The Muckraker of Coppell

How a bankrupt former musical-instrument salesman became an award-winning journalist

The monthly Moore created is a hybrid of small town newspaper staples: cute-kid photo contests, fireman-of-the-month features, and a collection of "seen and heard" columns from local residents. Onto that fluffy base, Moore grafted hard-edged coverage of suburban issues and imbroglios that civic leaders would just as soon not see in print--like coverage of a former mayor being sued for slandering a member of the Breakfast Club.

His paper averages 16 to 20 pages a week and has the largest local circulation, with 10,000 delivered--to every home in town. Though the paper has a good chunk of advertising--from local realty companies, restaurants and stores--Moore has yet to make any money. He just about breaks even.

Since starting the North Texas Community Journal, Moore works tirelessly six days a week--stopping briefly on Saturdays to allow a few loads of laundry to be done. For his efforts, he has received the wrath of local politicians, the scorn of other journalists, and threats of libel suits. Several elected officials even tried talking businesses into pulling their ads from the paper, Moore claims.

Last spring, Moore awoke one morning to find a hundred issues of his paper dumped on the front lawn of the house he and his family rent. And, in what would became part of one of his infamous crusades, he also discovered 50 of his newspapers purloined from city hall just an hour after he delivered them. The only people on the premises at the time had been the seven city council members and the mayor, meeting in executive session.

Then came the ultimate indignity: Last May, an outgoing councilman presented Moore with a gimme cap embroidered with "Breakfast Club a.k.a. Team Wacko."

"I worked for 14 months to improve my community and all I get is a hat," sniffs Moore, still smarting.

So when Arthur Kwast came along in June with his Ticketgate scoop, Moore was ground to a nub, discouraged, and ready to quit. Kwast put Moore in a personal dilemma: did he protect the city he loved or print a juicy scandal?

At first, to Kwast's astonishment, the muckraker decided to go with civic pride.

Moore wrestled with the conflict all summer. Then, finally, he got some powerful validation for his past muckraking efforts. The national Society of Professional Journalists, the business' heavyweights, awarded him its prestigious Sunshine Award, "for important contributions in the continuing fight for open government." The wood and brass plaque hangs proudly over the G.E. dryer.

Sandy Ryder, a former journalist from California and relative newcomer to Coppell, where she works in corporate public relations, had nominated Moore for his doggedness.

"What this guy was doing was really wild," Ryder says. "He was the only one writing about local government in depth. And only when he started publishing it, did people start talking about it. No one has had the courage to do what Kent has done, to take on all this stuff.

"And bless his heart, he is trying to do it from his laundry room. What a scream."

Moore received the SPJ award in September at its annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee. It was an impressive gathering of journalists, including NBC's Jane Pauley, the guest speaker. Moore returned to Coppell a reconstructed muckraker.

After being admonished by a colleague at the conference for caving in to the Coppell mayor on Ticketgate, Moore ran with it as soon as he came back. It was a juicy story that would get even juicier amid allegations of a cover-up and demands for an investigation. The mayor hired a Dallas lawyer, who determined no illegal activity had taken place. Nevertheless, the ticket was reinstated.

But by then, the $55 parking ticket wound up costing the city of Coppell $15,000 in outside legal costs, most of which was spent fighting Arthur Kwast's open record requests.

In early October, Moore sits at his desk in the cramped laundry room and makes endless, mind-numbing, highfalutin references to philosophers Thomas Jefferson, Immanuel Kant, Alexis de Tocqueville and Socrates--whose books he keeps on a nearby shelf--to explain his mission.

He talks about the free press being the only guarantee of democracy, about how the press must defend democracy from autocratic leaders who, because they are human, can't help being "ambitious, vindictive and rapacious," he explains, quoting Alexander Hamilton.

"To which I might add paranoid and dictatorial," he says.
Ironically, Moore's critics use the same words to describe him. His detractors--mostly other journalists and politicians--complain that his attacks on city hall and competing news outlets have been irrational and mean-spirited. Their biggest criticism is that he is on a self-important mission to slay dragons, but he bags only dragonflies.

And now, despite his change of heart on Ticketgate, Moore is being battered with criticism from a new direction--the Breakfast Club. Kwast, once his staunchest supporter and best source--complains that Moore is backing off his watchdog role.

"The guy is like a paranoid chameleon, running back and forth on a checkerboard," says Kwast, who says he's never sure what side Moore is on--the people or the power elite. "It's funny watching him change colors."

Kwast was angry that Moore wouldn't print a column Kwast wanted to write explaining why Ticketgate wasn't a frivolous issue. "Kwast just doesn't know when to quit," explains Moore.

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