The News Muddies the Waters over our Vanishing Trinity Lakes
Yesterday morning after I read the story in The Dallas Morning News about the so-called Trinity lakes the city is going to build, I went straight to the kitchen and put my face under the cold water tap, then gave myself a couple of sharp slaps and said loudly, "No, Jim, no more pissing matches with the News about the stupid Trinity River project."
City of Dallas This is what they promised us. This will never be built.
At some point several years ago, I thought I had brought myself to a point of equilibrium on this. I told myself that the News isn't deliberately lying to people about this vast project if the people who work at the paper are legitimately impaired. Instead they are enunciating reality as it really appears to them through the refraction of their impairment. I was OK for a couple years. But then I read the thing yesterday -- hours before our witless City Council voted overwhelmingly to endorse the puddle plan -- and my keyboard fingers started twitching again.
I almost never blame the reporters. Instead I think I see the handiwork of editors, who are all looking over their shoulders at executives who are looking over their shoulders at owners.
In this instance, reporter Tom Benning, a solid hand, did a good job getting the basic concept of puddles high in the story as opposed to the concept of lakes. This is a story we told you about two weeks ago: In 1998 when voters were asked to vote for a huge public works project along the river, the bond issue was sold as a parks project, and the public was shown graphics depicting vast man-made lakes dotted with sailboats. But soon after the votes approving the project were tallied, City Hall revealed that the real plan all along was to build an expressway along the river, cutting off downtown from any parks or lakes to be built.
Two weeks ago, after 16 years of dithering and nary a shovel of dirt turned for the lakes, a city official revealed to a committee of the City Council that almost all of the money for the lakes had been spent already on other stuff. The official also listed a series of unforeseen engineering issues that will limit what can be built to one to three 20-acre ponds. Puddles, in other words.
What made my fingers twitch in Benning's piece was the last paragraph in which he allowed Assistant City Manager Jill Jordan to make an assertion, apparently unchallenged by Benning, to the effect that the puddles are an installment payment on the full vision of the lakes, which will come to fruition in time: "The city is going to have to build it out over time, bond program by bond program, donation by donation," Jordan is quoted as saying.
See. That's the thing. In the entire story to that point, Benning does a fair job of showing that two things will stop that from ever happening. The money's gone. Even if we had the money, the city is now citing a whole series of physical and engineering obstacles that will preclude the construction of anything bigger than puddles.
But if he had left it there -- the lakes cannot be built -- and not allowed Jordan unchallenged weasel room at the end, then the reader would have been forced to draw the obvious inference: "Oh. They fucking lied to us. The bastards told us they wanted the money so they could build big sailboat lakes downtown. What they really wanted to build was a highway, but they knew we wouldn't vote for a highway. So they showed us pictures of lakes with sailboats and, get this, solar-powered water taxis, like bread and circuses for the Roman masses, and we fell for it. Now they are forced to admit that they lied."
Something in the culture at the News, in the editing process, the recruitment process, the water, whatever, something stops them from ever divulging what they think might be a destabilizing truth. If the Martians really were coming in spaceships to eat us, the News would find a way to say that the upcoming visit of the interplanetary newcomers is being greeted with optimism and high hopes by the city's convention and visitors bureau. In this instance, however, there is a great big obvious question that needs to be answered. What if you took the highway out of there? Huh?
There's almost $30 million still sitting there for a big stupid toll road that's underfunded by $2 billion or more, wouldn't go where anybody wants to go, would greatly exacerbate downtown air pollution and, frankly, is never going to be built because it's too stupid. So what if we just killed that son of bitch? Wouldn't we have room for the lakes then? And money?
In 2007 we had a referendum on the proposed toll road in which the issues were hugely misrepresented by a public works lobby willing to spend millions to hang on to its bowl of soup. But we ought to be able to frame it for people more plainly now. Who wants lakes? Who wants a toll road? Show of hands.
Sometimes I try to imagine what a show of hands would look like in the city room at the News. I guess it would look like Jesse James was in town -- everybody reaching for the sky with both hands. Yeah. It's a culture.