Paula Harris, HISD Strangely Accuse Reporter of Unethical Behavior

HISD issues diktat on jounralistic ethics.
The Houston school district and its board president, Paula Harris, have accused Texas Watchdog reporter Michael Cronin of "unethical behavior" because, among other things, he taped a conversation with her.

HISD spokesman Jason Spencer, a former Houston Chronicle reporter and editor, sent TW a letter saying of an attempt by the reporter to interview Harris that "Mr. Cronin secretly recorded the conversation without telling Trustee Harris he was doing so. It was not until Ms. Harris noticed the recorder and asked about it that Mr. Cronin acknowledged what he was doing."

We've asked Spencer why that would be unethical -- in Texas only one party, including the person doing the taping, has to be aware a conversation is taped. Not to mention the "conversation" was an attempted on-the-record interview with a public official.

Also not to mention that TW says the tape recorder was in plain sight.

TW editor Trent Siebert says:

He said Mike secretly recorded the conversation without telling Harris he was doing so. Mike says he had his digital audio recorder in his hands, out in front of him, the entire time during the conversation. There's no way that can be "secretly recording" someone. And apparently Ms. Harris is unaware that, as a school board president, reporters will sometimes approach her for comment and yes, they can legally record her without first saying "I'm recording you" -- but there's usually not much need to tell someone you're recording them when you have a tape recorder stuck out in front of you, and they're an elected official in a public building after a public meeting, and they know you're a reporter.

We haven't heard back from Spencer. (Update: See below)

There are a host of other "charges"; we'll post the back-and-forth below. But this all stems from TW's aggressive reporting of potential conflicts of interest between Harris and HISD contractors, heat she is apparently not pleased with.

Here's the letter from Spencer to TW:

I'm writing to express our concern about what seems to be a pattern of unethical, bullying, and intimidating behavior by Texas Watchdog reporter Michael Cronin.

On Monday, October 10, 2011, Mr. Cronin confronted Trustee Paula Harris in her office and aggressively demanded that she respond to his questions, despite the fact that she has repeatedly and politely made it clear to him that she is not interested in being interviewed by Texas Watchdog. When Trustee Harris again told Mr. Cronin she was not interested in speaking with him, he persisted in asking questions while physically blocking her office doorway. In addition, Mr. Cronin secretly recorded the conversation without telling Trustee Harris he was doing so. It was not until Ms. Harris noticed the recorder and asked about it that Mr. Cronin acknowledged what he was doing. Mr. Cronin also has repeatedly demanded access to Trustee Harris' private social media accounts to which he has no legal right of access.

This incident comes on the heels of another incident in August in which Mr. Cronin and Ms. Peebles attempted to plant activated video and audio recording devices inside a closed meeting of the Board of Education's audit committee. It was not until Trustee Greg Meyers pointed out their behavior that Mr. Cronin and Ms. Peebles returned to gather their equipment. At the time, the HISD officials who witnessed the incident accepted the explanation that this incident was an accident. But in light of Mr. Cronin's subsequent unethical recording behavior, we question whether these are tactics that Watchdog employs as a matter of course.

HISD respects Texas Watchdog's right to gather and report news. HISD is a taxpayer-funded entity and the people who work here are accustomed to scrutiny. But Texas Watchdog has crossed the line into bullying, intimidating, and unethical behavior with respect to Trustee Harris. We respectfully request that Mr. Cronin be instructed to respect Ms. Harris' decision to not speak with him. Thank you.

And TW's response, which they'll be publishing later today:

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The problem here is quite simple: Texas Watchdog is actually doing investigative journalism and HISD wants to keep its slimy business away from the public. The other problem is Harris' reelection race: She can get all the endorsements she can find but they won't change the fact that she is despised by many voters in her district. My suggestion to Harris: Get used to fire. There's going to be continued scrutiny coming her way.

Jim C
Jim C

Maybe Ms. Harris got her diploma from HISD.

Early Cuyler
Early Cuyler

So basically, the HISD woman doesn't want to divulge her questionable business practices, and the watchdog is pissed off because she blocked his access to her Twitter and Facebook accounts.  Huh, riveting stuff.  What I find amazing is the childish nature of each entities press releases.  Then again, all the names and agencies could have been substituted with any politician from either sides name and any national watchdog organization, and this situation pretty much mirrors how or nation is being run, by a bunch of immature adults.

Matthew Garton
Matthew Garton

Mr. Spencer, just because you don't like something, doesn't make it unethical. That's really what you are saying. "I don't like the practice, so I'm going to give it a nasty descriptor in a effort to discredit two hard working journalists."

And I love how you don't even bother refuting the witness quote, but still put spin on it anyways. You aren't perchance seeking political office.You sure got spin doctoring down to an art.

I don't know Mike, but I worked with Ms. Peebles for a bit under a decade at a former job, she is in all honesty, the very heartbeat of traditional journalism standards and dedication to the craft.

Keep fighting the good fight Mark and Jennifer. Don't let those that would manipulate the public good for their personal benefit bully you.

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