Newspaper Publisher Matt Briscoe is the guy that used to be rarely scene or heard from in the news business. He was a sought after field producer for respected news outlets around the world and his focus was primarily conflict and disaster. But when he hung up his suitcase and came back to Texas to cover regional news in his home state all of that changed.
Briscoe is nearly six feet tall and has a frame that supports his 500+ pounds pretty well. He has an intimidating personality with an attitude to match.
For the second time in just over a year I was able to sit down to talk with him candidly about his news magazine and his journalistic challenges over this past year. Here are the excerpts from that interview.
Metzinger: It is good to get the chance to talk to you for the second time this year.
Briscoe: Ha! Yeah, it is. We don’t talk as much as we used too. Things get busy.
Metzinger: There have plenty of things happen over the past year. You have taken on some pretty controversial stories.
Briscoe: We have. I mean, TWIA was a big one. Ryan Sitton was another one. That whole thing still blows my mind but I guess the people of Texas validated it all in the end.
Metzinger: We can talk about Ryan Sitton later but tell me about TWIA. How did that come about?
Briscoe: Artie, you have known me for awhile now and you know that I am a pretty deliberate reporter. I sit back and just watch, listen, research quietly and then step into the ring. That is exactly what happened with TWIA.
Metzinger: You came after them pretty hard. Why?
Briscoe: Because people here in the region needed another voice in the fight and having a media arm to advocate with and for the community was and is absolutely vital. Yes, it was biased and yes, it was a targeted hit. Absolutely. Why? Because TWIA was targeting our community and as an advocate for our community you have to stand alongside them with an investigative journalism arm that backs up their interests.
Metzinger: What is it like when you walked into the room at the Omni Hotel in Corpus Christi back in December?
Briscoe: I was pissed. I had been talking to people in the community for months, listening to them and their stories. When I saw Bryan Schoffner and Jennifer Armstrong huddled up talking to Rep. Hunter my face went red with anger knowing that they were trying to lie and explain their way out of looking foolish. Then Senator Hinojosa walks in followed by Rep. Mayes Middelton and I realized that this was not partisan—it was about people and their problem.
Metzinger: But did the community actually win, Matt?
Briscoe: Oh, I don’t know. Artie, time will tell. That lies with the legislature now and that is out of my hands—as it should be. My role was to advocate and continue to do so. We will do that.
Metzinger: Ryan Sitton and that whole story. How did it come about?
Briscoe: Well, it was not intentional that is for damn sure. We were researching human trafficking and sex trade in the oil field when we came across a lady who claimed to have had a sexual relationship with Sitton. We talked with her, conducted interviews with her and her attorney, met with them and found out that they had given the same material to a democratic operative who we thought was going to hold onto it until just before the general. That is where we came to a decision point and the decision was made to run the story.
When the story came out we knew Sitton would fire back and fire back hard which is exactly what he did and rightfully so. The lady gave us a photo that was not Sitton at all and when we they started screaming that it was fake we called her attorney and conferenced her in. She admitted it and gave us reasoning about why she did it. Fact remains, I was pretty damn pissed. But, I knew there were other factors at play that he could not deny.
Metzinger: Factors as in?
Briscoe: Let’s take it step by step. For instance, we knew that the night before he called our source from his state phone. We know that. What was said, we do not know. Another thing we know is that Sitton left a small go-kart shop on the hook for a bill back a few years ago. We also know that Sitton had not one, but several heated exchanges with fellow Commissioners and that he had a volatile temper—especially towards women. Just look at how he treated Christi Craddick. We knew that a tape existed where he made some very serious remarks about Craddick. These are things that we knew and that we were comfortable coming back with.
Metzinger: He (Sitton) is claiming that you and your outlet are part of the fake news media. How do you respond to that?
Briscoe: Did we make mistakes with the Sitton article? We ran with what we were given and when it was brought up that we made a mistake, we dealt with it. TWIA claimed exactly the same things and in the end they were backed into a spot where they would have to admit to wrongdoings to try and prove me and the Journal as liars. I think we have the same thing here.
Metzinger: He says it is all “malicious and defamatory.”
Briscoe: After we released the second article I challenged him on social media to publicly call me, the shop owner and others liars. I challenged him to deny the claims that he “initially denied” the claims to high ranking republicans who had questioned him about this stuff the night before we went public. He never did and he avoided it like the plague because he knew it was true. When somebody “initially denies” claims like these when they are questioned about them it makes you wonder what it is that they confessed to doing.
Do not for one minute think that I was not prepared.
Metzinger: Was there a common thread between Sitton and TWIA for you? I mean in terms of how they responded.
Metzinger: Really? You think they were predictable?
Briscoe: Absolutely. We knew TWIA personally attacked people who attacked them. We knew that when people spoke out in public comment that they often canceled policies, harassed and them and did their level best to intimidate them on some level.
As for Sitton, I studied his social media habits, his responses to criticism, his attitude and his personality. I saw how he handled it and I prepared for it. That is why I held some stories back like the go-karts and the Anti-Trump rhetoric that he spewed out back in 2015. Expect what they will do and be prepared to comeback with it. That is principal that makes great trial lawyers legendary.
Metzinger: I am glad you brought that up. Some of you biggest influences are lawyers, aren’t they?
Briscoe: Certainly. I spend hours and hours studying the greats like Racehorse Haynes, Percy Foreman, Dick Deguerin, Johnny Cochran and others. Without a doubt my two biggest heroes are Deguerin and Foreman. I learned much from both of their styles and I apply it to my reporting.
Metzinger: Such as?
Briscoe: “Never put your client on trial. Put the prosecutor on trial. Put the police on trial. Put society on trial if you have too, but never put your client on trial.” I wanna say it was Percy that said that. But it is true. The communities and people of South Texas are my clients and I am their advocate.
Metzinger: Would you ever go back and become a defense attorney?
Briscoe: I doubt it, but I would always consider it maybe.
Metzinger: In closing, any hints on any other big stories you have coming up?
Briscoe: Stay tuned for what lies ahead is all I have to say about it.