This just in: A night in the lives of D-FW's late night newscasts (Tues., Feb. 15)
02/16/11 11:50 AM
By ED BARK
Tuesday's "chief mullah/go to hell" imbroglio, co-starring Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price and a gaggle of white people, soared right to the top of three D-FW late night newscasts.
But while Fox4, WFAA8 and CBS11 all led with the confrontation and its aftermath, NBC5 had no coverage at all on its 10 p.m. news. That's what happens when your cameras aren't in place at commissioners' court to catch the initial blowup.
NBC5 instead topped its its website for much of Wednesday with a brief Associated Press story accompanied by a picture of Price. There was no video, though.
Those with a big thirst for this story got a filled-to-the-rim 32-ounce cup on Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast, during which co-anchor Heather Hays and Price sparred back and forth in a live interview.
Natalie Solis, subbing for Hays' regular desk partner, Steve Eagar, set the table by telling viewers that "politics took a back seat to racial tension when a lot of people lost their cool." Reporter Shaun Rabb then offered further details before Hays and Price squared off while she remained in Fox4 studios and he took a respite from attending a Spike Lee event at the Nasher Sculpture Center.
At the Commissioners' Court hearing, Price repeatedly said "go to hell" after telling citizens in attendance, "All of you are white." He was angered by the words of speaker Jeff Turner, who repeatedly referred to Price as the "chief mullah of Dallas County." At issue was Price's alleged role in forcing the departure of veteran county elections administrator Bruce Sherbet, who had held that post for 24 years.
Turner "crossed the line," Price told Hays, by using a word that has "traditionally been a very derogatory racial term."
"What do you say to folks who are now calling you the racist one, and that you crossed lines?" Hays countered.
"Well, you can call me the racist if you like," Price replied. "My position is he said 'mullah' at least six times before I finally responded."
The latter day dictionary definition of mullah is an "educated Muslim trained in religious doctrine." But Price contends that the word is rooted in slang that first was used against Italian-Americans and later, African-Americans. In Lee's landmark 1989 film Do the Right Thing, Italian-Americans derisively refer to some of their African-American neighbors as mullahs.
"At some point, don't you just kind of keep your mouth shut?" Hays asked, referring to Price's standing as an elected public official who perhaps should be above all of this.
Price laughed and answered, "No, I stand by what I said." And were the positions reversed, he said, his white colleagues on the commission would have every right to tell blacks to "go to hell" if they were provoked by racial slurs.
He later dodged Hays' question on whether he subsequently had called the Rev. Bill Lovell a "fat boy," although audio from the hearing indicates that he did.
"Apparently you're wanting to tell his story, somebody else's story," Price said both in reference to Lovell and to Lee's determination throughout his career to make films from a black perspective.
During the concluding "Viewers' Voice" segment on Fox4's 9 p.m. newscast, one respondent already was using the race card against Hays.
An emailer identified only as Anthony said he supported what Price said, but "what I did not support was Fox4 attempting to paint Price's remarks as racist. Next time please have a more culturally diverse individual conducting the interview."
Another emailer, Natalie, said that Hays "didn't use professional interview techniques. She didn't sound like an experienced journalist. I normally don't necessarily have a problem with her, but I just wanted to comment and present my thoughts on this interview."
My thoughts on Hays are that she pressed Price for answers, as well she should have. Her questions were direct and to the point. Price was given ample time to answer at length while Hays kept challenging him, as a good interviewer should. She was hardly combative, though, and the color of her skin shouldn't matter a whit.
The lead stories on WFAA8 and CBS11 respectively were by reporters Jason Whitely and Andrea Lucia.
On CBS11, co-anchor Doug Dunbar unnecessarily first warned viewers that "there's some pretty strong language in our top story tonight. Language that comes from John Wiley Price, who 12 hours after a confrontation in a commissioners' court is still pretty angry."
Price in fact did look a bit upset during a taped snippet in which he asked Lucia, "What is it you don't understand? I said the word 'mullah' is racist. What is it you don't understand about that?"
He later said that it didn't matter what Turner's intent was in using the word. "It could have meant anything," Price said. "I took it as a racist term."
WFAA8 co-anchor John McCaa introduced Whitely's story by telling viewers, "It's a word few know and even fewer understand. But the term 'mullah' led to a disorder in the commissioners' court and an outburst."
All concerned, this time including NBC5, no doubt will have another whack at it during Wednesday's newscasts. Below is video of the complete Hays/Price interview: