’t take drug money, your job possibilities consisted mostly of government jobs or field labor; at the very least their ability to support their families would be in danger. And it was obvious that their lives might be as well. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where law enforcement sources suggested that reporters might consider carrying guns.
And so we fought our employers. We refused to take part in potentially outing the people who had helped us so much. In the end, we had to get counsel separate from the newspaper, since our interests were no longer totally the same. The newspaper did agree to pay for our lawyer — a major point that frankly made it much easier for us to hew to our principles. In the end, we settled the case. Although the sheriff himself received nothing, his lawyers did, and the newspaper made a contribution to a local children’s agency that the sheriff then took credit for. And the settlement, as much as we hated it, also protected our sources. If the case had gone to trial, we feared that the newspaper — which claimed ownership of all our notes and materials — might have outed our sources even without our agreement. For reporters, the bitter pill wasn’t the settlement. It was having had to battle our own bosses as well as the sheriff, to protect our sources. It was the chill that the entire situation put on the willingness of reporters at the News to deal with confidential sources, knowing the paper might not protect them — and it was hearing that Johnny Lopez had paid an extremely high price for talking about corruption, to us and to law enforcement.
Another of our sources from those days told me on Tuesday that, if we had been forced to reveal our sources back then, “I think people would have been killed.” But the stories were worth the risk that he took in talking to us, he said. The stories “made a world of difference” in his part of South Texas, he said.
Years after our stories ran, the sheriff was arrested, along with a justice of the peace and five deputies, for taking payoffs from a bail bondsman. He pleaded guilty and spent time in prison. But things haven’t changed that much in Starr County. The sheriff long ago got out of prison and is working for the county again. Drugs are still major business. And reporters still need to be able to promise confidentiality to sources — and be able to make it stick. Because people in Starr County, like the rest of the country, can’t always trust the government to right wrongs — especially in those cases when government officials themselves, with their badges, guns, secret court orders, and subpoena powers, are the problem. People need to be able to call the press.

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED

Fort Worth Weekly

July 23, 2003

 Children of the Damned

Family members of Larry Donihoo can’t forget the hell they say he put them through.

By Gayle Reaves

The word they use is monster. They say it — spit it — again and again to describe the man who they all say abused them physically, sexually, and psychologically for years. But maybe the worst part about it, for these men and women, is the other word some of them use for him — father.

Some of Larry Donihoo’s daughters and former stepsons and stepdaughters have not seen him for many years. Most have tried not to think about him for all those years, even as they have lived out the aftermath of what they say he did and seen it twist and scar their own lives or their siblings’ or their mothers’.

But then they learned that the Fort Worth man was in jail in Tarrant County for allegedly abusing two more girls, two more victims in a horrific chain that his family members say stretches back 40 years. The news ripped the scabs off those old wounds — off the memories of beatings and rape and sexual torture. He has been married at least six times, and his ex-wives and daughters accuse him of molesting children in at least three of those marriages. Two of his ex-wives and relatives of a third wife said he beat them severely during those relationships.

Word of his arrest prompted one of his daughters, Angela, to tell her own children for the first time about what had happened to her as a young girl.

“I’ve never told my children about any of this” until she learned of the new charges from Fort Worth Weekly, she said, her voice running over with emotion. Most of those who spoke asked that their names not be used or that only their first names be used in this story. Although some of them are still battling psychological problems, they have, for the most part, gone on to build good lives among friends and neighbors who aren’t aware of the violence that happened 20 or 30 or 40 years ago in Texas.

Larry Celeston Donihoo, 60, has been charged with one count of fondling a child younger than 17 and four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, actions allegedly committed against two young relatives of his current wife who have lived with the couple for more than a decade. Donihoo has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Tiffany Lewis, declined to answer questions or allow Donihoo to be interviewed for this story.

In his letters to his wife, however, Donihoo has alternately claimed to love the girls he’s accused of abusing and railed against them. “I’m in jail because of [those] girls,” he wrote, and instructed her to tell the girls they needed to change their story or he would no longer financially support them.

