Jim Schutze Doesn't Forgive or Forget

I know I promised I was going to go Dallas Morning News-free for a while, but I’m sitting here in the homely home office with the shakes and the jitters, and I just gotta have one more pull on that sweaty bottle of Old DMN.

Michael Lindenberger is the guy at The News I talk about in my column this week: He found out, before last week's Trinity River toll road election, that the mayor’s story about funding for the Trinity toll road was not true.

The mayor said he had been assured by the North Texas Tollway Authority that the NTTA would never ask Dallas taxpayers to put any more money into the toll road above and beyond the $84 million we have already pledged. Only, before the election, the chairman of the NTTA told Lindenberger that the authority absolutely reserves the right to ask Dallas taxpayers to chip in more money.

The road, which will cost between $1.3 billion and $2 billion to build, is only funded now to the tune of less than $300 million. So we could be in for quite a hit.

Mayor Tom Leppert said repeatedly before the election that he had been assured by the tollway authority they will never ask us for more money. Cain’t be true. NTTA board chairman Paul Wageman confirmed to me, through a spokesperson at the NTTA, that he had told Lindenberger a very different story before the election.

The News had that story before the election but held it until the day after the votes were counted. Had voters known Leppert was not telling the truth, I believe the margin of votes would have tipped the other way. The Vote No'ers won this election on the back of a lie.

So why dredge this up yet again? Two reasons. Well, three. One -- sour grapes. Umm-mmm, they taste so good.

Two: The News, which accused me of unethical reporting during the campaign, has maintained absolute radio silence on this question since my column came out. During the campaign they were swinging hard at every pitch, fair or foul. On this they say nothing -- not in the paper, not in person, not in the blogs, not nowhere.

Guess why? They’re guilty. Got their hand in the cookie jar, their pants down and their foot in their mouth. It just brings me enjoyment to picture that and to point it out again.

Reason three: Lindenberger has a really great, well-reported and well-written story in the paper today about toll road funding. I’m not going to recap it here, but it’s A-1 work. I mention that, because there’s another point to make about The News.

A lot of really smart, accomplished journalists work there. Not everybody, but, you know, it’s a big place and nobody’s perfect. Lindenberger is good. Some editor who worked that story is good; same probably goes for the editors above and below.

The decision to sit on the Wageman story -- I don’t know this, but I can almost guarantee it -- was made way above the pay grades of any of those people. This was a Decherd/Moroney-level call, a decision at the level of ownership.

So are the people at that level just stupid? Of course not. They have equations to work that I can’t even guess. They knew, of course, that suppressing a story like that one would erode the newspaper’s core credibility with readers -- as did the bulk of their coverage of the election. They also know from countless readership studies that credibility is the No. 1 factor in readership and circulation. Push down on the cred, and you push down with almost exactly equal force on the size and value of your audience.

It was worth it to them. I don’t know why. How would I know? I don’t see how it was worth it to the non-family shareholders, but what do I know? Maybe it was. All I can see, standing outside the castle walls and listening to the screams, is that heaving a few credibility peasant ladies and crippled credibility children over the parapets was a good strategic call from their point of view in the tower, for some reason. They paid with credibility for whatever their ulterior goal may have been.

And I bring it up again why? Well, accounting purposes, really. Just to make sure we’re doing the math and getting the bills out properly. Hats off on your victory, but, uh, looking at the invoice here, it looks like you owe us about 100,000 readers.

You can make installments on it if that will help. We’re not vultures. --Jim Schutze

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky