Sunday, December 30, 2012

Homophobic bloggers blame 'gay card' for website destruction; no forgiveness in sight

The Rare Reporter's story of the year for 2012 would have to be about the night he allegedly, single-handedly destroyed a website by playing his gay card during a quarrel with about a half-dozen anonymous hateful bloggers.

Over at the reincarnation of the old website they are still sniping at The Rare Reporter about that fateful night of about a month ago, which I previously reported here:

The story they repeatedly refer to is that a cranky old queen who is so senile he can hardly find his way to the liquor store and back, jumped one night drunk into the middle of one of their respectful discussions and caused all holy hell to break out. It seems, according to them, that no one had ever used homophobic language until I came on the scene, even though I previously had been advised I had been the subject of such hateful discussions. At any rate, it didn't take long when I entered the website with my picture and name for the snakes to strike.

Now, they claim I played my gay card and convinced the website hosting company to shut them down. The truth is that I was too busy at the time fighting off hostile remarks to make a complaint, and I have since been told that another party observing the action actually filed the complaint.

What the head blogger and his disciples cannot seem to understand is that it wasn't the complaint that got them shut down. It was their homophobic, ageist language that proved to be their undoing. The complaint only drew attention to the language.

No matter, it's good lesson to learn about the power of the gay card. I certainly will never leave home without it again, and I suggest that everyone else -- even if you are straight -- apply for one too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why deny loving pet owners access over money?

It pleased me today to take a check from my family to the Cedar Creek Lake Humane Society for a 2013 donation. I love animals, and I want to do all I can to help homeless ones, and I appreciate my family's willingness to contribute to it.

It was a bit of a shock for me at the facility to discover a young couple with their baby girl unsuccessfully trying to retrieve their dog from the shelter, where it had been delivered by one of the city animal control agencies around the lake. It seems the dog, which had either been taken from their yard or escaped on its own, had been captured by a dog catcher.

The young couple appeared to be strapped for cash and unable to pay the $55 fee, which included two days of $20 boarding since the dog was delivered by the animal control officers. I was willing to pay the fee for them, but the Humane Society volunteer said the couple would first have to visit the animal control agency that picked up the dog to pay them a fee as well.

The young father explained that the dog slept with his daughter, and he asked if they could see it. The volunteer denied the request.

The reality of this situation is that the dog will eventually be put to sleep if it is not adopted. The shelter closes every Wednesday for the euthanasia of dogs and cats that have overstayed their welcome.

After the young couple left, the volunteer told me that if they could not afford the $15 fee to have the dog registered, which they apparently had not, they couldn't afford to own it.

There is something really wrong with that type of attitude when the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake regularly puts dogs to sleep when they don't get adopted.

The group does a lot of good work, but they obviously have some progress to be made, particularly when they solicit and receive large donations from the community every year. They collected $189,000 for the construction of a new building in 2012.

Let's hope they can figure out how to help this family out and reunite them with their dog. If they don't I sure won't be back with a donation next December. It is after all the Christmas season, a time of giving.

(UPDATE: There were no outstanding citations related to the dog being picked up. I paid the Humane Society fee and for a rabies vaccination so the young couple who own the dog can pick it up today. The shelter director wants the dog to be spayed, but she said that she would pay for that. They are just 17 years old, live with a relative and have no money. Several people called me offering to contribute to the cause. I'm happy we could help the young couple.

I just spoke to the young couple, and the dog is home with them. They took it for the rabies shot and made the appointment for it to be spayed next week. This story had a happy ending because someone observed the situation who had the resources to help. What happens to all of the people and pets who don't get such help?)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Night in the snake pit; hate speech gets blog shut down

If you've got snakes in the cellar there's only one way to get rid of them. You've got to go down into their dark, stinking den and chase them out in the sunshine.

That's how it seemed when I recently went to battle with a nest of vipers who pose under pseudonyms and congregate every night on a defamatory blog to hiss and spit their venom. The blog and the cowardly bullies who frequent it began breeding quite a while ago, but the menace mattered little to me until I also became a target of their wrath.

