The Doig Case

Brian Covert

Is he guilty or isn’t he?

We may never know for sure if Fresno Mayor Dale Doig was directly responsible for any wrongdoing concerning ties to a convicted cocaine dealer, but at the very least Doig’s personal judgment should be open for questioning.

That’s my own view and it was reassuring to find out many others felt the same way during a recent meeting of the San Joaquin Valley Division of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The topic of the evening was investigative reporting in general, but it was clear from the packed meeting that television, radio and newspaper journalists from all over the valley came to hear a panel discussion on the Doig case.

Myself, I wanted to hear from the horses’ mouths just how the Doig story evolved and where it’s going. Why pursue such a controversial subject involving a public government official? How did sources contribute to the article? These were burning questions I had in mind beforehand.

As it turned out, I came away from the meeting with adequate answers and also picked up quite a few insights that I hadn’t expected. From the outset, the comments were anything but mild.

The panel consisted of
Fresno Bee reporters Jim Boren and Royal Calkins, both of whom worked on the original story that sparked debate, as well as television news directors Ken Coy (Channel 24), Gene Ross (Channel 30) and Ed Wilson (Channel 47).

TV and newspaper journalists clashed over various aspects of the original
Bee article. There were accusations that a local television station withheld release of the Doig story so that the Bee would break the news first and subsequently take the heat. There were also questions of the Bee’s unidentified sources used in the article.

Boren explained that the
Bee pursued the story so vigorously because it was one that otherwise would not have been told. Here you have the top governmental servant in the city involved in some shady dealings, Boren said, and the public has a right to know about it through press freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

As for the
Bee’s unidentified sources, Boren said he and Calkins interviewed at least 100 different people and that it was the few recognizable Fresno city officials who opted to talk only under confidentiality. Those well-known yet anonymous sources were backed up by scores of other testimonies, he said.

One inside fact that I wasn’t aware of came from Channel 24’s Ken Coy. He said that at least four different investigations of Doig were going on at the time the
Bee broke the story, that it was only a matter of time before the news became public. He didn’t say whether those investigations were by the media or other outside agencies.

Whoever did the investigating, it remains clear that Doig has yet to account for his past actions.

As any credible news reporter is well aware, investigative reporting on any level is a touchy matter. When you accuse a public official of wrongdoing, you better have something to back yourself up. That means names, dates, facts. It means double-checking, even triple-checking, those names, dates and facts as well.

And of course, there’s always the implicit threat of a libel lawsuit hanging over your head, whether the story is accurate or not.

Many true and factual stories never see the light of day because corporate heads of TV stations and newspapers are scared they’ll get sued by someone who merely wants to intimidate the press. Never mind that the story may be substantiated by testimony and paperwork.

My own feelings, which were echoed by other media people at the meeting, is that by law any person — in any line of work — who knowingly and willingly places himself or herself in the public spotlight can and should be expected to be scrutinized for their actions. Yes, it’s in the law books under right of privacy.

It especially applies when there’s reasonable doubt of a government official’s performance. This goes for the highest public office in the land down to the lowest. No exceptions.

However, many public officials, including Doig it seems, believe they are above the law and out of the range of criticism once in office. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Doig claims that the
Bee is out to smear him. To prove his point, he hired private investigators to track down a former prostitute to which he allegedly had ties, then arranged for a local TV station to do the exclusive interview to supposedly clear him of any accusations.

During the meeting I attended, the
Bee criticized the TV stations’ coverage of the whole Doig affair, saying that the sex angle of the story was overdone and that the real focus of the story — his past connections to a convicted coke dealer, a pimp and a prostitute — were downplayed.

According to many
Bee staff members, the mayor of Fresno used the television stations in a blatant attempt to discredit the newspaper’s investigation. That’s not too hard to believe considering that almost two months after the story became public, Doig still refuses to sit down face-to-face with Bee reporters and answer some serious questions.

It’s local cases like this that really test the First Amendment’s press freedom. I’ve always held the belief that a free country can be judged on the degree of freedom of its press; one need only open up a history book to see that. Show me a politically repressed country and I’ll show you one that suppresses its public voice with an iron-hand.

It seems ironic that many public officials — and citizens — in our own country would gladly eliminate the press if given the opportunity. The logic of that line of thinking escapes me entirely.

That’s why our newspaper, television and radio media must continue aggressively investigating our public servants, yet do so responsibly and fairly. An irresponsible press can be just as bad as no press at all.

I think Ed Wilson of Channel 47 said it best at the seminar when he stated that despite differences in the broadcast and print media, we need to keep in mind that we’re all in the same business together.

My own footnote: It’s the First Amendment that guarantees existence of the press, and only to that do we owe our loyalty and respect as the public’s eyes and ears.
If you didn’t attend Monday night’s jazz concert at The Wild Blue in Fresno, you missed one hot show.

The lineup featured Philadelphia-area saxophonist
Ed Wiley Jr., vacationing in the area, and included Fresno’s own top jazz musicians. The result was a jam that is not soon to be forgotten among local fans.

The concert opened with a sizzling sax solo by Wiley and ended with a standing ovation and an emotional farewell as Wiley readied for a trip back to Philly shortly after the show.

It was standing-room only at The Wild Blue, the most packed I’ve ever seen the place. Fresno’s own jazz sax icon,
Loren Pickford, subbed on piano as Wiley took the saxophone spotlight throughout most of the show.

Monday night’s set was a bittersweet one for the East Coast musician. Wiley’s visit comes after the death last year of his son, Duane, who was killed in a car accident in Fresno. Duane, a student of California State University, Fresno, played briefly on the
Bulldogs football squad, and he was generally well-liked outside the CSUF scene as well. I, too, feel lucky to have personally known Duane for the short time he was with us.

As the evening wore on, Wiley literally tore the house apart. I overheard the lead guitarist, a local guy, say during a break that he needed to go out and cool off his hands to keep up with the veteran sax man.

As the set neared its completion, Wiley called on Pickford to pick up his alto sax and join him in a duet. The two ended the show with the cheering audience on its feet, sad to see the night come to a close.

Ed Wiley is back in Philly now, and though I was sad to see him leave, I have a feeling it won’t be long before we hear from him again. He promised to come back to Fresno for more live shows and to possibly use a few local musicians in cutting a future album.

I told Ed I was serious about taking him up on his offer to look him up if I ever made it to Philly, and that I will.

Until then, I have
an album Wiley and his family made some time back to tide me over — an album that’s sure to see some heavy use in the coming months.