Thomas Wright

Duration: 38Mins 22Secs
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Interview with: Thomas Wright
Interviewed by:
Date: October 3, 1974
Archive Number: OH 199a

Interviewer
0:00:07.8 October 3, 1974. Mr. Wright, would you give us some information concerning your place of birth, background, education, and family?

Thomas Wright
Okay. I was born in Henderson, Texas, and very shortly after having been born, my parents moved to west Texas. I grew up in San Angelo and went to San Angelo public schools. I graduated from San Angelo High School in 1962 and decided that since I’d been going to integrated schools—or predominantly white schools—all my life, I decided that I did not want to go to a place like the University of Texas, Baylor, or SMU—right in the beginning days of desegregation of those schools—although large numbers of blacks were going to them. So, I had a scholarship offer to Howard University in Washington, and after having toured Howard and looked at it and decided that it was probably the best black university in the country—and surely 1 of the finer universities regardless of race—I decided to go to Howard.

I graduated from Howard in August 1965, went to work for the Washington Post. I grew very weary of chasing ambulances and running down to the police department to write up murder stories and hijackings, so I decided to go to The New York Times—hopefully to get some experience in investigative reporting. After having been at the Times for about 6 months and recognizing that I was doing research—research for other people’s stories—and I felt that I could write just as good as anybody on the Times staff and wanted to research my own stories, I knew the only place that I could get that was at a small newspaper in a small town. So, I went back to my hometown and worked for the San Angelo Standard Times—which is a daily there—for about 2 years. After I decided that I was competent enough in investigative reporting and in feature writing, I decided that I wanted to work for a black newspaper because I saw in black newspapers a need for professional journalism. And with that, I picked The Forward Times here in Houston, came here in 1968, worked at The Forward Times for about 2 years. A friend of mine, who was from Columbia University, was editorial director at the station. The station decided that it wanted a minority public affairs show—this was back in the fall of 1970—so he came to me and asked me to help him formulate the show. So, I did. I agreed to do that. He came over. We set out some topics and talked about some guests, and after we had decided what form the show was going to take, we decided that I would host it for a while until we got a permanent host. Well, I did that. I said okay, and I’ve been hosting the show ever since. It’s Insight, and that is 1 of the finer public affairs shows in the country.

0:03:33.0 In early 1971, I decided that broadcast journalism was where it was. If you wanted to—if you were an advocacy journalist, like I am, then you want to create change. You don’t do it by working on a black newspaper or a white newspaper where you’re going to be stifled and your creativity is going to be warped or changed by some managing editor. You do it in the electronic journalism because then you have these hundreds of thousands of people who are listening to you, and you have to impact them some way or get them concerned about these issues some way before there can be meaningful change. So, I decided that broadcast journalism was where I should try to bring whatever talent that I had, and I came over here full time in 1971 but I still write for Forward Times. I guess I still write for Forward Times because I still have this kinship with my people over there. After all, they’re what my getting in journalism is all about. Everything I do is geared to helping the black community solve its problems—and the white community I suppose to understand those problems—and to help the community solve its problems. So that’s a brief history of who I am.

I came over here as an investigative reporter. After about 3 years I became editorial director of this station, and about 3 months ago—3 or 4 months ago—I was made news director of the station.

Interviewer
You’ve given us a very good overview of what you’ve done thus far. Could we go back and perhaps delve a little deeper into those aspects? Were there any particular persons or events that encouraged you to become a journalist?

Thomas Wright
Well, strangely enough, I went to college—my mother had this dream. She wanted me to be a doctor, and I spent about 2 years at Howard as a pre-med major. I really decided I don’t want to do this stuff. I didn’t want to go through 7 or 8 more years of just messing around at the university to become a doctor. Howard is an activist campus. It was then. It was in the—John Kennedy had been assassinated. Lyndon Johnson had made a lot of promises. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed by Congress. The open housing acts and public accommodations bills were being considered. Stokely Carmichael was on Howard University’s campus at the time. I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, and the leader of Alpha at that time in Washington was Belford Lawson, the guy who was the original attorney in Brown vs. the Board of Topeka case. Thurgood Marshall was a resident professor of the law school at Howard. I became—I was hung up in the activity that was going on—the political activity—and recognizing the need for social change. You have to say well, what can you contribute to it? Surely I’m not going to get on any soapbox and make any speeches, and I knew that I was not going to be any great constitutional lawyer because it just wasn’t my stick. But I could write. I’ve always been able to write and communicate. And I thought this is the way to go. This is what I should be doing. I should be trying to set down in writing the direction in which people should go.

