By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Dallas Observer reporter Jim Schutze is claiming The Dallas Morning News "subtly misrepresented" remarks Schutze made to Morning News reporter Robert Ingrassia last week in response to questions for a story Ingrassia was reporting about a full-page ad in the Morning News that contained the complete text of a story by Schutze in which he rehashed a story he had written earlier for the Observer about a story Ingrassia had written for the Morning News.
"I'm disappointed," Schutze says. "But I can't put my finger on why."
The flap between Schutze and Ingrassia started last May 14 when Schutze reported on a brave stand Ingrassia had taken against Morning News publisher Burl Osborne. Ingrassia, a young City Hall reporter for the Morning News, had demanded that his byline be removed from a story about the Trinity River project after Osborne ordered that quotes from a city leader opposed to the plan be yanked from the story. Eventually Ingrassia won the fight. Osborne was forced to allow him to inform readers about criticisms of the plan by former Dallas mayor pro tem and former regional EPA director Adlene Harrison.
But after initially reporting on the standoff at the Morning News in the May 14 story, Schutze seemed to look for every excuse he could find to rehash the incident in subsequent Observer stories, as if taking personal delight in the obvious discomfort of Morning News officials over the incident.
"I knew full well," Schutze says now, "that retelling this story in the Observer every week or so was not going to do Bob Ingrassia any good, because it would make Burl sit up there in the penthouse at the top of the Belo Building and think about dashing Bob's brains out with a brick.
"But I couldn't stop myself."
Last week, in a bizarre twist of journalistic fate, one of Schutze's many articles recounting the incident was reprinted in the Morning News itself, as a full-page ad paid for by the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, an environmental group. The group is believed to have paid more than $10,000 in order to get the Observer story, which revealed serious flaws in the Trinity River plan, before readers of the Morning News as an advertisement.
But of course the ad also put the Bob-Dunks-Burl story right in the A section of the Morning News itself, making Ingrassia's political situation within the News more ticklish than ever. The appearance of the ad containing Schutze's story, in which the Ingrassia incident was described, gave Ingrassia an opening to do a story for the next day's Morning News about Schutze. Schutze claims Ingrassia called him and said he had determined, by making a single phone call to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that all of Schutze's stories about the Trinity River were a bunch of hooey.
Schutze describes Ingrassia's tone as "prickly." Schutze now claims Ingrassia "watered down" a statement Schutze made to him concerning remarks by officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to questions from Ingrassia about Schutze's story in the ad in Ingrassia's newspaper.
"I remember exactly what I said," Schutze says, "because we were on the phone with each other and we were arguing because Bob wouldn't let me say it. I said the Corps officials were 'cynical and dishonest.' Bob didn't want me to say that. I insisted on it. But in the paper he changed the quote to say I said they were cynical and dishonest 'in my opinion.'
I didn't say 'in my opinion,' and Bob doesn't know if I meant to say 'in my opinion,' because Bob is not me," Schutze says. "Or, more properly, Bob is not I."
Ingrassia declined to discuss Schutze's remarks with the Observer, citing a Morning News policy forbidding News staffers from responding to questions from Observer staffers. Even though Schutze had responded to Ingrassia's request for comment for his story about Schutze's story about his story, Schutze says he does not resent the fact that Ingrassia would not respond to his own questions for a story about Ingrassia's story about Schutze's story about Ingrassia's story.
"They've got a policy, and Bob is a straight-up guy," Schutze says generously. He does say, however, that there are "certain ironies" involved. "In their view, we're supposed to have these conversations in which we're responding to them but they're not responding to us. I call it the Monica Lewinsky school of adult dialogue." Schutze adds, "If you don't mind, that's about as far as I feel comfortable going with that particular metaphor.
"All told," he says, "I would still rather be the one who is allowed to talk to grown-ups when he feels like it."
Schutze's main objection to the Ingrassia piece, he says, was the insertion between quotation marks of words Schutze says he did not say and whose inclusion "casts me in a false light with malice aforethought and infringes on my privacy while giving away trade secrets, causing me serious back trouble for which I may have to go to K Clinic."
Schutze says he told Ingrassia, for Ingrassia's story about his story, that Ingrassia was letting Army Corps of Engineers spokesmen get away with unchallenged assertions and "bush-wa" about the Trinity River project. Schutze says Ingrassia argued with him for some time in an attempt to convince him that Corps officials were correct and that he, Schutze, was incorrect.