He said repeatedly in the letters that the girls’ accusations are false. But he also wrote, “I’m sorry [the girls] had to go this far, but maybe I needed a wake-up call.” And in another letter: that one of the girls “was the one who put my hand on her and showed me what she wanted.”

Donihoo’s case is but one of what seems a growing avalanche of child sexual abuse cases across Texas. In Tarrant County alone, prosecutors are handling cases of an alleged serial pedophile who has been accused of molesting the sons of upper-crust Fort Worth for 40 years, an American Airlines pilot charged with luring girls to his backyard pool and assaulting them, and many others. Madeline McClure of Dallas, a psychotherapist who has gone from treating severely abused children to advocating for them, said such cases are increasing “geometrically.” Most pedophiles, she said, have dozens, even hundreds, of victims — and many of those victims go on to become abusers themselves. The growing willingness of victims to come forward has also helped swell the numbers of reported cases.

Seeking justice through the courts for such abuse can be a painful — and sometimes fruitless — prospect. For those who are wrongly accused, such prosecution is another kind of nightmare. For victims and their families, enduring a criminal trial or civil lawsuit can be catharsis and vindication, or it can be a form of being abused anew. Even when he brings their abusers to justice, said Mitch Poe, head of the crimes against children unit in the Tarrant County D.A.’s office, most such victims just “want to put the justice system and me behind them.”

Donihoo’s grown children and former stepchildren are horrified that he has been accused of molesting yet another set of young sisters. Their own families, they said, were so traumatized and powerless when their abuse happened that surviving and escaping it — not seeking prosecution — was their main priority.

This time, several of them said, they will do whatever they can to make sure he is stopped. Two have already given statements to police, and his daughter Angela called Fort Worth police on Friday to offer her help. “I do not want that scum hurting another baby,” she said. “I want to come to that trial and do everything I can to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Donihoo, who weighs more than 350 pounds, has been in Tarrant County jail since March. In his letters he alternately berates his wife and pledges his love to her. He recounts his chats with guards, Bible discussions with another inmate, and “sitting in Wanda,” the motorized chair to which his numerous health problems have confined him. He seems to see his past closing in on him. “I had planned on us sitting down when I was out of here and telling you everything, as I wanted a new life with no dark past,” he wrote. “There are so many things in all our lives that if you stir up the pot, things come up.”

He complains bitterly of jail, but then describes it as being “like on vacation” — three squares a day, a quiet room, and a nurse to look after his health. In fact, he said, “I’m sitting here eating pig skins and summer sausage.”

Larry Donihoo was a handsome 18-year-old sailor, tall and curly-haired, when his first bride-to-be met him in 1962. He was her best friend’s brother. “I opened the door, took a look at him, and my heart went to my toes,” she said. “He asked me to marry him the first night we went out.”

Linda was 17, living with her parents in Dallas but not getting along with them. She broke up with another young man she’d been dating and accepted Donihoo’s proposal. “I was very naïve,” she said. “I was a little girl.”

The newlyweds moved to Arizona, where Donihoo was stationed at a naval air base. It took all of three weeks for Linda to learn she’d made a mistake.

The only people Linda knew in Arizona were her husband’s friends from the base. When several of them were over for a party one night, Donihoo “took me off into the bedroom and basically raped me,” she said. “When I wouldn’t respond, he bit me in my private parts so his friends could hear me scream.”

There were no such things as battered women’s shelters in 1962, and, if there had been, Linda probably wouldn’t have known how to find them. “What happened in your home was private, and in the military it was worse,” she said, especially since they moved several times during their four-year marriage. She didn’t think people would believe her if she had told them what went on because, in between the rounds of violence, Donihoo could be charming. “People would meet him and swear he was God on earth,” she said. “He went to church on Sunday after partying and beating his wife the night before.”

The beatings started in earnest, Linda said, when her first child, a daughter, was born, in 1963, and got worse after the birth of her second daughter, Celena. “He hurt me internally several times,” Linda said. The beatings, she said, seemed to come from her husband’s sense of sexual inadequacy. Not content with beatings and forced sex, she said, he raped her with objects — household things that she couldn’t stand to look at afterward. Every time she’d work up her courage to leave him, she’d find out she was pregnant. Every time, he claimed the baby wasn’t his — until it was to his advantage.