Interviewer
0:07:31.5 How well did your background at Howard prepare you for your present profession?

Thomas Wright
I would say that being on university campuses is a lot more than going to the classroom. It’s not so much what you learn out of books. It’s through the courses you take and the things that are happening around you—teach you to think. And that’s what Howard did. Howard taught me to think. There’s 1 thing I see probably that’s missing in schools today and that is preparing children how to think. I’m not so sure that being able to regurgitate information on a test is what’s really important in schools but how well are we preparing people to deal with things that happen to them in their everyday lives. When you are caught in the middle of something—a gunfight out on the street—you don’t start devising equations. How are you going to get out of this? But you think and the logical thing to do is to hit the ground. But that is what, to me, education is all about, and that’s what Howard taught me. It taught me how to think.

Interviewer
You mentioned your experiences with the first 3 newspapers you worked with ending with the San Angelo Standard Times. Were either of these publications geared toward the black community?

Thomas Wright
They were all big, white dailies. San Angelo Standard Times was not as big as The New York Times or The Washington Post, of course, but it was a daily that served several cities out in west Texas, and it had a circulation of over 100,000. No, none of them was geared toward the black community. But 1 thing about journalism is that it’s not black or white. The fundamental elements of the trade are neither color, and you have to understand that these people—the people at The Washington Post, The New York Times, or the San Angelo Standard Times—have mastered the art of journalism. They know how to write, and I figured that the best place to learn would be from the best people. So for that particular reason, I could not even see myself having started working as a professional journalist at a black newspaper simply because they haven’t been in existence that long, and they have not acquired the expertise of these newspapers that have been printed since the 17th century.

Interviewer
0:10:29.7 How do you react to the assertion that the organized channels of information referring to the journalistic media—newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV—have failed to perform adequately the task of keeping the community informed about events in the black community?

Thomas Wright
I think it’s a very accurate allegation. The media has failed. Anybody in it who says it has not failed is deceiving himself or herself for that particular reason. We have the FCC for that particular reason we have somebody like Ben Hooks sitting on it, and before him we had Nicholas Johnson. The assertion is true. I think that broadcasters, the editors of newspapers, are now beginning to wake up and recognize that the rest of us here in Houston—that 33% of the population of this city or somewhere close to it—is black and that these people have stories that have to be told.

The media has so often portrayed black people in a negative sense. I always see on television most of the time is who got killed on Saturday night, or who ripped off who at what supermarket or what drive-in. And Ben Hook said it just as well as anybody else could when he was here for the YMCA’s Century Club Fund dinner. He said that there are college presidents and welfare mothers who are struggling at the bottom of the barrel to help make this a better world and that those stories have to be told and that he was going to sit on the commission and see that those stories are told. He was going to raise hell until hell froze over—and then skate on the ice if he had to—to see that the stories were told. And the man is essentially correct.

I think broadcasters are changing. I see the change. Five years ago, I would never be news director of an ABC-owned-and-operated radio station. But some people are beginning to recognize that talent has no color and that in this business you’ve got to be dedicated. There are news directors that are running around in this city who only see 1 side of what’s going on. But I think what is happening now—with Columbia University, Missouri, Stanford University, Howard—the big journalism schools are cranking out advocacy journalists—investigative reporters. I was up in New York several months ago with Fred Friendly who’s a professor at Columbia. He was also, at 1 time, president of CBS News. We were talking about the caliber of journalists that’s coming out of journalism schools now, and it’s an advocacy journalism. It’s a young person—black or white—who sees that something is wrong with this country. This person has grown up during the Vietnam War. This person has sort of matured during Watergate. That person is seeing that something is wrong. So, when you start getting these kinds of journalists in the news operations—in the Houston Post, the Chronicle, 11, 13, 2—whatever radio station—then they begin to impact those editors. They begin to bombard him with stories, and the FCC now has some very strong rules on things like news suppression. Editors just cannot arbitrarily kill a story because they don’t like the way it was done. They cannot arbitrarily say we don’t want that story because it’s something on the black community—something dealing with the black community—because that’s 1 of the most serious charges that anyone can make against a broadcast organization. The FCC is down here in a matter of days to deal with it. I think that editors are beginning to be impacted. They’re beginning to be sensitized to the fact that there are other things going on in the world and that black people do more than shoot, chug, and kill on Saturday nights.

