By Fitzgerald, Mark
Editor & Publisher , Vol. 124, No. 37
Reporter's libel suit makes odd adversaries
A sportswriter's libel suit against former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer is creating some curious court battles as it rushes toward an October trial date.
"This thing is just screwy all around," said Dallas Times Herald editor Roy E. Bode.
"You've got a reporter suing a publishing house represented by a lawyer who usually defends papers, who is fighting against a newspaper and trying to get our phone records," he said.
Indeed, the lawyer Bode was speaking of, Switzer's Austin, Texas, attorney Jim George, couldn't agree more.
"Very unusual. Very unusual for a reporter to be a plaintiff in a libel case in which he is giving up to other people his files, his unpublished papers and sources--which he has," George said.
In less than a year since its filing, the libel suit has spawned a fight over newspaper phone records that is being compared with the recent Procter & Gamble police-assisted search for media leaks; has led to the resignation of the suing reporter from his paper; and is roping in another Times Herald sportswriter.
At issue is Bootlegger's Boy, the best-selling autobiography of Barry Switzer, ghostwritten by Edwin "Bud" Shrake.
In a chapter entitled "The Setup," Switzer alleges that Jack Taylor, then a Dallas Times Herald sportswriter, concocted an unsuccessful scheme to entrap an Oklahoma player into transporting illegal drugs (E&P, Oct. 6, 1990, P. 24).
In September 1990, Taylor sued Switzer, Shrake and the William Morrow and Co. publishing house for libel, slander, invasion of privacy, defamation and loss of consortium.
Taylor resigned from the Times Herald soon after filing the suit because of "philosophic differences" over whether journalists should file libel suits, editor Bode said. He is now with the Los Angeles Daily News.
The case heated up considerably in late August when attorneys for Switzer, Shrake and William Morrow and Co. filed a subpoena seeking telephone records of the Dallas Times Herald.
In addition, the defendants asked for memos and other internal communications between editors.
The newspaper, which is not a party to the suit, filed its own motion to quash the subpoena.
At an Aug. 29 hearing, Texas State District Judge Gary Hall examined the January 1988 phone records from five exchanges at the Times Herald.
He asked Switzer's attorney Jim George to call out phone numbers that might be relevant to the defense's case.
George cited the number of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics. According to Bootlegger's Boy, the OBN had received a tip from a "Jack Taylor" that an Oklahoma player would be carrying drugs on the return team flight from the January 1988 Orange Bowl in Miami. …