I suffered bites from several of the serpents because I began reporting about the legal problems of Joey Dauben, former publisher of the Ellis County Observer blog, after he was charged in Navarro County in December 2011 with four counts of sexual misconduct with a 15-year-old male teenager. The assault allegedly occurred five years ago on a church camping trip that Dauben and the teenager attended.

While jailed, Dauben wracked up yet another felony charge, fraudulent use of identifying information, in Ellis County in connection with a blog post he wrote in mid-2011 that named and suggested violence against a Red Oak man whose ex-wife had accused her ex-husband of child molestation. In the story Dauben gave the man's name, address, phone number and place of employment. He also wrote that the man should die if the allegations proved true.

As it turned out the allegations against the Red Oak man proved false, and it landed Dauben in the biggest jam of his life -- next to the allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, which he is scheduled to fight in a trial early next year. Ellis County recently tried and convicted him on the fraud charges, and he received a probated five-year sentence.

Dauben, who started off as reporter for a small town newspaper and then moved on to self publishing under the Ellis County Observer banner as a blogger, managed during his decade of reporting to probably make more enemies than any other writer that I've ever encountered -- even more than me.

Dauben's style was so reckless and unprofessional and exhibited such a total, unapologetic disregard for the truth that he absolutely intrigued me. I felt compelled to meet him and attempt to influence him to mend his ways because I thought he probably possessed a natural raw talent that could be cultivated.

When I sent Dauben an e-mail he accepted my invitation to lunch, and he seemed interested in what I had to say about learning accepted standards of professional journalism and practicing them. He had started writing for newspapers in high school and afterwards went to work for a small newspaper without obtaining a college degree. After talking to him, I attributed his overly-aggressive style and unprofessionalism to a lack of education and training.

At the time of our meeting in the summer of 2011, Dauben had just moved to Cedar Creek Lake from Ellis County to live with his 81-year-old grandmother and help care for her. He mentioned that he had left behind a professional matter in Ellis County that worried him, and I later realized he had  referred to the botched story he wrote about the Red Oak man.

He confided in me that he feared he had finally given his enemies -- which apparently included people of all walks of life from police officers to city and county officials, to lawyers and judges -- an opportunity to destroy him.

I exchanged a few e-mails and some media information with Dauben over the ensuing months, but I didn't see him again until this year, long after he was jailed on the sexual assault charges. His arrest stunned me when I read about it in local newspapers and saw it on television stations. The heinous nature of the charge especially shocked me.

I wrote to Dauben in jail and expressed my surprise about his arrest. He wrote back, and he assured me of his innocence. I decided to withhold judgement until I heard the evidence against him presented at trial. It was a combination of my finding his story believable and giving him the benefit of the presumption of innocence unless he is proven to be guilty. Nothing about Dauben ever gave me the impression he would be interested in sexual activity with another male of any age or with a child.

I started covering his case because it is an interesting one, especially because he believes that he is a victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by his enemies to silence him. Dauben had a high profile in Dallas and around Cedar Creek Lake prior to his arrest. Every major publication in Dallas had featured stories about Dauben prior to his arrest, probably in part because he is such a colorful character.

The Ellis County case made his legal troubles even more interesting to me because the prosecutor applied a law in his case that Texas legislators designed to prosecute people who commit fraud through the use of other people's credit cards and other financial instruments. Dauben argued that it should be a civil libel case rather than a criminal one, and that is the legal action I would have anticipated.

I'm uncertain why all of Dallas' publications dropped the story after initially reporting his arrest, but I decided that it merited much more coverage. At the time I still wrote columns for the Dallas Voice so it published most of those stories, and it finally became the sole publication in Dallas covering the Dauben case.

At one point my coverage of Dauben's case caught the eye of the Navarro County prosecutors and apparently so annoyed them that they subpoenaed me to testify in a gag order hearing intended to silence Dauben, who was sending out press releases regularly.

