PECOS’ BATTLE OF THE PRESSES ‘God Don’t Make Men of Any Such Makes’ information.” The records, collected by the part-time reporter, were dutifully compiled, alphabetized, and eventually handed over to Griffin with the instructions: write it up. Griffin is quick to admit as much. “All I did was write it up,” he told the Observer. “The credit is something that has to be shared.” Credit must be shared with several townspeople as well, for the publishers weren’t the only ones to notice the strange accumulation of tank mortgages. Propp says several other people had also noticed the phenomenon and, in fact, one of his friends had started saving the records for his own curiosity. When the Independent eventually published its findings, it was done as a community service, of course. Dr. Harlow Avery, chief stockholder in the Independent, a millionaire by inheritance, and co-owner of the largest clinic in Peccis, said: “I didn’t feel we were fighting Estes. We were fighting immorality, not an individual. I feel the whole country is in a moral decline. This was just something the community should know about. . . . I don’t feel I’m in journalism, because I don’t know how to write. My role is policy, and my policy is to tell the community the truth about things it needs to know.” In this instance, however, telling the community “the truth about Estes” also served to help the Independent, for when the exposure came about, Estes had been in competitiontough competitionwith the Independent for several months through his newspaper, the Pecos News, which published its first issue last August 1. Estes’ venture into journalism came about in this fashion. Billie Sol, until early last year, was not too dissatisfied with the Pecos Independent. He had placed his share, through his myriad companies, of advertising in the Independent, and in return had asked no more than what most big advertizers ask of a small paper more than his share of free publicity. But Billie Sol and the publishers of the Independent were at opposite poles in their political philosophies. Billie Sol was a political liberal; publishers of the Independent were one and all political conservatives. One of them. Dr. John Dunn, who sold out his share in the Independent to Propp last May, was an admitted memher of the John Birch Society. Propp says he thinks Senator Goldwater would be the best president. And Dr. Avery, though not a Bircher, admits he is prone to awfully inflexible feelings. He said, “I feel very strong about things. I don’t feel there is any gray area. It’s either black or white with me.” Not surprisingly, their newspaper regularly carries columns by Goldwater, David Lawrence, and Paul Harvey. But while they feel this way politically, they are less rigid than Estes about some things. When Billie Sol ran for the school hoard last spring, he let it he known that he was against \(lancing in the schools. He also let it he known that he didn’t look kindly on the short skirts worn by the high school cheerleaders. He talked of reforms. The publishers of the Independent, all of whom consi’ high school dances harmless, took this opportunity to not only break with Estes but to oppose him editorially. One of the Independent’s -candidates won. The other school board seat Nvas taken just to make Billie Sol’s wound all the deeperby a write-in candidate. The day after the election, Billie Sol laid plans to set up an opposition paper and seek revenge. The Opposition But what does a town of 12,000 need with a second newspaper? Only deep-seated animosity on the part of the community toward the existing newspaper could supply the answer. Two months later Estes thought good fortune was opening the way for the necessary animosity. On May 11, 1961, the Peco Independent ran a story mid-way down the front page, with a 48point head: “DOCTOR FACES MORALS CHARGE.” The story told of a 41-year-old Pecos physician who was charged with sodomy when a 15-year-old Pecos youth signed a statement accusing the physician of immoral conduct. But before the doctor could even be booked, he “took an overdose of something,” in the words of the Independent, and was sent to the hospital in critical condition. This was no ordinary suspect. The physician was active in Boy Scout work, was a director of the Rotary club, a deacon in the Presbyterian \( hurch, organizer of the Pecos Athletic Assn., and president of the local five-county medical society. A man with that many connections is hard to pin a morals charge on, and especially when the accusing youth is a LatinAmerican \(remember, this is West against the Independentas its staff and publishers conceded town that the police chief and Dr Dunn had been schoolmates. Dr. Dunn and the accused physician had frequently been at odds. Preston Hawks, who is publisher of the newspaper Estes was to found, had what was probably a typical reaction for the anti-Dunn people. “Anybody who grew up down here,” he said, “would know you can get a Mexican to say anything for $10.” Propp, looking back to that period with realism, told the Observer: “Estes, he ‘figured that wave of sentiment against us would put his new paper in solid.” The controversial Dr. Dunn, former publisher but still ally of the Independent, was a central figure in another event that divided the town. Tracy Byers, editor of the News, said Dunn was deputized by the chief of police around at night chasing people off the street who he thought should be obeying the curfew that rang in his own head. Dunn also tried to get the druggist at Ben’s Pharmacy to take some magazines off the shelf that Dunn disapproved of. According to Byers, Dunn even organized a little group of vigilantes; in strong reaction, another group of prominent Pecos citizens organized their counter-group of vigilantesnobody knowing for sure what they were being vigilant about, but each side knowing for darn sure it didn’t like the men on the other side. Byers said for several weeks last summer there was more pistol packing in Pecos than since the days of Judge Roy Bean. A Project Launched The first issue of Estes’ ambitious revenge-seeking daily carried a front page congratulatory wire from President Kennedy, THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page X June 1, 1962 and inside a full page of congratulatory letters and wires from Sam Rayburn, Lyndon Johnson, Cong. J. T. Rutherford, Ralph Yarborough, and recently discharged James T. Ralph of the U.S. Agriculture Department. That issue was 24 pages. Nowadays the news does good to hit