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Dallas Observer reporter Jim Schutze is claiming The Dallas Morning News "subtly misrepresented" remarks Schutze made to Morning News reporter Robert Ingrassia last week in response to questions for a story Ingrassia was reporting about a full-page ad in the Morning News that contained the complete text of a story by Schutze in which he rehashed a story he had written earlier for the Observer about a story Ingrassia had written for the Morning News.
"I'm disappointed," Schutze says. "But I can't put my finger on why."
The flap between Schutze and Ingrassia started last May 14 when Schutze reported on a brave stand Ingrassia had taken against Morning News publisher Burl Osborne. Ingrassia, a young City Hall reporter for the Morning News, had demanded that his byline be removed from a story about the Trinity River project after Osborne ordered that quotes from a city leader opposed to the plan be yanked from the story. Eventually Ingrassia won the fight. Osborne was forced to allow him to inform readers about criticisms of the plan by former Dallas mayor pro tem and former regional EPA director Adlene Harrison.
But after initially reporting on the standoff at the Morning News in the May 14 story, Schutze seemed to look for every excuse he could find to rehash the incident in subsequent Observer stories, as if taking personal delight in the obvious discomfort of Morning News officials over the incident.
"I knew full well," Schutze says now, "that retelling this story in the Observer every week or so was not going to do Bob Ingrassia any good, because it would make Burl sit up there in the penthouse at the top of the Belo Building and think about dashing Bob's brains out with a brick.
"But I couldn't stop myself."
Last week, in a bizarre twist of journalistic fate, one of Schutze's many articles recounting the incident was reprinted in the Morning News itself, as a full-page ad paid for by the Texas Committee on Natural Resources, an environmental group. The group is believed to have paid more than $10,000 in order to get the Observer story, which revealed serious flaws in the Trinity River plan, before readers of the Morning News as an advertisement.
But of course the ad also put the Bob-Dunks-Burl story right in the A section of the Morning News itself, making Ingrassia's political situation within the News more ticklish than ever. The appearance of the ad containing Schutze's story, in which the Ingrassia incident was described, gave Ingrassia an opening to do a story for the next day's Morning News about Schutze. Schutze claims Ingrassia called him and said he had determined, by making a single phone call to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that all of Schutze's stories about the Trinity River were a bunch of hooey.
Schutze describes Ingrassia's tone as "prickly." Schutze now claims Ingrassia "watered down" a statement Schutze made to him concerning remarks by officials of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in response to questions from Ingrassia about Schutze's story in the ad in Ingrassia's newspaper.
"I remember exactly what I said," Schutze says, "because we were on the phone with each other and we were arguing because Bob wouldn't let me say it. I said the Corps officials were 'cynical and dishonest.' Bob didn't want me to say that. I insisted on it. But in the paper he changed the quote to say I said they were cynical and dishonest 'in my opinion.'
I didn't say 'in my opinion,' and Bob doesn't know if I meant to say 'in my opinion,' because Bob is not me," Schutze says. "Or, more properly, Bob is not I."
Ingrassia declined to discuss Schutze's remarks with the Observer, citing a Morning News policy forbidding News staffers from responding to questions from Observer staffers. Even though Schutze had responded to Ingrassia's request for comment for his story about Schutze's story about his story, Schutze says he does not resent the fact that Ingrassia would not respond to his own questions for a story about Ingrassia's story about Schutze's story about Ingrassia's story.
"They've got a policy, and Bob is a straight-up guy," Schutze says generously. He does say, however, that there are "certain ironies" involved. "In their view, we're supposed to have these conversations in which we're responding to them but they're not responding to us. I call it the Monica Lewinsky school of adult dialogue." Schutze adds, "If you don't mind, that's about as far as I feel comfortable going with that particular metaphor.
"All told," he says, "I would still rather be the one who is allowed to talk to grown-ups when he feels like it."
Schutze's main objection to the Ingrassia piece, he says, was the insertion between quotation marks of words Schutze says he did not say and whose inclusion "casts me in a false light with malice aforethought and infringes on my privacy while giving away trade secrets, causing me serious back trouble for which I may have to go to K Clinic."
Schutze says he told Ingrassia, for Ingrassia's story about his story, that Ingrassia was letting Army Corps of Engineers spokesmen get away with unchallenged assertions and "bush-wa" about the Trinity River project. Schutze says Ingrassia argued with him for some time in an attempt to convince him that Corps officials were correct and that he, Schutze, was incorrect.
"Bob and I found ourselves arguing hydrology for about half an hour over a bad cellular connection," Schutze says, "until it finally dawned on me that this was like the blind having a sword fight with the blind.
"Not a pretty picture. I stopped him and asked him, in a year or more of reporting on the project, which real hydrology experts he had ever interviewed about it. He told me that he had interviewed the Corps experts and that they were 'the ones who crunched the numbers about this.'
"I suggested to Bob that the assertions of the Corps are what is in question in this story. I said it seemed to me that it would not be possible to report on this story without seeking the opinions of recognized experts whose opinions are on the other side of the issue.
"Bob became a bit sarcastic with me," Schutze says, "and said to me that 'unless there's a massive conspiracy here, I just don't believe the Corps is going to lie.'" Schutze says he thinks Ingrassia or someone else at the News may have inserted the stuff about "in my opinion" in his quote, "because I think they're afraid at the News that it may be against the law to criticize the Army."
Schutze claims Ingrassia's disinclination to pursue the story beyond the assertions of the Corps of Engineers "is what you get at a newspaper that beats up on young reporters for telling the truth. Sooner or later the young reporters figure out which side their bread is buttered on." Asked what "their bread is buttered on" means, Schutze says, "They will find ways to rationalize not reporting the story too far, because they know they will only earn the wrath of Burl if they uncover good arguments on the other side from the News' ownership position on the issue.
"What you wind up with," Schutze says, "is a newspaper that is not just biased, but worse--it's shallow. So why read it? And who does?"
Schutze says he regrets that he was allowed to run on at such length for this story without having his views challenged by Ingrassia, but that he had no choice since Ingrassia was unable to respond to any of Schutze's "dime-store philosophy of journalism." Schutze says there are no hard feelings on his part, and that if Ingrassia needs to write a story about Schutze's story about Ingrassia's story about Schutze's story about Ingrassia's story, "I will be there for him.
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