As Observer editor Mark Donald, fellow staff writer Megan Feldman and I exited our car and headed to the elevators in the parking garage at the Belo Mansion yesterday afternoon, we bumped into staffers from D Magazine. It was my first opportunity to meet Adam McGill and Zac Crain, and then Tim Rogers extended his hand. Reluctantly, I accepted.
We were there for the Dallas Bar Association Philbin Awards, and Mark later referenced the exchange between Rogers and me, saying, "You should have seen your body language. You leaned back as if you were going to spit at him!"
I always try to play nice, even with people I don't necessarily like or respect. Most times, it's out of courtesy for the people I'm with. There was no need to make Mark and Megan tense, I thought, not to mention McGill, Crain and the others. But it was mere seconds before I regretted shaking Rogers' hand.
It had only been two days since I began to digest "Why the Observer Stinks," a column by Rogers in this month's D Magazine. He claims we've "committed two offenses that call into question whether the paper has anything of worth left to say." Those offenses, according to Rogers, were Jim Schutze's September 4 column ("Toll You So") and Robert Wilonsky's September 9 blog item, both of which were related to the Trinity River Corridor Project.
To be clear, I'm not here to stick up for Jim and Robert. They're big boys and can take care of themselves. But the name of Rogers' column was not "Why Jim Schutze Stinks" or "Why Robert Wilonsky Stinks." He called out everyone at this paper, so that includes me. And given my history with Rogers and experience covering the Trinity issue, it feels appropriate to offer a retort.
I learned everything I needed to know about Rogers when he spoke to my ethics class while I was finishing my journalism degree at SMU in 2007. As I wrote in my July 18 column on Dallas Blog, Rogers explained how he exercised ethics on D Magazine's blog, FrontBurner. He said while covering rumors that Gov. Rick Perry was gay, doing actual reporting on the issue sounded like "real work," "making phone calls" and "asking for documents" -- things Rogers was clearly not interested in doing. Again, he was saying this in front of an ethics class full of journalism students.
Rogers said he had approximately 200 tipsters who sent him info and "kinda" knew where they worked. "Is that ethical? I don't know," he said. "I don't know these people. A lot of them I haven't met face to face."
I won't rehash the whole story. You get the point. I haven't liked or respected the guy from the first time I met him. And things he's written since then have done nothing but confirm my original feelings.
So Schutze writes a column about the Trinity Project detailing the delays with the bridges and toll road. At the end, he wrote: "But the really important fact, embedded in all of this, is that we have idiots steering the ship."
Rogers says Schutze has "come unhinged" because he used the word "idiots" and what's worse it that our editor let it stand.
An idiot is widely considered to be someone who's foolish or stupid. Broken down further, we can understand stupid to mean "marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting" and foolish as "lacking in sense, judgment, or discretion."
Speaking as someone who has covered the Trinity Project closely, I wholeheartedly agree that many of the key people involved have been guilty of unreasoned thinking and poor judgment. The decision to put a high-speed toll road in a floodway qualifies as both.
A few days after Schutze's column was published, I went to the unveiling of the model for the Trinity Project. I left unimpressed, writing: "For something that took almost two years to build (and isn't even completed yet), I expected it to be bad-ass. But when I saw the Trinity Turnpike consisted of strips of paper, while the American Airlines Center had a working video screen, I wondered if enough time had been spent on the actual Trinity Project as opposed to everything surrounding it."
After I posted pictures of the model, Wilonsky wrote this: "We've just posted the slide show from Sam's trip to the Trinity Trust, where they unveiled the world's most expensive and incomplete model in the history of glue. Seriously, after spending half a million dollars and taking two years, they couldn't debut a finished model? What's the rush? Somebody? Anybody?"
Rogers says this post was telling because it proves we "can't even appreciate what is clearly a work of art." When it comes to the model's craftsmanship, he says, "In that discussion, the Observer has shown it is blind to beauty. That's a sad condition, worse than idiocy."
Rogers claims Schutze has ruined our paper's credibility by calling some people idiots for steering a sinking ship, yet he calls us worse for not being able to appreciate a model that was intended to show off the Trinity Project, but that was the least detailed part of the model. No levees, no depiction of the floodway and a piece of paper representing the most controversial part of the project.
Rogers goes on to gush about the model and it's makers, Susie and Charles Kendrick, who were featured in a 2007 story in DallasCEO, a D Magazine publication. He also corrects the $500,000 price tag that Wilonsky and I both reported as the cost of the model, saying it's more like a $400,000 model, with the Kendrick's getting paid $300,000 while donating $100,000 of their time.
Of course, Rogers doesn't mention that his column is a regurgitation of his September 10 blog called "How the Observer Abdicated Its Watchdog Role," in which he wrote: "So, yeah, it cost $500,000 and has taken two years -- so far."
Let's dissect Wilonsky's points. First he says the model is expensive. Whether it's $500,000 or $300,000, I think we can all agree that holds up. He also says it's incomplete, which has never been disputed. Rogers admits as much in his column, saying "the Kendricks are probably down there in the Design District, working on it right now." Then Wilonsky asks a legitimate question that no one, including Rogers, has been able to answer: Why spend all that dough and show it off with obvious flaws?
Maybe Rogers has a hard time understanding people who don't have an average household income of $344,000, a net worth of $1.7 million and a $540,000 house. Maybe he resents going bald. I dunno, but his attack on the Observer was baseless. If you're going to call someone out, especially an entire paper, you better have some legitimate shit to back it up.