By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
News turns on departed
It's remarkable how irresponsible a good journalist can become when she leaves the Dallas Morning News.
Especially if she ends up at the Wall Street Journal.
That was certainly the case with Karen Blumenthal, who quit her job as business editor at Dallas' Only Daily to join the Journal's Dallas bureau in mid-October.
Blumenthal contributed to a controversial December 9 Journal story about the state-run TexPool investment fund. Written by bond reporter Tom Vogel, the article--headlined TEXAS FACES SOME RISKS WITH FUND--noted that TexPool was "running some of the same types of risks" as the collapsed Orange County, California, fund.
The piece reported that "spooked" municipal officials, worried about the fund's practices and an unrealized $70 million loss, had already withdrawn billions from the fund during 1994.
But it was the comparison to the Orange County investment practices--in type, if not in similar scale--that produced the firestorm.
The story was blamed for producing a run on the fund, requiring a state bailout that produced a paper loss of $55 million.
And no one blamed the business newspaper harder than the Dallas Morning News.
In a span of just nine days, the News produced no less than three editorials on the subject.
The first, on December 15, blamed the "panic" on the "inaccurate and exaggerated Journal article." Inaccurately insisting that TexPool "did not borrow to buy securities"--it did--the News staunchly defended the state treasurer's actions to shore up the fund.
The second editorial, four days later, was more vitriolic. Headlined "Journal coverage has exacerbated problems," the News accused the business paper of "behaving like a journalist who mugs a passer-by in an alley, writes about it, then demands a raise for having beaten the competition to the story."
This time, the News branded the initial Journal story "misleading and exaggerated." The editorial went on to scornfully note that the Journal had published a second story on December 16 (co-authored by Blumenthal and Vogel) reporting how the Texas Treasury Department has had to sell some of its own securities to shore up TexPool--and that taxpayers could end up footing the bill.
"The Journal, having sparked the panic, now settles back to cover the story," the News editorial sneered. "It's not a proud moment for America's leading financial daily."
A third editorial, on December 23, inexplicably shifted tone. "Now that the stampede is over," suggested the News, which had previously assured us that all was well with TexPool, the Texas Legislature "should undertake a critical examination of the fund's operations."
The first News editorial insisted that with the treasury's buyback scheme to shore up TexPool, "nobody loses." This one concluded the state treasurer's move "cost the Treasury (and, by extension, Texas taxpayers) $55 million." It urged legislators to consider "whether the state has any place at all investing in the high-risk instruments."
Journal reporter Blumenthal would not comment to BeloWatch about the irony of the paper whose business section she once ran characterizing stories she helped produce as "misleading" and "inaccurate."
But the antipathy between the two papers is no secret. Their competition for Texas stories, respect in the Texas business community, and reporting talent--not to mention ads and subscribers--was multiplied with the debut of the national paper's weekly "Texas Journal" section.
A few weeks earlier, the Journal had great fun with a story about the News' preposterously garbled version of a wire-service article on faulty Intel microchips. News honchos blamed the entire fiasco on a misused spell-check program; others blamed it on a prankster's sabotage.
In any case, it's amusing to see how a change of employment can transform a journalist deserving of high responsibility at Texas' leading newspaper into one capable of collaborating in a journalistic atrocity.
The January 8 Sunday Reader section in the News devoted its Q&A "Interview" section to former Houston congressman Mike Andrews, who is leaving Washington following his unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination to run against U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.
That's all well and good--the interview contains the combination of platitudes and insights that usually fill that column. In fact, Andrews' thoughts were more interesting than most "Interview" subjects.
What's unfortunate is the choice of interviewers: veteran News reporter Victoria Loe, who covered Andrews' first congressional race for Texas Monthly in 1982, then went to work the following year as press secretary for the congressman. Loe worked for Andrews for eight months.
The News prominently discloses that history, which is better than failing to do so. But that doesn't erase the strange choice.
Loe is a talented journalist. But there are others at Dallas' Only Daily. Why, BeloWatch wonders, couldn't the paper find someone else on its staff of hundreds to interview Andrews--someone who was never on the interview subject's payroll?
Darting the DMN
Lest you think the Dallas Observer is the only publication that's actively BeloWatching, BeloWatch republishes an item from the pages of the January-February 1995 issue of the preeminent media-watchdog magazine, Columbia Journalism Review:
"DART to The Dallas Morning News, for its phlegmatic treatment of the filthier aspects of the Kleenex company's business. The paper pays plenty of attention to financial news of locally based Kimberly Clark, which it consistently identifies as the giant maker of such godliness-granting products as diapers, tissues, and paper towels, but it wipes away any mention of the company's work in processing tobacco. Only those Morning News readers who also subscribe to the alternative weekly Dallas Observer would know, for example, of a unique lawsuit filed this fall against the company for medical expenses incurred from smoking-related illnesses--a lawsuit based on a series of Kimberly Clark ads in tobacco trade journals promoting the use of its tobacco sheets. 'Nicotine levels are becoming a growing concern of designers of modern cigarettes,' the Observer quoted one such ad as claiming under the banner headline MORE OR LESS. 'The Kimberly Clark tobacco reconstitution process used by [French subsidiary] LTR Industries permits adjustments of nicotine to your exact requirements...Get more tobacco from all your tobacco.'