Interviewer
0:15:08.0 Why do you think that it’s taken this long for broadcasters to become more aware or sensitive to the black community?

Thomas Wright
Let’s call it lack of commitment. As long as you could—people don’t give up any power. It has to be taken. People have to be made to do things, and broadcasters have had to be made to wake up. Maybe it’s Nicholas Johnson on the FCC that’s made them wake up. There have been some people like Whitney Young when he was dealing with the Urban League and now Vernon Jordan. There have been people like Roy Wilkins—NAACP—who has said we are tired of this and you will change. And there are people that have started filing suits—1 thing that broadcasters don’t like to do. For instance, right now there’s a suit against Channel 11 brought on by Black Citizens for Media Access here in Houston. Channel 11 has already had to spend $100,000 to defend themselves, and they will probably spend a half million dollars more to defend themselves against that suit brought by this black group that says that what they are doing over there is in violation of the FCC rules. People don’t like to just go around spending that kind of money defending themselves. So, what most organizations are doing—they’re changing. They’re saying, well hey, you know, let’s see what they want, and let’s try to work it out.

Interviewer
You write for a local black newspaper. Do you see any press that caters largely to blacks as having a special role or function?

Thomas Wright
0:17:03.6 Oh, sure. As far as I’m concerned, the black press is probably as powerful an institution in the black community as any other—probably ahead of it is the church. The black press has a long history of advocacy journalism whether it was—the grammar may not have been the best but they got the message across. If it were not for the black press, lynching in the south would never have been uncovered. Had it not been for the black press, many of the things that happened to the civil rights leaders in the south would never have been uncovered. If it hadn’t been for the black press, people in the state of Texas—black people in the state of Texas—might still be trying to get to vote. Because it was The Houston Informer under Carter Wesley that instigated the Lonnie Smith suit back in 1948 when they had the national Democratic convention right here in Houston, Texas, and black people were herded like cattle in a cattle pen in the convention hall—separate and apart from the rest of the delegates—and black people did not even vote in the Democratic primary. But the black press was instrumental in doing that. I think the black press has done 1 thing—the function of it is to serve.

Ideally, I think the black press should go out of business 1 day. I think that there should be a time when it would be no longer needed. I don’t—maybe my grandchildren will see it. White papers now are beginning to take up the issues that are going on in the black community, but 1 thing the black press does that other papers don’t do—it tells that little story of that little woman who lives at the corner of Dennis and Dowling Streets who has 5 kids and who’s going to work every day scrubbing floors to send those kids to school. The Post and the Chronicle—they’re not going to write that story for 1 simple reason—they don’t have any black journalists on their staff to tell them that that woman is down there because the woman is not going to go to the Post and say, hey, look here I am. But the black press is in the black community to tell those stories, and it informs people. It lets them know where they can go to get food stamps if they need them. It lets them know that city council every Wednesday has a public session, and if you’ve got a gripe about your water bill, you can sure go down there and tell them exactly what’s on your mind, because after all, they are public officials and they’re there to serve you.
And 1 thing the black press is doing now that I think is good—and that is that it recognizes that the strategy—the political strategy of black people for the 1970’s and the 1980’s has changed tremendously from the way it was in the 1960’s and 1950’s—that it’s no longer in the streets. The issues are no longer do I have to ride on the back of the bus. Or how much does it cost to ride the bus, and where the bus is going. This issue is not can I sit at the lunchroom counter. It’s how much is it going to cost me to get this meal. The political strategies have changed. The decisions that are being made now are not being made on the street corner. People are not leading marches anymore. Bayard Rustin of the influential Randolph Institute—when he was here in Houston said—he was the 1 who lead the march on Washington in 1963—said that people were asking him to lead a march a couple of years ago and he told them the only march that he would ever lead again would be black people to the ballot boxes. And I have to say that the decisions are being made in the city council meetings, the commissioner’s court meetings, and the boardrooms of corporations that affect black people’s lives, and the black press is now going there, and I’m glad to see that.

