BeloWatch

What, me pander?
It's hard to say what's more ludicrous: the Morning News' slobbering coverage of the Nordstrom department store's arrival in Dallas or managing editor Stu Wilk's dismissal of the suggestion that the paper was sucking up to a major advertiser.

The News' treatment of the store's opening was monumental, to say the least. On March 17, Nordstrom dominated the front pages of both the paper and its business section, each bearing a lavishly illustrated story of more than 2,000 words.

That, of course, was neither the beginning nor the end. The store's actual March 23 opening dominated the front page of the paper again, with beaming pictures of shopping-intoxicated customers. The month of March saw the paper publish 16 stories either focused on or mentioning Nordstrom.

Nordstrom--coincidentally--ran eight-pagefold advertising sections for its high-priced clothes and shoes for days in the Morning News.

Was this an explicit tit-for-tat of the you-line-our-pockets-and-we'll-line-yours variety?

Of course not.
Life--even life at Dallas' Only Daily--isn't that heavy-handed.
But was Dallas' Only Daily--for economic reasons, not to mention editorial small-sightedness--inclined to embrace the notion that the opening of a department store is roughly equivalent to the Second Coming?

Clearly.
Asked about the matter by the Dallas Business Journal, the News' Wilk insisted Nordstrom's opening--with the sole exception of Michael Irvin's problems--was the biggest story in town that week.

"It's obvious that's where the public interest is--in the opening," Wilk told Business Journal media writer Leigh Strope. "The phenomenon over the weekend shows that."

As if that twisted notion of news judgment weren't bad enough, Wilk made himself look even more foolish with this impressive display of indignation: "I find it hard to believe that there are still people who actually believe newspapers operate that way," harrumphed Wilk. "It's inconceivable to me that people think we'd play a story to pander to an advertiser."

Sure, Stu.
And the News would never give a powerful family with ties to the paper's brass, such as the Crows, the kid-gloves treatment.

And the News would never put a deep freeze on an investigation about a local congressman (Ralph Hall) and the well-connected husband of a major advertiser (Paul Lokey, married to Liz Minyard).

And the News would never aggressively cover the personal problems of journalists with competing media organizations (Channel 5's Brad Wright, Channel 4's Carlos Aguilar) while remaining silent--for months or forever--about the problems of some of its own (former assistant sports editor George Woods, editorial-page columnist Henry Tatum).

And the News would never aggressively promote an institution in which its CEO had taken an interest (such as Paul Quinn College).

And marshmallows grow on trees.
That would do it
A March 28 story by reporter Robert Ingrassia noted that murder suspect Pablo Franco had been "charged with killing two friends to death during a drunken shootout."

From the February 28 "Corrections, Clarifications" column:
"On page 1A Tuesday, a story incorrectly identified Shimon Peres. Mr. Peres is the prime minister of Israel." (The paper had identified him as Defense Minister.)

"On Page 1C of Tuesday's Today section, Sen. Bill Bradley's home state was misidentified. He is a Democrat from New Jersey. (The story had reported Bradley represented the state of New York.)

Much Ado About Nothing Dept...
On March 14, the News triggered a feeble excuse for a controversy.
What's more pitiful is how desperately the paper tried to make the most of it.

The conflict developed after reporter Todd Gillman quoted Dallas Mavericks owner Don Carter responding to a councilman's proposal to build the new sports arena in Fair Park.

Carter told the News: "I would want the guarantee of ticket sales because I'm afraid that might not be considered a desirable location by some. But who am I to say what's attractive and not attractive? We'll have to wait and see."

What Carter said is, of course, an indisputable fact: that "some" might not consider Fair Park a desirable location.

Carter didn't say they were right. He merely noted that some in Dallas hold such a view.

Out of this feeble spark the News struggled to fan the flames of a controversy. Gillman's story the next day led the Metro section, beneath the noisy headline: "Black leaders demand apology from Carter."

And how many "black leaders" were participating in this outcry?
According to Gillman's story, two: Lee Alcorn, president of the Dallas NAACP, and Darren Reagan, chairman of the Black State Employees Association.

Carter's remarks show "some level of insensitivity and arrogance," Alcorn thundered.

"Very offensive and racist," declared Reagan. "He's got a lot of explaining to do and apologizing to residents of Fair Park."

For saying the area's got an image problem?
Gillman sandwiched into his story a voice of reason, black councilman Al Lipscomb, who agreed that "there are certain people who won't come out there." (Lipscomb must be very offensive and racist and have a lot of explaining to do as well.) The tail end of the piece also briefly explored the issue of whether Fair Park really is safe.

But Gillman's story rushed to focus on the rhetoric instead of the substance, in the process magnifying a meaningless dispute over the indisputable.

 
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