In their new book Dallas 1963, Bill Minutaglio and Steven L. Davis carefully chronicle the story of Dallas in the years leading up to President John F. Kennedy's assassination in November 1963. In this excerpt, they take us back to October 1961, when The Dallas Morning News' combative publisher helped cement the city's reputation as a conservative hotbed.
Ted Dealey considers the telegram that has just arrived at his office. It is addressed personally to him from President John F. Kennedy, but Dealey knows a form letter when he sees one. In fact, several other publishers in Texas are receiving the exact same message:
"It would be useful to me to have an exchange of views with you on state, regional and national problems. Therefore I would be most pleased to have you as my guest at a luncheon on Friday, October 27th at 1:00 p.m. at the White House Washington. (Enter the Northwest Gate on Pennsylvania Avenue.) I hope it will be possible for you to attend. It would be appreciated if you would kindly reply to Press Secretary Pierre Salinger."
Dealey sets the telegram aside. He knows Kennedy has been playing the seduction game, hosting a series of similar meetings with publishers. The president's stated rationale may be a desire to "exchange views," but Dealey knows what he is really up to.
Kennedy is going to try to charm the press into giving him better coverage. He is going to peddle his soft soap, this time to a bunch of Texans.
Dealey has already made his own feelings about Kennedy quite clear in his newspaper. He heard from his sources in Washington that the Morning News' combative editorials are causing Kennedy pain. As Dealey will tell anyone who would listen, "I am not particularly fond of brother Kennedy."
Dealey quickly calculates the cost of a trip to Washington. With airfare, hotel, food and drink, it will cost several hundred dollars. It's easily worth it. Not many people are given the opportunity to tell the president of the United States to his face exactly how they feel about him.
His father, George B. Dealey, founded The Dallas Morning News in 1885, seven years before Ted was born. It was the dominant newspaper in Texas, and it was, really, the world the young Dealey grew up in. He always saw being publisher as a civic calling, as important as any elected office. Even when he left the city and played football for the University of Texas in Austin and then earned a master's in philosophy at Harvard, he knew he was destined to take control of his father's paper.
He made his first mark on the news venue back in the 1920s, when the Ku Klux Klan chose Dallas for its national headquarters. The Klan staged its grand parades down Main Street during the day and it terrorized at night, with cross burnings and whippings and unexplained disappearances of young black men. The city's establishment fell into line and Klansmen were elected to city offices. The managing editor of the competing newspaper, the Dallas Times Herald, resigned to become the Klan's public relations director. Dallas, never really known for much, earned a reputation as the KKK bulwark in America.
The young Dealey lobbied his father to stand up to the Klan. Thanks to his efforts, the Morning News led a public campaign against the KKK, even withstanding advertising boycotts and angry mobs gathering outside the paper's headquarters. It emerged stronger and more influential than ever. It had no rival as the state's leading newspaper. For the next 20 years, the News' politics was squarely within the traditions of mainstream America. The paper endorsed Franklin D. Roosevelt for president and even supported his New Deal programs, one of which helped cement the Dealey family's legacy in Dallas: One of FDR's Works Progress Administration projects was a small park built in downtown Dallas, just three blocks from the Morning News building. It was named in honor of Ted Dealey's father, and it featured a 12-foot-tall bronze statue of the older man. It became known as Dealey Plaza.
Ted Dealey liked seeing the towering statue. Too, he liked that he had enshrined the family's vision for their newspaper in a quote carved into a panel four stories high above the front entrance to The Dallas Morning News building:
"Build The News upon the rock of truth and righteousness. Conduct it always upon the lines of fairness and integrity. Acknowledge the right of the people to get from the newspaper both sides of every important question."
Dealey's father had been a moderate man with a finely attuned sense of social decorum. Now, in 1961, the son is striking some people as occasionally caustic or even callous. He is, his friends say, fiercely intelligent and filled with a crackling wit. He is considered the paper's best writer, and he spends time with the editorials. But he is talking openly of his "masturbation period" and he tells one News executive, "Some day when you're sitting in that fancy new office of yours, keep in mind that at one time in that exact location stood the finest whorehouse in the entire city of Dallas."