September 18, 1970 7 disobedience might be, yet in Dallas he set perhaps the single most notorious example of it by refusing to respond to the complaint. No one on Newsroom enjoyed letting him get away with it. There was much talk about how the suit was dropped because the point was made. In terms of its public relations effect on KERA, that evaluation is probably accurate. The whole affair, in that way, has done KERA a world of good. It might be described on a point basis. KERA had, say, zero points before filing, 100 points once the suit was filed, and lost 50 when the suit was dropped. Still ahead. The point was made, as they say, and it probably did contribute toward making Newsroom a more respected force in Dallas. BUT THOSE considerations are basically irrelevant. Just because people think yoU’ve told them what’s going on, doesn’t mean you have. To be able to tell people what the hell’s going on, you have to prove it, and then you’ve got to be prepared to expect that most people won’t give a damn. Unless it’s a dramatic. Unless it reeks with sex and viciousness and personality. Such is the irony surrounding the Newsroom episode. The Dallas county commissioners holding a closed meeting is about as dramatic as a dog pissing on a fire hydrant. Still, the measures which might have been taken to suppress KERA had the suit been continued would likely have been both dramatic and enlightening. Newsroom and Channel 13, one might speculate, could well have become the journalistic cause celebre of the Southwest had Newsroom been free to stick it out. The argument was a recurring one, that Newsroom was in jeopardy, that the entire program might have been forced off the air. Since the bulk of Newsroom’s expenses are covered by a grant from the Ford Foundation, that means it would be necessary to force Channel 13 off the air. If attempted, such an event would be worthy of colossal publicity and enormous support. It was rumored that R. L. Thornton, Jr., chairman of the board of the Mercantile National Bank and a KERA board member, threatened to call in KERA’s loan, and that Stanley Marcus informed Thornton that if that happened the Neiman-Marcus account might be withdrawn from Thornton’s bank. Board chairman Ralph Rogers reasoned that the suit should never have been filed at all. Rogers’ feeling was that it was the press’ responsibility to report but not prosecute. There is substance to the argument that the press should be neither police nor prosecutor, yet in matters concerned with access to public information, the press is the only party for whom there are either circumstances or motivation to register complaintsIn fact, the Open Meetings Law under which Ritchey’s complaint was filed was passed by the Legislature at the urging of the Texas Newspaper Publishers Association. As Payne put it, “It was a newsman’s law.” Two other complaints have been filed’ under the law, and in both cases news organizations have brought the charges. The whole business rests on a simple matter. It was scarcely a fuse to set the world on fire, or even Dallas to smouldering. The county commissioners weren’t accused of plotting the overthrow of the government or of scheming up on some big land grab deal. They were simply charged with holding an illegally closed meeting. What makes it interesting and sad and important is the extent to which it underscores the susceptibility to pressure of news gathering organizations, particularly big ones. If a public TV station with foundation money is not immune to such thwarting pressures over such a small and reasonable issue, how can it be expected that the real core of some of the profund and troubling issues of our time can ever be examined over a continuous and searching period? LIKE ALL TV stations and newspapers, Channel 13 gets letters, and most of the letters it got during and following the suit against the commissioners court were lulus. One letter to KERA was addressed to Ralph Rogers.