Late to the Party, The News Somehow Emerges As Geniuses For Calling Out Mayor Leppert Regarding His Trinity Toll Road Promises

The publishers of D Magazine and the Advocate this morning are extolling the greatness of Michael Lindenberger and The News for making a fraud out of Mayor Tom Leppert. Me? I knew about Leppert's tall tales 18 months ago and am tickled by the headlines from Wick Allison on FrontBurner and Rick Wamre on BackTalk, along with the timing of Lindenberger's "stunning story," as described by Wamre.

Other than missing a question mark and a comma, Allison's headline ("What Did He Know And When Did He Know It") struck me as laughably ironic. Obviously, Allison is referring to Leppert, but the question is more suitably aimed at Lindenberger and his employer.

On Thursday, I suggested that Lindenberger and The News surely had amnesia regarding Leppert's promises made during the Trinity River toll road debates since they continued to report on the funding and corps' approval issues related to the road without making the connection. And is there a bigger what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it moment than when Lindenberger reported a key statement from North Texas Tollway Authority chairman Paul Wageman one month late?

Wamre simply must not have been following the Trinity issue as closely as his colleague Jeff Siegel to issue his headline: "Leppert may have misled voters on Trinity: Dallas News." Anyone who has been following along surely wouldn't be stunned as Wamre was and wouldn't use "may" in the headline. As Schutze touched on earlier this month, there's simply no debate whether or not Leppert was misleading voters during the campaign.

Finally, like most of the coverage of the Trinity by The News, I found the timing of Lindenberger's story intriguing. After my blog entry Thursday afternoon calling him out for protecting Leppert, I visited his new transportation blog, where I engaged him in some playful banter.

OK, Michael, here's a chance to really spice things up.

I realize that being a Beloan, having an opinion of your own is not encouraged -- perhaps it's even a fireable offense. But, I have to ask: Has your opinion of the road changed at all since the vote? And, given your status as a transportation guru, do you believe the city's floodway is the most sensible place to jam this toll road? Finally, if you could be one animal, which one would you be?

I'd like to be an animal that lives on the beach, perhaps, with opposable thumbs to drink libations.

Opinions aren't, so far as I know, a firing offense here. But they do tend to encourage reporters to let their reporting speak for themselves. I think that works well in this scenario.

In terms of which is the most viable route, I think my focus has been on getting the facts, as best we can, before the people who will pay for this thing (and enjoy whatever benefits it brings). It's not my job, or even very interesting to me, to pick a winner.

Then I shot him an e-mail, where the banter was much less playful.

Regarding the letting-the-reporting-speak-for-itself mantra, lemme shoot some questions at you regarding your reporting of the toll road where clarification would be helpful.

1. You reported shortly after the '07 referendum that NTTA board chairman Paul Wageman "said last month" the road would be built only if its toll revenue paid for construction. You wrote: "[Wageman] said if the costs continue to rise above the current estimate of $1.29 billion, the agency may ask its partners-including the city and the Regional Transportation Council, which sets priorities for the entire North Texas area-to increase their investments in the road."

The obvious question is why would you sit on this key information for a month, and then wait until after the vote to report it?

2. You reported in December 2008 that the price of the road was $1.8 billion without explaining that it was an increase from the previous cost of $1.29 billion. Why did you decide not to explain why $500 million had been added to the price tag?

3. In recent stories, you've referred to the funding and approval uncertainties with the road, yet you continue to avoid mentioning that Mayor Leppert said funding was in place and the corps had approved the road during the '07 campaign. Why?

After getting no response, I fired off another.

While you're certainly under no obligation to answer my questions, I would appreciate a response as to whether or not you plan to do so.

Sam - Fair enough. I've been busy, but I don't see any value in engaging you on these issues. Best wishes.

Lindenberger is right - his reporting definitely speaks for itself, as does his refusal to answer my questions.

So why do I mention the timing? This, folks, is not news. We ran Leppert's comments from the League of Women Voters debate (where Schutze and I were both in attendance) twice recently to remind you of what was said. The Dallas Morning News could have easily published a similar story to yesterday's by checking with the corps after the September 2007 debate, which would have proven the mayor was as much as a fibber then as he is now.

Yet they chose not to, which says far more about the paper than its story finally exposing the truth.

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Sam Merten
Contact: Sam Merten