AFTERWORD Editor’s Notes Editor’s Note: Observer editor Dave Denison has been awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard for the 1989-90 academic year. He is relinquishing the editorship effective the next issue of the magazine. Here are his parting thoughts. IHAVE PUT OFF many tasks in my five years at the Observer I can put off tasks with the best of them but seldom has progress been so slow as with the project now at hand: cleaning out my desk. Or, to be more exact, cleaning out my corner of the office for my working materials have long since expanded beyond the boundaries of the desk top. Strange to think that this much-varnished oak desk, which apparently has been with the Observer from the first, is probably older than I am. You can look at photographs of Observer editors down through the last three decades and see them in partnership with this vintage desk. But unlike Vice-Presidents of the United States, previous desk occupants here have not had the sense of history to inscribe their names in it. Nor have I. I’m no J. Danforth Quayle. I’ve moved this behemoth twice; once from our beloved office in the old house at 7th and Nueces to our quarters \(less sorority district near the UT campus, and from there to our current headquarters in of 7th and Lavaca. But moving it is not the same as cleaning it out. Both times I was able to recreate my system of clutter almost as it was before the move. Now I face the daunting task of sifting and winnowing through years’ worth of books, magazines, clippings, research reports, memorabilia, and general desk detritus. What to save and file away? What to leave behind? What to discard? There are hundreds of decisions to be made hundreds per hour, it seems. The process is something like geological excavation. Each strata on my desk dates back to a certain time usually a time when everything came to a standstill, save for the all-absorbing business of getting the magazine out. Every new level reveals oncepromising ideas and projects, now fossilized. One of my favorite pastimes since I came to Austin has been to walk the sidestreets of the central city, especially the part of town just west of the Capitol where the prominent citizens used to live. As I walk now, from south to north, I find that every district brings back a new layer of memories. It is as if there is something or someone behind every live oak tree, waiting to jump out at me. The course from the old 7th Street office to 16th Street is especially familiar, because for a while I lived on 16th. Eventually our house was sold and pressed into service as downtown office space. Not that this was exactly what the downtown needed. There seem to be more FOR LEASE signs up now than ever. \(One particularly attractive building on 9th Street posts a sign that says “Executive Officing.” And for that sort of from here is what used to be the office of the Texas Humanist, now defunct. Around the corner, the former offices of Third Coast magazine, now defunct. As I walk farther north, I get into territory that brings back an older set of memories. Up on Pearl Street, almost to 19th, is where I lived the first time I moved to Austin. This was in 1981, when the city was booming and I found a job in construction. I can still remember how exotic this part of town seemed when I first started taking walks here. Not far away are several mansions that I like to gawk at. I used to stop and study the way the live oak trees looked, lit up by spotlights at night, the branches in twisted and determined contortions. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I was living only two blocks away from the wealthy Austin heiress who would later make headlines for giving millions to help finance a war in Central America. But in 1981 the Reagan administration was just beginning to go to work on the Nicaragua problem. It would be five years before I would sit in the heiress’s living room as an Observer reporter and listen to her tell why freedom in the Western Hemisphere was in the hands of contra guerrillas down on the Honduras-Nicaragua border. Eight years ago this month I left Austin for the first time, riding out of the state on a bicycle, with a bedroll and two touring bags on the back. I leave now with about as much money in my pockets as I had then. I think now, that I would like to find my way back to Texas. The excavation continues, revealing projects unfinished, some probably for the best. Here is a dusty copy of a paperback that Bantam Books, Inc. was kind enough to send us to review it in our books section. It is Dwight Bohmbach’s 1986 re-issue of What’s Right With America. I always meant to take up this feelgood manifesto and give it the Observer once-over. The best I can do now is say that the chapter headings are quite enjoyable in themselves: “We’re Getting Fitter All the Time.” “You’ve Never Had Safer Driving.” “Even Our Millionaires Are Egalitarian.” “The American Family is Changing For the Better.” “Together Maybe We Can Turn Off Terrorists.” And many, many more. The charge could be made that I have been too busy at the Observer with “what’s wrong” to get around to “what’s right.” Yet that is not one of my regrets. I don’t think good journalism comes out of a feelgood approach. As Mencken once put it, our business is pathology, not therapeutics. This is why U:S.A. Today is not a real newspaper. My regrets, in fact, have to do with how much has slipped past us. This decade has been marked with such astounding ‘corruption and stupidity that we have simply not been able to keep up with it. For a while, we were seeing in the press descriptions of “the largest investigation ever into whitecollar crime” applied alternately to military contracting scandals and savings and loan scandals. Have journalists yet done justice to the defense department scandal? Does the public understand the extent of the overcharging, doublebilling, bid-rigging, insider information, bribery and outright fraud that went ‘on in the years the Reagan administration funnelled so many billions of dollars to the Pentagon? No, because that scandal was soon overtaken by tales of fraud, waste, and corruption in the savings and loan industry. Now, as Congress decides to spend $166 billion to clean up the S&L mess, that scandal is overtaken by revelations of fraud, waste and corruption in the Reagan administration’s department of Housing and Urban Development. And still there are mysteries about the financing of the war in Central America that George Bush has never had to explain. And 22 AUGUST 18, 1989
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