eight pages, often it makes only six. Not again was the news able to boast of such close ties with Washington until Jan. 28, this year, when page three was given over to pictures and text under the headline “MRS. ESTES, MRS. FOSTER DESCRIBE WASHING-TON WHIRL.” One picture showed Mrs. Jamie Whitten \(wife of the Mississippi congresswife of Estes’ seated together. Another showed Linda Bird Johnson talking with Billie Sol. The text told, in part, of a Sunday afternoon at the Johnson home. Says Avery: “They had employees running out their ears. Hardly room to turn around.” There was cut-throat competition from the first. When the News went into business, the Independent’s advertising dropped about one-third. Two of the Independent’s biggest advertisers each takes a full page nearly every issueare supermarkets. To try to pull these away, Estes went out personally and tried to solicit ads from them. He sent letters to his employees urging them to patronize only those who advertised in his paper. And one supermarket manager was told by a friend in a friendly way that if he didn’t start putting some advertising into the News, he might start having trouble with the city council about how far out his awning hung over the sidewalk. And there was knock-down competition between the staffs. woman’s editor of the Independent, gives this illustration: “One of the things that made me madder than anything else was that I had taken 10 picture at five different meetings and left the holders in my car to take another, and came out to see one of their photographers leaving my car and all my slides exposed. “Estes was considered a kind of god here for a long, long while and he’s given a lot of people good jobs, or people in a bind he’d give ’em some money. . . . He’s hurt a lot of people too, but that’s been less advertised. . . . The Church of Christ people in this town \(an lot of them feel he has been framed.” ‘Moment of Truth She said that about the time the tank transactions were first under study, the News “began to run a lot of tin-cup ads, congratulating Future Farmers Week, National Education Week, that sort of thing. In my column” \(Pecos pendent was waiting for National Tank Week.” This was just one of several snide remarks that passed between the papers. Then came the moment of truth. The Independent publishers and editor Griffin talked it over and decided the affair had gone on long enough. The first tank article was published February 12. It and the others to follow, though loaded with decipherable material, were circumspect. The herd was “TANK TALLY SHOWS OVER 15,000 HERE.” No names were mentioned. The opening paragraphs said: “Reeves County may well be the anhydrous ammonia tank capital of the worldon paper that is. The News responded in a typically dollar bludgeoning way. When the News had opened its doors, it distributed ad rate cards showing that it would sell advertising space at $1.12 an inch. After the first tank expose story appeared in the Independentthe very next day, in factthe News ran a full page announcement cutting ad space rates to 50 cents an inch. The Independent charges 80 cents. The second tank expose article appeared a week later, opening, “Ammonia tanks in Reeves County are big business. An amount that almost staggers the imagination$13 millionis involved…. “It has been noted that there are supposedly 15,000 paper tanks in Reeves County. . . .” On March 1 the third article appeared, still with its tone of savage humor: “Look for an upsurge in the buying of anhydrous ammonia tanks in West Texas during March. “That would appear to be the indication if the transactions of 1962 live up to the volume of business done on ammonia tanks in 1951. . . .” Renewed Effort Thirteen days later somebody set _ire to the rear of the Independent’s building, burning the rear doors and some newsprint before it was put out by firemen. Editor Griffin jested in a frontpage column: “Somebody apparently got tired of the heat being turned on them by the Independent Tuesday night and decided to take, the paper out of the frying pan and put it into the fire. . . . “Consequences: A stepped-up effort by the Independent to bring its readers the news of the town in which they live, in addition to whatever action may be taken by law enforcement officers.” And indeed the stepped-up effort was forthcoming, and , also forthcoming was the arrest of Estes, which the Independent heralded with an extra. Now for the first time the News was able to demonstrate its adamant loyalty to Billie Sol. It did so by two devices: either ignoring the news concerning his trouble with the law, or playing it down as of no consequence. Actually, long before Billie Sol got in trouble the News had shown itself a strange judge of news. On Jan. 27, for example, its main frontpage headline was “RUTHERFORD ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY FOR FIFTH TERM IN U.S. CONGRESS,” which came as no surprise to anybody in Texas. The same day, under a onecolumn head, there was this news: “SUIT ASKS $15 MILLION FOR LAND.” It so happens, this is the largest lawsuit ever filed in Reeves County. So in a way the News could claim to be consistent when, on May 20, for example, it ran an eight-column front page banner: “PECOS HIGH SCHOOL SEN-IORS BACCALAUREATE TO-NIGHT AT 8,” while at the very bottom of the page, under a small head, we read “SENATE STARTS ESTES PROBE TESTIMONY THIS MONDAY.” There is a certain tone about some of the News’ Estes-story headlines, too. . For . example, “ESTES REJOICES BECAUSE FRIENDS REMAIN LOYAL DURING WORST TROUBLE,” and, on April 17, a six-column banner, “ESTES CASE BECOMES POLITICAL FOOTBALL IN BOTH NATIONAL AND TEXAS CAMPAIGNS.” One of the most impressively loyal demonstrations on the part of the News staff was in the story headed, “WILSON’S CAMPAIGN TRAIL TOUCHES PE-COS BRIEFLY EN ROUTE TO AUSTIN.” This, mind you, was to describe the Pecos court of inquiry. \(Wilson’s assistants were The lead on that story reads, “Texas Attorney General Will Wilson on the campaign trail for the Democratic nomination for governor of Texas, flew into Pecos for a hearing in the Billie Sol Estes case in the morning and flew out in the afternoon for another political affair in Austin late Saturday afternoon.” ‘Something Heroic’ The man who writes such copy is, ordinarily, editor Tracy Byers himself. Byers, who worked on the Hoiles paper in Odessa before joining Estes in Pecos, sometimes was even more reckless in
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