Interviewer
0:21:08.6 How do you react to the criticism of the black press that it covers stories of crime and then society on the other hand.

Thomas Wright
I think it’s not a fair criticism. Maybe there was a time when that was essentially what was in black newspapers. I can only talk about the Forward Times. That’s the only 1 I’ve ever written for. Right now, Forward Times at press is 72 pages, and there are only 2 pages that are devoted to crime. I don’t know how many pages are devoted to dances, the parties, the weddings, or whatever. I do think that it has a fair percentage of news that involves social issues and giving people direction on social change. I think it’s an unfair criticism. Crime, just like anything else, has to be covered. People want to know who killed who. It’s just 1 of those things that—when you’re dealing with the newspaper, I can pick up the Post and Chronicle at any time and show you they cover crime, too. They have a person assigned primarily to the crime beat. They have a society section. I don’t see why the black press should be any different from the Post and Chronicle, or The New York Times and The Washington Post.

But I also think that the black press goes a hell of a lot farther in that it does deal with social issues. I can name stories that Forward Times has done—that I’ve done for Forward Times—that caused things to change. The most recent 1 was the situation over in Ben Taub Hospital where poor people with kidney disease were being disqualified from the program simply because they did not have relatives or family members who were able to learn how to run a dialysis machine. Three hundred poor people die every year needlessly when they could have been kept alive on those dialysis machines. We explored the situation and exposed the story. They stopped doing that. In addition to that, the hospital district board of managers allocated $100,000 more to build a new hemodialysis unit. And now some of those rigid, white, middle-class restrictions have been taken off of those poor people that have to go into that hospital over there. And they no longer end up dying needlessly. Some of them still die from kidney disease, but at least the hospital district now is in a position where it can give them the best service that it possibly can to help keep them alive.

Interviewer
0:23:56.5 You talked briefly about the impact of the black press on the black community. Do you think it has any effect on the white community?

Thomas Wright
I think it has very little effect on the white community simply because there are not that many white people who read the paper. And those few who read the paper I think respect it because it does have an impact on the black community. But no, I don’t think it has very much impact on the white community.

Interviewer
For a rough guesstimate, how many whites do you think read Forward Times regularly?

Thomas Wright
I’d say about 1000 a week.

Interviewer
And 1 black editor we talked to feels that the black press has the task of unmolding opinions that have been formed by the establishment press. Do you see this as a task of black newspapers that maybe come out once a week?

Thomas Wright
You said unmolding. De-brainwashing? I don’t know. I guess whoever said it is essentially correct. I guess it’s the approach that you take. People don’t like to feel that they are brainwashed in the first place, and if you—you can say hey, you’re brainwashed. They may have told you this and that’s the way to do it. I think every story that involves social issues is in effect laying it on the line in the black press. You’re telling people that well, hey, they told you this but here’s how it really went down. Here’s what really happened. Now, if you want to call that de-molding, then I guess so, but I don’t know.

Interviewer
Could you give us a brief history of the Forward Times—how it got started?

