By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Lest anyone feel comfortable trusting the august Dallas Morning News to do the right thing, BeloWatch will briefly revisit the tale of The Little Investigative Series That Couldn't Get Published.
Faithful BeloWatch readers will, of course, recall last week's column about the Howard Swindle-led investigation of U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall of Rockwall and Dallas investor-attorney Paul Lokey, husband of grocery store heiress Liz Minyard.
The story noted that News publisher-editor Burl Osborne had slashed the exceedingly complex account of the pair's real estate and banking dealings from five installments to one--then placed the series in the deep freeze after sitting in on a visit from the Rockwall congressman.
The treatment deeply demoralized many in the News reporting ranks, who concluded there could be only sinister explanations--deference to power, social position, personal relationships, advertising clout, and past favors--to explain why a major story by the News' Pulitzer-winning projects editor couldn't make it into the paper. (Lokey and Hall told BeloWatch it simply wasn't newsworthy.)
After more than six months sitting in the can, the project finally appeared in print last Wednesday--the very day this column revealed the project's treatment, and days after BeloWatch calls to the News made clear that its exposure of the situation was imminent.
You may not even recall seeing this lengthy copyrighted story, which began on page one and filled almost two full pages inside the paper.
The reason? Wednesday was the day newspapers across America--including the News--devoted their space and resources to the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. It is beyond imagination that the News would have published the Hall-Lokey story on a Wednesday--save for its craven fear of embarrassment by the Dallas Observer.
The bottom line: you can count on Dallas' Only Daily to do the right thing. Sometimes. And for the wrong reason.
It has been said by one man--a very recent former mayor, embarking on an attempt to practice journalism--that the Dallas Observer embraces a conspiracy theory on how this great city operates: to wit, that Ray Hunt "controls Dallas--from every city election to every decision made at City Hall."
Ignore for a moment that the Observer has never actually embraced this notion--though we do believe, unlike a certain monthly slick magazine and a very recent former mayor, that his influence is a little more than average. Know instead that The Dallas Morning News has proven the putative conspiracy theory utterly fallacious.
How else to explain Hunt's ignominious treatment on the front page of--heaven forbid--the holy of holies: the Sunday, October 1 business section. That, of course, is the day the paper published the much-awaited bottom-smooching report from The Dallas Morning News Board of Energy Experts, "a panel of nine industry executives that convened in Dallas this past week."
According to the News, this eminent group of business muckety-mucks conducted "a wide-ranging discussion" that "dissected everything from oil prices to OPEC, and competition in the electric power sector to consolidation among U.S. oil and natural gas companies that survived the low prices and financial turmoil of the 1980s."
We're sure it was a very interesting, wide-ranging discussion.
But to be honest, BeloWatch didn't make it past the row of mug shots at the top of the page featuring the Nine White Energy Wise Men. The problem: a single photo appeared twice; the first time above a caption identifying it as David Biegler of the Enserch Corp., the second above a caption identifying it as, yes, Ray Hunt.
This error, so amusing to BeloWatch and so enlightening to all Hunt conspiracy theorists, was of such gravity to the News that the paper promptly corrected it the next day--twice. (Even the misspelling of Jeremy Halbreich's name in the agate type in the sports section didn't get such treatment.) As both the "corrections, clarifications" and an item in the business-section digest (accompanied by correctly identified photos) noted on Monday, the picture that ran on Sunday was of Biegler.
Yes, yes, we know: All White Energy Wise Men look alike.
Dallas' Darted daily
The September/October issue of Columbia Journalism Review, the news business' premier trade journal, threw one of its dreaded "Darts" at Dallas' Only Daily.
The item also skewered "The CBS Evening News" and Barron's, as the "latest candidates for membership in the Curious Coincidences Club." Noted the portion of the item on the News: "On April 27, three days after freelance writer Steve Miller had faxed to The Dallas Morning News his manuscript about an off-beat rock-'n'-roll barber, recently relocated from New York, who provides fifties-style haircuts in a retro setting while Elvis singles blare, the paper sent its own reporter to interview the barber and in May ran its own brief item. (Morning News editors denied ever having seen Miller's submission, although, he says, he had called to confirm its receipt.)"
It's still rock 'n' roll to us
The News' double-team pan of the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland--executed by pop-culture writer Tom Maurstad and architecture critic David Dillon last month in the Sunday arts section--gave the project the treatment it deserved.
Both pieces made interesting reading, and together they gave a full portrait of the project's over-groomed, over-commercialized flavor--so far from the spirit of the world it is supposed to memorialize.
In hindsight, the project's problems would seem to have been utterly predictable: I.M. Pei, the man who gave the world Dallas City Hall and the Mort Meyerson Symphony Center, designing a rock and roll mecca? But Dillon and Maurstad chronicled the missteps in execution that turned potential problem into reality.
The last line of Dillon's piece summed it all up: "Having finally enshrined rock 'n' roll, Cleveland is now hoping that it hasn't embalmed it as well.