A backhand compliment Austin Newspaper editorials are widely held to rank right up there with journals of chiropractic as edifiers and scintillators of the reading public. There are two schools of thought as to the reason for this lack of quality. One holds that becoming a writer of editorials automatically makes a person a scoundrel, a fool, and a shameless panderer to whatever Established Interests control the news in his bailiwick. The other prefers to think that writers of editorials are human beings eligible for salvation, but that even the most enlightened and forthright of them find it impossible to be clear-headed and foursquare every single day. Now, many progressive persons of my acquaintance think the situation is even worse in Texas than in other locales. They maintain strenuously that the state’s entire spectrum of daily newspaper editorializing can be fit into the range between listless and vigorously wrong-headed. They have even been heard to get statistical about it, claiming that 99 out of 100 Texas editorials contain either the sentence, “The idea certainly deserves further study” or some expression of the sentiment, “This wouldn’t have happened if the death penalty were [choose one] extended to cover such crimes/more often handed down.” In their despair, they prefer The Dallas Morning News’ pronunciamentos over all others, since they can at least giggle at the News. \(These are the same perverse folks, of course, who consider Robert Baskin the greatest journalistic advance THERE’S NO disputing taste, but I tend to prefer less unrelievedly disagreeable editorial columns. Pleasant surprises and the possibility of redemption add spice to the print diet. For this reason I am happy to .recommend to my cynical friends that they try reading the editorials in the San Antonio Express. Many of them will be astounded at my sudden kindness toward the Express, since they have heard the billingsgate I have previously reserved for the paper. I can only say that time has made me more temperate, that I have read several pieces of real journalism in the paper, that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin etc., that I wouldn’t miss the Sunday political tidbits page, and that we’re talking ,about editorials here. \(I reserve the right to hold to my opinion that the Express is the ugliest paper west of I first noticed the editorials, I guess, when the paper weighed in for the 18 The Texas Observer Notions I I resignation of Richard Nixon. That was last December, which put the Express somewhere behind Father Drinan, but considerably in front of Tom Railsback, in the mandate-withdrawal sweepstakes. It also gave the paper a seven-month lead on the rest of the state’s dailies. And it built up momentum for a Sept. 10 editorial headed “Nixon pardon concedes he’s guilty of crime,” which called the pardon Nixon’s “plea-bargaining deal with President Ford,” “Ford’s King’s X,” and proof that “the rich, the powerful, and the prominent get one standard of justice; the rest get another.” The editorial concluded this way: “The Express rejects this concept of double standards as being demeaning of President Ford and repugnant to this democracy.” Here are some other highlights of September columns: On Sept. 7, an item titled “State surplus looks terrific until viewed beside unmet needs”: “There is ecstatic talk of a state government surplus totaling very nearly $1 billion … Our view is that with critical state responsibilities only partially fulfilled, the ecstasy is misplaced.” The editorial went on to recommend increased government expenditures for “locally controlled programs” for delinquent juveniles, prison reform, school finance reform, and state employee pay raises, and closed by rejecting false notions of economy as “cutting essential corners so that smug officials can claim they have met their responsibilities without raising taxes.” On Sept. 25, a short piece blasting the DPS investigation of Robert Pomeroy, calling the confidential tips that led to the snooping “scanty tidbits” and ironically complimenting DPS agent David Dimick for his imagination. On Sept. 28, a headline calling UT Board of Regents Chairman A. G. McNeese “dead wrong” for his statements on the public’s need to know the details of the firing of Stephen Spurr. The Express said the background is “very much the people’s business and, given the details, they can evaluate it quite well.” ALL RIGHT, so Brann and Mencken are not rising from their graves to subscribe. I didn’t say the paper was a hardened trench-fighter for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. But did your paper came out against CIA involvement in Chile, in favor of requiring Billy Clayton to pledge his support of last session’s rules, or in favor of letting freeways “become unattractive” to encourage patronage of mass transit even in the moderate terms used by the Express? There have been editorials that don’t fit this mold, of course. There have also been unfortunate slips of accuracy \(referring to the House Judiciary Committee report as if it were still to be completed when in fact it had already been presented to the House, been so much more aggressive than other Texas papers’ that I was beginning to suspect that Rupert Murdoch, the Australian king of kitsch-journalism who owns the Express, was planning to turn the page into an extension of the National Star, his peach-colored answer to the National Enquirer. After all, the Star is about as retiring as Gorgeous George, and it could be just a matter of arithmetic progression. What if writing editorials that didn’t make me titter, fume, vomit, or yawn were only a way-station along a curve toward hard-hitting pieces like “Express endorses charity for man who ate own finger!!!!” and the like? I was reassured by a conversation with Bill Reddell, the Express’s editorial page editor and one of three people who write editorials for both the Express and the News, its afternoon sister. Mr. Reddell has not a trace of the scandal-sheet outback in his voice or his manner. In fact, he is of the opinion that the Express has not changed its editorial outlook that much. Hasn’t changed the personnel involved at all, he said. “I think it’s just that the news breaks of the past several months have been more interesting than usual,” he said modestly. Maybe so, I said, but didn’t the Express make its own news with that shot at Nixon in December? “Well, we did come out pretty tough early in the game that well, that the guy was a crook, though we didn’t put it that way, of course. You know, before the ’72 election we suggested that Watergate was not an ordinary third-rate burglary. Oh, we endorsed the guy, but it wasn’t an enthusiastic endorsement. McGovern’s campaign sort of came apart, you know. It wasn’t an enthusiastic endorsement. “And we raised a lot of hob with the Board of Regents recently, but there was a big dust-up over the firing of the UT-San Antonio med school dean, and that was in the Harte-Hanks days [in 1972, under the paper’s previous ownership] . I think a straightforward, aggressive editorial page fits the pattern of the Murdoch people, but . . . I really don’t think there’s been a change in the basics.” Depends on which basics you’re talking about. Redell and his colleagues aren’t turning out Peking duck, but after a sizeable dose of your basic Texas-daily gruel, even a raw pork chop would look good. J.F.
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