A Sound Bite in the Ass at Yesterday's Trinity Toll Road Debate

A Sound Bite in the Ass at Yesterday's Trinity Toll Road Debate

Wow. A Dallas Morning News two-fer today. On both the front page and the Metro front, stories about the Trinity toll road issue that represent more or less the exact opposite of the truth. Those boys are workin’ overtime on this.

The really bad one was Bruce Tomaso’s story on the debate Sunday at Temple Emanu-El. Leading off in a mocking tone, Tomaso says the only reason the TrinityVote move-the-toll-road people are doing so well at these debates is that they are making a superficial, touch-feely, tree-hugger case for parks. The Vote No! people, Tomaso reports, must make the more complex and grown-up case for roads.

Tomaso reports: “In election terms, parks are JFK. Roads are Richard Nixon.”

In this, Tomaso reports as fact an argument I have heard more and more from the pro-toll road people after these debates, which have been going quite badly for them. “We have the facts,” they tell each other, “but they have the sound bites and the emotion.” But that’s the diametrical opposite of what is happening in the debates.

In venues as diverse as urban pioneer North Oak Cliff and affluent Jewish North Dallas, audiences have reacted with derision and even hostility aimed at Mayor Tom Leppert and the toll-roaders, not the TrinityVote people. It’s because Leppert is the one who deals in sound bites -- scary sky-is-falling sound bites -- and then refuses or is just unable to back them up with facts.

The moderator at Emanu-El took the mayor to task several times for failing to give honest answers to honest questions. The audience actually groaned at some of his evasions. None of that was in Tomaso’s story. If he was there, he could not have missed it. Leaving out the negative audience reaction to the mayor is an enormous distortion of what took place.

Tomaso’s case -- that TrinityVote gets to talk about pretty parks while the other side must talk transportation turkey -- ignores the nature of the debates. So far, the Vote No! people have succeeded in focusing most of the debate time on the toll road. Very little gets said about the park at all.

Where the Vote No! people get bushwhacked is on the facts about the toll road -- the disastrous financing, the absurd assertion that there is nowhere else between here and Fort Worth where this suburban bypass can be built and the laughable story that building a new downtown highway is a way to produce cleaner air downtown.

More and more, I see the Vote No! people coalescing around a basically tribal view of things in which this is a case of good people versus bad. That’s a reprehensible way to deal with honest political discourse between well-meaning citizens. It’s just fantastically bad to see it presented in a news story as so-called fact.

Boy, those News guys have got to be under some terrible pressure.

Then we have Dave Levinthal’s piece on Page One in which he argues, more or less out of the blue, that Tom Leppert is “on a roll -- so far” and the only thing that could spoil his success is a defeat in the November toll road referendum.

Roll? The guy does run an excellent meeting, and that’s something we did need. It’s solidly to his credit. But he failed on his big tax-reduction pledge. And his victory on a roll-back of verified response for burglar alarms was a case of political pandering over responsible municipal policy.

I don’t see a roll. So far I see a very good operations guy: “Tell me what you want done, and I’ll get it done.”

But he’s a guy so far who has not demonstrated that he has any inner compass or overview of his own to provide him with an independent insight into what should be done. Somebody has to tell him, which is how he got put out front of the toll road thing.

The idea that he’s doing awfully well and we wouldn’t want to spoil his run by voting against him on the toll road, that’s some kind of country club truth that people sit around the 19th hole singing to each other in the choir. I can’t believe Dave used it at the thesis for a news story.

You know, for a while I was depressed about how this was going, because the Vote No! people seemed to have such an incredible lineup of office-holder support, money and media. But I left Temple Emanu-El feeling much better.

I was standing out front when a fellow and his wife walked by, headed off to the parking lot. The man shrugged impatiently -- a gesture of disbelief, I believe -- and said to his wife, “They’re saying if we don’t vote for this toll road the sky’s going to fall.”

I don’t think it’s working. I think the voters are smarter than the politicians and The Dallas Morning News. Maybe it’s just wish-projection on my part. But I have that inkling lately.

As for The News: Hey, I know newspapers, especially dailies. Every once in a while a reporter has to say to his or her editor, “Nah. I don’t think that’s a fair thesis for a story. I don’t think it’s true. I’m not doin’ it that way.”

When that is uttered, there is always that very interesting little O.K. Corral moment -- the pause while you wait to see if your editor is going to say, “You and I need to have a meeting about your work ethic.”

Dum-da-dum-dum. One corral too many, padnuh. Time to dust off the old saddle and look around for a horse to steal.

Apparently that moment never comes at The News, because no reporter will draw his gun in the first place. I always wonder: why be a cowboy? --Jim Schutze


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