News won't tell
Once again, The Dallas Morning News has patronizingly handled a sensitive story by telling readers far too little to let them make up their own minds.
The story is the secret tape-recording of a phone conversation involving City Councilwoman Charlotte Mayes.
The News reported on its front page last Thursday that a five-minute tape had been provided to the paper--and headlined the contents: "Mayes disparages black foes in secretly taped call; Council member vows to back white successor; discussion illegally recorded, she says."
But, maddeningly, the paper--in three days of coverage involving five different reporters--didn't tell readers most of what Mayes said.
It did summarize some presumably newsworthy comments, noting that she "discussed plans to resign from the council and run as a Republican against U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson; "disparaged black political foes"; and "vowed to support a white successor."
But the most controversial element of the tape was summarized in the sixth paragraph of the story this way: "Twice in the five-minute tape, Ms. Mayes disparaged other blacks with a racial slur, including one while discussing the possible challenge of other black Democrats interested in vying for the congressional seat. She also directed profanity and other harsh language at some black political opponents."
A racial slur?"Profanity and other harsh language?" OK. Sounds like it might be kind of rude--even offensive. But just what did Charlotte Mayes say?
The News gave us a mere 54 carefully chosen words of quoted excerpt--far less directly quoted material than it gave us in response to her presumably offensive remarks.
Mayes' sins? She said she would endorse "an Anglo man" for her seat--yikes!--and, citing three former political opponents, "make damn sure that Ken Green, Diane Ragsdale and Marvin Crenshaw do not get this seat."
The only semi-explicit explanation of the profanity or "other harsh language" quoted came in Mayes' taped comment that running as a Republican for congress would allow her to avoid debating on, as the News put it, "[expletive] black radio stations."
Apparently, however, Mayes' entirely unquoted language was of particular concern to the News. The eighth paragraph of the story, by Todd J. Gillman and Audrey Steinbergen Lundy, cast the paper bizarrely in the role of blue-nosed morals police. It began: "Asked whether using racial epithets and profanity was appropriate, she said..."
There was a single excerpt in the story involving "the racial slur." In a taped comment, Mayes explained the political advantages of running for congress as a black Republican against black incumbent congresswoman Johnson: "She'll be in the Democratic Party and if another nigga run, they gonna run on the Democratic ticket."
The article contained comparisons, both from the reporters and Mayes' political enemies, to the infamous Peavy tapes--where the News was somewhat more forthcoming with the actual words.
But it was fairly oblivious to the critical differences between a white man using the "n" word perjoratively and a black woman using it casually. (Is Richard Pryor a self-hating racist?)
All in all, it was the usual byzantine out-of-context Morning News treatment of controversy. Were Mayes' comments deplorable or not? Just what did she say? Inquiring readers want to know--have the right to know. But the News didn't see fit to tell them.
Ripoff of the week
In her column last week, Laura Miller exposed the troubled past of DISD schoolteacher Deen Williamson--in the process, exposing The Dallas Morning News' lazy treatment of the affair.
News editors promptly dispatched schools reporter Larry Bleiberg, the staffer who had botched the story, to Abilene to scrounge around for a fresh angle. Unfortunately for Bleiberg, he didn't find one.
But that didn't deter Dallas' Only Daily. The News on Friday led its metro section with Bleiberg's rehash of Miller's column, headlined "DISD knew of teacher's troubles; Woman accused of racism lost earlier job, files show." The article, of course, contained not the slightest acknowledgement that the Observer had already published every bit of "news" it contained.
That pretense got a bit tricky when Bleiberg "reported" that while DISD documents show school officials here had known Williamson was asked to resign her job in Abilene, DISD administrator Robby Collins "said he had not seen the note until this week."
Unsaid: Collins had "seen" the document "this week" because Observer columnist Miller showed it to him.
If the News and Bleiberg were both shameless and arrogant in print--and they clearly were--the reporter made no bones about his journalistic debt while scrambling to follow up Miller's story. "She hit us pretty hard," Bleiberg whined to a journalist he contacted in Abilene.
It's called competition, Larry.
The marketing wizards at the News have clearly stepped right in, as promised, to aid The Met.
The evidence is visible in this tasteful house ad--one of many--in the Met's November 1 issue for its new personals section: "Aren't you a little old to be practicing with your pillow?"
How petty is The Dallas Morning News?
Let us recount one of the ways.
In each of the past three years, the Morning News has written a brief, routine story on the Dallas Bar Association's annual Stephen Philbin Awards for excellence in legal reporting.
In 1992, the News took the Division 1 prize for large newspapers. The headline on its 212-word story: "2 News reporters win award from Dallas Bar."
In 1994, the News again won the Division 1 prize. The headline on the 261-word story: "News reporters win Dallas Bar awards; Stories examined case against Gilmer officer."
In 1993, the News did not win the Division 1 prize. The Dallas Observer did. And while the 245-word story dutifully reported the award winners, the headline in the News focused on the keynote speaker: "Morales vows to ask legislators for stronger open-meeting laws."
Which brings us to October 20, 1995, when the News once again did not win the Division 1 prize. Once again, the Dallas Observer did.
And in 1995, Dallas' paper of record published not a word about the results of the Stephen Philbin Awards.