She was pregnant with their third child, a son, Linda said, when her husband kicked her in the stomach so hard that she feared for the baby. “I left about a week later,” she said, “I took the girls and went home.” A few weeks after their son, Larry Jr., was born, his father shipped out for Vietnam.

When her son was four months old, he became very ill, and doctors feared he might not survive. Donihoo, who had not acknowledged the boy was his for weeks after he was born, used the illness to get out of Vietnam on a hardship basis.

He came to Dallas and went to the hospital. Then he went to Linda’s home, she said, and gave her the worst beating she’d endured. “He didn’t care if he left marks. He broke a big wooden rocker on me, blacked both my eyes, and busted my lips. He held me down and sat on me. At the time I weighed about 98 pounds.” She still carries reminders of that beating, including a ripped ear. She said it ended only when a friend’s husband from across the street came over and convinced Donihoo to quit.

Linda got a divorce and married the young man whom she’d dated before Donihoo. As for Donihoo, he seemed to have a new wife every time she took the kids to him for a visit — all of them were “young girls,” Linda said. She remembers five or six different women, but court records make reference to only two marriages during that time, neither of which lasted a year.

Then Linda got pregnant one last time and got sick. She had to spend a lot of time in bed, and finally her doctor told her she had to find someone else to take care of her kids until the new baby arrived.

She took them to Larry — he’d always been a good father to them, and she never thought his venom extended to them. She didn’t know about the statistics that show that a large percentage of people who abuse their spouses also abuse their children. He used the occasion, she said, to beat her one last time — then pulled out a $20 bill and told her to buy herself a nice maternity outfit. And then he used his kids as a way to get out of the Navy altogether. She’d asked him to take care of them for six months. Instead, he took them and left, and Linda didn’t see them again for years. By that time, it was too late to protect them from a long nightmare of their own.

Celena still gets sick at the thought of chocolate ice cream.

“When I was 12, I went to a St. Patrick’s Day dance,” she said. Her father picked her up afterward, “and we went to get ice cream.” As they drove home, she said, he told her that, when she got ready for bed, just to wear her nightgown. “But I wore my pants,” she said. And when he came in and tried to molest her later in the night, she said, she started screaming. “He said, ‘Why are you having such a fit? You always let me do this before.’ He said that when I was five, he’d bring candy home, and I’d let him.”

Celena’s father never beat her. In fact, she was Daddy’s favorite. She was such a favorite that she still has nightmares about him 30 years later, about the years when her father, stepmother, stepbrothers and, soon, her half-sisters shared a long hell in Leander, north of Austin.

Not long after Donihoo took over care of Celena, her sister, and Larry Jr., he found yet another prospective wife. Carolyn — not her real name — was a single mom raising three boys. (A 12-year-old daughter lived with her dad, and an older daughter, Becky, and a fourth son were already grown.) It was a pattern Donihoo would follow through the years: marrying women with young children and, in at least one case, a woman still a child herself, 16 years old to his 35.

McClure, the psychotherapist, said that many child molesters follow a similar pattern. “They find a way to marry single moms under a lot of stress, with children who need a father figure, a friend. It’s part of the grooming process,” she said — conditioning children, and in some cases their mothers, to accept a molester’s advances.

Carolyn and Larry met, Becky said, when Donihoo was “going door to door in Oak Cliff supposedly wanting to start Bible studies with people. My mom had such a love of the Bible … she thought this was the right type of person to have a relationship with.”

Becky said Donihoo’s inappropriate behavior with Carolyn’s children began even before they were married. When Becky’s 12-year-old sister was at her mom’s house alone, she said, Donihoo came over and began to come on to the young girl. “He scared her so bad she slept with a butcher knife under her pillow,” Becky said. “She was hysterical. Larry told my mom that [the younger sister] had totally misunderstood, that he was just trying to get to know her. Mom believed him rather than my sister.” Later on, Becky said, when she was living near her mom and Larry, he called her late one night asking if he could come over, telling her he had always been attracted to her.

