By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
A one-page letter from Texas Commerce Bank-Dallas board chairman John L. Adams to Mavs owner Don Carter offers a clue. Dated July 27, 1994, it reads:
Dear Mr. Carter:
Your agreeing to visit with us tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. in your office is much appreci-ated. Below is a listing of the individuals who will be joining [City Manager] John Ware and me:
Robert Decherd, A.H. Belo Corporation
Bob Folsom, Folsom Properties
Dick Heath, BeautiControl Cosmetics
Jerry Junkins, Texas Instruments
Harvey Mitchell, Bank One
Thanks again and we look forward to see-ing you tomorrow morning.
Perhaps the Belo CEO, former mayor Folsom, and the other business superheavyweights were just planning to discuss the home-interior business with Carter and city manager Ware.
More likely they were doing what Decherd--as one of Dallas' most powerful businessmen--does often: seek to influence a critical public issue behind the scenes. In this case, BeloWatch can reasonably surmise, Decherd and the rest of this high-dollar crowd were lobbying Carter to keep his team in Dallas.
Did Carter reveal anything newsworthy at the meeting? Were any deals offered? Wouldn't it be news that such a blue-chip private-business group was seeking to influence events?
The Dallas Morning News, of course, didn't tell us.
Decherd, who did not return calls for comment, would likely explain that he was simply acting as a private businessman with a deep concern for the city's best interests.
He's been acting that way for years: giving money to political candidates, pulling strings behind the scenes, playing a key role on the boards of important private and public institutions.
Decherd's role in the Dallas Plan was so central--he drafted close friend Robert Hoffman to lead it; his Belo Foundation helped fund it; his newspaper lavishly covered it; his editorial page repeatedly endorsed it--that outgoing Dallas Citizens Council chairman Don Williams, during the group's November 7 annual meeting, thanked him from the podium for his critical role in launching the project.
All that public-spiritedness is fine and good for most private businessmen.
But it's not for the man who controls the city's only daily newspaper and its dominant TV station. Decherd's personal relationships and civic involvements--some noble, some not--distort, influence, and undermine the work of his TV station and, especially, his newspaper.
The chief executive of a media company should seek to influence events through coverage and editorial arguments. That's influence enough.
There are plenty of other business executives in Dallas ready and able to play the role of power broker.
Clip and save
On December 26, News staff writer Jean Nash Johnson penned the annual panicky "what-to-do-when-it-freezes-in-Texas" story for the front page of the metro section. The headline:
In case of arctic blast,
experts advise caution--
Planning can help protect home, animals
The story contained tips from "experts," aimed at avoiding the disaster--"frozen pipes, plans, and shrubbery"--that resulted from "the unexpected appearance of Jack Frost during the holiday of '89."
It was a curious bit of timing.
Immediately beneath it, the paper ran a story explaining that all those tips weren't likely to be useful anytime soon.
Forecasters say this week, winter
likely to bring wet, mild days
Spinning in its rotogravure
The disingenuous load of bull that the News offered to justify killing Dallas Life requires a few final BeloWatch words.
The paper had repeatedly blamed both the Sunday magazine's reinvention as a blatant ad vehicle and its subsequent decision to pull the plug altogether on simple economics.
Dallas Life editor Bob Bersano put it this way in the final, Christmas Day issue: "After more than two decades--despite the devoted work of many editors, writers, photographers, designers and advertising sales personnel--there remain only the hard facts: Costs, particularly for newsprint, far exceed the revenue that can be produced."
To which BeloWatch asks: So what?
The News' record profits dwarf Dallas Life's red ink. Besides, since when did every newspaper section support itself with advertising?
Last week's Sunday Reader ran 12 pages; it contained perhaps a half page of paid advertising.
Does the sports section pay its own way?
In last Monday's edition of the News, Sports Day ran 16 pages; it contained less than two pages of paid ads. Sports is extraordinarily cost-intensive. Imagine the paper's bills for staffing every home and away game for every big-league Dallas team; for covering the Olympics and Super Bowl and World Series with a small army of reporters and photographers; and for producing page after page of agate type and tiny stories about college and high school games?
Where are the "hard facts" there? Will the News kill Sports Day because "costs, particularly for newsprint, far exceed the revenue that can be produced"?
Not too darn likely.
There was no inevitability in the death of Dallas Life. Thirty-two dailies across the country--several smaller and less profitable than the News--continue to print Sunday magazines. The paper's management simply made a decision not to bother putting out a Sunday magazine--a fixture in the nation's best newspapers.
Belo decided to put the cash Dallas Life was costing in its pocket, instead of in the magazine--though it continues to make the opposite decision with other sections, and, God knows, has plenty of money to spread around.
But what's equally offensive is how hard the News has labored to avoid telling its readers that simple truth.
A December 19 BeloWatch item headlined "Familiar story" suggested that Bill Minutaglio's page-one feature story about Pig Park on December 11 was inspired by an Observer cover story written 10 months earlier by assistant editor Julie Lyons. The story was more familiar than BeloWatch knew.
A letter-writer has already pointed out in these pages that D Magazine had written briefly about Pig Park--a South Dallas urban rodeo--even earlier, in May 1992.
News staffer Jennifer Nagorka also wrote about the rodeo before the Observer story--in a page-one piece published back on August 4, 1992.