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Putting Rebecca Aguilar in perspective -- and ready to take the heat

Bring us the head of Rebecca Aguilar.

That seems to be what many people want, judging from the comments posted on this site and numerous others. The veteran Fox4 street reporter must pay for her sins. Fire her. See to it that she never again terrorizes anyone with her pointed questions. The very soul of television journalism is at stake. Hey, it's the Halloween season. Let's have an old-time Salem witch trial. We must rid ourselves of her kind.

And no, I don't get it. Don't get it at all.

Be assured that this isn't coming from a member of the "elitist" media who's out of touch with what real people think. This is a one-person Web site started from scratch after leaving the Belo behemoth behind. Unclebarky.com is run out of a converted upstairs bedroom in Garland, TX. It's beholden to no corporation and bankrolled entirely by yours truly. Without real people as readers, I'm nothing. But I'd like to think I've been around the block a few times, and bring some experience to the table in matters of local and national TV coverage. So here's what I think, and I'm sure you'll correct me. All well and good.

Aguilar is a tough-minded, aggressive and fair reporter who's spent 13 years in the D-FW trenches and a total of 26 years in the business. At age 49 she's a survivor in an industry that increasingly seems to prize youth, good looks and overall vacuousness over experience, grit and enterprise.

It's also best to assume the position and simply do as you're told. Because baby, there are lots of bubbleheaded Barbie and Ken dolls out there in times when even busty, former wrestling vixens say they aspire to be the next generation's Katie Couric (a k a Fox's truncated, one-episode Anchorwoman).

At issue here, of course, is Aguilar's alleged "ambush" interview with 70-year-old James Walton, hardly a doddering old man. Two would-be burglars discovered this in the past month when they invaded his West Dallas salvage business. He shot them both dead, as was his right under Texas law. Many people are extolling him as a folk hero while at the same time contending that a diminutive, middle-aged woman held him against his will in a sporting goods store parking lot after he bought a new shotgun.

Aguilar says she knew where to find him because they'd been talking on the phone shortly beforehand. He called her first, Aguilar says, and I believe her.

I've watched the video of her now infamous Oct. 15th story over and over again. Walton is both cantankerous and amicable. He seems to be a man who'd like to explain himself at least a little, and Aguilar clearly isn't about to dissuade him. Yes, she presses him, most pointedly when asking in an even tone, "Are you a trigger happy kind of person? Is that what you wanted to do, shoot to kill?"

But she also quickly sympathizes with him: "So basically you were scared for your life?"

"What do you think?" Walton asks in turn.

I agree with many of Aguilar's detractors that "trigger happy" wasn't the way to go. But Walton himself didn't seem offended. And your typical TV provocateur might have gone this route: "You're a trigger happy kind of person, aren't you? You wanted to shoot to kill, didn't you?"

When Walton had had enough, he reached over to close his driver's side car door while Aguilar stepped back. He said goodbye, as did she. This wasn't a case of a self-aggrandizing reporter slinging a mike while demanding, "Why won't you talk to us?" We've seen plenty of that in this market.

It's also clear that Walton is a man who can take care of himself, even though a number of commenters seem intent on characterizing him as a poor, fragile old man at the mercy of a pit bull. Aguilar's story fleshed him out and gave viewers a snapshot of who this guy is, and why he did what he did. Is that a capital crime?

Aguilar's Fox4 superiors, none of whom will talk about this, have responded by suspending her indefinitely. Some readers openly wonder whether she's burned too many bridges at the station, and if this is simply the last straw. Others question whether management has caved to pressure from irate phone callers and bloggers.

I don't know Aguilar well. I met her for the first time in person during our interview this week. Otherwise I had exchanged emails with her on several occasions. She knew I'd be fair to her, Aguilar said. And yes, I previously had praised some of her on-air work. I've also commented favorably on a number of other TV reporters and anchors in this market during my 13-months in solitary as the former longtime TV critic of The Dallas Morning News. Nothing's expected in return.

From what I've seen of her and heard from others, Aguilar is tenacious and more than willing to stand up for herself. That's what separates the lead dogs from the lap dogs. You don't complain constantly, but you do make your voice heard. At least that's the way it should be -- or perhaps used to be.

Aguilar's overall tenure at Fox4 otherwise is marked by repeated exclusives and a number of awards. It's certainly fair to question her comportment during the Walton interview. It's not at all fair to discount what she's done for the station.

Aguilar has contacts that can't be replicated and sources who won't talk to anyone else. She shouldn't have been suspended in the first place, let alone be the only Fox4 staffer left out in the cold. Those who see her as an arch villain should be wary of what might await them down the road. Aguilar isn't the overall problem. She and other solid, well-seasoned Fox4 reporters such as Jeff Crilley and Shaun Rabb instead are the ones keeping the faith.

Whatever happens, station management needs to resolve this situation soon. And it's hoped they'll be be able to act with some autonomy rather than being dictated to from on high as one of the Fox corporation's owned-and-operated stations. Aguilar says she wants her job back, and I think she deserves that much despite the freshly poisoned pond she might find herself wading into.

Good journalists survive in the end. Their work again takes root. In the end, the Fox4 newsroom will be better for having Rebecca Aguilar back in the picture.