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"Unplugged" Hansen slugs away at WFAA8 management for airing secretly recorded Jones video

WFAA8's Dale Hansen speaks his piece Tuesday night. Photo: Ed Bark

One can only imagine what it must have been like off-camera at Dallas-based WFAA8 Tuesday.

Hopping mad about the station's decision to air a secretly recorded barroom video of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, veteran sports anchor Dale Hansen blistered WFAA8 management and television news in general during a markedly pointed "Unplugged" commentary on that night's 10 p.m. newscast.

The brief and grainy video, which originated on deadspin.com, includes a sometimes profane Jones trashing both former Cowboys coach Bill Parcells and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. WFAA aired it in its entirety on early evening and late night newscasts with a printed, partially edited transcript. The video had already gone "viral," and you can find it here if you're so inclined or haven't already seen it. It's headlined "Slurring Jerry Jones Bad-Mouths Bill Parcells,Tim Tebow."

Hansen warmed up for his own extended on-air remarks by telling co-anchor Gloria Campos, "I think it's absolutely the wrong thing that we've done here. The news director's daughter doesn't like me all that much, and I'm not sure the news director will now either."

Hansen first plugged his commentary on the 6 p.m. newscast, identifying WFAA8 news director Michael Valentine by name before saying he'd made a "terrible" mistake in going with the Jones video. He refrained from using Valentine's name while letting loose on the 10 p.m. edition.

"Yet another example of the decline of journalism as we once knew it," Hansen told viewers. "Our business now too many times is a fat kid in a t-shirt in his mother's basement eating Cheetos and writing his blogs. And we make it news. Jerry Jones in a bar being Jerry Jones is not news to me. And the fact that some creep slides up to Jones, records the conversation without Jones knowing, then tries to sell that recording and that becomes news is an embarrassment to us all."

Hansen said he had discussed the ethics of airing the Jones video with WFAA8's news director and assistant news director. "I said I wouldn't do the story," he added. "They decided to do it anyway, saying it wasn't an easy choice, but a choice they had to make. Their position was Jones is a public figure and the story is already out there so we had to do it, too. That's the standard now."

Valentine, in an email response before Hansen's live 10 p.m. commentary, said he "encouraged him to go unplugged. It would be hypocritical for me to ask him to take a stance, but not to say anything negative about a decision I make. He has my full support."

Among WFAA8's three major competitors, NBC5 and CBS11 did not air or report on the Jones video during their late night newscasts. Nor is the video available as of this writing on their respective web sites.

Fox4 in contrast led its delayed 9 p.m. newscast (which started at 9:30 p.m. in deference to Glee) with Jones' unguarded remarks.

"Jerry Jones is having a video implosion of sorts," said co-anchor Heather Hays, referring to Sunday morning's demolition of Texas Stadium. Sports anchor Mike Doocy then stepped in to set the stage before telling viewers, "All right, here's the clip from deadspin.com."

Doocy noted that "Jerry clearly thought he was having a private conversation" before co-anchor Steve Eagar said he didn't know whether it was "journalistically" right to either record or air the video.

But Doocy said that public figures such as Jones have to be aware of their surroundings. "You always have to assume that this could go anywhere, as it undoubtedly will," he said before Eagar plugged Fox4's web site as the place to go to watch it again.

CW33's 9 newscast carried a snippet from the video, with news anchor Walt Maciborski contending that deadspin said it showed a "drunk Jerry Jones."

In his starkly pointed commentary, Hansen said the rationale in today's news business is that "public figures are fair game and our game is reduced to following the lead of others. No one wants to lead anymore. Everyone wants to follow. And this public figure argument rings hollow, too. This station and every station in America always uses the argument about public figures when they run some of these ridiculous, embarrassing stories. Unless it is one of their public figures."

Then it got very personal.

Embarrassing stories about "some of the most powerful people in this town -- the stories about the people who come into your home every night at 6 and 10 -- those stories somehow never see the light of day unless one of the other stations decides to -- and sometimes they do," Hansen said. "News anchors who commit suicide 'passed away' during the night. News anchors posing for pictures with drug dealers are chopped out of the shot so a Cowboys player can be shown. It's a slippery slope we're on, and we've been sliding downhill a long time now."

(Note to readers: The suicide death of a WFAA8 anchor happened decades ago and was reported in The Dallas Morning News during the time I was TV critic there. The name won't be repeated out of common decency. I'm not sure about Hansen's other reference, but there no doubt are many untold tales about D-FW anchors and reporters. Others have made it into print on this website. Some are still being covered up in times when a simple question about plans for Fox4's Sunday morning Texas stadium implosion special had to be relayed to corporate headquarters in New York for an answer.)

Hansen's commentary wound up by quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson on the value of making your own trail rather than following the paths of others.

"The news management here had that opportunity," he said. "And while better than most on most days, on this day this decision was the wrong decision."

After other sports news, Hansen assured Campos and co-anchor John McCaa that they were not the anchors he referenced in his commentary.

"Ancient history, actually it is," Campos said.

"We know all that," McCaa added. "But we're going to miss your voice in the choir."

Hansen laughed at length about that as his station went to a commercial break.

So is Hansen right or wrong? Well, he made some very strong points about the hypocrisy of TV news organizations and their zeal to pry into others lives while at the same time closing the drawbridge when it comes to firings, hirings and overall conduct at their respective stations.

Hansen also scored with his assertion that following the leader sometimes can mean you either have your head up your ass or are bowing to heightened competitive pressures in times when news travels faster than even a fat guy eating Cheetos can blog it. (Never liked Cheetos that much, am not fat yet, don't live in mother's basement.)

On the other hand, Jones is particularly notorious for partying hard, shooting his mouth off and having protectors around him to guard against what happened at whatever watering hole his comments about Parcells and others spilled out. In many ways it's amazing he hasn't been "caught" a number of times before. Getting a good look at the real Jones is not necessarily a bad thing -- not even for him. Now that he's presumably at least a bit embarrassed, maybe it'll prevent something far worse from happening someday.

Jones and the Cowboys organization had no comment on the video, as Hansen and others noted. But Hansen certainly had an awful lot to say -- even for him.

Whatever you think of WFAA8's news judgment, station management at least deserves credit for letting Hansen lash back in ways that have never been seen or heard in this news market. After he towels off a bit, he might want to realize how very privileged he is in that respect. Be assured that after he's gone, it'll never happen again.

Thanks, you've been a great audience. And as the clock nears 1 a.m. Wednesday here at unclebarky.com central, here is the freshly posted video of Hansen's commentary -- on WFAA8's web site no less.