Thomas Wright
0:25:47.5 I’m probably the wrong person to do that because I wasn’t there when it started. I can just basically tell you what I know about the Forward Times. It started back in 1959. Julius Carter, who had worked for the Informer under Carter Wesley, had grown weary of the Informer—or the Informer was at that particular time going down because Carter Wesley wasn’t able to help it and could no longer deal with it, and Mr. Carter saw the need for another black newspaper here in Houston—1 that had youth and vitality and young professional journalists on its staff. It started over in the Pilgrim Building, right off of the 4th Ward—over there where the Allen Center is now. Shortly after the Forward Times started, about 2 years later, it acquired their own press, moved over into the building that’s now located on Almeda, and circulation was fantastic. It is now the largest black weekly newspaper in the south, and projections are with the new campaign that the Forward Times is starting—probably within the next couple of months—projections are that within 5 years Forward Times will be printing about 60,000 newspapers a week. Right now, Forward Times’ circulation is about 30,000. It just acquired a new press about 2 or 3 months ago—1 that the paper is very proud of. I really think that I’m probably the wrong person to give a history of Forward Times. You probably should talk to my good friend Barry Shields over there because he was—he was there. He was 1 of the first ones to be recruited from TSU, and he had been with the old Informer, had been in the service, and had been working back at the Informer when Mr. Carter decided to organize the Forward Times.

Interviewer
Do you know whether or not the Carter family still owns the paper?

Thomas Wright
The Forward Times? Lock, stock, and barrel.

Interviewer
Could you name some people that are on the board of directors?

Thomas Wright
There are only 4 people who are instrumental in—newspapers are strange. They don’t have boards of directors. They have editorial boards, and there are 4 people—Mrs. Carter, Barry Shields, Ernest Norris and Hiram Dotson. Shields, Dotson, and Norris were at Forward Times when it started. They’re stockholders.

Interviewer
You just mentioned that Forward Times is the largest black newspaper in the south. What do you attribute this to—the Forward Times’ success?

Thomas Wright
0:28:51.9 The Forward Times is a good newspaper. It’s just that when it started it had a sound premise. When it started Mr. Carter felt that it should be an informative newspaper that should deal with social issues more than it dealt with crime and violence and social events, even though he recognized that those still had to be in there. And you have to recognize that—I don’t care. You can have all the good stuff in the world in a newspaper. If you don’t get people to pick it up all that good stuff is just going to go to waste. So, yeah, people want to know who got killed and all that kind of stuff on Saturday night, like I said, but why lay a—there’s good reason for that story to have juxtaposition on the next page of a good story on who’s really affected by crime and violence. The fact that 3000 kids a year are affected by murders—you have that premise, and consequently, it caught on and people started picking up the paper. They not only read the crime and violence, but they also started seeing that the paper had a social message also. It was getting people accustomed to registering to vote, exploring candidates, and setting forth a political philosophy. People started picking it up, and they picked it up to the tune, right now, of 30,000 a week.

Interviewer
Is your relationship with Forward Times now simply the role of a writer that contributes stories every week?

Thomas Wright
Yeah, and I also help determine the editorial policy. I write 90% of the editorials in Forward Times, and I also write stories.

 

Interviewer
From reading your stories, which I’ve been doing for a long time, I’ve noticed that you largely write about blacks who are in the more unfortunate sector of the black community. Why is that?

Thomas Wright
Simply because about 80% of them are. It’s 1 thing to write about people who have already made it. I do those stories occasionally simply as examples to some black kid maybe who is walking along the intersection of Sky and McGowen and sees a dope pusher, and he has to make a decision. Am I going to be a dope pusher, pimp, and hustler? Or am I going to try to go to school and try to make it for my people? I write about people who are downtrodden—people who live in 4th Ward—because those people need help, and I feel that through the media we can create the kind of change that’s needed. I stood here looking at—last night I was reading a story here that was reprinted from 1 of mine in the Forward Times. It’s in this book on the practice of Texas politics on the 4th Ward. People of the 4th Ward are poor and getting ripped off, and consequently I felt that through an investigative series on the 4th Ward that I could force landlords to abide by the housing codes. People had flopping cords from the ceiling, no heaters, no hot water heaters, and things like that. So yeah, I write about them simply because those are the people who I feel need help more than any other person in the black community.

Interviewer
0:32:40.3 What has been probably the most challenging story that you’ve covered as a journalist? Is there any 1 that particularly stands out in your mind?

Thomas Wright
The most challenging 1? It was the Ben Taub story. Challenging from the standpoint that here I saw—can we stop for just a second?

Interviewer
We were talking about the most challenging story you’ve covered.

