Watch Carefully as The Dallas Morning News Tippy-Toes Away from John Wiley Price
If you are a regular reader of The Dallas Morning News, Dallas's only daily newspaper since 1991, and if you are following the federal corruption investigation of John Wiley Price, the county's most powerful black politician, then from here on out you need to put on your magnifying specs and read the fine print. The News has already started trying to write itself out of this story, an effort that will only get more obvious as this business unfolds.
Why is The News in it? Oh, you have not been keeping up, have you? Tsk-tsk. I thought I told you there would be an exam later on Jim Schutze columns.
If all you remember is Price as the firebrand protester who slow-walked with his "Warrriors" across the front of The News' property 20 years ago, then you may be in for a very bad grade. Since then The News has transmogrified into Price's principal aider, abettor, hagiographer and co-conspirator.
They love this guy.
It was only last April 17 that News reporter Scott Parks, normally a fine journalist, penned a kiss-ass portrait of Price, drooling over his collections of classic cars and weird Barbie Dolls, in which Parks offered this reportorial rebuff to Price's critics: "What most people don't see," Parks wrote, "is his day-to-day dedication to improving county government."
Ah, yes. That and ... how many cars are there again?
Now Price is the subject of an FBI investigation. That doesn't make him guilty of anything. But it sure has The News crab-walking away and covering its own traces.
Photos by Mark Graham
The News has embraced Price warmly in recent years, working aggressively and shoulder-to-shoulder with him in what history will certainly deem to be Price's greatest betrayal of his own people, whether he ever gets indicted for it or not -- the Inland Port deal.
In 2005, Price led an effort to stymie development of a massive rail and shipping development called the Inland Port in the black part of the city. The Inland Port promised more than 60,000 well-paid jobs with benefits in an area of the city that has had a Third World economy since Reconstruction.
The main developer, Richard Allen, had just completed five years of land purchases, planning and permission-seeking from Dallas and other communities involved and was ready to start selling and leasing land. But Price decreed that the whole thing needed to be put on hold. He said lots more planning was needed before Allen would be ready for prime time.
This was just after Allen had shot down an attempt by four of Price's allies to get Allen to give them $1.5 million and a 15 percent cut of his family-owned company in exchange for their help making sure he didn't have any political problems with southern Dallas politicians.
In a story in Wednesday's Morning News, reporter Gromer Jeffers seeks to perpetuate two untruths about this transaction. We might call one of them a known untruth, in Rumsfeld-speak, and the second is more of a known unknown. But Jeffers knows better on both.
Of the demand that Price's allies made for a 15 percent stake in Allen's company, Jeffers writes, "The trio also wanted an opportunity to purchase 15 percent ownership in the development."
But both Allen and Price himself told me at the time that there was never any "purchase" contemplated in this picture. Allen told me when the group asked for an equity stake in the company, he told them everything he had out there on the ground was for sale. All they needed to do was give him an offer.
What he got was silence from them and more pressure from Price, who started doing everything he could to screw up a crucial road and bridge project Allen needed done on Wintergreen Road in Hutchins.
I discussed this with Price at the time. I asked why, if the group wanted equity, they didn't come up with some money for it. He told me that what they offered in exchange for equity was not money but "intellectual capital."
That would be the part about helping make sure Allen didn't get no windows broke, speaking in strictly political terms of course. That's "intellectual capital."
The other little tippy-toe dance-around in Jeffers's story involves an attempt to include state Sen. Royce West, in whose district the project was being developed, in the gravy train. In today's story, Jeffers reports as fact that it was the leader of the group, Pettis Norman, a Dallas Cowboy 100 years ago, who told Senator West it would be naughty for him to be a member for the group.
It would have been naughty for sure. West had major direct legislative say-so over important public funding for the project. The proposal was that West should be a hired consultant for Allen, helping make sure Allen didn't have any problems with people who had major direct legislative say-so over him (wink-wink).
In his report, Jeffers writes: "West was originally tapped to be the fourth member of the consulting group, which they called SALT, but Norman shot down the idea."
Yeah, that's what Norman says.
But as I reported at the time, Allen said different. Way different. He said he was the one who told Norman it would be screwed-up and shady for him to hire West, because West had major direct legislative say-so over him.
The guy really pushing all of this on Allen was southern Dallas radio personality Willis Johnson, now a contractor with DART, the city and the school district. Johnson also is the main southern Dallas political consultant to our recently elected mayor, Mike Rawlings.
Allen told me he told Johnson that hiring West was out of the question because of the obvious ethical pitfalls. He said Johnson came back at him several times. Allen quoted Johnson as telling him, "It's already been cleared with the ethics commission in Austin."
That would be the Texas State Ethics Commission -- an entity that any heads-up businessman would understand was an oxymoron at its birth and might as well be called the "Official State of Texas Cover-up and Alibi Commission for Way-Shady Sleazy Deals."
Allen told me: "I said, 'Well, I don't care if it's been cleared or not. It makes absolutely no sense. He needs to be able to represent his constituents.'"
In other words: fuggetaboutit.
But Allen says Johnson came back again, this time with the whole group on a speakerphone. "They were in a panic to get hold of me. And they were on speakerphone. They didn't tell me at the time that Royce was there, but I suspected that he was, just because they're asking me the same questions all over again, [as in], 'Now help me understand why.'"
He says later that Norman admitted to him that West had been present for that call. Norman told me that Allen was lying and that he had never said that.
But, look. You don't just report as fact that, 1) The Willis Johnson group wanted to pay for the equity they demanded, and 2) It was the high ethical standards of the Willis Johnson group that kept the greedy senator at bay. We know the first is not true. We know the second is staunchly disputed.
In a story about all this published in the News on April 12, 2009, Jeffers and county reporter Kevin Krause summed up the whole problem as a misunderstanding caused by Allen's own racial insensitivity: "Allen, who is white, appeared blind to the county's complicated racial politics," they reported as fact.
In an editorial four days later, the News wagged its finger at Allen for trying to rip off southern Dallas: "Going forward, white-dominated companies must keep foremost in mind the unique history of southern Dallas. It is not simply a great business opportunity to be exploited for maximum profit."
As I reported at the time, Allen's record for minority participation on his jobs far outstripped anything done by local Dallas companies. On the Wintergreen Bridge project, for example, Allen's minority participation was 55 percent. The prominent local company on that job championed by Commissioner Price had a minority participation of 4.9 percent.
Allen provided Price with a list of minority elected officials in areas all over the nation where he had done business and asked Price to contact them and inquire about his racial sensitivity. As far as Allen could tell, nobody ever called any of them.
Part of the wild hypocrisy in all this is the News' Pulitzer Prize winning series of editorials calling for a clean-up, spruce-up campaign in black southern Dallas devoted mainly to litter and code enforcement. Too bad their daily newspaper cronies on the Pulitzer committee never bothered to check out their record on the Inland Port.
But here's the point now. The News has been pushing and promoting Price and his agenda for years. We can talk about why later. It will all come out. Basically, Price, who is very smart, has figured out the formula. There is no Dallas or Dallas County. There is no Fort Worth or Tarrant County. Those are meaningless abstractions.
In the world of power and money in North Texas there are only families -- five or six. Price picked a couple to work for.
From here on out, if you read the News closely, you are going to see them doing with Price exactly what they are also trying to do with their other great passion, the proposed Trinity River Toll Road. They're going to be busy getting their story right by getting it wrong.
Don't forget. There will be a quiz in heaven.