One of the things I learned from the whole affair was that I can get as lazy as anyone about paying attention, and I need to watch that. In this case, not only was I sucked in by the trick and missed the obvious transgression, I got schooled on the thing by the guy I was delighted to believe was going to suffer—not only for his own alleged unlawful behavior but from what I assumed is the bigotry of his fans.
The facts are these: late last month a Chevy Tahoe registered to local radio talk show host and former Houston City Council member Michael Berry was implicated in an traffic accident in which witnesses saw the vehicle strike an unoccupied parked car and then leave the scene. The vehicle was later witnessed driving around the block back to the scene a second and a third time without stopping, and on those subsequent passes the driver was ID’ed as Berry; Berry was also visible in surveillance footage shot inside a nearby business just before the accident happened. Police investigated, filed no charges; Berry subsequently acknowledged being inside the nearby business at the time in question, but has not admitted or denied being behind the wheel when the accident occurred. Well, that’s all very, well, (yawn)…
But that wasn’t the story when I heard it. The Big Story that was broken by a local television station last week (which I didn’t see) and was then followed up by Houston’s Leading Information Source (which I did) was that a local conservative talk show host was implicated in a hit-and-run outside a gay bar. The “conservative” (like there’s any other kind on a political show these days?) and the “gay bar” are also factually accurate, but entirely beside the point if you were to assume that any actual news here is “prominent Houstonian investigated for hit-and-run” and not “conservative loudmouth attends drag show at gay bar (and sideswipes a parked car without leaving his information).”
I admit: when I read the story in the paper my first thought was to assume that Berry was going to get roasted by his hard-core conservative radio audience for patronizing a gay bar, and I smiled a little smile of satisfaction…and, yes, my second thought was that it was wrong of him to back into a parked car and then leave, although to me the “illegal leaving” made sense if he was trying to keep from being caught up in the “gay bar” part of the situation. It was just funny that someone who was trying to keep from being caught would drive by the scene again—twice!—and if he was going to be that dumb then he deserved what he was going to get.
Berry said nothing publicly about the matter until he opened up his radio show yesterday, and then he spent an entire hour on it. It took him 34:42 into the hour before he got to the hit and run allegation at the center of the case and then he said he couldn’t talk about it because it’s a pending legal matter; he reminded listeners that he hasn’t been charged with anything, and stated that he has cooperated with the police fully. That all makes good sense legally but it’s jarring to the sensibilities: if you’re talking about the incident at all, how can you refuse to address the central issue?
What he did talk about, though, was the attack on him by the TV station, and he was right about that, to a point. KPRC-TV led its newscast—led the newscast, mind you; ostensibly the most important event of the day—with a story about a two-week-old, injury-less, hit-and-run accident in which a former city council member and prominent local media member was implicated, but had it all dressed up with screams of “gay bar” and “drag show.” That’s got to be in someone’s textbook as an example of how to unfairly and misleadingly characterize a simple set of facts. The station’s report included proof that a traffic accident occurred and that Berry’s vehicle was involved, but otherwise served only to raise the titillation quotient and crank up the rumor-mongering machinery. KPRC-TV should be ashamed of itself, but probably is not; it lost its soul when the local owners sold it to Post-Newsweek in 1994.
So for me, if Berry had left it there he’d be declared the hands-down winner in this little bit of business. But no. The man to whom I once wrote a nice letter about his expressed hope that any mosque built near Ground Zero would be bombed couldn’t let it rest.
I listened to Berry’s on-air response posted on the station’s website. He claimed he was being smeared with reports from “unnamed sources” that he intimated may not actually exist..and then he threatened to respond with reports from his own “unnamed sources” and their (wink, wink) “allegations” about KPRC people. Berry asserted that the “gay bar” story was “shopped around” to local reporters by political insiders (whom he did not name) and enemies he’s made over the years.
He said he went to the bar in question, where gay patrons were present, because he wanted a beer, thought he wouldn’t be recognized there, and didn’t want to be bothered. Fine. He also refuted the assumption that all conservatives hate gay people, and pointed out that he himself has taken on gay-bashers in the past, Pat Robertson in particular. But I thought he showed an inability to control his own temper: anger at being wrongly accused may be understandable, but Berry’s display of flashes of that anger, and his childish name-calling, showed a lack of self-control.
So anyways, thanks Michael Berry, for reminding me that if I am ever being tortured by being made to watch the news on KPRC-TV that I make damn sure to have the BS filter cleaned and installed ahead of time. And thanks to you, too, Patti Kilday Hart, for invoking the memory of the late, great Bob Bullock to teach a lesson to people like me:
The recovering alcoholic, chain-smoking, serial husband would remind us that life’s darkest moments offer opportunity for profound change. He’d tell Berry to listen to his lawyer and shut up.
Then he’d give the rest of us a dark scowl and suggest what we should give up for Lent: Schadenfreude, the personal enjoyment of another’s suffering. Bullock knew something about personal foibles. We all have them.