By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Of course, so did many people, including some of the Morning News' staff, who saw an obvious conflict of interest that Belo did not. Our vindication came Monday after Belo announced that it has sued Mavs owner Mark "A Billion Dollars Can't Buy You Class" Cuban. The company claims that Cuban reneged on promises to buy Belo's 12.38 percent interest in the team and nearly 70,000 shares of stock in the arena, purchased in October 1999 from Hillwood Enterprises. According to Belo's lawsuit, the company's agreement with Hillwood included a guarantee that "if someone decided to buy Hillwood's interests, Belo could compel that purchaser also to buy Belo's interests on the same terms offered to Hillwood." Hillwood sold out to Cuban last January, but as Belo has learned, compelling the ridiculously wealthy to do anything is easier litigated than done.
Belo claims that it received a series of promises from Cuban and his lawyers that, yes, indeedy, Richie Rich would buy Belo out. Soon. Very soon. But first, Cuban wanted to talk about the Morning News' coverage of the Mavericks--as in, let's have more of it. Both Belo in its pleadings and Cuban, in an e-mail to the Dallas Observer, admit as much.
"It's very simple and clear," Cuban wrote--disingenuously, Buzz thinks. "There was not a signed contract...because we were unable to reach an agreement." The reason there was no agreement, he continued, was because Belo didn't keep up its end of the Faustian bargain, "which was ongoing editorial coverage of the Dallas Mavericks in The Dallas Morning News.
"We had meetings with their editorial staff to make sure we were on the same page, and for a while I thought we would be in a position to sign the deal. But it became clear that what they said in our meetings was not what they presented editorially. In fact, I was told multiple times by people inside Belo who were not active in the editorial meetings that coverage of the Mavericks was to be curtailed rather than expanded, which was the opposite of what they had told me in our meetings with management."
In its lawsuit, Belo merely describes Cuban's editorial demands as "his latest antic," without all the salacious details about meetings with editorial managers (assuming Cuban is telling the truth). For those of you not in the news business, there's a technical term to describe such meetings between editorial staff and the powerful people they write about. That term is "sleazy."
Now, Buzz might forgive Cuban for so blatantly trying to influence the Morning News' editorial content. That was a touch tacky, perhaps, but he is, after all, just doing what many reasonable readers suspect influential business-types do to daily newspapers all the time. If Cuban is a bit of a parvenu when it comes to such dealings, his frankness at least is refreshing.
The poor Morning News doesn't come off nearly as well. They originally assured readers that Belo's investment in the Mavs and arena would never affect the editorial side of the paper. No one believed them, but they said it nonetheless. Now, you might say that the fact Belo told Cuban to take a walk proves that the News is editorially honest. You might be a fool. Ask yourself this: Did the deal with Cuban fall through because the Morning News refused to alter its coverage at all, or did they just not change it enough? Why was Cuban talking to anyone at the News or Belo about editorial coverage and this business deal in the same breath? Why wasn't Cuban told to screw off from the get-go?
And try this one: Can you trust the Morning News coverage of anything Cuban-related more today? Now, instead of being tarred by an appearance of a conflict of interest over who Belo is in bed with, the conflict is over who it's in court with. That's like moving to the other end of a leaky boat. Perhaps it's time to toss whoever decided to invest in the Mavericks and the arena overboard.
The News had been planning to run a CueKitty-linked excerpt from McGraw's well-reviewed First and Last Seasons. But the paper was a little--no, make that a lot--squeamish about McGraw's liberal use of the word "shit." In the book, for instance, McGraw talks about how pro football players end a great number of their sentences with the phrase "and shit"--words sportswriters and sportscasters drop from their quotes.
According to the e-mail from Michael Johnson, a marketing assistant at Random House, the News suggested other ways of dealing with McGraw. "Unfortunately, they can't use the word 'shit,'" Johnson wrote. "They have asked me if it's all right to soften this language somewhat (suggesting turd or crud, but not crap)...I suppose the primary difficulty (in the four-page excerpt) is the Shit Bag Sullivan reference. Please let me know what you think."