Wednesday, November 01, 2006

WFAA continues the beatdown on Abbott

Byron Harris of News8 Investigates piles on:

Last week, we revealed Attorney General Greg Abbott is using video shot at taxpayers' expense in his commercials.

Tonight we report that the video is evidence of a sweeping change in the way his communications office is run.

Wearing jackets labeled 'Texas Attorney General,' armed law enforcement officers sweep into an apartment house. The video, shot by an attorney general videographer at taxpayers' expense, now shows up in Abbott's television commercial.

One critic says it blurs public service and self promotion.

“It's disgusting. And that's why I took early retirement. It's just blatant misuse of state funds to promote Greg Abbott's name recognition,” said Bill Barnes, who worked for 18 years in the video departments of four Texas attorney generals, both Republican and Democrat.

He retired after Abbott took office. He says he saw the video department change from supporting the attorney general to promoting him.

“To increase general Abbott’s name recognition, there was nothing more important to the press office than that. That was what they were going to do,” Barnes said.

Salaries of press office staff increased to what amounts to more than $380,000 a year. A videographer was hired at $70,000 a year, just $22,000 less than the attorney general himself made at the time. Videos, such as one depicting busts being made by the attorney general's staff, were produced. Burns says he recognizes the videotape now being used in the attorney general's commercials.

The attorney general also built himself a TV studio. He says the world has changed with the internet and his beefed up operation is just trying to keep up.

Press secretary Jerry Strickland showed us the studio known as "the bat cave," which used to be a storage room. He says the attorney general did spend money for equipment here, but he doesn't know exactly how much. He says the studio produces videos on open government which are distributed to state officials.

The office also produces edited versions of the attorney general's press conferences and legal activities, which are distributed to television stations. We checked with attorney general offices in New York and California. Neither have a department like the one in Texas.

The attorney general's videos are edited for content. How is that not propaganda?

“It is a way for us to convey what people need to know in the state of Texas. We are providing information to the taxpayers and if the taxpayers would like more information we can provide that as well,” Strickland explained.

Strickland says unedited video shot by his office can be obtained by any citizen by filing a public information request. That's where all this material now on the website run by Abbott's political campaign came from. And how the campaign got the video now used in Abbott's commercial. The campaign says it's all totally legal.

The Abbott campaign is wrong. But -- as I asked previously -- who will charge the Attorney General with this felony?

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