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Jim Schutze Won’t Let Facts Get in the Way of a Good Conspiracy Theory

Schutze and I will probably never be friends. And that makes me sad.
Photo by Allison V. Smith

Jim Schutze’s column this week is interesting. In it, he argues that politics has injected itself into the Police and Fire Pension System. Mayor Mike Rawlings wants the pension audited. According to Schutze’s conspiracy theory, Rawlings is giving the pension grief over its investments because he sides with the Nasher, which has no legal recourse in its fight over glare with the pension-owned Museum Tower. As evidence for his conspiracy theory, Schutze offers two exhibits: 1) a conversation that took place among the mayor and three members of two police associations, the details of which the two sides disagree on, and 2) the timing of the mayor’s request for an audit.

I’m going to ignore No. 1. As I say, the mayor and cops tell different stories about what happened. Let’s look at No. 2. Here’s what Schutze writes:

The first news organization in Dallas to raise serious questions about the financial underpinnings of the pension fund was the Dallas Observer, in a story by Anna Merlan published July 26, 2012. … Whatever the story accomplished, it was utterly ignored by city officials and by The Dallas Morning News until the sunburned sculpture garden came along.

After going over the discussion the mayor had with the police association guys, Schutze returns to the issue of timing. In sarcastically downplaying the timing of events, he writes:

Let’s even stipulate that the mayor and The Dallas Morning News just happened to be reading through old copies of the Observer and came across Merlan’s story at about the same time the sunburned sculpture garden story came along, entirely by sheer coincidence.

Schutze’s conspiracy theory goes like this: Merlan writes a great story about the pension’s high-risk real-estate bets. No one cares about said story. Then the issue of the glare off Museum Tower comes up. THEN the mayor and his buddies begin to care about the pension’s finances, because it’s the only way they can put pressure on the pension to fix the glare problem it has created.

There is one huge problem with this theory. Merlan’s story about the pension’s finances came out about four months after the glare issue became a matter of public debate. Michael Granberry was the first to publish a story about the glare, late on March 28, 2012. Now, Granberry only got there first because he caught wind that I was working on a story. Not sore about it. That’s just the way things go sometimes when you work for a monthly magazine with a long lead time. I was reporting the story for our May issue. We went ahead and posted the article sometime in early April, though the first time-stamped reference I can find is April 19. Then, of course, for the month of May, Schutze saw this cover image every time he went to Whole Foods for oat bran or whatever. Then June rolled by. Then most of July. And then the Observer published Merlan’s story.

Here’s what I find really hard to process. Between the publication of Granberry’s glare story and the publication of Merlan’s financial story, Schutze wrote six items about the glare coming off Museum Tower. In fact, Schutze and I were already fighting about the glare issue in late April.

What happened with Museum Tower is far less sexy than Schutze believes. The glare issue came up. In writing about the glare, I touched on the risky nature of the pension’s investments. Fine, if you want to say I did not “raise serious questions,” then I won’t quibble. Four months later, as the controversy continued to marinate, Merlan’s fine story advanced the ball. No question. And then city leaders started digging deeper into the pension’s finances, asking to see audits and so forth. It was a logical progression.

Schutze is a great writer. There is no one better in this city at taking a complex civic issue and building a narrative from it. But sometimes he falls in love with his own storytelling and that love leaves him blind to the facts.