suit seeks damages for advertising lost because of the alleged circulation fraud. The Morning News returned the favor, countersuing the Times Herald for similar fraud charges and accusing the Herald of dumping newspapers on a farm near Dallas. Each side is currently taking depositions from the other, and both have reportedly hired private detectives. To further entangle matters, the firm best able to resolve the dispute the Audit also a defendant in the lawsuit. The Times Herald filed suit against the ABC, contending that it colluded with the Morning News in publishing inflated figures. Until August, when an agreement was reached to allow the ABC to conduct an audit of both papers, its legal hands were tied. Free at last, the ABC has said it will complete the four-month audit in December. The suits were filed in federal court in Chicago, home of the ABC. Not one to avoid a knock-down drag-out, Attorney General Jim Mattox has also entered the fray. In February, the attorney general’s office notified the Morning News that it had “reason to believe” the newspaper had inflated its circulation figures, said Steve Gardner, an assistant attorney general in Dallas. Gardner said the attorney general intended to bring charges against the News under Texas’ deceptive trade practices and consumer protection act. “We had real concerns because if they [the Times Herald’s allegations] proved to be true, its [the Morning News’s] advertising customers are paying for something they’re not getting,” Gardner said. “That applies to commercial advertisers and anybody placing a classified ad to sell a ’76 Chevy.” The Morning News, convinced that Mattox got involved for political reasons there is no love lost between the News’s editorial page and the People’s Lawyer also sued Mattox for harassment. The case is to be heard in state district court in Dallas early next year. For now, the courtroom sniping has eased, but the attacks continue in print and elsewhere. On August 6, the Morning News’s Burl Osborne sent a letter to readers and advertisers announcing a new audit by the ABC and reiterating the paper’s position that the Times Herald’s “claims are unfounded.” The Herald replied in kind, issuing a brochure and August 28 letter over the signature of publisher Arthur E. Wible contending that the News “has deliberately, systematically and substantially inflated its circulation figures.” The Times Herald has demonstrated a zeal for running prominent news stories which emphasize Belo’s declining circulation in its suburban markets, as well as stories about the case itself. Can it be long before Singleton’s new acquisitions in Houston and Denver initiate similar coverage of their rivals? “Throughout this litigation, they have shown no hesitation to utilize their news columns to further their own personal interests,” says Jeremy L. Halbreich, general manager and executive vice president of the Morning News. “I’ll be the first one to say this lawsuit is of interest to the public. There’s no question about it. But you don’t treat it as if it’s the most important case in legal history.” B.A. the beginning.” Indeed. Before long, Singleton began exercising increasing control over editorial policy. In January 1982, in an incident that attracted national press attention, he fired a 23-year-old reporter on his first day of work. The offense? Failing to transcribe an advertiser’s press release exactly as the firm had submitted it. The release said that a department store had filed for court protection from creditors. In other words, bankruptcy. But the release avoided using the word “bankruptcy,” saying only that its “reorganization” plan is designed to achieve “restoration of profitability.” The reporter took it upon himself to clarify the announcement, adding financial information he got from company lawyers and briefly explaining Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Act. He was fired for “insubordination.” A few weeks later, the Philadelphia Inquirer disclosed that Singleton was selling editorial space to advertisers. He allowed at least seven advertisers to write their own news stories in exchange for buying $400 ads. Gale Scott was one reporter who survived the initial cutbacks. But not for long. Twice nominated for a Pulitzer prize for stories she wrote while the paper belonged to the Washington Post, Scott was a seasoned investigative reporter by the time Singleton took over. Not long thereafter, Singleton abandoned her brand of thorough, timeconsuming investigations and returned her to general assignment reporting. “They wanted short stories, good-news stories,” Scott said. “The editor put up a big bulletin board in the newsroom urging us to say something nice. She put cheerful stories on the board.” Scott’s final investigative piece concerned the increasing crime problem at a local mall, one of the Trenton Times’ biggest advertisers. The story statistically documented the rise in crime and the need for additional security guards. The day after the story ran, Scott took a vacation day at the Jersey shore. “I picked up the paper and saw that they had written a very large top-of-the-frontpage correction story saying the Trenton Times erred, that there is no crime problem at the mall,” Scott said. “They never contacted me. I was absolutely flabbergasted. They didn’t want to scare people about shopping at the mall.” Scott said that five years after the incident, she still feels a “profound sense of anger and hurt. I haven’t gotten over it. I just hope it doesn’t say something about the state of journalism in this country. I’m concerned that maybe it does.” In place of long, interpretive articles, which Singleton has said were written “for other reporters” rather than for readers, he favored sensational coverage of bizarre events and people, such as the legendary Jojo. Jojo was a man who weighed in excess of 500 pounds and who had been sent to jail for assaulting a teen-age girl with a Coke bottle. Jojo’s release his lawyer argued successfully that housing such a large man in a small cell was cruel and unusual punishment prompted a firestorm of protest, including a letter to the Times from the young woman’s mother. “Singleton thought this was the biggest story ever to come along,” said a reporter who asked not to be named. “He started running frontpage ballots for readers to vote on whether Jojo should be returned to jail. It fostered a lynch-mob mentality.” The Paper Chase BY 1983, EAGER to strike out on his own and ready to try again with a daily paper, Singleton left Allbritton for a partnership with Richard B. Scudder, a fourth-generation New Jersey newspaper publisher. Scudder had made a ton of money in 1970, when he sold his family’s Newark Evening News to Media General Corporation, the Richmond-based conglomerate. Scudder founded Garden State Paper Company an innovative newsprint recycling company which he also sold to Media General. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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