It's true: Nothing brings out the courage or the imagination in this town like the Trinity River project, our gigantic multibillion-dollar plan to build a magnificent park in the center of the city. But there's also nothing else quite like it for bringing out the groveling, the up-sucking and under-knuckling and great big fatso pants-on-fire lying.
Must be important.
Maybe because I'm a lifelong press person, the groveling part bothers me worse when I see it in the news media. I expect local politicians and business people to crawl on bloody knees and knuckles to the Temple of The Obese Felines, but it bothers me when I see it in my fellow ink-stained tribesmen.
I want to call out, "No, no! You don't understand! We don't get the money!"
It's bad all over lately, ever since Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt announced a plan to let people vote on whether they want lakes or a highway in the long green band where the Trinity River runs through downtown.
Hunt makes three points: 1) She's for the Trinity River Plan—the one the people of the city voted for in 1998, which was a park plan, not a highway plan. 2) We don't need highway money to pay for the park part. We can build the lakes without the road. 3) The road is what's slowing it down. A vote to get the road out of there will speed up the Trinity River project by years.
She's speaking for a coalition of citizen groups that want to put the highway vs. parks question on the ballot next November. Seems reasonable, eh? If we thought we voted for parks, then let us vote next November on whether we want the road in there.
It's our river. It's our tax money. Why shouldn't we be able to vote on it?
But man, I have never seen the intensity of panic at high levels in this city that this seemingly simple proposition has spawned. Last week I thought I had seen the stomach-turning low point. But that was before this week when I read Steve Blow's column in The Dallas Morning News.
Last week I attended the annual fund-raising luncheon for The Trinity Commons Foundation. Trinity Commons is an exclusive private lobby group that former mayor Ron Kirk helped set up when he and his downtown sponsors couldn't get what they needed from an open, City Hall-based public planning process.
Trinity Commons wouldn't let me in to cover their fund-raising event unless I made a $150 donation. Sticky wicket for me. Now they have a check with my name on it that somebody could use to say I was one of their supporters. I'll see what I can do here to dispel that notion.
The headliner act at the luncheon was our mayor, Laura Miller, doing a wide-eyed "Little Miss Laura Two Shoes" act with toes together and knees bent demurely. She devoted an entire speech to telling a room full of 1,000 sleek felines what a nice little girl she had been by supporting their idea for a freeway in the middle of the park along the river and what a naughty, naughty, naughty girl Angela Hunt was being for daring to criticize Daddy's widdo woady-woad.
Oh, my God, the only thing that kept me from projectile-vomiting my measly wedge of salmon was the fact that I had just spent 150 bucks for it. How many totally different personalities can one lady pack in a Hermès Kelly bag?
Remember Ms. Laura-Butt-Kicker, foe of the Downtown Boys? Something highly unnatural has happened since then. One dreads to think.
But back to the media problem. The Dallas Morning News had announced that the Trinity Commons event was going to take place in an item in the newspaper's combination party-pix, social-butterfly-gossip and business tidbits column written by Robert Miller. Then after the event was over and done with, the News published a sort of summary overview of Trinity issues by that giant of political analysis, Metro columnist Steve Blow. I don't have a strong opinion on the job that Robert Miller did with the story, but I would like to come back in a moment, if I may, to the Blow job.
Here's the thing. By not sending anyone to cover the actual event, the Morning News let itself out of any obligation to report the fact that the gigantic ovoid mug of Morning News CEO and owner Robert Decherd hovered over the entire event like the Hare Moon.
Every time I thought I had succeeded in keeping my fish from refluxing, here he came again, the great lunar Decherd glowering down on me from the Jumbotron at the front of a vast ballroom like Charlie Chaplin's Big Brother:
"We have a collective aspiration for the Trinity that is unprecedented," the huge Decherd on the wall tells me in a pre-recorded, slickly produced video. "This is way beyond public works. This is a very large and complex urban planning process."
Then it's the huge head of that other man of the people, Harlan Crow, telling me: "This gives Dallas the opportunity to be a city."
You know who Harlan Crow is! Son of Trammell Crow, Daddy Warbucks to the Bush family, sponsor of the American Enterprise Institute, collector of statues depicting the world's greatest dictators, special pal to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Sure, you elected him to put a highway in the middle of your park, didn't you?
Then it's the huge head of Ross Perot Jr., son of another rich buckaroo, going on about how "You have to have something that's big and visual."
Well, sure, howdy. Now, that there Katrina storm, that was big and visual, wasn't it? Is that how you mean, Ross?
The video presentation at the luncheon was precisely and entirely cut from the exact same cloth they used to sell us on this thing in 1998. I speak of those glossy double-talk big-brother videos crafted by Rob Allyn, master of devious schlock, that aired again and again on local television before the election, giving us the idea we were voting for lakes and sailboats.
Now they have another video with brass fanfares and balloons and bottle rockets and the Collector of Dictators and the Son of H. Ross, all of it telling us to hurry, hurry, don't tarry, don't fret, just hurry up along little dogies and try to look enthusiastic. And in all of it, no one person or single image, nothing comes back more relentlessly than the great moon-shaped visage of Decherd. Every time I swallow down, he's back up there on the front wall, his face pendulous and pregnant with barely contained impatience.
"Downtown and the Trinity are inextricably bound to one another," he announces to me.
Yes! Yes! I do see that. It's because the Trinity is a river, and it flows right through the middle of downtown. How could you extricate it? The Trinity and downtown are just...just so...what were we talking about?
Oh, the Blow job. The job that Blow did. Yes. In his column on the Monday after the Trinity Commons fete, Blow said that he had interviewed Angela Hunt and had expressed to her his impatience over the Trinity project. Yes, he feels impatient. Blow is a columnist who normally writes about nice people being nice to nice people. Why is he suddenly overcome by impatience?
Oh, I don't know. Must be going around over there at the News. He gives very short shrift to Hunt's argument that getting the road out of the Trinity River project will get the project done faster.
And then he concludes: "So we've talked enough. No plan is perfect. Start the dirt flying."
Blow's column isn't just sort of like the official message delivered from the Jumbotron by the dictator collectors and Little Miss Laura Two Shoes (Many Personalities) last week. It is exactly the message. It is the party line, the official dictum as officially announced and purveyed.
Stop talking. Do not listen to that little council person over there in the red dress. Do not read accounts or listen to gossip that may conflict with the official dictum.
Get in line. Do as you're told. Every little chance you get, try to be more of an idiot.
Let me give you a journalistic contrast. Thank goodness, the people who own the company I work for do not get involved in local politics in the cities where they have newspapers. But let's just say they slipped and did.
If I were writing about an issue in which Village Voice Media top executives Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin were publicly involved—especially if I were expressing an opinion consonant with theirs—I would make sure my readers knew about what they had said and when and where.
And another thing: I'm quite sure if I failed to do that, especially if I made a conscious decision to fail to do that, they would can me. Right out the door.
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That's simple. It's so obvious. Don't come aw-shucksing along with your hands in your pockets and a straw in your teeth and kick the can and spit out your company's party line without at least telling people that's what you're doing.
We're going to see more and more of this as the Trinity River referendum movement gathers steam. It has everything to do with the way they've put the thing together. From the very beginning the people pushing for a highway on top of the river have treated the public will with sleazy contempt.
Who knows what really happened to Laura Miller on this? One hundred shrinks with 100 couches and 100 digital recording machines couldn't put Humpty Laura back together again.
But the people pushing that road know exactly what happened to us, the public, because they're the ones who did it. And they will use every ounce of monopoly media propaganda they can muster to keep us from finding out.