Mayor Tries to Shoot Down DMN Story

Mayor Laura is pretty pissed off at The Dallas Morning News and reporter Dave Levinthal over his story Saturday about Mayor Miller, her husband and some stock they owned briefly in AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines. She says she gave Levinthal information showing she didn't vote on any American issues during the brief period she and her husband owned the stock, but that Levinthal failed to include this exculpatory information in his story.

I was copied on an e-mail she sent to Morning News bigwigs and a bunch of TV reporters. The good stuff is in the personal rip at the end, after she says that both she and the airport board sent Levinthal e-mails last Friday that he should have acknowledged in his story:

"I never got a reply from Dave to my email. Did Dave go out of town and not read DFW's correspondence? Did he not receive my email? Is he lazy? Is he dumb? Does he have an axe to grind? Is he just not professional?

There is a reason that I have not spoken to him in months, and will only reply to his questions via email. Because he is a poor excuse for a journalist, and you all never do anything to address his repeated sloppy reporting. When I worked for The Dallas Morning News 20 years ago, you had better standards. I hereby formally request a written correction in your newspaper."

In Saturday's paper, Levinthal reported that Miller and her husband made "up to $25,000" last year by purchasing and then selling some AMR stock while Miller served on the airport board. Levinthal spotted the sale on a disclosure form. Miller says she didn't know the stock had been purchased by her husband, lawyer-politico Steve Wolens, until she found out one night over dinner. She says she made him sell it the next morning. Wouldn't I love to have been a fly on the Wolens-Miller dining room wall that evening?

One of two questions raised by Levinthal concerning a possible conflict of interest was whether Miller voted on any AMR issues as a member of the airport board while she and her husband held AMR stock. Levinthal wrote:

"D/FW Airport officials couldn't immediately determine whether Ms. Miller had voted on airport board issues while owning AMR stock, and if she had, whether the votes involved American Airlines."

But Miller says the board did determine. Pretty fast.

"Attached is an email I received Friday afternoon--the day before your story ran--giving me the entire agenda for the DFW Board meeting that was held the DAY BEFORE my husband bought the stock (unbeknownst to me)," Miller tells Belo bigwigs in her e-mail. She continues:

"The next monthly meeting we had at the airport was in October, long after my husband had sold the stock at my request. Dave Levinthal received the attached information--the Sept. 1 board agenda information--before I did on Friday, according to DFW Airport VP Kevin Cox, who called me in Los Angeles Friday afternoon to tell me that airport officials had given Dave the information at Dave's request.

I subsequently emailed Dave on Friday afternoon (I will forward you that email also) to reiterate that I NEVER voted on anything related to AMR because the monthly DFW Airport board meeting was held on Sept. 1, the day BEFORE my husband bought the stock."

So Miller is saying the board did respond to Levinthal's questions the day before his story ran and Levinthal ignored or failed to acknowledge the information.

I have a call in to Levinthal. I'll be interested to hear his side. For one thing, this could be a deadline issue. I don't know when the airport board actually got its e-mail delivered to Levinthal. Was it when they told Miller? Early Friday afternoon? Or not quite so early? If not, it could have been after his deadline. If that's the case, then maybe the person who needs to be hung out to dry here is the airport PR person who failed to get this off his or her desk fast enough to meet deadline. Deadline, after all, is deadline.

Another issue is this: Levinthal's story raises a second concern about possible conflict having to do with the mayor's heavy involvement in negotiations over the Wright Amendment and related airport issues. Was it a conflict for the mayor to own AMR stock and inject herself so deeply into the Wright Amendment talks?

You can still say it's all gotcha journalism: How much conflict can there be if she didn't know she owned the stuff? And she and her husband ditched it, she says, almost the first possible instant after she found out. The Levinthal story, by the way, does reflect all of that.

But what about this: Once it appears on a public document, is Levinthal, who covers City Hall, supposed to ignore it? And if he does ignore it, can't all the southern Dallas council members whose names have come up in the FBI corruption probe say to him, "Hey, white man, when did you ever ignore anything for me?" So maybe it's sort of gotcha, but the problem is we live in a gotcha world. Birds gotta fly, fish gotta swim, reporters gotta gotcha.

For me, there's this too: I have been called an unprofessional knuckle-dragging cheese-brain by the mayor when she was upset with me. It's not an uncommon experience. I think many of her most ardent admirers share the honor. I actually don't mind. And I always wonder, in my own case, if she's on to something. It's hard to imagine a Belo plot in this. I am saying in my column coming out this week that the top Beloan, CEO and Decider Robert Decherd, spoke very glowingly of Her Honor at a deal I covered last week.

So, let's see here. Did I cover everything? I said the PR guy at the airport who didn't get this stuff to The News by deadline could be the ultimate goat in this affair. Check. Levinthal did say she made her husband sell the stock. Check. Oh, I did forget something. Imagine you're a lawyer. And you're supposed to be a big-time brilliant political guru. And let's say, just supposing, you happen to be married to the mayor.

"Hey, honey, what are you up to today?"

"Oh, I'm headed downtown to work on that AMR American Airlines-related DFW Airport American Airlines-related AMR thing about the Wright Amendment and AMR American Airlines-related AMR stuff today."

So, you go buy some AMR stock? I'm thinkin' if that's you, you're gonna be out on the back 40 eatin' tin cans for a year. --Jim Schutze

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