By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
I have a theory. This conjecture involves former colleague Laura Miller, who is running for mayor, and the executives at The Dallas Morning News, who hate her.
The theory is simple. It's the horny churchgoer theory. In other words, the paper will do anything it can to screw Miller, so long as it can maintain the appearance of piety. I suggest that this strategy worked beautifully as the paper helped Dunning force a runoff with Miller in Saturday's election.
Before I attempt to prove my thesis, full disclosure is necessary. I've worked with and I voted for Miller. Years ago I wrote a profile of Miller in which I called her the city's best reporter--in essence, it was a 4,000-word ass-kiss, and I stand by every word. I am quite upset that she has renounced cussing because I found her profanity a turn-on. And, yes, having the mayor's cell phone number would be pretty sweet, especially when making late-night bar bets. In summation, I'm kinda biased.
That said, let's examine how Miller's opponent, Tom Dunning, has become the cause célèbre of the editorial pages. In the past month, the paper has run six editorials and two columns praising Dunning and poking fun at Miller's "fix the potholes" message. (Which should be mocked; it reminds me of the Married...With Children episode where Al Bundy encouraged his daughter to sleep with an alderman so he could get his pothole fixed. I mean, potholes are just that evil!)
"Hell, it's just like the Manchester Union Leader did with Steve Forbes," says an editorial writer at another Texas paper, talking about the incredibly right-wing New Hampshire paper. "When I went up there to cover the election, I read an endorsement and said, 'Huh, I thought they already endorsed Forbes.' And someone there said, 'Yeah, they have, but they just rewrite the same endorsement piece and run it with a different headline every few days.'"
But that's what an editorial page is supposed to do, right? Well, yes, edit pages should champion causes, but usually a paper will only do so if it can articulate a reason for its position. I've reread the editorials and columns several times, and they made my head throb with confusion.
The first two endorsement editorials champion Dunning's ability to bridge racial divides by bravely chairing committees. The first editorial says that Dunning led the Dallas Together committee "at a time when this city was on the verge of exploding." The second editorial praised Dunning's leadership, as evidenced by his stewarding of the Dallas Together committee when "Dallas was a city on the edge of imploding."
Forget for a moment that the Morning News has yet to fully explore the incredible tectonic event described here, wherein, one must suspect, shifting plates in the lithosphere could cause a unique Plinian eruption that would make an entire city explode and implode simultaneously. Instead, concentrate on the flimsy case being built for Dunning. (Not that Dunning isn't mayor-worthy, just that the News is doing as poor a job as he is in saying how and why he is worthy.)
A later endorsement said he should be mayor because a former Texas state representative from Fort Worth says so. Yet another champions his contribution to education fund raising with some good examples...although the editorial undermines itself by saying mayoral debating has to that point "centered around potholes." (As my editing teacher taught us on Day 3, you center "on" something. It's quite impossible to center "around" something--even potholes.) But the editorial said in its first paragraph that "the track records of the candidates on [important] issues ought to be compared." Good for them! Compare and contrast. Except the editorial listed Dunning's positions on each issue but never compared them to--never even mentioned--Miller's or Domingo Garcia's.
Editorial-page fixtures Rena Pederson and Hank Tatum also weighed in. Pederson made the fascinating argument that the downtown business establishment, which supports Dunning, is actually a rainbow coalition of warm-hearted do-gooders. Tatum noted that Dunning was a nice guy a long time ago when they were both young and cable TV was just a dream.
So my theory received strong support (at least in my biased eyes) by the excessive, pointless, meandering endorsements and columns that the DMN ran. After all, it's one of the few ways the paper can affect the race without injecting opinion into its news stories. But how the paper conducted and presented its poll of likely voters assured me I was on to something.
One of the most important election stories a city newspaper runs is the poll story, the one that tells readers whether their favorite local candidate has a shot in hell in the upcoming election. Based on past history, I expected the Morning News to run this story on the Sunday before the election, six days out--at the time when our reporters were being told by Those in the Know that Miller was putting a 20-point licking on Dunning. The DMN instead didn't run its poll until Thursday, just three days before the election and after Dunning had used his huge war chest to blanket the airwaves with ads painting Miller as contentious. (Dude, you had to spend money to prove that?)