During the hearing the Navarro County prosecutor asked me what I considered to be an inappropriate question. "What is your interest in this case," he asked. Dauben's attorney objected to the question, but the judge allowed it. I answered something to the effect that there was a lot of interest in the case because of Dauben's high profile in the media. I don't believe a straight reporter working for a mainstream newspaper would have been asked that question, and I should have realized it was an indicator of unpleasant things to come.

That's when the rumors started. They went something like this. If a gay reporter is covering Joey Dauben's case and the Dallas Voice is the only publication covering it, then Dauben must be gay, the gay reporter must be sexually attracted to Dauben or the gay reporter must be supportive of adults engaging in sex with minors or all of the above.

About this time I received electronic messages from two of Dauben's bitterest critics. Both apparently held grudges against him because of his previous reporting about them or someone close to them.

One woman who worked at a radio station in West Texas and got involved in the search for a missing child apparently hated Dauben because he had accused her of faking a photograph about alleged evidence of human remains.

The woman contacted me and said she had heard that the thought of Dauben being released from jail terrified me, and that she had consulted with a prosecutor in Ellis County on his jailing Dauben on the fraud charges if he managed to make bail in Navarro County. I denied being afraid of Dauben, and she immediately signed off the Facebook account and blocked me. I later contacted her via her e-mail account because I wanted to know how she got the erroneous information. She refused to believe me, and she accused me of getting drunk somewhere and telling people that Dauben frightened me. It never happened, but she remained unswayed by my protests.

Then the author of the blog I referenced earlier as a snake pit contacted me, implying that he understood that I had some kind of special connection with Dauben, who remained jailed at the time. He asked me if I would agree to be an anonymous source for his blog so he could write updates about Dauben's situation. The author said, "If there is some actual information ... or any message Joey is trying to get through ... I could post it on my blog and leave you completely out of it ..."  The obvious implication was that I had an inside view of what message Dauben wanted the public to hear.

I declined, saying that I really had no special inside track, nor would I do something like that in connection with any story, even if I did have an exclusive source. The truth is that Dauben probably would have communicated with anyone who would have reported about his situation, even this enemy who started the blog for the specific reason of attacking Dauben. What is extraordinary is that someone would hold such a bitter grudge against someone to start a blog devoted to the sole purpose of condemning them.

As it happened, Dauben finally made bail in Navarro County, but it would not be for the entire length of his pre-trial period. Dauben couldn't refrain from exercising his passion for writing and reporting the news, and he eventually wound up violating the terms of his release on bond, which forbid him from using the Internet in any manner. During this time, I met Dauben twice for lunch, and we communicated occasionally about his case via text messaging, in addition to a brief conversation following a hearing.

After his return to jail and his trial in Ellis County, I wrote another story about Dauben's conviction. It apparently proved to be more than Dauben's critics could stand because I began again hearing the rumors about me, my sexuality and my motives for covering the Dauben case. The Ellis County district attorney made several harsh statements about Dauben that area newspapers reported, and I had not. I didn't attend the trial so I could hardly quote someone I didn't hear speak. I reported the results of the trial, and the reaction to the verdict from the defendant's perspective -- which was ignored by local newspapers -- as relayed to me by his girlfriend. I couldn't talk to Dauben because he remained jailed in Navarro County awaiting trial.

After hearing about the resumption of the rumors, I finally decided to confront the critics on the blog, and a week ago I went online into the snake pit with my real name and my picture and took them all on at once. I acknowledge provoking them to spark a dialogue, but I had no idea how much pent-up hostility awaited me.

It was a bloody fight, and I was bitten repeatedly. I punched one to the left, elbowed another one behind me to the right, kicked them one after the other with both feet and held two incredibly ugly, foul-breathed snakes by the neck choking them when suddenly -- the website went down.

The blog's author, who goes by the name of a cookie that sounds like a woman's name but who is reportedly actually a man, later revealed that the hosting service company shut down  the blog and sent a message saying that the terms of service had been breached by the hate speech, which had characterized me as an old lonely gay pervert who wanted to get it on with a younger guy who liked to engage in sex with minors. One also accused me of being drunk, which revealed to me who she must be.

