From Hacks to Flacks

Jason Embry left the Austin American-Statesman to serve as Joe Straus's press secretary. But moving from political journalist to political flack is not unprecedented. Here are ten other Texas journalists who have made the jump.
Thu May 3, 2012 7:05 pm
Flickr | StuSeeger

After nine years at the Austin American-Statesman , Jason Embry is leaving the paper's capitol bureau to become press secretary for House Speaker Joe Straus , theTexas Tribune 's Emily Ramshaw reported Tuesday.

A graduate of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Embry previously did a stint in the Statesman's Washington bureau and worked at the Waco Tribune-Herald and the Killeen Daily Herald . (The speaker's move to hire a journalist drew the ire of right wingers, who have long carped that Straus isn't conservative enough for them.)

This move is the final death knell for " First Reading ," Embry's popular daily email collating Texas political news, which was received by hundreds of wonks, political heavyweights, staffers, and journalists. The emails had tapered off with the end of Governor Perry's presidential campaign and, in February, Embry apologized for the "sudden disappearance of First Reading," citing the early birth of his twin boys as the reason for the drop off.

Embry is hardly the first reporter to make the transition from political journalist to political flack. In fact, making such a move is something of a "hallowed tradition" for reporters, according to Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.

"It's arguably always in a politician's interest to pluck someone from the media who knows how [news] operations work on the inside," Henson said. "But it does raise interesting questions about how the different elements of the information ecosystem in politics, government, and journalism affect each other."

Here are a ten other Texas journalists in the last six decades who have made a similar shift.

George Christian
President Lyndon Johnson's fourth and final press secretary, Christian spent a stint in Austin as a political correspondent for the International News Service before leaving journalism in 1957 to become Texas Governor Price Daniel's press secretary. Daniel's successor, John Connally "was sufficiently impressed with Mr. Christian that he hired him when he became governor," according to Christian's obituary in the New York Times . Christian held this job until LBJ tapped him to be press secretary in early 1966.

Liz Carpenter
Liz Carpenter cut her journalistic teeth as an undergraduate at the Daily Texan and went on to cover Washington for the Austin American-Statesman . She moved into the political realm in 1960 to help Johnson with his bid for Vice President, landing a job in Lady Bird's office afterwards. After Kennedy's assasination she became Lady Bird's press secretary, according to Carpenter's obituary in the New York Times .

Bill Moyers
After graduating from the University of Texas, Bill Moyers worked in Austin at KTBC's radio and television stations. He later worked for the fledging Peace Corps before becoming LBJ's assistant, and later, press secretary. Afterwards, he became the publisher of Newsday for three years before landing a news show on PBS.

Steve Levine
Steve Levine, capitol bureau chief at Hearst Newspapers in the late 1980s, went to work as a spokesman for Attorney General Jim Mattox in 1988.

Mike Hailey 
Mike Hailey covered the capitol for the Austin American-Statesman and the Houston Post , before, according to his own bio, he "crossed to the 'dark side'" in 1995 to work as Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock's press secretary after the Post's "sudden demise."

Ross Ramsey
Ross Ramsey, executive editor of the Texas Tribune and editor of Texas Weekly , spent two years in the 1990s working for State Comptroller John Sharp, both as director of communications for the agency and associate deputy comptroller for policy. "Prior to that 28-month stint in government, Ramsey spent 17 years in journalism, reporting for the Houston Chronicle from its Austin bureau and for the Dallas Times Herald , first on the business desk in Dallas and later as the paper's Austin bureau chief," his official Tribune bio says.

Kathy Walt
After thirteen years at the Houston Chronicle , Kathy Walt joined Lt. Gov. Rick Perry's press shop in November 2000, Texas Weekly reported at the time. (This move was criticized by the Houston Press 's Richard Connelly, who noted back in 2001 that Walt scored the job a year after writing what he dubbed a "puff piece" on Perry.)

R.J. DeSilva
R.J. DeSilva, formerly a reporter for KXAN, became the spokesman for Comptroller Susan Combs in 2007. 

Laylan Copelin
The Austin American Statesman 's Laylan Copelin took a buyout offer from the paper in 2009 to go work for Comptroller Susan Combs before returning to the paper a year later.

Lee Nichols
In 2011, Lee Nichols became communications director for state senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) after being laid off by the Austin Chronicle .

More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...

Most Read

  • Viewed
  • Past:
  • 1 week