PAMELA IS furious. Outraged might be a more fitting term. Also rude. And hostile. Pamela is being very nasty to me over the telephone because I, Rowland Stiteler, personally have ruined her life.
“Howard just spent $3600 on our alarm system, and now you come along and tell me that it’s worthless. You’ve told me that my alarm system won’t do a darn thing to keep burglars out of my home. Why did you have to tell me that?”
“I didn’t want to know that. You didn’t have to print that. We already know that we have a crime problem in North Dallas. We don’t need some irresponsible person like you coming along and writing about how to burglarize a home. What ever possessed you to do that? I hope your home gets burglarized.”
“It already has, ma’am. Twice. That’s why we…”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing, buddy. You can take your magazine subscription and shove it. I hope you suffer like we have.”
Welcome to a typical afternoon at D Magazine. At least what’s been typical since we printed last month’s cover story, “Crime in North Dallas,” by Mary Can-dace Evans. We have been literally deluged with angry telephone calls. And letters. Cheery little communications like the following:
“A great big Thumbs Down to D Magazine for endorsing and printing such a gross, irresponsible article, “How to Burglarize a Home….”
“On behalf of every burglar and sneak thief in the Dallas area, I would like to thank you for your feature article. Not only was there a map showing where the best pickings would be, there was a list of the tools needed, and basic instructions every beginning thief needs upon starting a life of crime. It also pointed out that burglary is lucrative and safe….”
“The reason we can’t keep ’this man out of our homes’ is because of irresponsible articles such as your ’Crime in North Dallas’…”
“Your article on how to burglarize a home showed poor judgment and poor taste. I am canceling my subscription and hope others will do the same….”
You get the drift. People are mad, and the focal point of their anger, at least for the moment, seems to be this sinister character you reach by calling 748-9166 and asking for the editor. One of the more popular questions to ask the person at this end of the telephone line is this: “Aren’t you sorry you did such a thing? Aren’t you sorry you made us mad?”
If that question has occurred to you, I can save you a phone call. I’m not sorry. I’m elated. We wanted to make you mad. And it looks like we have succeeded beyond our wildest expectations.
Most freshman journalism students are told that the principal role of a reporter is to make people mad. With some qualifications, I fervently endorse that concept.
We want to make you mad about crime in North Dallas. And if you need the momentary catharsis of focusing your rage at D Magazine, then fine. The whole point of our article was to bring your attention to the problem. And if you are mad at us because of that problem, then we have at least made some progress. You are now at least thinking about the problem.
The central claim of all the angry letters and phone calls has been that in our sidebar story, “How to Burglarize a Home,” we gave people the necessary expertise to begin a life of crime. That’s ludicrous for several reasons. Professional burglars already know how to do it. How do you think we found out? From a burglar. (Who, incidentally, is currently doing a 70-year prison sentence.) And the fact is that an amateur doesn’t have to be Einstein to know that he can cut your electric lines and phone lines to kill most burglar alarms. If burglars turned to D Magazine to learn their trade, there would be no burglary epidemic in North Dallas. We are very proud of the fact that the average household income of our readers is more than $56,000 a year. How many people making $56,000 a year will throw away a career at the architecture firm to become a cat burglar? Come on.
I submit that the real reason for most of our readers’ anger is that we have made them feel vulnerable in those bastions of security for which they signed enormous mortgages: their homes. Making you feel vulnerable is exactly what we were trying to do. That’s step one toward doing something about the problem. The solution is not to simply have another martini, crank the air conditioning down a few more degrees, and pop another movie tape in the Betamax. You are vulnerable in your North Dallas homes. You are losing the war against crime. We think you need to know it. If you feel that calling us and voicing your anger is the way to address the problem, then do so. But we suggest there are more productive ways to vent your frustrations.
Why not get mad about the fact that the vast majority of the burglary cases are plea bargained by the district attorney’s office? We didn’t create the fact that a burglar’s chances of going to prison – if he is caught – are only one in 50. We simply reported that fact to you. Why not get mad about the fact that it is still quite easy for burglars to sell your family heirlooms at a silver exchange, or a pawn shop, or a flea market, or through the newspaper classified ads? Why not get mad about the fact that the City of Dallas simply can’t afford to have police cars patrol residential streets at all? Directing your rage in that direction might do something more than venting your anger. It might help solve the problem.
One woman told me she was so mad at us that she was going to see that her state legislator knows about what we wrote. That’s the best idea I’ve heard yet.
JULIA SWEENEY makes her living through voyeurism. She is the most popular gossip columnist around because she is the most skillful at exploiting human emotion: the lurid details of some executive’s divorce, the intimacies that mightor might not have been discussed whentwo high-profile people meet for lunch atthe Mansion. Julia considers the personallives of the rich and the famous to be herbusiness, business she shares with aquarter of a million readers. You read itand love it. Everybody gets a good laugh.Except the people whose personal lives areexposed in the pages of the Times Herald.Since turnabout is fair play, we thoughtyou might like to read a little about MissSweeney’s personal life. That’s why wehired a private detective to follow her for aweek and report on who she dates, whatshe does with her free time, and what shereally does at those parties she’s alwayswriting about. So it is in the highest interest of fair play that we print where MissSweeney was at 11:31 p.m. on March 11.If your interest in fair play compels you tofind out, turn to page 82.