By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Not the standard News kid-gloves treatment. The extra-special, deluxe, we-drool-at-the-mention-of-your-corporation's-name kid-gloves treatment.
The tip: Put Belo CEO Robert Decherd on your board.
Irving-based Kimberly-Clark did it late last year--and the results have been virtually instantaneous.
BeloWatch has already noted the approving, no-ugly-issues-raised coverage of K-C's recent "restructuring"--the decision to lay off 6,000 employees, about 10 percent of the corporate work force. On December 27, the News tossed K-C another slobbering Christmas gift, with an over-the-top, overlong, and sickeningly overkind obituary of the company's former CEO.
Employing fawning prose usually reserved for High Profile--the sort that is truly to die for--the paper devoted the top of its business page and 30 column inches to the life of...Darwin E. Smith.
Never heard of him? According to Aline McKenzie's story, Smith--who retired from K-C three years ago and lived in Florida--was "one of the most successful industrialists of his era."
The third paragraph of the story quoted his widow, who called him "a special, remarkable man" with "a piercing intelligence and a charm and a wit" and "a beneficent heart."
Smith transformed K-C into "a huge, successful corporation" and "an innovative consumer products power," writes McKenzie.
The story went on to recite approvingly his many bloodless achievements, including that "he unflinchingly sold mills that didn't measure up"--as though throwing thousands out of work should be done "unflinchingly."
Want more proof of his genius? The News offered it up: "For the 10 years leading up to his retirement, Kimberly-Clark was named the most admired forest products company in the United States by Fortune magazine...
"That was only one side of Mr. Smith," McKenzie declared. "To the people who knew him best, the real Darwin Smith was one of the guys."
Uh-huh. This "one of the guys," McKenzie notes, owned a 500-acre farm in Wisconsin and spent $150,000 building a private lake on the property.
Then there was that wacky, wonderful episode in 1987, when the company's Terrace Bay paper mill in Toronto was "being attacked by politicians and environmentalists"--presumably for despoiling the earth--and Smith revealed his corporate good-neighbor policy. He "boosted morale by wearing a sweatshirt that said 'Terrace Bay No. 1' on the front and 'Toronto Sucks' on the back, and"--get a load of this example of generosity--"passed out 20 more to the workers."
If there is still any doubt that Smith's ordinary demise received extraordinary treatment in Kimberly-Clark director Decherd's newspaper, consider that the story listed three more business staffers as contributors to McKenzie's story--including executive business editor Gary Jacobson.
Newspaper obituaries aren't the place for investigative reporting. But they also shouldn't distort and sugar-coat reality--Belo CEO Decherd's relationships notwithstanding.
Darwin Smith died--and The Dallas Morning News sent him to heaven.
Out of the Woods
In another example of generous editorial treatment close to home, the News has reported the sentencing of its former assistant sports editor, George Rodney Woods, in near-heroic terms.
Woods, BeloWatch readers will recall, became the centerpiece of a multi-state, federal sting operation targeting kiddie porn after a raid on his Mesquite home last May resulted in the seizure of videotapes depicting children in explicit sex acts.
The News, after finding out about Woods' embarrassing involvement, fired him from his most recent position (on the sports copy desk), but reported nothing in print about the investigation for months until after Woods agreed to a plea bargain.
On December 29, in the paper's second brief story on the affair, News reporter Steve Scott stated that U.S. District Judge Barefoot Sanders had sentenced Woods--facing up to five years in prison--to just three years' probation because of his extensive cooperation with authorities.
Woods had turned over information "that sparked more than a dozen federal investigations in at least six states" and resulted in the prosecution of four child molesters, Scott noted, quoting prosecutors.
Scott quoted a repentant Woods thanking Uncle Sam for busting him ("By taking away these materials, the government has helped to set me free") and apologizing for allowing his "compulsion" for pornography to overcome his respect for the law.
The story neglected to point out that Woods, who was found in possession of more than 100 pornographic videotapes, really didn't have much choice: Nailed possessing illegal kiddie porn, he could either cooperate and remain free or tell the feds to kiss off and spend several years behind bars. Heroic behavior? Not exactly.
Too much time on the cop beat
The Dallas Morning News has been pushing the journalistic envelope lately--right into law-enforcement turf.
First, of course, there was the case of Sam Krasniqi, the Moslem Albanian-American who lost his children forever to the state child-welfare system despite later being found innocent of criminal allegations of child molestation. When Krasniqi's frustration bubbled over into a comment--quoted in a News story--that he would like to kill those responsible for his son and daughter being taken away, put up for adoption, and converted to Christianity, a grand jury summoned the News reporter, then indicted Krasniqi for felony retaliation.
Then, over the holidays, the News published a warmhearted story about a group of homeless folks who were camping out near White Rock Creek. After the story came out, readers donated food, tents, and other items to the campers--generating another warmhearted story.