Snoozepaper

Striving for mediocrity at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

One Saturday, a desk editor in the newsroom received a call from one of Bailey's attorneys, looking for Price. Shortly thereafter, the former employee says, Price called looking for Madigan with orders that he was not to go to Bailey's church services the next day.

The Bailey story finally ran, but only after the scandal had gathered enough momentum--and was being pursued by other news outlets--that it could no longer be ignored, reporters and editors say. "Tim [Madigan] did finally break the story, but it was told in the least offensive way," says one reporter. "It was sanded down. Every decision that was made tended to generalize and blunt the impact. The Morning News was the one that finally came back and said what happened."

Bailey was forced out of his position, and ultimately 27 women came forward to complain about his behavior. It was a scandal that rocked Fort Worth.

Price says the story was hard on her and Connor also, but insists that she did nothing to suppress news of the scandal. She says she has taken a bad rap over the Bailey coverage. "That has been a very frustrating situation for me, because people don't understand what was going on," Price says. "There has been a concerted campaign to disseminate some false information about this."

Price says she pressed to get the story into the paper as quickly as possible, but that it could not run based on vague, anonymous complaints. "All we knew was that one, maybe more, employees of the church had made an allegation of sexual harassment against Barry Bailey. We did not know the substance of that allegation. We didn't know whether it was verbal, dirty jokes, or rape," Price says. "No one would tell us, including the lawyer for the plaintiffs. I think they would have liked to have seen a story saying, 'Sources say Barry Bailey has been accused of sexual harassment,' but that's not fair."

Price says she personally assigned Madigan to the story after rumors of the scandal reached the newsroom. "Early on, we didn't know if we had a case of sexual harassment, or whether we had a case of someone trying to use that to drum a popular preacher out of the pulpit," she says.

The story lingered because it required more substantiation, Price says, not for lack of interest on her part. "Nobody worked harder than Tim Madigan to get that story into the paper, except maybe me," she says. When the story was finally ready, Price says, it went into print. And since the initial story was written, she says, the Star-Telegram has published 58 stories on Bailey.

Her own membership in the church, she says, made the story "very painful for me personally." It also made editorial employees suspicious, especially since Price was taking phone calls from Bailey's lawyers.

Because Connor was known to pal around with Bailey before the reverend's fall from grace, many also wondered if Connor was really calling the shots on the Bailey coverage. Connor insists that, although he was apprised of the story's progress, the decisions were Price's to make. "I was in contact with Debbie almost constantly about it," says Connor. "She would tell me what they were doing and how it was handled. We printed that story when she was ready to print it."

Connor says any perceived delays in publishing the Bailey story do not concern him. On a story of such sensitivity, he says, accuracy is more precious than speed. "We have to worry about being right with a story," he says. "I don't give a damn who has it before we do."

Staffers, however, say the paper is less concerned with being right than being gentle to the city's powerful interests. In early 1994, a business reporter at the paper prepared a Sunday feature explaining how home buyers or sellers could save money by selling their houses themselves or shopping for cut-rate commissions from brokers. The city's brokers went "insane," one source says, and meetings between Price and various area boards of Realtors ensued. After the real-estate agents voiced their displeasure, the reporter was ordered to prepare another Sunday feature package, this one explaining all the valuable services brokers provide to earn their commissions.

Over time, the perception has built that Price and Connor listen more often to the voices of business leaders than to the reporters and editors who are paid to ferret out news. Says a former line editor, "I think people really, really felt the reason all this was being done was to protect certain interests in the city from ridicule or embarrassment."

Price and Connor could not disagree more strongly. Logically, Connor says, he has frequent contact with community leaders, and he is willing to take phone calls from anyone with a complaint about the newspaper. That's his job. Connor also says that his background--reporting at and editing several smaller Capital Cities newspapers-- prepared him well for the publishing job. "I know more people in Tarrant County than any reporter we have," Connor says. "But do we dictate coverage and do we ask favors for powerful people? No."

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