Thomas Wright
Right, the Ben Taub story. It was challenging from the standpoint that here was the Harris County Hospital District supposedly operating in the best interest and for the benefit of some 400,000 poor people living in Harris County, and it’s like a secret society over there. They were doing what they wanted to do with these people’s lives, and had policies set then that were excluding poor people from many of the programs that were going on over there, the most blatant of which was the hemodialysis unit. It was challenging to me because some people that I talked with over there at the hospital were adamantly opposed to change. They didn’t believe that they could be made to change. Some of the doctors over there had these blatant philosophical ideas on how to administer medicine to poor people based on their white, middle-class values. You just don’t deal with poor and oppressed black people that way, and they were going to do things the way they wanted to do them regardless—at the stake and expense of the lives of people. So it was challenging from that standpoint, and it was rewarding because they were made to change.

Interviewer
I was also noticing when reading your stories that you’re critical of the community when necessary. Is there any particular case that stands out when members of the community have reacted negatively to comments you’ve made in your stories?

Thomas Wright
0:34:53.3 They do it all the time. I can’t just offhand remember any madness. I have people calling me every day saying that hey, why did you do this? Why did you put my business in the streets? Dope pushers, you know, on Dowling Street or people peddling dope down at the intersection of Scott and McGowen. Some of them are supposedly upstanding people in our community who are down there at night peddling their wares. When they get exposed they don’t like it. I do it for 1 simple reason. Criticism is 1 of the best things that could happen—to analyze yourself and say here’s what I am doing wrong. And once you recognize the core of the problem then you can start affecting a solution to the problem. That is why I am at many times critical of the community. I’m not going to vote for 1 thing. I see—I get the tally sheets on who went to vote and I see that 20% of the registered black voters went to vote. It’s deplorable, and I tell them it’s deplorable. Because here we are talking about our problems and recognizing that the political system can change many of the things that we feel are wrong, and we don’t even go vote. So the political establishment does not even respect us as force to be reckoned with, and so consequently, I’m very critical of the community.

Interviewer
Speaking of the problems of the black community, what do you see as the major concerns of the black community at this point?

 

Thomas Wright
0:36:45.4 How to live. This time of inflation and the dollar really buying a quarter of what it bought 10 years ago—people not being able to make as much money as they need to in order to live. And you’ve got rent being what it is. You’ve got a virtual freeze on low-income housing—on housing in general—low-income housing in particular. When grocery prices are being pushed sky high, in my opinion, purposely by the government to deal with their cronies and friends in the farming and ranching industries—just being able to deal with inflation. People who are hit the hardest—regardless of what Greenspan says—are not the Wall Street stockbrokers but the poor people. Right now, just look around you. I mean, you take a welfare mother who gets an AFDC check for $150 a month. I know what I make, and it’s very difficult for me to deal with day-to-day living on what I make, and I really don’t understand how some of the poor people in the community live on $150 a month. I think the biggest problem in the black community now is an economic problem. How do you live from day to day? How do you get into the good job—good paying jobs in the construction industry? The educational system—whether it is preparing our young, black people to become plumbers and carpenters where they could make 10, $12 an hour.

Interviewer
0:38:37.0 Do you see much hope for improvement of these conditions?

Thomas Wright
The outlook is dismal. It’s a bleak picture, and I think we’re in for some very rough times. I think you’re going to see really a revolution in this country among poor people—not just blacks but poor Chicanos, poor white people. And where people are being laid off to the tune of 3000 in 1 plant, and there aren’t any jobs out there, and the government’s saying on 1 hand that we’re going to create 500,000 public service jobs and on the other hand saying that we’re going to raise gasoline tax 10 cents a gallon to pay you. It’s like you’re working to pay yourself, and then poor people drive cars. And when the government says on 1 hand let the marketplace determine the price, and then on the other hand they go out and buy a billion dollars’ worth of beef to create a shortage in beef to drive the beef prices up. To me, you’re going to see a revolution among these people. Now, what form that revolution is going to take is going to be—is going to be 1 day. I think you’ll probably see it in 1976—in the elections—when you’re going to see a lot of people that are going to say hey, something is wrong here. When you’ve got a government that spends $82 billion to make war—or to be war ready—and you’ve got people starving, and the government is only going to put into a social program—or social programs and education something less than $10 billion a year. But here we are sitting on $2 billion to manufacture a plane that is obsolete before McDonnell Douglas can get it off the end of the assembly line. It’s wasteful government spending, and I think the people are going to do something about it. Like I said, in the immediate future I see things as being very bleak.

