Dwayne Bray, Metro editor of The Dallas Morning News, called me yesterday in response to a call I had placed to Dave Levinthal, the News reporter who wrote a story over the weekend about Mayor Laura Miller and some stock she and her husband owned briefly in AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines. News rules barred Levinthal from getting into it with me, but Bray answered all my questions.
Bray's bottom line: They didn't get the e-mail about Miller's excusing herself from voting on Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport board matters until after paper's deadline had passed.
My bottom line: Miller herself probably wasn't pulling a fast one with her airline stock. But this whole flap was such a Laura thing.
The original Levinthal story Saturday raised the possibility of mayoral conflict of interest on two grounds: Miller sits on the board at D/FW Airport, where American Airlines is the 800-pound gorilla. And she has been deep in negotiations over local airport restrictions with direct bearing on American's business. Miller says she found out over dinner one night the stock had been purchased by her husband, lawyer-politico Steve Wolens. Told him to ditch it. Did. Made 11 grand on stock he had held for a month.
Levinthal reported that the airport board was unable to say right away whether Miller had voted on any AMR issues while her husband held the stock. In some very angry e-mails Monday, Miller claimed Levinthal knew full well or should have known she did not even attend a board meeting while Wolens held the stock. She and the airport both had e-mailed evidence to that effect to Levinthal, she said, the day before his story ran.
Bray told me--as Levinthal also reports in a story in The News this morning--that the e-mails from the airport and from Miller did not arrive at his desk until hours after deadline, because of long delays in The News's e-mail system that day having to do with some kind of spam-filtering blah-blah-blah. Look, all I have to hear is the word "e-mail," and I quit listening anyway. You cannot do crucial communication with e-mail. E-mail sucks. E-mail is stupid. People like Levinthal get scads of zillions of millions of e-mails every day, 99 percent of which is crap, and then the big computer washing machine starts churning, trying to wash out the spam, and then it burps and sputters and spits out some version of what was sent in. And that all gets buried in the haystack, anyway.
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Here's the issue. Miller has a list of reporters she will not call or speak to. Ever. She's mad at them. She will communicate with them only by e-mail. No meetings in person or even by phone. It's just the absolute strangest way for a politician to behave, but especially one who is a former reporter. If she thinks she is penalizing a reporter by not speaking to him, then she is unbelievably na�ve about her own profession. She makes herself vulnerable by not picking up the telephone, getting the guy on the line, giving him her line and then saying, "Are you sure you got that, you moron?"
That's how people talk to me. Take Ron Kirk. The madder he was at me, the surer he was to call. He would read me that riot act and then spell the big words if I needed help. By the way, I did not. Hardly ever.
You can't send e-mail. Sending e-mail is like dropping a note off with the homeless person standing on the lawn in front of the paper. It's 99 percent useless. Miller and her husband, if they have anything, have reputations for spotless personal integrity. But because she won't talk to Levinthal in person, she winds up with two news cycles and endless bloggery about the possibility she and her husband are crooks. It's just not smart. Everybody has some part of his job he hates doing. My dad was a minister. He hated talking to choir directors. I have no idea why. He just did. But he had to, or they would continue performing Village People songs.
Laura Miller is the mayor. So she's got to return reporters' calls. Just does. Or she's the one who pays, not them. --Jim Schutze