missioner Scott raised serious ethical, if not legal, questions. Curtis, who had differed with Hill in the past, issued a statement asking the public: “What do you think Hill really wantsgood morale and adequate pay fdr this state’s prosecutors, or the support of the Amarillo newspaper in his race for governor?” And he said his threat of a lawsuit against the commissioners was made “to stop or remedy a breach of the law” and was in no way improper. Then came the restrictions on Globe-News reporters. Bill Cox, successor to Patsy Masterman on the courthouse beat, responded to Curtis’s threat of a libel suit by announcing that everything Curtis or his assistants said in Cox’s presence would from then on have to be considered on the record: no more “king’s X.” There was good reason for this notice; Cox could hardly allow Curtis to tell him in confidence, for example, some piece of strategy being prepared for use in his suit against Cox’s employer. Just the same, Curtis chose to take the warning amiss. He announced his “by appointment only” policy for Globe-News reporters, arguing that if he could not speak off the record, and if they could come in unannounced, heaven knows what kinds of carelessly dropped secrets they might pick up. Next consequence: the Globe-News went to court and asked for an injunction ordering Curtis to treat its reporters the same as others. But Curtis cited the recent Supreme Court ruling that the press has no special right of access to public facilities and questioned whether the paper could show it had been irreparably damaged by the restrictions. On the trial-court level, therefore, the paper lost, though some Globe-News reporters found they could usually get their’ appointments for “30 seconds from now.” Finally came July 23 and the debate, the event that had been awaited by, apparently, 190 personsthere were 86 empty seats in the Concert Hall-Theatre at the junior college. Between 20,000 and 30,000, though, watched the debate on one television channel or another, according to an estimate made by Stanley Marsh 3, owner of KVII-TV and the fellow responsible for the array of elderly, up-ended Cadillacs that startles motorists along Interstate 40 west of Amarillo. 16 OCTOBER 6, 1978. Curtis opened. After some grumbling about the format’s having been dictated by Whytewho insisted on a general debate instead of a comparison of each other’s ethicshe said the main difference between them had now been adjudicated in his own favor, and predicted also that the appeal would be decided for him. So now, why didn’t they just make peace? Whyte, that is, would “abandon this antagonism,” and the newspaper would go back to reporting the news instead of creating it; then the district attorney would be free to get back to his assigned duties and not have to spend his time defending himself. It is a wondrous fact that a good many of Amarillo’s legal minds took Curtis’s words as a straightforward peace offering. Whyte himself did not seem to notice any loading of the language. In a precise, cutting style, he merely made a wisecrack about the challenger’s apparently not wanting to debate, and went on with the statement he had prepared. The paper had been within its legal and ethical rights in reporting and commenting upon Curtis’s remarks to Scott, he said. The denial of the injunction was, after all, being appealed. Let us all leave off bickering, he concluded, and with the air cleared by today’s proceedings, move forward as a united communitynot new ideas for a newspaper executive in Texas, and especially for one who is also president of the chamber of commerce in his city and a member of many a civicminded board. So the debate ended, and the emptiness of it heightened the impression that in the whole three weeks, nothing had really happened. There were no judges for the debate, by the way, so not even that was real. Therefore, on the theory that the news sense Huff and Whyte had brought to bear could still use some examining, I talked in confidence with 25 Globe-News staff membersall that I could turn up by phone. \(As a former city editor-1965 to 1968under the Whittenburg regime, I was also wanting to catch up on newshad been overplayed. Several said they were embarrassed or shocked or disgusted. None said the story should have been skipped altogether. Also, though I elicited opinions from only 13 on the question of fairnessthe idea of asking this having occurred to me only about halfway through-11 of these thought a comment from Curtis should have been sought and included in the first story. “No decent paper does the things we did,” one staff member said. \(Whyte and Huff maintain that Curtis’s taped and transcribed remarks amounted to comments-before-the-fact from him on the merits of his threat. And it is also true that on subsequent days the paper carried Curtis’s outraged replies at conSomething about which Globe-News staff members feel nearly unanimous, and which may have had a lot to do with the way the Globe-News played its story, is the state of the news force under the new ownership. The staff, though proud of what it accomplishes under the circumstances, feels itself desperately short-handed and badly underpaid. Some of this feeling exists, surely, in any city room. But a dayside reportorial staff of 11including city editor and assistant city editor, beat reporters, general assignment reporters, the nominal farm writer and the nominal energy writeris penury compared to the staffs of the Whittenburg days \(and holdovers from those days confirm my recollection in obituary writers, I am told, do not have time even to check the files and see what the paper might have written in the past about the deceased. The paper has lost incalculably, too, by Thomas H. Thompson’s retirement as editor of the afternoon Globe-Times and Wes Izzard’s virtual retirement as editor of the morning Daily News. \(Izzard now has a sinecure as editor-in-chief of the Both men used to write daily columnsThompson’s often evocative and independent, Izzard’s at its best vigorously Republicanconservative. Neither paper has an editor-columnist now, or any local general columnist. Thus, while Amarillo and its environsas lively and colorful as any in the stateare growing and changing, the paper’s focus is contracting. Whyte says a small staff is not necessarily a drawback if it is an efficient staff; his, he says, is as good as any in Texas. But the fact is that the news and feature and photographic content is simply not what it used to be. Perspective cannot help suffering accordingly. With more good stories regularly appearing in the paper, Tom Curtis’s talk with Steve Scott might have been perceived by the editors as one of several good-sized dust-devils. As it was, it came out as a Pulitzerproportioned cyclonewith considerable bluster, but not much torque. Don Williams teaches journalism at Baylor University. He spent the summer free-lancing in the Panhandle. While Amarillo grows and changes, the focus of the GlobeNews contracts. Perspective cannot help suffering accordingly. With more good stories appearing regularly in the paper, the district attorney’s bullying might have been perceived by the editors as one of several good-sized dust devils; as it was, the story came out as a Pulitzer-proportioned cyclone.
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