Interviewer
0:40:39.2 In 1 of your stories criticizing the establishment, you criticized a Houston police officer who in turn brought a libel suit against you. Would you go into detail about this matter?

Thomas Wright
It was Dave Bingley. I still have a lawsuit. It doesn’t worry me at all. An old journalism philosophy is to be sure you’re right and then go ahead. I thought a long time before I wrote that story. I am a person who is very careful. I don’t view libel as a bad word—a lot of people at the very mention of libel tremble in their boots—a lot of journalists do. Libel is not a bad word. There are people who can be libeled forever and can do nothing about it. I feel Mr. Bingley fell in that category. I don’t like to see police running around our community killing people for no reason, and consequently, I wrote the story. The story developed just like a lot of stories develop. I wrote just a regular story on a guy being killed by a police officer, citing what the police officer had to say. And hey, that next morning when that paper hit the streets, there were about 20 people in my office saying hey, man, it did not go down this way. So I listened to them. I said maybe they have a point. So I started checking and found out that there were some things that caused me to ask some substantive questions. I said, hey, something is wrong here. Why didn’t they run a trace-metal detection test on the dead man’s hands to see whether he had actually fired his pistol like this police officer said? Why didn’t they do the gunpowder test on that man’s bulletproof vest to see from what distance that shot had been fired at him? Why didn’t they round up witnesses in this case like they usually do? And why is the man who is off duty running around chasing prostitutes? There was something wrong—something missing.

Then I wondered about this man’s attitude. I pulled his own personal record. He was continuously in conflict with the community. He had already killed 1 man in the community—shot-gunned him to death. He had a partner who was killed—a police officer—and I wondered what this had—psychologically—what it had done to him. And I felt that the Houston Police Department itself was not following any of the recommendations made by the Turner Commission as far as when they recognize that—it was a case of my just coming to a hard decision as to whether to write that story and then write that editorial based on my investigation—what people in the community were saying, the questions that I had of the system, why many things—many tests that should have been routine were not done, why it was that Herman Short did not—in no way at all tried to alleviate or do something about the friction between policemen who were in constant conflict with the community. Whether the policeman was right or wrong, there is something there that’s causing those people to continuously be in conflict with this officer. The best thing you can do is move him and then you avoid killing and things.

So, I wrote the story, Bingley sued, and my answer to the suit was very simple and it is that we were under The New York Times rule which said that we had a right to libel him and that in the editorial on which he sued that we had a right to fair comment and criticism. They had 10 absolute defenses. The only thing that has to be proven—where we cannot use our defenses and where we lose the privilege of libel—is when we do it with actual malice, and the burden of proof is on him that we did the stories with actual malice. I don’t think he can prove it because they were not done with actual malice. It’s just that simple.

Interviewer
0:45:11.1 Have you done anything about the suit since?

Thomas Wright
No, we filed our answer and took depositions and—it’s just over there in the courthouse.

Interviewer
You mentioned that some journalists tremble at the word libel. Do you think libel suits are meant to try to hush journalists who criticize the establishment?

Thomas Wright
Oh, sure. I read that libel—anybody who does not know his defenses will back off of a story. Nobody wants to be sued for $500,000, especially if there is a possibility that this person can collect or get some kind of judgment against you. But the thing is that journalists have to know their rights. They have rights just like citizens have rights. Journalists also have rights and the police officers or mayors or city councilmen—any elected official can be libeled until doomsday.

Interviewer
Before we end this portion of the tape, are there any more comments or anything you’d like to say concerning the newspaper that perhaps we haven’t covered yet?

Thomas Wright
Not really.

Interviewer
Okay. We’d like to thank you for your time and hope to see you again soon.

Thomas Wright
Okay.

0:46:33.6 (end of audio 1)