Jilted

The Morning News sells its, uh, soul for Boeing

Let's say you decide you're going to be a whore. Maybe you've had a long, respectable life in which you've only rarely, quietly embarrassed yourself. Some silliness when you were young, a few wayward escapades while growing up, but for the most part you are seen as a sober person. Now, though, you're sick of playing it straight, tired of the minimal satisfaction that comes from a job well done. You want the adrenal rush of a nasty, degrading, public tryst.

Now let's say "you" are in fact The Dallas Morning News. What "you" do is find one of the biggest swinging phalluses in the country, looking for a fling. You find it in the fuselage-filled company from the Northwest, Boeing, a $51-billion-a-year corporation that brags about being the nation's "10th biggest." Then Boeing announces on March 21 that he intends to find a new partner, because his old one, Seattle, may be beautiful but too often smells like mildewed Birkenstocks. Your town, as well as Chicago and Denver, are Boeing's three possible choices for long-term commitment. You, the Morning News, saddle up and begin your harlotry.

Boeing chairman Phil Condit tells Dallas, "Hey, tough nuts."
AP/Wide World
Boeing chairman Phil Condit tells Dallas, "Hey, tough nuts."

During the next five weeks, you kiss so much corporate tail that you need your cat's hairball medicine. You run 45 Boeing stories (to the Chicago Tribune's 17 and the Rocky Mountain News' 26), each singing the same joyful lyric: "We're in love!" You quote self-congratulatory cheerleaders. ("It's our deal to lose," says a local real estate broker in your pages.) You buy your lover's b.s. lines--like how "diversity" is important to these pasty, suited rich men--and reprint them without irony. You chuckle at the papers in the other two cities, each one running a column that suggests their town and employer shouldn't go ga-ga just because Boeing and its 500 executives are coming to town.

"Forget talk about 'world-class cities,'" David Greising wrote in the Chicago Tribune. "We're acting strictly low-class, throwing ourselves at Boeing like this."

If you're the Morning News, you think, "Loser." You continue to print stories about Dallas-Fort Worth's orgiastic civic leaders working themselves into a lather about your paramour. You don't print the story about how the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace union filed suit against the airplane maker, alleging it was violating its labor contract by farming out work to subcontractors.

Then, last week, bam: Boeing walks out on you, no money on the dresser, just says, yeah, had a good time, gotta go.

What do you do then? Well, if you really are the Morning News, you do what it tried to do: straighten your miniskirt, wipe off the smeared lipstick and give the concept of maintaining your dignity one more try.

Except you overdo it. You bitch and whine and pout, and you just make more of a mess of yourself. You run four stories the next day, each one taking as its thesis, "I'm better off without that lying Boeing bastard chairman Phil Condit! Charlene was right! He was no good for me!"

"[Mr. Condit] wants world accessibility, and he moves to downtown Chicago?" you quote a Denver-area (nice touch!) aviation consultant as saying. "The criteria was just a bunch of malarkey."

"You just can't logically connect the dots between what they first said they wanted and where they went in Chicago," you quote Dary Stone, president of Cousins Stone LP, which manages the Las Colinas project. "We [should have] won that deal."

Sweet heavens, what a bunch of whiners. But it's hard to blame the suits. That's what politicos and chamber of commerce-type dweebs do. They make it look like it's not just professional coitus but transcendent love when you begbegbeg 500 cubicle-fillers to come to town.

Who can be blamed is the Morning News. Not for Dallas losing out on Boeing's taste test, but for so blatantly crossing the line from sage civic voice to cleavage-bearing cheerleader. I went back and reread every story it printed on the Boeing dalliance with Dallas, on the advice of several people who called or e-mailed, appalled at the paper's boosterism.

And they were right. If you had only the Morning News to go by, you'd think the entire town met every day to hold hands and sing "Good Morning Starshine."

Memo to the Morning News: You can't get in touch with your readers by saying that "everyone's buzzing" about a corporate relocation. Most people "buzz" about Mavericks games, new restaurants, summer movies, The Sopranos and the price of gasoline. Business journalists, high-level editors and their golf buddies "buzz" about a relocation. It's why they are so lonely.

The worst part for the paper is that its futile, obvious ass-kissing exercise simply highlighted why the city wasn't chosen by Boeing. For all the things that make Dallas and Fort Worth great--and I love it here, turned down a job in Chicago, never want to leave--it still suffers from an inability to handle honest self-evaluation. When you read the coverage in papers in Denver and Chicago, there was a sense of proportion and self-analysis lacking in the Morning News. There were stories questioning the tax-incentive packages being offered, columnists mocking the dog-and-pony show, articles listing not just the pros of their city but the cons as well. There was a greater sense of a paper doing its job: fostering public debate.

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