By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Hey, I often admire the News as a newspaper. But the corporation has an extremely irritating quality I can't let pass, as if they were one of those big buzzing yard lamps and I a mosquito.
They'll get a Pulitzer for their Katrina coverage. Their stuff on school district executives using vendors' yachts was excellent old-style Front Page journalism.
I know exactly what we'll get if the local owners ever give up and peddle the joint to Gannett. Stripped down meat-hook journalism. I'll take the local troglodytes any day to the cigar butts who would run the paper for a bottom-line chain.
I just wish the local troglodytes weren't so irritating. I wish I could ignore it. That buzzing lamp and mosquito thing: That's not good for the mosquito, but I can't stay away. For example:
In the last two years, the Morning News editorial page has been boxing everybody's ears, haranguing property owners on the importance of a development cooperative for downtown. In the abstract, it makes a certain sense. Under the aegis of a semi-private authority, the "stakeholders" would pull together and cooperate to build a better downtown.
But the little guys downtown tend to get very nervous about this: They worry it would turn over too much authority to Belo Corp., owner of the News. The little guys are afraid of getting the blood sucked out of them.
The Beloans, of course, pooh-pooh these fears with a certain Draculian disdain. How could Belo, which wants only the very best for the little people, be taken for a monster? No vawn cood really beleeff zoch a thing.
Except maybe Marc Richman. He's a lawyer who owns a building at Record and Jackson streets downtown, half a block from Belo's corporate tower at Wood and Record. Richman has had several run-ins with the Beloans, like a few years ago when they built a brick curtain-wall two feet from his building and all the way around the back of it, blocking his windows on the first floor.
Two weeks ago when he called me, he was hanging somewhere between a melt-down and the giggles. Seems he has a new tenant, a Subway restaurant. A sign company had shown up to hang a thin plastic Subway sign on the side of Richman's building facing Belo Interplanetary World Headquarters. The sign people were midway into hanging it when stern-faced Beloans showed up, Richman told me, warning that the sign violated Beloan airspace. By one inch.
Richman's building is maybe an inch from the property line. He says the sign is about two inches thick. So one inch of it would hang out over Belo property. Richman says legal consequences were threatened. The sign was withdrawn.
"I'm about half ready to get a big banner and hang it on the building saying, 'Belo is the worst neighbor in the world,'" Richman told me.
I asked Belo spokesman Carey Hendrickson for comment. He referred me to another guy at Belo. The other guy and I traded messages but never spoke.
OK, maybe we're not talking sinful villainy here anyway. But do you see what I mean? It's more the arrogance of it. And also, does behavior like this not give us a little window into how things will be if Belo ever does get its dream of a private government for downtown?
Hang on. Better case. The Morning News is always big on how everybody else needs to cooperate with the authorities. A couple months ago the News editorial page gave American Muslims a patronizing pat on the taqiyah for adopting a fatwa the News wrongly interpreted as obligating "the faithful to cooperate with law enforcement officials." The News said good Muslims who cooperate with the cops "deserve praise."
Highly insulted Muslims told me at the time that Islam has always required obedience to the law of the land and that they don't need a fatwa to tell them that. But let's not get into Islam. What I want to know is this: Can we possibly get some kind of special fatwa around here that would require the Morning News to cooperate with law enforcement authorities?
Three weeks ago Duncanville police arrested Steven Denmon Quinn, a 29-year-old classified advertising salesman at the News, on charges he had stolen credit card numbers from advertisers and used them to buy several laptop computers. For a week there was no mention of the arrest in the News. A story finally was published after the Duncanville P.D. began grousing to other media that the News was stonewalling them.
Here's the problem: According to what Duncanville told me, the transactions detectives are looking at involve some credit card numbers that Quinn could not have swiped on his own.
"We're wanting to see how far this stretches," said Keith Bilbrey, spokesman for the Duncanville police department.
Bilbrey disputed a written statement by Dallas Morning News Publisher Jim Moroney in which Moroney claimed the News had cooperated immediately and fully with Duncanville police. In the statement Moroney said: "When the Duncanville police came to our facility on September 15, we promptly notified Mr. Quinn that the Duncanville police department wanted to question him. He consented to the questioning, and we immediately provided a space for them to conduct the questioning."
I asked Bilbrey how hard it was for the cops to get through the door at the News that day.
"It wasn't easily gotten through, I'll put it that way," he said. "From what I understand from talking to our investigators, in our opinion it was a case of stonewalling. They made it very difficult to finally get to talk to him.
"They did eventually make him available to us. But, our officers had to meet with legal, and they had to meet with two other people from HR, and then they had to meet the vice president from HR before they were finally willing to go get him for us."
Why Human Resources? Why not also make the cops meet with the guys who deliver the paper? Cops generally like to go a lot faster than that. The whole time they're being made to cool their heels, they have to worry somebody from Belo has the guy down in the basement going over his speech with him.
I said to Bilbrey, "So that all got worked out, though, and now everybody's on the same page?"
"That's not the way my investigators would put it," he said.
Bilbrey told me he told Jason Trahan, the poor suffering Morning News reporter who had to write the story that eventually ran in the News, that Moroney's statement was baloney. Moroney was especially baloney, Bilbrey said, when Moroney stated that an "internal investigation" had been launched by Belo as soon as Quinn was arrested.
"I told [Trahan] I totally disagreed with that statement," Bilbrey said. "I told him our investigators still were not getting cooperation. The last thing our investigators heard from Belo was they weren't sure there was going to be an internal investigation."
Gee. None of that got into Trahan's story. Cut for space, I'm sure.
I called Carey Hendrickson on that one, too. He said he could send me Moroney's original statement. I explained that Duncanville police were saying Moroney's statement was baloney. He said all he could give me was the original Moroney. I said I didn't see how Moroney was a response to baloney, but he said that's it. Moroney.
One last note here, and then I really am going to go out and get a life. Actually, I have a life. But if I go back to it, I think I have a lot of chores waiting. So keep talking to me.
I wrote a column two weeks ago in which I said the Morning News had published contrary editorials on consecutive days about cutting local pork barrel projects to help pay for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The first one said Dallas' favorite boondoggles, the proposed Calatrava bridges downtown, should be on the chopping block just like everybody else's pork. The very next day, a second editorial said no: The feds can take away everybody else's boudin, but don't mess with our toot-toot.
The editorial page editor explained to me that Moroney, who hadn't seen the first editorial before it was published, came back from a trip and pronounced that it was...fill in the blank.
I also reported that the first editorial was missing from the LexisNexis online data bank, where all of the Morning News' stories are supposed to be stored. A spokesman for LexisNexis told me the absence of the first editorial was "a mystery" and must have involved a decision by someone at the News.
Certain persons who dare to doubt me--denizens of the blogosphere--then pointed out that the original editorial continued to appear on the News' own Web page. They said this disproved my fevered conspiracism, because why would the News leave it on their own Web page but withhold it from LexisNexis? My answer was that they weren't smart enough to do the expunging job properly.
Since then, I need to report that the original editorial has reappeared in LexisNexis. But note this: the editorial is dated September 20, the day it actually ran. But its "load date"--the date it was shipped to LexisNexis by the News--shows as September 29. That would be more than a week after the publication date and roughly 24 hours after my column came out.
Published. Expunged. Unexpunged.
And you know, it's what I love about them. If they were arrogant and smart, we'd be screwed.