The author repeatedly referred in the days following the blog's shutdown to my "extraordinary relationship" with Dauben, which actually had only amounted to three lunches in more than a year's time, and one brief conversation after a court hearing.

Naturally, the first words out of the snakes' mouths would be that I somehow had orchestrated the shutdown of the blog. Actually,  I didn't complain about the hate speech (I was too busy fighting), but even if I had, the stupid statements of the vipers obviously got the website shut down, not me.

The author of the blog relaunched it on another hosting service the following day, and the attacks against me immediately continued with a little more restraint. I stupidly continued to argue with them, and they added a false claim that the Dallas Voice had "canned" me because of my alleged  "biased" coverage of Dauben.

That was yet another lie published on the blog about me. A personal decision, which included a summer of travel, led to my decision to quit writing columns for all of the magazines that previously published my columns. I am after all retired and receiving Social Security checks after more than 30 years of newspaper work.

Now, Dauben's enemies claim that I "drank the Kool-Aid," and that I am officially a "Daubinista," but that's not true either. I don't believe Dauben's conspiracy theory, but at the same time I don't think the hatred so many people feel against him because of his former blogging helps him any. Navarro County's first attempt to try Dauben on the sexual assault charges ended in a mistrial because of an inability to seat an unbiased jury out of a jury pool of 50 people.

I did contact a former supervisor of mine from the days when I worked at the Southern Poverty Lawn Center in Montgomery, Ala., and asked him what he thought of the verdict in Ellis County. Based on my description of the case, Richard Cohen, the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said he couldn't understand how Dauben got convicted on that charge under those circumstances. He suggested that Dauben's lawyer might want to contact the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas because the organization pursues free speech litigation, and I relayed the information to Dauben's camp. At the same time, I used the opportunity to ask if he intended to appeal his conviction, and I learned an appeal already had been filed.

To me, the Ellis County case represents a free speech issue. I frankly can't understand why none of Dallas' publications are interested in this aspect of the case, but I make no apologies for my interest in it. As I understand, it is the first time for the Texas law to be used in such a manner so I think the appeal court's review of it will be especially interesting. It will be setting a precedent if the verdict stands.

Dauben's attack on the Red Oak man was reprehensible, but I don't understand how what he did met the criteria for that particular law. If the verdict is allowed to stand, who knows how the law will be interpreted next time against a blogger. It might even be applied to the snake pit when hate speech erupts on the blog. If it happened once, it probably will happen again. Perhaps, tonight.

Dauben's critics apparently are angry with me in part because they think I should more fiercely criticize him. They also complain that I should have written more about the complaints of Joey's enemies rather than summarizing them, but I'm not writing a book.

In addition to ridiculing me for being old and gay and suggesting I might be a child molester, they claimed I no longer am a journalist, that I am washed up and will be ending my career as a mere blogger who will be disgraced for covering the Dauben case.

I disagree. It's not up to me or any other journalist to punish Dauben. That's not my job. It is the job of the legal system to determine if he is guilty or innocent, and he deserves the same Constitutional protections that anyone else would -- no matter what the alleged crime.

As far as it goes for myself and how badly I may get beat up for covering the Dauben case and sticking to my beliefs, it goes with the work of the job. You come across all sorts of people when you cover the news and if you mess with snakes you probably will get bit. But I think I'm going to stay out of the snake pit in the future.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Small town newspaper stumbles over drag queen's name

GUN BARREL CITY, TX  -- It will be with at least a small amount of shocked amusement when some readers peruse The Monitor of Mabank this week.

On page 4 of the Dec. 6 issue of the small town community newspaper halfway down, the headline reads "Garlow's to host annual Toys for Tots benefit show," but the story makes no mention of Garlow's being a gay bar or of it being a drag show Saturday, Dec. 8 at 8 p.m. The entertainers who will be on hand from all over Texas who are noted in the story include "Sofonda Cox," which is the very last two words of the story.

That one no doubt went right over the heads of the reporter, the editor and anyone else who happened to see it in the proofs before they put the paper to bed. But it likely will have every LGBT resident of Cedar Creek Lake an hour southeast of Dallas in stitches. Their friends will probably get the joke too because they also know drag queens like to do funny things with their stage names.

