The Muckraker of Coppell

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

Accompanying the apology was a scathing editorial. Moore wrote that the lesson of Kwast's lawsuit and other similar incidents, was "the tyranny of the majority cannot vote to slander a man, nor deny him his right to disagree...May the city leaders come to know that they have lost $400,000 [including money the city spent in firefighter and Thompson suits] to a bunch of guys who wear bib overalls. They weren't attorneys, and I'm not a journalist. We were only armed with the freedom of speech."

"I think what Kent Moore was doing was good for the city," says Kevin Shay. "He helped make the government more open. He advocated for a new way of thinking within city government. And I think he made the other papers more aggressive."

Not everyone, however, agrees.
Last spring in particular, many people think Moore went too far. On the pages of his newspaper, he called for the city to create a task force to develop an ethics ordinance, a way to keep officials in check--without turning to the costly lawsuits that had dogged the city.

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When the city council deferred a decision to study creating an ordinance, Moore outlined in his monthly newsletter, which he sent to a limited number of Community Journal subscribers, a litany of city hall injustices, many of which he believed were directed at him. Foremost was the so-called purloined newspapers incident. He also wrote that landowner Johnny Robinson was considering bringing a federal racketeering suit against the city for the police surveillance of him.

When the council got hold of the newsletter they were furious, and many members threatened to sue. The backlash was covered in the Citizens' Advocate, whose publisher, Jean Murph, was also contemplating suing Moore for libel for things he had printed about her.

"I've tried to ignore the petty jealousy and juvenile comments but the attacks have become irrational," Jean Murph was quoted as saying in her paper. "I don't want to take any chances with this person."

In his May issue, Moore struck back. He printed a two-page parody of the Citizens' Advocate, renaming it the Ragovate, Official Mouthpiece of City Hall. The mock articles were bylined "Jean Burph (Excuse me.)." The parody mocked an article The Advocate ran about the council defeating Moore's ethics ordinance--an article Moore alleged was inaccurate since he was just calling for a task force to study it and it wasn't actually defeated; the council deferred taking any action. Moore chastised Murph, who he depicted as wealthy and trading on her influence as the daughter of a former governor, and her paper for not filing a single open records request in the previous year.

In a series of personal letters Murph and Moore exchanged in the following months--which Moore published--she called his charges and logic "paranoid."

"It is truly pitiful how very low you have sunk seeking to hurt another person," she wrote. Murph called Moore's attacks on her libelous, and warned him to stop writing and phoning her, to not set foot on the premises of her newspaper or home, nor to approach her in person--or she would notify the police.

Moore replied: "All I have asked of you is to correct false statements in your journalism...I consider your inference that I am the type of person who would approach you in a violent or harassing manner as ridiculous and unfounded."

Kent Moore admits now that the parody went too far and that he probably came on too strong his first year in the news business. "I wrote with arrogance to reflect the arrogance of the people in power," he says. "The individual in society is sovereign, not city hall. But I'm done with being belligerent and arrogant."

He is now trying to find a middle ground, between being a complacent civic booster and being a cynic. "What you need is a balance between the Breakfast Club and city hall. I'm going to try and help the people and the politicians understand the issues. If the leaders break the law, I will have to tell the people.

"I'm learning," he says, "how to become a newspaperman.

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