Sorry, my colleagues over in the youth wing at the Dallas Observer may pooh-pooh, but I think Lee Hancock's series on the Mary Ellen Bendtsen story (old lady on Swiss Avenue exploited by vultures) has been really great stuff. But then today we see the other face of The Dallas Morning News in Frank Trejo's piss-poor story on Latino voter power in the wake of last April's mega-march: "Did rally unleash new political power?"
Uh, Frank? The answer is no.
See, the Mary Ellen story is painless for a newspaper to publish, because it doesn't invite anger from a big noisy interest group. Who's against old ladies? Everybody thinks Mom should be taken care of. At least everybody says so if you put them on the spot.
But the story about whether the huge immigration march in Dallas made any lasting difference is a tough one for a newspaper to take on, because the truth is going to make a whole lot of people bitter, disappointed and angry, and they're all going to want to call, picket and sue the paper.
Half a million marchers took to the streets one Sunday last spring, with former city council member and state Representative Domingo Garcia running along out front like a drum major (which is why I privately think of the march as Domingo Domingo). Afterward, Garcia held a press conference at Dallas City Hall in which he said that 10,000 new Latino voters had been signed up during Domingo Domingo. Wow! If only that was the real number. What was it? That's after the jump.
Two weeks later, Lena Levario, the lawyer who ran the voter registration project during the march, said the number was closer to 600. Levario is a straight shooter. She's one of the lawyers who helped the city clean up the narcotics department after the fake drugs scandal three years ago.
Two weeks ago Dallas County Elections Director Bruce Sherbet told me ruefully that after scouring the books for newly registered Hispanic surnames, he'd be hard pressed to come up with 500 new registrations attributable to Domingo Domingo. Sherbet's another straight arrow: With no dog in the hunt politics-wise, he sees his job as getting every willing and eligible voter signed up and voting.
Trejo interviewed Sherbet but buried his remarks and went with a higher figure, 1,500 registrations, which I happen to know was misrepresented in the story. Sherbet does not believe those 1,500 came from Domingo Domingo. Those 1,500 are par for the course, the number you'd expect anyway for this period of time.
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Trejo also buries another intriguing fact: that the only serious voter registration drive in Dallas is being handled by people from San Antonio, where Latinos know how to organize. That might explain the total absence of a vigorous, everyday, in-your-face fundraising and voter registration project at every church and in front of every Mercado in Dallas by local Latino leaders since the march.
The answer is no. So far, anyway, Domingo Domingo meant zip. In this country, voting counts. By and large, Mexican-Americans still don't have the habit, even when they are eligible. So they don't get in the picture. I'm not saying Trejo contradicted the truth. But his story--or the editing of it--betrays such fear of the truth and its repercussions that the end product winds up being simply incomprehensible. What did this story say? Yes. No. Possibly. Hey, how ya doin'?
The headline should have been, "Immigration march a voter dud." But then, you know, you get all those angry calls and the people down at the desk in the lobby. You know, the people otherwise known as readers.
You just can't do vigorous, effective journalism by coming out in favor of Mom all the time. It ain't that easy. By the way, I am wholly supportive of Mom myself. As long as she gets her chores done. --Jim Schutze