Smash-mouthed partisanship has also affected coverage. Substance is often not as important as perception and spin-doctoring in the service of a particular ideological agenda. Reporters frequently find themselves used as tools for the partisan combat that is more and more prevalent in the Texas Capitol. demographics of the lobby began to rapidly resemble the new diversity in the Legislatureparticularly as minority, female, and Republican legislators later became lobbyists themselves. The press changed accordingly. Since more legislators had seats at the decision-making table, there were more places to find out what was going on. The cozy relationship between newspaper management and state leadership cooled. A new openness, energetic reporters from the Vietnam-era, Sharpstown, and Watergate all contributed to ending the closed, clubby nature of the Capitol. In the 1970s, new media joined the fray, pushing up the level of discussion. Jim Lehrer launched frank-talking “Newsroom” on Dallas’s public KERA-TV. Mike Levy started Texas Monthly magazine in March of 1973, with then-unknown Bill Broyles as its editor. The Monthly combined some of the irreverent edge of The Texas Observer and the humor of its co-editors at the time, Molly Ivins and Kaye Northcott, with slick fashion-magazine-style ads and much more popular entertainment. It rapidly became a political fixture, with a Bill Brammer story in one of its early issues on sex in the Capitol. In Julyfollowing the 140-day regular legislative session in odd-numbered yearsthe magazine published its picks of the Ten Best and Ten Worst legislators from the most recent session. In short order, being on the Best list was a big boon to reelection, and a place on the Worst list could help end a political career. \(In later years, the mere presence on the House floor of the Monthly’s bulky Paul Burka, lead writer of the list for decades, would cause House members to actively, sometimes embarrassingly, lobby to get on the Best list, or stay off the Worst. That auditioning has extended in the Senate to Burka’s sidekick since 1989, Patricia Kilday Hart, a former Dallas Times-Herald Marty Haag pushed WFAA-TV in Dallas to tougher reporting. The Los Angeles Times-Mirror took over The Dallas Times-Herald, and its new punchy reporting infused the stodgier Dallas Morning News with new energy. An often overlooked but significant change in the 1970s was the addition of more women, both in the Legislature and the press corps. Reporters, legislators, and lobbyists were largely a chummy bunch of guys who drank together and swapped storiesoften about women. But as there were more women, different questions got asked. In 1971, I was working for The Dallas Morning News in Dallas. My close friend in the News’ Capitol bureau, Sam Kinch Jr. and his wife Lilas, volunteered to help my then-wife Saundra and me move with our kids from an apartment in University Park to a newly purchased house in Oak Cliff, a Dallas neighborhood. After we got the boxes moved, but not unpacked, Kinch and I hotfooted it to Love Field. There we were picked up by an oilman’s DC-3 on loan to Republican state Rep. Fred Agnich of Dallas, who had us flown to his fishing club in East Texas to play poker, shoot the breeze, and drink a lot of whiskypaid for, I guess, by lobbyists. Some of us even fished. \(Our wives were so hacked off they decided the wives of the Capitol press corps would have their own retreat, and their husbands, thank you, could stay home and watch the kids. Beginning in February of 1972, once a year the wives retreated to a bed and breakfast or other place for some frivolity of their own they came to call The Mouton Hunt. Before the decade was out, the gathering was gradually transformed into the press corps wives and the women reporters. By the 1980s, as more and more women infiltrated the Capitol press corps, Sometime during that period, one Capitol bureau chief, Scott Carpenter of Harte-Hanks, thought it improper that the press corps should get largely free digs in the Capitol. Carpenter, son of Lady Bird Johnson’s press secretary Liz Carpenter, started arguing that news organizations should at least pay for their space according to market value, that close-up parking by the Capitol should be a perk that went the way of the Dodo Bird, and journalists should start rejecting the freebie favors from lobbyists. They should pay for their own drinks, meals, and travel to avoid the appearance that such gratuities influenced their stories. Gradually, and in some cases grudgingly, the press corps began to have to pay more than a pittance for their close proximity to the legislative chambers. Along with the change in how the Capitol press corps covered its beat came a physical transformation as well. As a cub reporter for The Houston Chronicle in the mid-1960s, I was among those within spitting distance of the House chamber. But after a 1983 fire damaged the Capitol, the building underwent extensive renovation. Part of the process involved excavating a 60-foot hole in solid limestone to build an underground extension behind the Capitol to the north. 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MAY 27, 2005
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