“I said, ‘You son of a bitch, if I could get away with killing you, I would.’” But then she was so terrified that he would come after her that she ran to her car and left to spend the night with one of her friends. “I was scared to death,” she said.

Donihoo told Carolyn that his ex-wife had abandoned their children, Becky said. When Linda tried to get the children back, he moved his new family to Austin and then Leander. Linda did show up in Leander, but Donihoo told her he’d have her arrested if she came to the house. He had told Celena her name was Sherry. Years later, when she was reunited with her mother, Linda, she didn’t know why her mom kept calling her Celena.

In Leander, Carolyn and Larry had two kids of their own — Angela and a younger sister. Five of the people who lived in that house have told basically the same horrific story to the Weekly: that for the eight years or so that the marriage lasted, it was a living hell for the children, presided over by Donihoo. “If Satan had a henchman on earth,” one of Carolyn’s sons said, “he was it.”

They tell of Donihoo beating the boys, from the time they were toddlers, until the blood ran down their legs, of breaking one boy’s arm when he was only about 18 months old, and of choking another until he passed out. Larry Jr., Donihoo’s own son, was physically abused perhaps the worst, his siblings and step-siblings said. And Celena and her sister were raped “several times a week,” one of their half-brothers said — an account that Angela backs up. “We all had one really big room us kids slept in,” one of Carolyn’s sons said. “He would basically come in there and rape them in the middle of the night.” Carolyn worked nights, often at two jobs, and for years did not know most of what Donihoo was doing to the children.

“I spent my teen years,” her son said, “trying to figure out how to kill him.”

Celena didn’t suffer the beatings that she saw going on all around her. Her siblings said she was saved for other terrors. While she was the one who got the “extra candy,” her older sister and Larry Jr. were excluded from family activities, not allowed to talk to other family members, made to sit in the very back of the family station wagon. “They were made to eat in their rooms, a bowl of beans pushed under the door,” Celena said. “Larry Jr. got beaten all the time.” If he wet his bed, “they’d make him wear diapers out in the yard.”

When Celena was 12, neither she nor Angela could take what was happening anymore. Both said they made sure that Angela witnessed Donihoo molesting Celena. And then they went together to tell Carolyn, to make sure they would be believed. Finally, Celena was sent back to her mother, and not long afterward Donihoo left Leander. All three of Linda’s children reunited with her.

All of the former children from that household who were interviewed told about Donihoo beating the boys, sexually abusing Celena and her older sister, and trying to molest Angela.

But it is hard to admit to anyone — to yourself or your family even, much less a stranger calling long distance — that you yourself have been sexually abused. Yes, you might say, it happened to my sister, but not to me. And so the list of Donihoo’s sexual molestation victims in that household varies according to who is telling.

Angela, for instance, said at first that she herself was “not quite a victim.” But, she said a little later, “As a child you know when someone is being really filthy with you. … There are things, stuff that happened … he snuck me out in the middle of the night … there are things my mind won’t let me remember.”

Like Angela, Celena has blocked out many of her memories of growing up. Like her mom and Carolyn, she thought until a few years ago that people would think she was making up the horrors she could remember. “Who would believe this?” she said. And in fact, when the young girls Donihoo is now charged with molesting made their outcry, they had trouble getting their own mother to believe them. “We can’t believe [the girl] because sometimes she lies to us,” her mother said, and added that it seemed unlikely because of Donihoo’s poor health. He has breathing difficulties and can’t walk far.

But Celena and Linda believe the girls, and Angela and Carolyn and Carolyn’s sons believe. And so does Mitch Poe. He wouldn’t be prosecuting Donihoo if he didn’t. “In this business, children, in the great majority of cases, just do not lie about this sort of thing,” he said. “Very young children simply have no basis of knowledge for saying those things.”

McClure, the Dallas therapist and activist, said studies have shown that in child sex abuse cases, only about 2 to 6 percent of the “outcries” are false. Most of those come in cases where parents are fighting over child custody, McClure said, but even in those cases most children are telling the truth.

The skepticism that attaches to molestation accusations brought to light during a custody battle infuriates the parents whose children have been victims in those situations.

