For the last year or so, it's been like watching an aunt's or uncle's gradual descent into madness as he or she consumed a little too much Fox News. Slowly but surely, The Dallas Morning News' editorial page, the one that purports to speak for the city it serves, has abandoned the middle of the political road, a place it took forever to reach, and drifted far to the right of its audience.
Rather than sticking up for Dallas, the city's paper of record has taken the position of its big brother. It's here to save Dallas residents from themselves and, often, the leaders they've elected, because they just don't know any better.
The evidence is there, easy to read in black and white.
Let's start with the paper's endorsement of Hillary Clinton ahead of the 2016 presidential election.
When it was announced, the Morning News endorsement was sold as a big deal. The paper hadn't endorsed a Democrat for president in 50 years and got tons of media coverage for its choice. Faced with a choice between the centrist former senator and secretary of state and a crypto-fascist accused of sexual assault, it said the following of Clinton:
"After nearly four decades in the public spotlight, 25 of them on the national stage, Clinton is a known quantity. For all her warts, she is the candidate more likely to keep our nation safe, to protect American ideals and to work across the aisle to uphold the vital domestic institutions that rely on a competent, experienced president."
Who wouldn't want to get out and support a wart-pocked known quantity?
In the days, weeks and months that followed President Donald Trump's inauguration, the Morning News has done its best to promote Trump's policy proposals like the wall on the southern border, while distancing itself from the president's uglier rhetoric.
"The president has teed up concerns over crime, and those concerns are valid. Each time there is a story involving an American who is killed or injured by a person in the country illegally, concerns over crime will only intensify. And with millions of people in the country illegally, there will always be a fresh example."
During the run-up to the 2018 midterms, the DMN repeatedly treated the migrant caravan — a crisis manufactured by Trump in a desperate attempt to fend off the inevitable Democratic wave — as if it were a legitimate issue. Less than a week before his election against Sen. Ted Cruz, the board challenged former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke to come up with a plan for a hypothetical that was never going to happen.
"What is his position on how the migrant caravan should be handled? The possibility exists that by the time it arrives, the number of people may dwindle from thousands to hundreds. But if thousands of people arrive at the Texas border, U.S. authorities will have to do something. If O’Rourke believes he’s in a better position to lead on such issues than Cruz, he’s obligated to his supporters and non-supporters alike to offer concrete solutions."
On other issues, the board can be counted on to issue the most trite, gotta-hear-both-sides pablum imaginable. The problem, to hear the Morning News tell it, is not that Trump is dangerous or unfit for office, it's that there's too much discord in Washington. A little civility would heal all wounds. From an editorial about the government shutdown:
"The government shutdown is in its fourth week, with no end in sight because our leaders in Washington don’t seem to want an end that doesn’t amount to political humiliation of the opposition.
"But imagine for a moment that President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer could see their way to a compromise that Americans would support and that would greatly benefit this country."
Trump created the shutdown out of thin air because Congress refused to fund his border wall, the one he promised throughout his run for president that Mexico would pay for. Somehow, according to the News, the president's temper tantrum was, at least partially, Democratic congressional leaders' fault.
The hits keep coming. In a November 2018 editorial, the DMN parroted conspiracy theories about social media companies discriminating against those on the far-right, while "letting a left-wing creep like Louis Farrakhan remain active." Farrakhan believes in racial separatism and conservative religious values, and praised Trump ahead of the 2016 election. While he's not a conservative in the sense that the word is used in American political discourse, his and his followers' beliefs are incongruous with the so-called "far-left," too.
Four months later, the paper asked "Will enough ever be enough with the Trump, Russia investigation?" and asked America to accept U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr's four-page summary of the 400-page report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on potential obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia by Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign.
If The Dallas Morning News was the Amarillo Morning News or the Abilene Morning News, the kid gloves with which it treats Trump and the right would make sense. The editorial board's stances and its claims that it speaks for the city are less defensible in Dallas.
Sixty-six percent of Dallas County voters cast ballots for O'Rourke in the 2018 election. No Republicans hold countywide office. Dallas is deep, deep blue and there are no signs of it changing anytime soon, whether it's at the local, state or national level.
The Morning News' opinions about local politics confirm that it just can't see it. Throughout the campaigns leading to Saturday's local election, the DMN has preached to a Dallas that no longer exists. It's done its best to stoke fears about crime — claiming that the city "feels less safe," without any conclusive evidence. It had insisted that Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot "could be taking the county down a dangerous path" with his decision to halt prosecution of certain low-level criminal offenses, despite all of the research Creuzot relied on when he made the decision.
Despite the fact that more than 70% of Texans support requiring employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers, the Morning News blew off the Dallas City Council's vote on the issue as an "empty progressive promise," because of the likely lawsuit the city faces if it tries to implement the policy.
So what was this about in the end? The sick leave ordinance will almost certainly never help a single employee.
What it does signal is 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.
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Guaranteeing one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked by an employee is hardly "sharply progressive" — supporting a $15-per-hour minimum wage isn't even on the left's bleeding edge anymore — or "out of step with most Dallas residents."
It's hard to view the board's sick-leave diss as anything more than another attack on the political coalition led by Dallas City Council members Scott Griggs and Philip Kingston. During his run for mayor, Griggs has faced a three-way endorsement from the paper that looked an awful lot like an unsuccessful attempt to squeeze him out of a potential runoff, a rehashing, and rehashing, and rehashing, of an argument that he had with Dallas City Secretary Billirae Johnson that nearly led to felony charges against Griggs. (Had they gone forward, the charges would have been questionable at best, according to audio from the investigation obtained by the Observer's Jim Schutze.)
For the second time in as many election cycles, the DMN endorsed a political novice over Kingston, seemingly because they just really don't like the council member's attitude. Saturday night, that endorsement bore fruit. Real estate moneyman David Blewett got 47% support in the first round of Dallas' municipal election, forcing the three-term incumbent into what's sure to be a tough runoff.
The Morning News editorial page hasn't given up all of its long-held values. It's staunchly pro-business, even when it comes to obvious scams like Amazon's HQ2, and pro-immigration reform. With Dallas' lurch to the left and the Republican party's lurch to the right, however, its insistence on maintaining its conservative bona fides has caused it to take positions that are unrepresentative of the city for which it claims to speak.