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Statesman Manipulates Non-story to Slam Enviro Board

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For the past two days, the Austin American-Statesman has run ridiculously far-fetched allegations and irrelevant innuendo as a front-page, above-the-fold "news" story, in what can only be construed as an attempt to compromise and declaw Environmental Board member Tim Jones, while boosting their own stock in what they see as their suburban growth zone.

Jones -- a tireless advocate for enviro causes, and a man of unimpeachable integrity -- deserves at least an apology. He clearly did not ask Freeport McMoRan for a job; he did not imply any quid pro quo leniency for the developer; and he did not offer to use improper influence on their behalf.

But more importantly, Austin deserves more honest treatment from its monopoly daily.The Statesman, in its quest to become the paper of Central Texas, has decided that Austin bashing is a valid strategy for achieving this goal. On the editorial page, although we may violently and publicly disagree with them, it is not just their right but their responsibility to clearly express their views. But when it crosses over to the rest of the paper, into sections which purport to be objective reporting, a line is crossed. The recent front-page, above-the-fold story about how there were tapes of environmental activist Tim Jones soliciting a job from John Foster, one of the lawyers in the Stratus Properties' (formerly Freeport McMoRan's) Barton Creek development crossed a serious line. This allegation of power brokering by Jones is embarrassing for the Statesman. It is not only much ado about nothing, it is driven by the most base motivation, helping the monopoly daily expand its readership into the surrounding new communities.

Two years ago, Foster surreptitiously recorded a conversation with Jones (not illegal in Texas, but unethical for an attorney, according to a state bar ruling). During the conversation, judging from the Statesman excerpts, Jones is his usual rambling self, focused passionately on protecting Barton Creek and the Springs. The closest he comes to "asking for a job" is a section where he offers to cooperate in any and every way to stop further damage to the springs -- even by bringing any further evidence of pollution directly to Freeport: "That's the kind of deal I would like, short of being hired out there to ride herd on your building contractors."

He is not saying, "Hire me and I'll make your life easier." He is saying, "If I worked for you, I could make your development comply to every environmental regulation; this will make your lives easier and protect the water." Yet, beyond any credulity, there's that front-page headline: "City official asked developer for job."

So how did this become a front-page story? The Statesman's point here is not to report breaking news but to aim a blow at the environmental community and, subsequently, the core Austin liberal voting bloc. Think of what a day's conversations among the state's power brokers must sound like, then find Tuesday's Statesman and read the transcript. Given the important stories in this community and state, this is lazy tabloid journalism masquerading as serious journalism. Ah, if only we saw the Statesman tackling the big and powerful with their naked power brokering, rather than Jones, who has devoted himself toward fighting for the environment.

Indignation over this story may seem surprising coming from the Chronicle, may seem surprising in that we embrace advocacy journalism. We are up front about our biases and position and we do not take a story, blow it all out proportion, and triumphantly feature it on the front page just to promote a readership strategy.

To be sure, author Ralph K.M. Haurwitz covered his butt -- eventually. If you read carefully, and all the way through the jump on the inside page, all the disclaimers and qualifications are there. And if you did read it all, you'd have no doubt that Jones is guilty of no wrongdoing here. But if you just read the headlines, photo caption, and the four paragraphs that made it onto the top of page A1, you'd have to figure that, well, where there's smoke, there's fire, right?
-- Nick Barbaro, Louis Black

I was duped. I admit it. When I read the story, I believed it. The perplexing dilemma of aging activists is what to do when they grow up. At 20 or 30, it's possible to live on no money. But, you hit 40 and the future's facing and, let's face it, standing up for what is right and decent has never been particularly lucrative. In the case of environmentalists, as with many activists, this is the area of their greatest knowledge. The most lucrative job opportunities are often working with developers to help them comply with the web of regulations that the former activists are intimately familiar with. This dilemma intrigues me. So I bought the story. I didn't even read the sidebar of the actual transcript. I was a dupe. This morning Nick Barbaro came in and insisted I read the transcript. After reading it, I asked him, where was information to back up the Statesman's allegations? This story seemed ridiculously blown out of proportion, another attempt by the Statesman to woo the Central Texas audience by Austin bashing. We both shrugged, then wrote the above.
-- Louis Black

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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