“People who cry wolf when molestation hasn’t happened are making it bad for kids who really are abused,” said Gina (not her real name), a former North Texas resident whose daughter says she was molested by her father. The outcry came in the midst of a custody battle that’s been going on since the girl, now eight, was only about a year old. There will apparently be no prosecution in her daughter’s case, a fact that enrages Gina.

Gina and her husband were married in 1991 and separated five years later. A Tarrant County judge gave them joint custody of their daughter, but said the girl should live with her father, in part because Gina worked night shifts.

In June 2002, Gina said, her daughter told her that her father had molested her at his home in Crowley and at a hotel in San Antonio where they had gone to see a Britney Spears concert. Gina said her daughter’s genital area was swollen and red and the girl was in pain. Her daughter also said her father had shown her pictures of naked young girls on his home computer. Efforts to contact him for comment for this story were unsuccessful.

Since then, various medical and psychological examinations of the girl have concluded that she was abused. But the young girl, who has begun to have serious psychological problems, was confused about exactly where she and her father were when the abuse occurred. And she had become less cooperative with the numerous officials who interviewed her. Though the father was arrested, a Tarrant County grand jury declined to indict him. Gina’s repeated pleas for the case to be presented again were turned down. She said Bexar County prosecutors were even less helpful.

Gina’s case had too many red flags, particularly the custody battle, and the girl’s memory was shaky, said Bexar County assistant D.A. Michael Hoyle. “Based on the statements of the child and some other things in the file, there was not enough credible evidence that something occurred here in San Antonio,” he said. “If I don’t have enough evidence, I can’t present it to a grand jury.”

Hoyle has seen custody battles bring out the worst in parents. “Have I seen people get kids to lie? Yes,” he said. “Did this happen here? I don’t know. I’m not going to speculate. For me, it’s ‘Do I have enough credible evidence or not?’ I didn’t have enough.”

The girl accompanied her mother to the Weekly’s office in May. She was smiling and talkative until the conversation turned to her father. “I want him to go away,” she said. “I want to stay with Mama. He’s bad.” And then she held up both hands and said she would need all 10 fingers to count the times strangers have questioned her about her father. “I want to go home,” she said. “I don’t want to tell a thousand people.”

A few weeks ago, a court-appointed psychologist recommended that Gina’s ex-husband be given some visitation rights. Gina said her daughter has become hysterical and threatened to kill herself when told she might have to visit her father. So Gina moved to Alaska and took her daughter with her, in violation of court orders. “I’ve done everything I was told to do,” she said. For her and her daughter, “The system failed.”

Poe, who took over the crimes against children unit only a few weeks ago, makes no excuses for cases that are not prosecuted. “If I have doubts [about a defendant’s guilt],” he said, “either I won’t take the case, I recommend a no bill, or I dismiss it.” But because of jurors’ fears that “a young victim might be coached,” he makes it a practice to minimize prosecutors’ interviews with young victims. And, he said, videotaping of interviews and improved procedures among all the agencies that deal with abused children have lessened the chances that young victims will have to tell their stories over and over and that testimony will be tainted.

He brings the young witnesses to a courtroom, he said, and asks them innocuous questions. “I usually only speak with them about the offense one time,” he said. “If I make the decision that a child will be able to communicate [on the witness stand], sometimes I don’t even ask them about the offense before they get on the stand.

“The jury likes that,” he said. “I tell them in my opening statement, ‘You’re going to hear it for the first time, just like I’m going to.’”

Other molestation cases come to light only after all chances of prosecution have run out. Texas law, recognizing that it sometimes takes years for people to come to grips with having been sexually abused, gives such victims up until 10 years after their 18th birthday to make an outcry. After that time, the perpetrators cannot be prosecuted. Fort Worth real estate salesman Wirt Norris, for instance, cannot be prosecuted for most of his alleged molestations of young boys because the cases happened too long ago. As in Angela’s case, many of the men who say they were molested by Norris hid their abuse from their families for years.

American Airlines pilot John Stewart Delong of Bedford is scheduled to go to trial in October on four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child. His alleged victims were girls as young as seven, neighbors or former neighbors lured by his backyard pool parties. Some of the assaults that victims have reported to police happened too long ago to be prosecuted, however.

