By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Stephens, an engineer, looked at Morning News coverage of the FBI reports and found that, incredibly enough, the paper was reporting crime in whole numbers but not as a per capita rate. Obviously when you only provide whole numbers, New York, which is eight times bigger than Dallas, comes out with more crime. But the only meaningful measurement or comparison is how much crime there is per citizen. That's what tells you how safe or unsafe it is to be there.
I believe there's a subtext here. Price, as he did again last week in a letter to the editor of the News, always insists that any negative story about crime in Dallas is an attack on Bolton and a breach of Price's deal for Bolton to be chief. I believe the News deliberately misreported the FBI crime numbers over the years in order to keep Price from doing things that would frighten the Colonel Sanders types.
But Stephens lobbied individual reporters, basically shaming them for not telling the truth. And there are great people at the News who have always wanted to do it the right way. Stephens says last January a News reporter, whose name he can't remember, left him a voice message proudly telling him to look in the paper. "We took your advice," Stephens says the reporter told him.
I have a photocopy of that story on my desk. It's by Robert Tharp and Tanya Eiserer--two good hands. And indeed, down in the body of the story, it says, "The city also ranked highest for the rate of all crimes tracked together by the FBI..."
But the headline is: "VIOLENT CRIME DOWN, BUT DALLAS HIGH ON FBI LIST."
Pop quiz: What does that mean? What list? Is the whole department on the most wanted list? Or the mailing list?
The headline on the next page is: "DALLAS CRIME RATE DECREASES."
Let's say you actually wanted people to get the point. We have a sneaky insider trick in the newspaper business called "saying what you mean." For example, a headline like, "DALLAS CRIME RATE WORST IN NATION."
The Morning News finally did that last week, but what a desultory tale lay behind it. This story originally broke in the Morning News under a small headline, "Dallas No. 1 in crime," in the letters to the editor column on July 14. The editorial page, to its credit, had agreed to run a letter from Calie Stephens talking about the rate, accompanied by a list of major cities showing Dallas at the top.
Someone in the new regime noticed that the newspaper's news side had never really done this story--not in a way anyone would ever understand. So the job of playing catch-up with the letters column was assigned to a metro desk intern. I don't mean any disrespect to the intern, who did a good job. But if a news editor thinks a story is urgent, he or she doesn't give it to an intern.
The intern fiddled around with it for two weeks. I heard about the story, because the intern was calling city council members. We got on it. We got our story ready in two days. Last Tuesday--the day we were going to press with a cover story on the crime rate--I got word that the intern was calling city council members in a breathless panic, telling them he had to get the story done by that evening.
I suspect the News was tipped by a Deep Throat that we were about to beat them on the story. I suspect the Deep Throat was female and had some job like city council member or mayor or something like that. We get tips. They get tips. Fortunes of war.
So we came out the next day with the story on our cover, and the News hit the streets with it on Page One. And the next day John Wiley Price fired off a letter accusing the News of racism and suggesting that the chief will not agree to any kind of accountability reform.
That's how we all arrived at this moment. Next week I have more details to share with you on just exactly what a bad moment this is. (Baaad.)
Meanwhile I'm still trying to come up with ideas for chants for the riot. I truly want to help. "No one gives our chief the boot!/He needs a golden parachute!" Just not the stuff of which Ken Burns documentaries are made, is it? Work in progress.