BeloWatch

The gospel, according to the News
What makes The Dallas Morning News perhaps the most annoying newspaper in America?

Stories like Ed Housewright's incredibly condescending page-one story on the remarkable circumstance of Good Friday and the first day of Passover sharing the same date.

Published, of course, last Friday, this piece was patronizing, obnoxious, and just plain stupid from start to finish. A clumsy and misguided attempt to strike a frequent feel-good News theme--how much we all have in common despite our apparent differences--it showed how much space Dallas' Only Daily can fill informing its readers of the obvious.

"Christians celebrate Easter. Jews celebrate Passover," Housewright began, under the headline: "Sacred connections: Passover, Easter overlap on dates, origins."

His insightful theme (attributed, of course, to experts) appeared in the third paragraph: "This converging of the Jewish and Christian calendars on Friday provides an opportunity to see the common roots of the two celebrations--a fact that surprises some people, religious leaders say."

Housewright then trotted out expert number 1: "'Historically, Christianity emerges out of a Jewish matrix,' said Dr. William Scott Green, professor of religion at the University of Rochester, in New York...'There is a necessary theological connection between Judaism and Christianity.'"

(Translation: Jesus was a Jew.)
Next came expert number 2.
"The origins of Christianity 'lie in Judaism and in the Old Testament,' said Dr. Eugene Merrill, a professor of Old Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. (Translation: Jesus was a Jew.) 'It's a shame if we cut ourselves off from that tradition.'"

Then Housewright continued his kindergarten-level catechism: "Christianity and Judaism part irreparably over their view of Jesus: Christians believe he is the Messiah; Jews say only that he was a prominent teacher."

Housewright spent the middle of his story declaring a trend--that Christians have begun studying and even celebrating Passover to learn about the origins of Christianity.

But he ended with a cumbersome return to the calendar. "In some years, Good Friday and Passover fall as much as a month apart, underscoring the distance between Judaism and Christianity."

Housewright even finds an expert to support this theme: the editor of--how perfect!--a publication for interfaith couples.

BeloWatch just can't wait until December, when the News will advise us of the proximity of Christmas and the first day of Chanukah, and how it underscores the differences--or connections (it all depends upon the calendar)--between Christians and Jews.

All of which makes BeloWatch wonder: what are we to make of the date of Ramadan?

Special BeloWatch postscript: Housewright's gospel lesson was accompanied by a large page-one photo of a rabbi (Martin Waldman of Baruch Ha Shem Messianic Congregation) buttressing the story's theme by celebrating a seder on Thursday night at Northwest Bible Church.

Saturday's "corrections, clarifications" column in the News noted: "a photograph that accompanied a story about Passover and Good Friday showed members of a Messianic congregation. Rabbi David Stern, president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas, issued a statement saying, 'The Rabbinic Association regrets that an authentic form of Jewish celebration was not used in the picture.' The caption also should have said that the ancient Jewish festival of Passover began at sundown Friday."

Eager to finally get it right--show real Jews celebrating Passover on the night it really begins--Saturday's News featured a large metro-section photo of a father and daughter participating in the Friday-night seder at the Jewish Community Center.

All in the family
It's unseemly to demean the memory of the dead. But the April 8 obituary on former Belo CEO Joe Dealey, ostensibly written by Joe Simnacher, begs for at least brief BeloWatch comment.

The page-one obituary, which continued for a full page inside the paper, is a remarkable example of revisionist history. It would, of course, be inappropriate for Belo's own newspaper to dwell on the late Mr. Dealey's limitations. But in treating his career as a landmark one in the history of Dallas, and a remarkable one in the history of publishing, the story offers fresh lessons in the use of euphemism, omission, and understatement.

The truth of the matter is that Dealey, after inheriting the mantle from his father, was a weak publisher and corporate leader. Shackled by his conservative approach, absorbed in charitable civic activities, he opposed virtually every attempt to drag the News and Belo into the modern age.

Under Dealey's timid guidance, the company rejected extraordinary business opportunities for fear of incurring debt; it even found itself on the brink of losing its Dallas newspaper franchise to the Times Mirror Corp., which had purchased the Dallas Times Herald. Facing a growing crisis, and outmaneuvered by Robert Decherd, a nephew three decades younger, Dealey ultimately yielded first effective control, and eventually, formal stewardship of the company.

Dealey had been against buying TV stations; against borrowing money for acquisitions of other papers; and against taking Belo public--on each of those counts, history has proven his position wrong. As long-time publisher of the News, he ran a lazy, second-rate paper.

Thus the obituary's gentle language, such as Decherd's comment that Dealey "oversaw" the transition to Belo being publicly held and put the company "ahead of any personal ambitions." In fact, Dealey had long opposed Decherd's efforts to take Belo public--and was deeply bitter about his nephew's rise to power over Joe Dealey Jr., his own son.

As a result, the obituary is full of references to how Dealey allowed things to happen--or served as Belo chairman (albeit far from calling the shots) at the time major corporate events were taking place.

In this obituary-as-corporate history, the strong hand most responsible for Belo's extraordinary success, characteristically, is virtually invisible. That is, of course, Robert Decherd.

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