Page 11


VIE NEWSPAPER BUSINESS has be come big business. Worse, as William Allen White said it is business and nothing else. The ideals of the journalists are submerged beneath the depraved fixation on advertising profits, the unworthy disposition to titillate the weaker elements of our human nature for the sake of essentially sensationalseeking subscriptions. Only a few of the great newspapers hold out for the whole truth and for all I know, even these may be contaminated by the overweening commercialism of our contemporary American society… If a few idealistic journalists who want to tell the whole truth get subordinated to this goal, too bad. The newspapers are left to the newspapermen until the truth begins to hurt, then comes the word from upstairs… Ronnie Dugger made these remarks before the Legislative Council in Fort Worth in November, then, in what has become something of a tradition in this office, reprinted them them in the December 13 issue of the Observerin 1954. At the time, the Houston Post was owned by the Hobby family and the Houston Chronicle by Jesse Jones. San Antonio had two major daily newspapers, as did Dallas. The Wall Street Journal recently wrote the Houston Post’s obituary, and if the Journal’s predictions prove to be correct, El Paso will soon be the only two-newspaper city left in the state, although the inevitable end of the weaker El Paso HeraldPost, which operates under a joint operating agreement with the El Paso Times, can’t be too far away. The demise of competing dailies means not only the end of competition for advertising dollars, but the end of the competition between newsrooms, which drove papers toward more aggressive and thorough coverage. All the state’s large dailies are now owned by large conglomerates. The concentration of ownership, and the shift from individual local ownershipfrom the Jones family to the Hearst Corporation hadn’t even begun in November of 1954. “At the end of World War II, for example,” journalist/professor Ben Bagdikian wrote in 1987 in The Media Monopoly, “more,than 80 percent of all the daily newspapers in the United States were independently owned, but by 1986 the proportion was almost reversed: 72 percent were owned by outside corporations and fifteen of those corporations had most of the business….Today, despite 25,000 media outlets in the Unites States, twenty-nine corporations control most of the business in daily newspapers, magazines, television, books and motion pictures.” So in the course of this publication’s lifetime, commercialism has become corporatism and the limits once defined by local owners have been refined and redefined by corporate managers. If in 1954 the Dallas Morning News ignored issues of race, leaving the Observer to tell the complete story of the shooting of an AfricanAmerican youth in East Texas, today the issues ignored are more likely to be economic, as Bagdikian illustrates with the story of Earl Golz, a reporter who was fired in 1982 after 13 years at the Dallas Morning News. “[A]nd his editor, Wayne Epperson, was forced to resign because of a story Golz wrote that offended…the Abilene National Bank,” Bagdikian wrote. “Golz’s story reported that the bank had loan problems so serious that it was in danger of failing, as another large bank, Penn Square National, had done a few days earlier. The Abilene National Bank chairman reacted with rage and the paper got rid of the reporter and his editor. Less than two weeks later the Golz story was confirmed when the bank failed and federal examiners found that the bank had loan losses beyond its assets. The bank chairman who had denied it all was fired. But the reporter and editor were not rehired. No reporter or editor on that paperand perhaps other papers as wellwill have to be told for a long time what the boss expects.” As Dugger implied in his 1954 speech and has proven many times since, there is no “word from upstairs” here and the strained relations that result from the marriage of capital to the pursuit of truth do not existin, part because there is no capital. This year, Dugger turned the Observer over to the Texas Democracy Foundation, nonprofit corporation, which now sets out to resolve the problem created by the absence of capital. And its directors have resolved to do so without bringing on the constraints that make the practice of mainstream journalism so circumscribed. So as 1995 begins, we begin the gradual transition from the old to the new Observer. While that occurs, we will, come January, return to the Capitol for regular coverage of the 74th legislative session. We will begin a Phil Gramm watch at about the time the senator announces his presidential cam r ,,,,, THE TEXAS 1 411 server DECEMBER 30, 1994 VOLUME 86, NO. 25 FEATURES Return of the Legislature By Robert Bryce 15 Shrugging Off Oversight By James Cullen 19 PERSPECTIVES Democratic Conversations By Geoff Rips 4 The Observer Community By Ronnie Dugger 5 A Brave Army of Heretics By Lawrence Goodwyn 9 A High Standard By James Cullen 1 1 DEPARTMENTS Editorials The Word from Upstairs 3 Jim Hightower: Deck the Halls; Newt’s Steam; Reich Tells Truth; Save More! 12 Molly Ivins Republican Red Ink 13 Potomac Observer Place Your Hands on C-SPAN By James McCarty Yeager 14 Las Americas . Chiapas: Two Governors, One Revolution By John Ross 20 Books and the Culture Other America Film Festival Movie reviews by Steven G. Kellman 22 Political Intelligence 24 Cover art by Gail Woods paign. As resources allow, we will be out and about in Texas, providing more dateline and investigative reporting. And, to borrow a line from John Berryman, the Minnesota poet about whom Molly Ivins wrote in these pages, “we hopeacross the most strange year to comecontinually to do … you not sufficient honour, but such as we become able to devise… L.D. EDITORIAL The Word From Upstairs THE TEXAS OBSERVER 3