Don’t forget. Early voting has begun in the Dallas June 8 mayoral and City Council runoff election. Now is your chance to go to the polls and vote against The Dallas Morning News.
I’m serious. A little over a year ago, the Morning News hired a political propaganda writer from the George W. Bush Center to take over its editorial page. Since then the paper has been campaigning against every smart, sane, urban, green idea on earth. And in Dallas, of course.
A recent Sunday editorial section was typical. It was book-ended between the regular weekly installment written by an employee of the Bush Center on how great Laura Bush is (“Conservationist Bush sprouted from an oil town”) to the regular weekly installment written by an employee of the Bush Center on how great fossil fuels are (“Don’t waste planet’s time arguing”).
The piece I really enjoyed on all this was our own Stephen Young’s article three weeks ago: “It's Not Just You. The Dallas Morning News Editorial Page Has Gone Off the Deep End.”
And, look, I admire Laura Bush. I think she’s great. I also think it’s OK to present diverse views on climate change in the opinion section. This is still a free country, right? But what Young caught in his piece and what I feel I also see so clearly is a heavy-handed ideological bias on the editorial page that seems somehow clumsily out of kilter with our own nonpartisan system of city politics. And nowhere has that been more clear than in the Morning News editorial page’s handling of endorsements in this runoff election.
It’s like a weird flashback to the 1960s when the News was infamous for its right-wing attacks on President John F. Kennedy. Back then they called everybody they didn’t like a red or a commie. The label to watch for now is “progressive.” When the Morning News labels someone a progressive, it means the same thing. It means bad people who won’t do what the owners of the Morning News tell them to do.
The funny thing is that there was a real communist running for mayor in the May 4 general election, and the News would never use the word. Alyson Kennedy, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, told anybody who asked that she was a big fan of Fidel Castro and a communist. But the News insisted on calling her only “a socialist.” Maybe they were suggesting a proximity to “progressive.”
Progressive, meanwhile, is a word they sling around like birdshot. Last March when the City Council passed an ordinance requiring Dallas employers to provide paid sick leave, the editorial page thundered against what it called “a progressive bloc,” accusing them of “sitting on a moral high horse.”
Well, we can’t have that, can we? Progressive ideas and high morals: what could be worse, especially together? The paper singled out council member Scott Griggs, now a mayoral candidate in the runoff, and council member Philip Kingston, running for reelection. The paper seemed to suggest Griggs and Kingston had done something terrible by putting together an overwhelming 10-4 super-majority in favor of the paid sick leave measure. Now the editorial page is calling both of them “divisive.”
They’re a divisive majority? How is putting together a super-majority divisive? I think they think it’s divisive because it divides the council from what the new uber-ideological Morning News editorial page wants done.
“What does it signal,” the paper asked, “that a bloc of Dallas politicians is embracing a sharply progressive agenda that is out of step with most Dallas residents and that could hurt the city’s ability to prosper into the future?”
Maybe it signals that they’re not the ones out of step.
Later, in endorsing Eric Johnson for mayor and David Blewett for Kingston’s seat in the runoff, the News invoked the p-word again: “A bloc of council members, led by Griggs, has worked to turn the council into a progressive political machine rather than a nonpartisan local government.” And maybe you have to be 100 years old like me to hear all of those code words ringing in your ears.
A “political machine” is any kind of energized, organized base that opposes the will of the troglodytes. When the troglodytes are organized and energized, it’s good citizenship. When anybody who disagrees with them is organized, it’s a machine.
The reason this stuff sounds so funky and strange to my own ear is that it’s such a throwback to the ’60s. Back then rich men in Dallas belonged to right-wing fringe groups like the John Birch Society. Rabid, big-hair, North Dallas women were downtown dressed in red, white and blue, spitting on U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson and whopping him in the head with a placard that read, “If you seek peace, ask Jesus.”
All of a sudden now the Morning News editorial page is a clarion echo of everything the city has been trying to live down since the Kennedy assassination. How in the hell did that happen? I have a personal two-bit theory based on my own experiences at daily newspapers. It begins with, “Beware a dying newspaper.” But that’s only a two-bit theory.
Here is the great irony in the runoff election. In both of the races in which the News is accusing people of being pinkos, all of the candidates are so closely aligned on real City Hall issues as to require an operating room and full anesthetic to peel them apart safely. Where they do diverge is in who’s paying for their campaigns. In that light, both the Kingston/Blewett race and the Griggs/Johnson race are night and day. The night creatures being Johnson and Blewett, who are gulping down money from the troglodytes, and the daylight coming from Griggs and Kingston, who have grassroots money.
I don’t pretend to understand the Johnson candidacy. Johnson has been a good state representative; he’s a very bright person; and in the past he has had good ideas for city-building, like peeling off some of the huge tax breaks the troglodytes give each other for their neighborhood-busting real estate developments and using it to stabilize fragile existing communities.
But his candidacy for mayor was a very last-minute affair, richly funded by the very people who do the neighborhood-busting. The people funding Johnson are the types the Morning News seems to suck up to with its new John Birch Society profile.
The Morning News editorial page’s use of the term progressive, so clearly meant to mean red and commie, couldn’t be further from the reality. Both Griggs and Kingston have been the sharp-pencil eyeshade bookkeepers of the City Council, often having to fight terrible battles just to force the city staff to pony up honest numbers on big-money boondoggles like the Trinity toll road, the fake kayak-whatever that they had to tear out of the river downtown and that $115 million bicycle bridge downtown that still can’t be opened because it’s too wobbly.
Griggs started out long before he even ran for the council eight years ago as an activist promoting economic development in North Oak Cliff. Thanks in no small part to his efforts, his region is now seeing some of the most exciting development activity in the city.
So let me ask you something. How are those not profiles of civically engaged, pro-development, community-building moderates? I live in the part of town Kingston represents, and I have seen the fruits of his labors up close and personal.
So what is this thing about “progressive” that the Morning News keeps throwing out there? Oh, and “bloc,” without a k. Bloc! Doesn’t that sound sort of French or Russian or something? And let’s not forget the machine. Grrrr (mechanical rumbling sound), here it comes! Oh, no! Run for your lives! It’s…
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The reasons for the Morning News’ return to Cold War name-calling probably fall on a spectrum between frustration and fear. This invoking of an ominous other is not the behavior of a confident entity. The paper sees something coming over the horizon at it, and it is filled with dread. And you and I know exactly what that something is.
It’s a new, younger, greener, more diverse, more democratic city that doesn’t take its marching orders from the editorial page of a daily newspaper any longer. Life ahead is going to be much more complex, way more competitive on a much more level playing field, and way more fun. And dinosaur media? Forget about it.
The national politics of Germany was thrown into an absolute uproar earlier this month by a viral 55-minute YouTube rant posted by a heretofore obscure figure known only as “Influencer Rezo.” Influencer Rezo’s video went viral and kicked up a serious national political storm because it was just that good. The big German newspapers right now are probably hiring consultants to tell them how they can become Influencer Allgemeine Zeitung, which, by the way, they can’t. This parade is headed in a whole new direction.
So is this city. The Morning News has reverted to the habits and language of a dark past, because it yearns for that past, but the clock doesn’t go that way. Only The Dallas Morning News editorial page goes there. Don’t go with it. Vote.