By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Lost in translation: Wow. That was some piece of reportage The Dallas Morning News produced this Sunday about Richard Allen's inland port project in southern Dallas County. Reporters Kevin Krause and Gromer Jeffers Jr. spent two months reviewing allegations that a coterie of southern Dallas pols and businessmen tried to "shakedown" Allen for a piece of his warehouse and distribution project, essentially attempting to charge Allen, who is white, a toll for doing business in the black community. Their conclusion? It's a complicated situation. Sure, if you carefully read ALL of the story, you might think that County Commissioner John Wiley Price and state Senator Royce West used the power of their offices to punish Allen for his refusal to hire a select trio of local "consultants" for his project. But that's only because you're not a highly trained professional daily journalist, merely an ordinary person easily blinded by "facts" and incapable of grasping complexity.
Buzz has read the story three times now, and we're simply awed by the breathtaking artistry employed to gild the smelly leavings of a pair of powerful local politicians and their cronies. We've edited for a daily newspaper before, and we know how careful you have to be with words to avoid giving offense To Those Whom Thou Shalt Not Offend. To understand what Buzz means here, imagine you're a reporter assigned to determine what sort of animal is pooping in a local park's pond. Your paper is located in the city that is also headquarters of Ducks Unlimited.
Reporter: "It's a duck, boss."
Editor: "Wait a minute. We don't want to offend any readers. You sure it's not a dog?"
Reporter: "Well, it has feathers."
Editor: "Could be a pigeon..."
Reporter: "With a bill and webbed feet? Floating on the water?"
Editor: "...Or swan, maybe."
Reporter: "It said 'quack.'"
Editor: "Could be a little man in a duck suit. Look, just say it's complicated and put the quack quote at the bottom of the story. Oh, and get a comment from the pro-duck people. Third graf."
For this highly skilled, delicate work, editors and reporters are paid good money.
To appreciate how this scenario plays out in real life, consider the third paragraph of the Morning News' opus: "For all his vision, Allen, who is white, appeared blind to the county's complicated racial politics."
Yeah, well, you know white people. They can be so dumb sometimes. What, did Allen think this was an uncomplicated free country where disinterested public officials serve all the citizenry? Silly man.
By the sixth paragraph, Allen's not only a racially insensitive blockhead, but probably a carpetbagger to boot. "Some black leaders saw Allen as an outsider determined to cash in on cheap and plentiful land in the county's most impoverished area—and obtain public subsidies—without allowing the community to share in the wealth."
"Some black leaders," coincidentally, are accused by other political leaders of trying to shake Allen down. "The community" in that sentence doesn't include the many thousands who might be employed at Allen's development but, rather, consists entirely of "some black leaders."
Here's what the story says 3,300 words in, just in case you didn't read that far: "The county's black contractors' association, for example, awarded the company 'corporate newcomer of the year' in 2007. And since 2005, The Allen Group says, it has given minority firms between 25 percent and 53 percent of the work on various projects."
If you read all 3,700 words of the story, you find that Allen is not so much blind as stubborn. He was warned before he started doing business here that he'd have to pay to play in southern Dallas, and simply refused. Here's how the Observer would have rewritten that stuff about "complicated racial politics": "Allen, who is by all accounts keen on minority contracting, decided he shouldn't have to pay West's and Price's pals $1.5 million and a 15 percent share of his business for an unwanted 'consulting contract,' so West and Price did their level best to screw him over good."
How does Buzz know what this paper might have said if we had done the Allen story? Well, the Observer's own Jim Schutze has been reporting about this case since December, when, as the Morning News reported, he first "dredged up" the shakedown accusations and "exacerbated" the tensions.
A dredge, by the way, is a device that rakes up muck from the bottom of a body of water. No one reading the Morning News' Sunday story would ever accuse the paper of dredging.