Still, it is a great cause and if tradition continues, a lot of money and gifts will be raised for needy children. The headliners of the show, Linze Serell (pictured above) and Sable Alexander, are tireless entertainers and philanthropists who have raised many tens of thousands of dollars for charities over the years. They have been coming to Cedar Creek Lake for years to help raise money for local charities and for HIV organizations in Dallas-Fort Worth that also serve Cedar Creek Lake residents.

Some 50 bikes are already scheduled for delivery to Toys for Tots in connection with the show, and all money raised at the show from entertainers' tips and an auction will also go to the charity. Admission to the show is an unwrapped bicycle helmet or other toy, and those also will go to the charity.

To be fair, everybody around the lake knows Garlow's is a gay bar, and that it regularly hosts drag shows. The crowd always includes a large number of straight people who enjoy the shows and general atmosphere of the trendy bar.

Garlow's runs an ad weekly in the Lake Area Leader, which is a shopper owned by The Monitor's publisher that is mailed to every resident of the lake. The ad on the front page of the shopper gives the website address of the bar as a source for events, but it is often not up-to-date.

Friends, the old gay bar that went out of business last year after 15 years of operation, never advertised in The Monitor and never received or wanted any coverage. It also hosted regular drag shows and community theater variety shows by a troupe called the "Friends Players."

Some of the entertainers in the Garlow's show will include old regulars from Friends' productions. See for information.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Passing time on a warm December afternoon

A re-reading of Truman Capote's last, unfinished novel, "Answered Prayers", kept me busy for most of an unseasonably sunny afternoon on the ranch. Afterwards, I retreated to my covered patio table to sip iced tea and gaze at the prairie and the woods in the distance. I needed a moment of serenity to return to the present and leave behind New York City's 1960's cafe society to which I had escaped for several hours.

A commotion to the left of me in the pasture broke my reflection on my most recent time travel to an exotic destination, a pastime I acquired as a youth when I discovered my family's tiny home library held an astonishing collection of books by authors like John O'Hara and Daphne Du Maurier who would tell me stories I wouldn't hear anywhere else in Childress, Texas.

There on the ranch, right before my eyes I saw two bulls and a cow engaging in exactly the type of behavior mentioned by P.B. Jones,  the narrator in Capote's novel.

As the two bulls engaged in a head-butting contest, one of the cows, approached the larger bull and mounted him. "A menage a trois," I muttered. Clearly, cafe society, as Capote so artfully captured it to everyone's great regret -- probably including his own eventually -- enjoyed no monopoly on decadent behavior. The wealthy and privileged just did what came naturally, and it usually involved sexual escapades.

Anyone who loves literature and art knows that homosexuality, bisexuality, infidelity, polygamy and just about everything else has existed and thrived throughout time. Writers told their stories, and as long as no one recognized the characters, they generally avoided a public backlash, except during situations involving censorship based on morality.

In Capote's case, he apparently felt compelled to write about society in a way which left no doubt at all about where he got the ideas. It's one thing for everyone to know what happened and who did it, but God help the writer who documents it.

I had returned to my collection of Capote books for a quick trip back in time after reading the December 2012 issue of Vanity Fair, which included a story by Sam Kashner about Capote's "social suicide note," as the excerpt, "La Cote Basque" has come to be known. The magazine also included, "Yachts and Things," which is believed to be yet another chapter heretofore unpublished but intended by Capote for the book. In it he writes about a cruise he took on a private yacht in 1966 with Washington Post publisher Kathrine Graham.

Capote, who had enjoyed the praise of cafe society and benefited handsomely from it for decades before the first publication of the excerpt of the book in Esquire in 1975, quickly found himself to be an outcast and dependent on alcohol and drugs to soothe the pain. He died spiritually broken in 1984, his talent wasted and in ruins.

It was the price he paid for telling the truth about society.

He never delivered the final manuscript for "Answered Prayers," which he intended to be his greatest masterpiece. His publisher, Random House, printed all of the chapters that could be found at the time in 1987.