Exploitation first
WFAA Channel 8, the "Family First" station, rushed to remain at the head of the ratings pack in hosting a February 3 town meeting in Arlington tied to the slaying of Amber Hagerman.

Call BeloWatch cynical. But what public purpose did this session serve? Venting outrage before the cameras? Given the saturation coverage of Amber's case, everyone in Arlington has already had ample opportunity to do that.

We already know Amber's killer is an animal. We've heard the pleas for tougher penalties against those who repeat crimes against children. We've listened to Amber's understandably bitter mother declaring--emotionally but inaccurately--that her daughter's killer "has no rights."

WFAA's Nann Goplerud, executive producer of special projects for the station, might as well have admitted the event was a publicity stunt in her comment to The Dallas Morning News, which played the story about its sister organization's event (without any sort of disclaimer) on the top of the metro section the next day. "We as a TV station can't solve community problems, but we can provide a forum to talk about those problems and come to some solutions," Goplerud said.

BeloWatch found a final indication of the event's promotional nature in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's account of the town meeting, which noted: "Crowd estimates ranged from 600, according to estimates by meeting organizers, to 250, according to Arlington police officers in attendance."

History's sloppy first draft
As a sharp-eyed citizen-BeloWatcher notes, The Dallas Morning News must have been engaging in a bit of wishful thinking in a December 24 chart accompanying a story about Houston's Kid-Care program, which feeds children in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

The chart listed the group's awards as follows:
"Named a Point of Light by President George Bush.
"Volunteer Action Award from Former President Clinton."

Educational enrichment,
Morning News-style
What a racket.

The Morning News actually charged teachers $35 to attend a February 3 seminar on how to use Dallas' Only Daily in the classroom.

Some conventional uses certainly come to mind, mostly involving hamsters and bunny rabbits. But no, the News is pitching the paper's use for "performance-based instruction." (At least they've got that education-bureaucracy lingo down.) The News can "help your students excel on the TAAS test," pitches a large house ad in a January 21 edition of the paper.

In addition to refreshments and five hours of Texas Education Agency continuing-education credit, teachers will receive "free Newspaper in Education materials and 150 copies of the Morning News for classroom use during the 1996 school year!"

Are newspapers really the best way to teach kids how to excel on standardized tests, much less learn? Probably not. But using them in the classroom can get kids in the habit of picking up the paper--what the News is obviously after.

In the abstract, reading the daily newspaper is a fine idea. Whether it properly occupies all-too-scarce classroom time and whether papers in the classroom are in the best interest of our kids are other questions altogether--and provocative education issues you're not likely to see addressed in the news pages of The Dallas Morning News.

Marching in lockstep
Lest there be any question that Dallas' Only Daily is habitually carrying Republican heavy water these day--has anyone done a G.O.P. urine test on editorial-page editor Rena Pederson?--consider the News' January 24 editorial on President Clinton's State of the Union address.

The speech shows Clinton has returned to the moderate themes "he has been known to embrace," the News sarcastically noted, ignoring Clinton's clear success at cutting the number of government jobs and trimming back bureaucratic regulations.

But the real proof of the News' partisan parroting came in the editorial's headline, shamelessly tracking what was literally the official Republican party line on the speech: "The president's walk must match the talk."

Usual suspect
The newsprint crisis did it.
Once again, Dallas' Only Daily has trotted out the escalating price of newsprint to justify socking it to readers.

This time, home-delivery rates are up a buck per month, effective February 1. That's a 9.5-percent jump over the previous seven-day subscription price--and an 11.8-percent bump over the weekend-only cost.

Explains News president Jeremy Halbreich (yet again), in a January 20 story: "The reason is what is now the well-publicized, rapid increase in the price of newsprint. Today we're paying over 80 percent more for a ton of newsprint than we were about 16 months ago."

That explanation, of course, ignores the fact that newsprint represents only a fraction of the cost of putting out a daily newspaper; that newspapers never lower prices when newsprint prices fall; and that the News--newsprint prices notwithstanding--is enjoying record profits. (In a December 8 story in his own paper, Belo CEO Robert Decherd was quoted predicting a nearly double-digit increase in operating profit for the daily in 1996.)

The jump in the price of newsprint is "well-publicized" indeed, and that's no accident: It provides newspaper publishers a cover to stick readers with a stiffer tab.

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