News strikes out
In an August 25 editorial, The Dallas Morning News finally weighed in on the manipulations of Baylor Hospital doctors in the case of Mickey Mantle.
The editorial first quotes an ethicist to offer a helpful definition of "lying." ("That is, a statement that says X occurred when Y actually happened would fit that category.")
After three paragraphs of throat-clearing, the editorial gets to its point: a complaint that Mantle's doctor deceived the public, the press, and, in particular, the News.
The piece traced how Mantle's physicians had misled the News about whether any malignancy remained in the baseball legend's body after his cancerous liver had been replaced. As the pathologist's report clearly showed, the cancer was still present, and one of Mantle's surgeons later told the paper as much. But the lead doctor, noted the News, "contradicted the assisting physician's statement, saying doctors weren't sure whether cancer was left behind."
How does the News respond to this deceit? "Understandably, Baylor wanted to protect Mr. Mantle's request for privacy," writes the News. "But intentional deceptions and lies, muddle the picture, leaving the public uncertain about whom to believe. That's never good, but especially so during a time when trust in public institutions is waning." Thundered (gently) the News, in conclusion: "...the medical community's struggle to find ethical ways to handle such situations should continue."
If the News' criticism was understated, it may be because it shares some responsibility in covering up the truth about Mickey Mantle.
While the paper deserves credit for unearthing the contradictory comments from the surgeons--Mark Wrolstad beat everyone on the medical aspects of the Mantle story--its July 8 piece left readers thoroughly uncertain whom to believe. The junior doctor's remedy had the ring of truth. Yet the paper let his boss, Dr. Robert Goldstein, dismiss the comments with a lame remark about how "junior people's tendency is to think they didn't get all of the tumor...they haven't been around long enough to know it's not all black and white."
Similarly, the News--and the rest of the press--remained less than open about Mantle's troubled personal life. The ugliness of his drinking problem and behavior remained an open secret among sportswriters for years. Until Mantle died, reporters barely mentioned that he had been separated from his wife for years and living with one of his sons.
The News led the way in offering the harsh truths about these matters. But like the doctors at Baylor, they never really came clean until after the Mick had died.
You have to pray for credit
A single poll got big play in both of the area's major dailies on Saturday, August 26.
The topic was religion, and the Texas Poll contained some interesting findings. A sampling: Texas now has more Roman Catholics than Baptists. Significantly fewer Texans view religion as "very important." And significantly fewer Texans are attending church at least once a week.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram stripped the story across the top of its metro section. The Dallas Morning News gave it even more prominence, running a teaser box for the story at the top of page one. The story itself was displayed across three-quarters of the new religion section's front page.
Both papers covered the survey's major findings, with the News sounding a tad defensive about its revelations. ("The percentage of people who say religion is 'very important' in their day-to-day life has dropped since 1990...but 88 percent of Texans say religion is either 'fairly important' or 'very important' to them," wrote reporter Ed Housewright.)
That left only one significant difference in the coverage. The News, which conspicuously notes its role in stories about its own surveys, noted only the Texas Poll was conducted "by the Office of Survey Research at the University of Texas at Austin."
Its competitor to the west noted: "The poll of 1,001 randomly selected adults was conducted Aug. 3-15 for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and Harte-Hanks Communications, Inc..."
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High art on low fences?
A letter to the editor in the August 7 News carried political correctness to an entertaining extreme. Written by Greater Dallas Community Relations Commission executive director Elizabeth A. Flores-Velasquez, it scolded 'Viewpoints' columnist Jennifer Nagorka for a column she wrote about graffiti.
It seems Nagorka had characterized graffiti in her Oak Cliff neighborhood as looking "like hieroglyphics scrawled by some ancient, maladroit race. Cryptic. Crude. The stylized letters barely resemble their legitimate Roman kin."
How insensitive! Flores-Velasquez complained. "Does Ms. Nagorka refer to the Aztecs or Mayans, or the Egyptians, whose steles and hieroglyphs were highly complex, ingenious, beautiful and which recorded the religion, history, mathematics, astronomy, and customs of their advanced civilizations? Her choice of the world 'race' raises questions about the underlying message. Especially when many graffiti perpetrators are gangs comprised of Latino and African-American youth."
After rushing to assure that she was not supporting graffiti ("We share a deep commitment to clean, safe neighborhoods in all areas of town"), Flores-Velasquez warned that while "we trust" Nagorka's comparison was "unintentional, the results are still the same. Readers get the subtle message that the ancient civilizations from whom many graffiti perpetrators descend were crude and awkward; a determination which is far from the truth. This is the kind of misinformation we must correct if we expect our youth to gain the self-respect it takes to respect others' property.