By: Dorothy Giobbe
.S. REP. STEVE Stockman (R-Texas) recently accused a reporter for the weekly Houston Press of forcing his way into the congressman’s home and physically abusing campaign workers there.
But the reporter, Tim Fleck, denied the charges, and has produced a tape of the incident that seems to bear out his version of the events.
In fact, after listening to Fleck’s tape, the local district attorney’s office announced it would not press any charges against him. Fleck is now suing Stockman for libel and slander.
The incident in dispute occurred on June 6. Fleck and a photographer from the newspaper drove to Stockman’s suburban Houston home ? which doubles as the congressman’s campaign headquarters ? in an attempt to question campaign officials about a political consulting firm also operating out of the house.
Fleck, wearing his press badge on his lapel and carrying a large tape recorder, knocked on the front door of the house and was invited inside by a Stockman campaign volunteer.
According to the audiotape, as Fleck walked through the door, he verbally identified himself as a reporter for the Press.
Once inside, Fleck began asking questions of a group of Stockman volunteers who had just entered the front part of the house. As the Press photographer attempted to follow Fleck inside, one of the volunteers quickly shut the door and leaned against it, effectively trapping Fleck in the house.
The transcript of the tape indicates Fleck briefly attempted to question the staffers about the political consulting firm. They refused to answer his questions and asked him to leave the house. After calling the staffers “pathetic,” Fleck left.
“There was no physical contact, it was a well-modulated discussion,” Fleck said. “The tape proved there was no yelling, no cursing. In fact, I left when I was told to leave.”
The entire enounter, from the second Fleck walked into the house to when he left, lasted just under two minutes.
When he got back to the Press office, he was met with a just-issued press release from Stockman’s Washington office that had come in over the fax machine.
Headlined “Stockman Stalked By Trespassing Reporter,” the release said that Fleck “invaded” and “forced his way in” the Stockman residence. “Steve’s wife, Patti Stockman, was unharmed” read the statement, implying that Mrs. Stockman had been in peril.
“This is outrageous!” Stockman was quoted as saying in the release. “I have called the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, the Capitol Hill Police and the Sergants at Arms office. I am pressing charges for trespass and assault and battery.”
Stockman flew back to Houston from D.C. to, in the words of his spokesman, “address the emergency.” A complaint was filed with the sheriff’s office, which referred it to the Harris County district attorney’s office.
Fleck gave investigators his tape of the encounter at Stockman’s home. After reviewing it, the district attorney’s office announced it would not press any charges against Fleck or the photographer.
Don Stricklin, first assistant district attorney, told the Associated Press that the tape showed no evidence of stalking, assault or battery.
“There was just not enough time for a criminal violation,” Stricklin said. “I’ve had people come to my house doing door-to-door sales that lasted longer than that.”
That might have ended the matter, but Fleck chose to go on the offensive.
“It was all very funny for a while,” the reporter mused.
“But then they kept repeating the assault and battery stuff. So I started to get pissed.”
Fleck telephoned an area lawyer, David Berg, and asked if he would take on a libel case against Stockman, pro bono, and Berg agreed. Any award or settlement from the suit, Fleck said, will be donated to a charity.
“I guess they’re just paranoid about reporters and media in general,” Fleck said, reflecting on the incident.
“I think Stockman’s trying to use it as a campaign issue. He’s in a tight race and he’s trying to wave a flag ? you know to say ‘I’m being persecuted by the liberal media.’ “
Stockman’s office did not return repeated telephone messages.