Picking Apart The Dallas Morning News' Smug Sense of Its Own Virtue
Quite a bit of chest-puffing harrumphing holier-than-thou going on over at The Dallas Morning News editorial page today, with a self-congratulatory ditty about that dirty Rupert Murdoch, about those nasty dirty Brit tabloids and about how happy the News is with itself for being ... well ... you know ... just better than all that.
Our city's only daily newspaper tells us today: "Big tabloid headlines, paid-for scandals and page-three photos of semi-nude women might sell newspapers for Murdoch. But if that's what it takes to survive, we'll pass, thank you."
Oh, you're so welcome, you goody-goody two-shoed thing, you.
I'm not actually going to defend hacking the cell phones of murdered children, although I do have to admit that The News' unctuous tone inspires a certain evil temptation in me. Almost.
No, the phone hacking business, not to mention bribing cops and conspiring with politicians, goes too far in the direction of getting the story and getting your way at any cost, but what bothers me is the journalistic sin of going too far in the opposite direction -- deliberately not getting the story and not putting it in front of the readers.
And it strikes me that not getting the story can bring a newspaper to the same slimy slot Murdoch occupies, conspiring with politicians by fooling the readers.
One small example: this huge highway project we still seem to be stuck with called the Trinity River toll road.
When we ignorant slut citizens were allowed to vote on it in 2007, The Dallas Morning News joined the former mayor and a chorus of public works construction moguls in promising us that most of the cost of this wonderful new downtown highway would be covered by the regional toll road agency, not us.
Via. Covering, sure. Or burying it. Whatever.
It turned out to be a close election. The highway won. Now four years later the city is waking up to the fact that the highway is disastrously over budget and nobody's around to pay for the billion-dollar over-run, especially not the North Texas Tollway Authority. Nobody but us.
None of this needed to happen. We could have and would have voted the stupid thing down, had we known before the election that the story about the toll road people paying for it was untrue.
Here is my point. Old Mrs. Goody-Goody Dallas Morning News did know. Weeks before the election. She just didn't feel like sharing that knowledge with us ignorant sluts. Until after the election.
The head of the agency had told Michael Lindenberger, The News' toll road reporter, some weeks before the election that the NTTA was not going to come up with the extra money. But The News, a gung-ho news-bending all-out advocate for the road, sat on that story until the day after the election.
I outted them on it at the time, of course.
Two weeks later Morning News managing editor George Rodrigue offered a long, tangled, lawyerly defense of The News' handling of story, blaming it all on Lindenberger but coming to his defense anyway: "... Michael wanted to ensure that readers could put the quotation in proper context, and I respect that. Journalists often must balance speed with thoroughness and self-restraint, as Michael did here."
So there's where your goody-two-shoes no-naked-broads thing actually brings you. They're not just good. They are too good to tell you the truth, especially when that truth might have powerful relevance to ongoing politics and events.
The News acts the way it does as an expression of a deep-running culture within the paper. It has always believed that silence is better than truth when the truth might make trouble. It's motto should be, "All the news we feel like telling you."
The difference is that I have to read a Murdoch Brit tabloid with my eyes half-averted and a big grain of salt in my mouth. To read The Dallas Morning News, I have to put magic disappearing ink powder on it, hold it up to a mirror and maybe call in a cryptologist. Do I like Murdoch's papers better? Maybe not. But at least getting to the truth in them is a whole lot less work than with The News.