Wonder why you haven't seen much investigative reporting in Dallas' Only Daily lately? Why Dallas Life shut down? Why the "Today" section is crammed with wire-service copy?
It's because The Dallas Morning News is devoting its energy, staff, and millions to really important stories--like this week's two-part series on anger.
Frankly, this series was enough to send even BeloWatch into a tizzy. Its primary distinction: bringing together some of the most pernicious trends in American journalism.
In a single series, the News managed to illustrate the idiotic use of polling data; its inane reliance on "experts"; and its inclination to focus enormous resources on a touchy-feely topic whose lengthy exploration reveals absolutely nothing. What the News offered is one part "think" piece, one part quantitative journalism, one part trend story. The problem: the thought is shallow, the numbers meaningless, and the trend utterly elusive.
Simply consider the central question of this enterprise, which filled three full pages of the newspaper:
"Are we angrier?"
The answer? Well...the News--and its arrayed experts--weren't really sure. In fact, they weren't even sure how to define the question.
Reporter Jeffrey Weiss began his first page-one story on Sunday by evoking "the furious motorist on the freeway, the enraged employee in the office, the incensed spouse at home. Their stories," he writes, "invade our news reports and casual conversations." Thus: "The evidence seems overwhelming: People are just angrier than they used to be."
Well, that was easy, relieved readers might have been thinking; this is going to be a short story.
But, of course, they would be wrong. Aimless sociological musings in the News are never short. And things, suggests Weiss, just aren't that simple:
"But are Americans really more irate today than in the 1960s, when demonstrations and riots filled the streets? Or than the 1860s, for that matter, when brother killed brother during the Civil War?"
To answer these unknowable questions, the News did what all newspapers with too much money seeking to answer unknowable questions do: it took a poll.
According to the News poll, 69 percent of those surveyed said that "people seemed angrier than they were a few years ago." But only 22 percent said they personally were angrier. "And even smaller percentages admitted that they were more violent, less polite or less in control of their own anger."
Confronted with these ambiguous findings, the News might have turned back short of the abyss, recognizing that it was probing the palpably meaningless. Instead, it plunged forward, turning to that other refuge of the editorially clueless: experts.
To wit: "Experts who study emotion and its effects agreed that the poll results can be used to support several contradictory conclusions."
Well, at least they agreed on something.
A huge chart--accompanied by an illustration of what looks like a giant, hairy fist--revealed data on such critical questions as: "Where do we get angry?" (34 percent say "at home"); "How do we feel after getting angry?" (75 percent say "better"); and "What makes us angry?" (12 percent say "the baseball strike").
In the opening Sunday story, Weiss quotes nine academics--whose insights are less than stunning.
On the burning question of whether people are really angrier--or just more willing to express it: "The answer is: You can't really tell."
On the nature of anger: "It's a very active energy. It's there for a reason. But sometimes we don't know how to use it."
And: "Some people are going to react more angrily because they feel that's the way to react in a world that's more angry."
We, of course, also got a patronizing definition of the obvious: "Psychologists define anger as an emotional reaction to perceived injustice. It can be set off by gridlock on North Central Expressway or getting dissed"--don't you love it when the News writes hip?--"in the schoolyard."
Well into the story, Weiss turns to yet another "authority" on anger: "Henry Scott, customer service manager for the main post office, works in a business made notorious by stories of irate customers and disgruntled former employees." Scott, we learn, "doesn't think that people have become angrier." We even get a quote from Ted Giannoulas, "The Famous Chicken" who runs around in fake feathers at baseball games.
This isn't journalism--it's coffee-shop conversation among idiots.
(BeloWatch is seeming angrier now. It could be because BeloWatch thinks that's the way to react in a world that's more angry. Or it could be because BeloWatch is engaging in an emotional reaction to the perceived injustice that anyone would take this horseshit seriously.)
In Monday's story, Weiss, once again on the top of page one, turned to "dealing with anger constructively." We learn that, in dealing with anger, 67 percent of people surveyed say they "take a deep breath or count to 10."
BeloWatch prefers just to put down the daily newspaper.
The oh-so-politically correct Dallas Morning News earlier this month published a remarkably oblivious "High Profile" of Ben Casey, president of the Dallas Metropolitan YMCA.
David Tarrant's piece on Casey--inexplicably referred to cozily throughout as "Ben"--notes that the Y is "part fitness center, part business--and Dallas' largest human services agency, serving more than 100,000 children in its programs." So naturally, it shows the boss--a besuited, silver-haired honky, seated self-consciously among two dozen little black faces.
Aside from the giant "Bwana Casey" photograph, the piece on "Ben" was remarkable for its gushing tone--even by "High Profile" standards.
"Social worker, administrator, fund-raiser and behind-the-scenes arm-twister, Ben plays a crucial if unheralded role in the city's social service system...
"Ben's day usually starts with a morning breakfast meeting and ends long after the dinner hour...He uses the 45-minute ride to and from his home near Denton to make phone calls."
"...The work is demanding and he often does come home exhausted, Ben says.
"The man helping to lead this children's crusade does not have any kids of his own." Casey and his wife live in a double-wide trailer on 45 acres of rural Denton County. "It is not just the two of them, however," Tarrant notes. "Their four horses, two dogs and two cats are very much a part of the family."
The YMCA's child-abuse scandal (see Observer, "A parent's worst nightmare," July 14, 1994) receives less loving attention. It is covered in six paragraphs. Tarrant allows "Ben" and his board chairman to explain it all; in classic, don't-tell-it-all News style, there are no comments from those who took the Y to court.