The News Tries to Edit Itself Out of Some Unhappy History in Southern Dallas

Ah, wait a minute, hold up one second. I spy a small but significant, history-bending, rug-sweeping moment occurring on this morning's editorial page of our city's daily newspaper. Let me take one minute to remind us what's under that rug.

The Dallas Morning News has the whole trumpet section, the kettle drums and the full hallelujah choir out on stage this morning to sing the praises of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' new plan to save southern Dallas. For all I know they may be right. I've been looking at the plan over the weekend, talking to folks, and it sounds like Rawlings may actually have listened to some real people before cooking up this major new initiative. All to the good, if that bears out.

The tricky slick stuff is not in what Rawlings is putting forward. It's in what The News wants to say about itself, in a back-handed way, in jumping aboard the bandwagon and trying to take the reins from Rawlings.

The News suggests investors may not have confidence in the plan if too many small businesses already established in southern Dallas continue to fail to do as The News tells them. This has to do specifically with recycling centers that The News wants moved the hell out of Dodge in order to make way for the kind of real estate redevelopment along the Trinity River that The News wants done.

To me, that's fairly astonishing. Does The News really think investor confidence will be bolstered if investors know that honest, law-abiding, non-polluting, employment-providing businesses with strong neighborhood and political support can nevertheless get their rugs yanked out from under them if The News comes along with some other damned "vision" for their land, one for which there is no market support yet?

But the second one is an even balder rewrite of the real history. Read what they say today:

"We also know from experience the kinds of major obstacles that people with special interests can erect to block even the most well-intentioned plans. The Trinity Corridor Project, for example, envisioned the rezoning of prime riverside property to eliminate heavy industrial sites and clear the way for residential, commercial and recreational projects. Various City Council members, their campaign coffers swelling from generous donations by industrial property owners, squashed that rezoning plan into the Trinity mud.

"Other selfish politicians and businessmen stood in the way of a major development project at the International Inland Port of Dallas. The word 'shakedown' almost certainly still resonates in the minds of outside developers contemplating future Inland Port investments."

No, no, no. Let's do the second point first. Yes, there appears to have been a serious shakedown attempt against the inland port project, which was potentially the single biggest economic boon ever to show its face anywhere in Dallas, let alone southern Dallas. Hence, the ongoing FBI corruption investigation into how it was stymied.

But The News, in both editorials and egregiously slanted, badly reported news coverage, aided and abetted the shakedown. They're the ones whose editorials and stories dared to paint developer Richard Allen as a racist -- a guy whose track record on minority involvement is 10 times better than most companies in Dallas -- because Allen had failed to knuckle under to the shakedown. If there was a shakedown in the broadest political and social sense, I believe The News was a party to it.

Back to the recycling yards for a second. What approach to that question might actually inspire investor confidence? Well, what about just a tad of modesty? What about going to these businesses, hat in hand, and saying, "We don't get your business. We don't really know how it works. We honestly wish you were not where you are, because we have something else in mind. But we also don't know when that something else would be sufficiently viable in the marketplace to be able to pay you a market price for your land.

"The last thing we want to do is use politics and the editorial page to seize your land. Could we talk about all this?"

Instead, The News says, "Get out, or we'll call you a racist." Here's a reality check: When did any minority residents of the areas around the recycling yards call the recyclers racists? Never. But I shouldn't have called attention to that because now The News will accuse those residents of being "selfish" and "standing in the way" of progress because they failed to complain about racism when The News damned well told them to.

In a way, these two things -- the recycling yards and the inland port -- are two sides of the same bad penny, the penny that keeps coming back to us as a political structure in Dallas worthy of an all-cousin town in the Ozarks. It's all about top-down arrogance that never achieves legitimacy on the ground because it doesn't even know where the ground is. It doesn't listen. It orders things done.

If it gets a little too heavy-handed in pushing people around and all of a sudden the FBI shows up, it starts rewriting history on the editorial page to take itself out of the picture.

That's really all I wanted to do this morning -- put The News back in the picture, shoulder to shoulder with Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, the Perot interests and all the other people who did get subpoenas from the Justice Department. The News didn't get one. So this is a subpoena from me.

Read the fine print on the back, Madame Gray. It orders you to stay in touch and not to leave town without notifying history. See you in the funny papers.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze