From the Publisher Bloodless

Why ideas don’t matter at the Morning News

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF A NEWSPAPER IN leading a city?

I raise this question because by the evidence of its election endorsements, nobody at the Morning News has. The editorial headlines alone reveal the essence of the problem, which is that the News seems to have no guiding vision, no principles, and no real reason to make any endorsements at all. All those are potentially disastrous afflictions for the city the News dommates as a monopoly newspaper.

In the bad old days of the ’50s and ’60s. Ihe News was consisEently infuriating, which at least made it interesting. Conservative Democrats were God’s chosen, liberals were Communists, and Republicans were Yankee disciples of Herbert Hoover. This world view was not easy to maintain, but the News’ editorials manfully held to the barricades. The paper’s pronouncements were so often repeated that the editorial writers were forced by pure boredom lo find new and inventive terms of vituperation to employ against its enemies. As a result, the editorial pages of those days bristled with a kind of furious energy, as the News fought to turn back the clock.

Two necessary events remade the News. A new generation took over the reins, resolved to bring it into modernity. With improved content and a renewed sense of confidence, the newspaper flexed its muscles and out-boxed the competition (the much-lamented Times Herald), giving the News its present monopoly in Dallas.

Monopoly, I surmise, is the problem. Total control has frozen the News in place. Having attained such dominance in the market, the newspaper doesn’t want to be seen as dominating. Having obtained such power, the News now seems strangely uneasy about exercising it, as if throwing any punches in any direction would suddenly awaken the city to the fact thai there’s only one fighter in the ring. So the newspaper has transformed itself into the voice of moderation. Ironically, it has carried this policy so far that it has become moderate 10 the extreme. Its executives must believe this policy makes the newspaper sound responsible and mature, when in fact it only makes it seem weak and afraid. Instead Dt leading the ctly ana-its readers by courageously marking a path to the future, the News acts as if it were gingerly tiptoeing its way through a field of landmines. Take its pre-elec-tion endorsements for Congress as a case study. Dick Armey, Sam Johnson, Pete Sessions, and Joe Barton are conservative Republicans. The News endorsed them. Eddie Bernice Johnson and Martin Frost are liberal Democrats. The News endorsed them.

In making these endorsements the News sometimes tendered gentle points of correction. It worried that the liberal Frost “often seems to be dogmatic.” It counseled the conservative Armey that he might be more effective if he were “less strident.” Dogmatism and stridency are not in favor in the hallowed halls of moderation the News is attempting to erect. These halls are not a place of principle and conviction and vision, of things worth debating and fighting over. No, the hallowed halls of the News’ editorial offices are loftier and nobler and quieter, a place where no shouting is necessary because there’s nothing worth shouting about.

What does that mean for Dallas? What the News would characterize as stridency and dogmatism, others might call passion and commitment, and those are the very qualities that cities are built on. A bloodless newspaper might make a good monopoly, but it also makes for monotony, and il requires those of us who care about this city to find other ways to carry on the battle of ideas that is necessary to forge its future.

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