Unfairness doctrine

The heavy hand of the News' publisher tilts coverage of the Trinity bond proposal

Some News stories on the issue were incisive, such as Randy Lee Loftis' startling expose of severe pollution problems in the river. But like many of the paper's better-reported stories, the Loftis piece ran under a feel-good headline that seemed almost designed to deflect reader interest:

"A fluid plan," the headline said. "Proposal would pump cleaner tributary water to Trinity Lakes."

And none of the coverage seemed to get to what opponents felt was the core issue: that the basic design of the Trinity plan flew in the face of current mainstream wisdom on how to handle river flooding problems.

The Trinity River development proposal passed by 51.6 percent of 74,000 votes cast.

Harrison says she had no personal knowledge of the battle within the Morning News newsroom over her story and could comment only on the obvious differences between the first version, in the state edition delivered only to distant areas, and the compromise version that appeared in later editions delivered that day to Dallas area addresses.

"It distresses me a lot that, in a city where I was born and raised, I can't be heard because there's only one major daily newspaper," she says.

"I remember when the News finally won their victory over the Dallas Times Herald. In running the Herald out of town, they spent the first six weeks bending over backward promising everybody they were going to have fair coverage. Well, after the first six weeks, I can't see that they're being very fair."

Harrison says she thought the manipulation of the river story at the city's two Belo Corp. news outlets--the Morning News and Channel 8--had enabled Belo to corrupt the public process with its near-monopoly in the market.

"The Trinity issue was a legitimate difference of opinion, and they did everything they could to squash the opposition," she says.

Harrison says she thought the opposition to the Trinity proposal, a grassroots movement with a tiny war chest compared with the money spent by the boosters, could have won the election had it not been for Belo.

"It wasn't a fair fight," she says. "It's too bad the law doesn't protect the average citizen from a newspaper that uses its power to try to lead the voters in certain directions and doesn't give the opposition a chance.

"It's pretty hard to respect the so-called powers that be in this town," Harrison said.

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