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Snoozepaper

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Without reading the story, Jones says, Connor agreed to hold it out of the paper. "The decision was made that we would not run the story. It was not expressed to me that Rich had killed the story, and I'm sure Rich would tell you that he didn't kill the story," Jones says. "The way that it was put to me was that this story wasn't ready. The story was not appropriate to run on the eve of the trial, that it might prejudice the trial in some way."

Connor acknowledges having received a call from someone in Hutchison's camp complaining about the story, but says that he cannot recall who it was. "Beckwith? Beckworth?" says the Star-Telegram's publisher of 10 years, groping for the name of a top advisor to one of Texas' senators.

The story was held, but Connor says it was not his doing; Price made the call and he agreed with her decision. "I can tell you that I felt that the profiles we had done of the protagonist and antagonist in that instance were very, very unbalanced," he says.

Price says she made the decision to scrap the story, but that it had nothing to do with concerns expressed by Hutchison's camp or pressure from Connor. The story, she says, was not fully reported, and she did not consider it complete enough to appear in the paper. She says it was a decision she reached even before Hutchison's press aide called Connor.

The tale of the missing profile follows some contorted twists and turns.
According to Cutbirth and Jones, District Attorney Earle had been reluctant to grant an interview, and did so only because the paper was also planning to profile Hutchison. After Earle's profile ran, Earle was invited to meet with the Star-Telegram's editorial board, and, while there, asked when the Hutchison profile was going to appear.

"Connor jumped on me in the editorial board meeting in front of Earle wanting to know: How did Ronnie know this?" recalls Cutbirth. Connor apparently believed Cutbirth had made some sort of unholy deal with Earle to gain the earlier interview with him, Jones says, although that was not the case. By the time of the editorial board meeting, Cutbirth says, Connor had already told Hutchison's camp that the profile would not run.

The paper found itself in a bizarre situation. Earle had agreed to an interview only because he anticipated the paper was also going to run a profile of Hutchison. "Where I think Rich [Connor] made a mistake was early on telling Dave Beckwith that he would hold the story," Jones says. "Then I think he locked himself into a position and he couldn't get out of it."

In an effort to save face, the paper assigned another reporter from the Washington bureau to quickly pull together a slapdash profile of Hutchison. By running the truncated profile, Jones and Cutbirth say, the paper hoped to appease Earle without offending Hutchison.

Disbelief was filtering around the newsroom at the prospect that, in reaction to one phone call from an irate power broker, Connor would yank a story from the paper.

Price says it simply did not happen that way. She says Cutbirth should never have made a "deal" with Earle to get an interview. The Hutchison profile was to run when she said it was ready to run, and no sooner. "Unbeknownst to me, a reporter who is no longer here had made some promises to some sources and had tried to say some stories were going to run," Price says. "They weren't scheduled to run. Nobody schedules stories to run other than me."

Price says she read the Hutchison profile before she left for an out-of-state meeting, and found it unfit for publication. Besides, she says, in order to gain access to Hutchison, the second reporter had promised that the profile would run later, before the March primary election but after the February trial. Running the Hutchison profile before the trial, Price says, would have put the paper in a position of "lying" to the senator. "That's absolutely misrepresenting what you set out to do," Price says.

While she was out of town, Price charges, Jones and Cutbirth tried to sneak the profile into the paper as part of their inappropriate "deal" with Earle. "The reporter on the Earle story and the editor on the Earle story had done some wheeling and dealing that they shouldn't have done, basically, and had tried to wheedle this thing into the paper behind my back, under my nose, when I was out of town," Price says. "All this sort of blew up in their faces. I found out about it. I said 'No, the profile is not going.'"

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David Pasztor