Defense attorney William Harris said Delong “maintains he is completely innocent” and does not know why the accusations are being made. Harris said Delong’s accusers are the children of friends or lived nearby. “He did know the accusers in the sense that most are neighbors, and others are children of women he knew or children of former friends,” he said.

One neighbor said, “You find out that not all child molesters are people living under bridges, but older, wealthy white men. I guess my biggest prayer is that money doesn’t get him off the hook. I don’t think child molestation cases have been handled very well in the past. I think people who have money are considered ‘do-gooders’ in the community and are more likely to get off.”

The neighbor denied that her own daughter was one of Delong’s accusers. But Bedford police records and court documents identify the girl as one of his earliest known victims.

In Donihoo’s case, most of the men and women who say they were his victims will never get retribution through the courts because their cases happened too long ago. Angela said her mother did bring charges against Donihoo in Austin years ago, but that he received only a “slap on the wrist” — required counseling. However, no such criminal charges could be located against him in Austin or Leander, and an attorney who worked on the case said he believed it was handled as a civil matter.

Celena said that she remembers an attorney calling from Austin shortly after she had come back to Dallas to live with her mother, asking whether Celena would testify against her father. Linda said Celena didn’t want to go through it, and she didn’t want to force her to do so. Celena said a few weeks ago that she wished her mom had made her do it.

“It would have saved other little girls,” she said.

If prosecution can be a long time coming in child sexual molestation cases, recovery can take even longer. It took years for Celena to built back a relationship with her mother. And until she got some counseling about four years ago, she thought she was partly to blame for what her father had done to her, she said.

“Granny (Donihoo’s mother) didn’t believe” that her son could have done what Celena described. Even though the abuse started when she was five, she said, “what he did to me was said to be my fault, because I sat on his lap and wanted to wear tube tops.”

Even after Celena escaped to her mother’s house, her father continued to exert influence over her. He would tell her he was dying, she said, in order to get Celena and her sister to come see him. “I felt I had to be a part of his life, even though I knew what he did was wrong,” she said. “He was my father. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do.” When she was 22, they stayed in the same house as part of a family gathering, “and I woke up to find him fondling my breast,” she said. Donihoo told her, Celena said, that the things he’d done “weren’t wrong, that they were only wrong because society didn’t accept it. He told me, as I held my three-month old son in my arms, that his only regret was that I didn’t have a son by him.”

Celena also bore the deep suspicion that her father was continuing to abuse other girls, she said. She sent him a Father’s Day card four years ago, her last communication with him — and told him it was too bad that the sentiments in it weren’t true. The young girls whom Donihoo is now charged with molesting were already living with Donihoo and his wife. “I begged him, if he was molesting those two girls, not to,” she said.

Angela still hates to admit that Donihoo is her father. “It’s traumatic to know your dad is a monster,” she said. “It’s impossible ever to get over it. In your mind, you keep wondering whether you’re not a monster, too. You have that blood in you.”

Angela and Celina and the others feared that Donihoo was continuing to scar other young women’s lives. Becky recalled that, about 12 years ago, Donihoo wrote to say “that he’d married another woman and she had two pretty little girls. I thought, will that man ever be stopped?”

If the charges are true, he didn’t stop until they put him in jail. One of his ex sons-in-law said Donihoo kept suitcases full of pornographic pictures and videos and that he roamed the adult dating services and “swinger” sites on the web. Another in-law said Donihoo was always inviting people in to watch dirty movies with him, even while the young girls living with his family were traipsing through the room. She said he pinned her in a corner on one occasion, fondled her breasts, and tried to get her to kiss him.

So if and when Donihoo does come to trial, he may find a lot of familiar faces in the courtroom.

“I told myself a long time ago I wasn’t going to be a statistic,” Celena said. “I always told myself, I may not get to see it, but somewhere along the line he’s going to get what’s coming to him. You know what? I’m seeing it. He’ll probably die in jail. My sister and I have always talked about that. We said we would go to his funeral and then we’d dance on his coffin.”

Additional reporting by Jeff Prince and April Kinser.