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Dear Morning News: We Hope This Finds You Well. Where Have You Been All These Years?

Dear Morning News: We Hope This Finds You Well. Where Have You Been All These Years?

Dallas Morning News managing editor George Rodrigue has lambasted me in his most recent "Ask the Editor" column for having lambasted the News in a column here two weeks ago.

Now I have to lambaste him back. Whole lotta lambastin' goin' on. Anyway, I share with you this open letter I am sending him in response:

George: I read your missive to me yesterday with mixed emotions. I will get to your usual laundry list of accusations in a moment. But before we go at it, let me say this. I have this eerie feeling that you and I have become odd Internet pen pals over the years, firing off letters across the electronic ether as if we were bitter cousins separated by the tides of war and time, sending letters to each other by sea in the 19th century. Maybe the 18th century even.

Now, let's get down to business. At the top of your letter, you describe me as a liar. You provide two links as evidence. One is to an old contretemps we had four years ago in which I claimed your newspaper had never provided readers with coverage about a certain academic who had certain theories about the Katrina flood in New Orleans. My assertion was that you didn't want Dallas readers to know about this guy, because his theories might have had a certain impact on the Trinity River Project debate.

I based my accusation on a private database search of Morning News coverage. You pointed out that your newspaper had re-published a number of stories from other newspapers mentioning this academic, and that those re-published stories did not appear in my private database search because you only send your own stories to that database.

Let's settle this one now and I hope for all time. You are right. I was wrong. It was stupid of me to search that one database and then make a categorical accusation based on what I found. I want to come back to this point in a moment, but not to dispute you on the core issue.

The next link you provide to prove me a liar leads into a swamp of bad Internet links, mainly about things you say you have said in the past. Please allow me me spot you one on this: You claim that your newspaper over the years has published stories containing criticism of the Trinity River Project and the plan to build a major high-speed highway out in the flood zone between the levees.

I'll give you that one too. I am sure that by carefully combing through all of the stories ever published by The News over the years, one can find a quote here, an interview there, the occasional paragraph containing criticism of or caution about the project.

But here is the problem, George: You're sort of up against it. The larger shape of what your newspaper has done with several of these big stories -- the Inland Port, for example -- is there for everyone to see, carved in stone. This isn't a game of technical gotcha.

You want to argue that The News has always been even-handed in its treatment of the SALT Group story, in which a group of associates of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price's asked Richard Allen, main developer of a vast new shipping and warehouse complex, for $1.5 million and a 15-percent ownership in his privately held company. After Allen refused, Price launched a campaign of opposition to the project. We all know now that the FBI is looking into the SALT Group imbroglio and probably has been for some years.

Your newspaper continues to report as fact that the SALT Group asked to purchase its 15 percent equity. But Allen has never supported that story. The language of SALT's own proposal and subsequent statements by Price can be interpreted to mean that they wanted the 15-percent share given to them for free in exchange for political peace.

It's a point in contention, George. We really don't know the answer, do we? But reporting as fact in your news columns that the SALT people were willing to pay for a 15-percent equity is a considerable gift of credibility that you bestow on them every time your news columns repeat it.

Your editorial page has been around and around the block on this, and I know that you can go back and glean instances where the page has said things supportive of Allen. But this is the one I remember best, taken from an editorial that ran October 27, 2008. Speaking of Allen, The News editorial said, "Harder to grasp is his significant trust issue with everyone at every level of government who wants to make sure sound public policy supports private enterprise.

"Mr. Allen might see enemies behind every tree, but it's time he realized that the city of Dallas, among others, already has invested significant public funds in the inland port."

In other words, you painted Allen as paranoid.

This is a man who brought his own money to town, bought more than 5,000 acres of land and offered to create 60,000 well paid, environmentally friendly jobs in Southern Dallas. Any other city in this nation would have rolled out the red carpet, called out the buglers and done a Blue Angels fly-over for him. But you supported Price and called Allen paranoid because he was tired of getting the arm put on him.

You know, George, as I re-read my little sheaf of letters from you over the years, I pick up a tone. For example, you always call me a liar. In one epistle, you used the cliché about wrestling with a pig (you get dirty, pig likes it).

I don't feel that way about you. I know you to be a person of honor, a man of your word and a fine journalist. But the tone I hear when I scan what you've written about me and my newspaper over the years is shrill, bordering on manic.

It's because you are making a claim that is absurd, George. Everyone can see where your newspaper has been and where it has not been on these major local stories. You are offering paragraphs -- scraps of paper -- to argue against the plain evidence of our eyes. It's strange, almost like someone who sees enemies behind every tree, George.

Tell me this. Why didn't your newspaper get out front of the SALT Group/Inland Port story? Don't give me technical instances of objectivity. This has always been a huge story for Dallas. Why didn't you put together a team, break out the armaments and kick some ass on it?

Don't give me wire stories to prove that you quoted the Katrina professor a few times. Why didn't out get out front of the flood-control story in Dallas? The underlying criticism of the Trinity River Tollway has always been that it flies in the face of state-of-the-art global knowledge of flood control. Why are you publishing wire stories inside the A section about it? Why not attack this story yourself, head-on?

And what about Commissioner Price? In the last two years his bullying and greed have been apparent for all to see, and especially to anyone reading the Observer. But your readers, on the day of the raid, based on what you last told them about Price in your news columns, were still remembering the words of reporter Scott Parks: "What most people don't see is his day-to-day dedication to improving county government."

This isn't a game of trivia, George. It doesn't matter that you got some answers right a while back, that you can unearth a handful of scraps when you decide it's once again time to quibble. This is about one thing: Where were you?

Rodrigue's comments about me were bundled with some things he had to say in defense of The News's Parkland coverage, which has been stellar beyond compare. It goes to show what knock-out work the paper can do when it wants to ... and what happens when it doesn't want to.

OK, you owe me a letter now. As always, I will be watching for the mail ship to arrive in the harbor, wondering if it brings word from you. Oh, it's so romantic, isn't it?


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