Austin Paper Attacked By DeLay Has Generally Kept Its Distance

By: Joe Strupp

Reporters at The Austin American-Statesman, which Rep. Tom DeLay attacked for pressuring prosecutors to indict him on Wednesday, have had little if any regular contact with the embattled congressman, according to the paper’s managing editor.

When asked about the paper’s relationship with Ronnie Earle, the longtime local district attorney at the center of the case, Managing Editor Fred Zipp noted that the paper had regularly endorsed him — he’s a Democrat — but said such support is strictly from the editorial page, as with most papers.

Zipp declined to comment on whether he believed the indictment was valid or how he would characterize Earle’s style or approach to his job. American-Statesman Editor Rich Oppel could not be reached for comment.

Referring to DeLay, Zipp said, “Our reporters have had limited dealings with him,” noting that DeLay’s congressional district is closer to Houston than the state capital. Zipp said the paper’s Washington, D.C. reporters have attended DeLay press events there.

While the paper has closely followed the political contribution scandal surrounding the locally-based Texans for a Republican Majority [TRMPAC], which eventually led to DeLay’s indictment, Zipp contends the American-Statesman has had few direct connections to DeLay that could spark any reason for him to challenge the paper’s reporting.

“Our lead reporter on that [TRMPAC] case has done nothing for three years but report on all of the various goings on with that story,” Zipp said about reporter Laylan Copelin. “But I don’t think that he has spoken once with DeLay. I don’t think they have anything that could be called a relationship.”

Even when DeLay was spending extra time in Texas years ago during the state’s heated redistricting battle, the reporters maintained their distance. “Laylan may have run into him, but I don’t think he has ever had a conversation about the subject of the charges arising from the TRMPAC operation,” Zipp said.

Zipp’s comments followed DeLay’s criticism of a Sept. 11 editorial urging Travis County District Attorney Earle to charge individuals in the scandal, not just organizations. DeLay referred to the Austin American-Statesman as “Mr. Earle’s hometown newspaper.”

“There are a number of people in the newsroom who have long-term relationships with Ronnie and his office and they are consistent with the kind of relationship reporter have with sources,” Zipp said. “We have the same sort of good relationship that any good paper has with its District Attorney. We report on what it does, we periodically assess its performance, and periodically have disagreements.”

Asked to cite specific disagreements with Earle’s office, Zipp said a few public information disputes had arisen in recent years over documents or reports sought by the paper, but were handled without major problems: “We would go and talk about it with them.”

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