Page Two

The Rodriguez and Avellán film team rocks; the guv and Lege do not; waiting on Will Wynn & Company; and in Let Us Now Praise Famous Chroniclers.

Page Two
Recently I raved about our fair city's remarkable film scene. The scene didn't happen by accident or even by design, but as a consequence of talented filmmakers who live and work here. Happily, without exception, this is a terrific group of people as well as an impressive collection of talent. Multihyphen to dwarf most multihyphens, Robert Rodriguez and producer/partner Elizabeth Avellán's contribution to Austin film can't be overestimated. The rich soil nurturing Austin film includes the depth and range of world-class film crews that also live and work in this town. Theirs is very much a gypsy lifestyle; as freelance talent they go from one film project to another. Crucial to maintaining that community, especially outside a production center like L.A., is steady available work. Since returning to town after a West Coast stint, Rodriguez and Avellán have consciously and aggressively hired locally, averaging as much as 75-80% Austin-based talent working on their movies. This is good for everybody. Not only does it provide jobs, but it also maintains the skill base that attracts productions not locally rooted. Both Rodriguez and Avellán are also very involved in the community in many other ways. (Without diminishing my admiration for Robert, I am an unabashed fan of Elizabeth, who is among the most decent, caring people I've ever met. Given the understandable media focus on Robert, she is the secret weapon in that productive collaboration.)

For me, it's usually a bit disconcerting talking to people about Rodriguez's films. Most viewers approach each film as an independent entity, while I see all the films as part of an ongoing process. As much as From Dusk Till Dawn, Desperado, or Spy Kids knock me out, as Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over truly dazzles, and as I eagerly await Once Upon a Time in Mexico, these seem like early chapters in what I'm betting is going to be an extraordinary body of work. The quality of what the Rodriguez/Avellán team has already produced just deepens my excitement and anticipation of what will be coming.


At least Nero made music while Rome burned -- that's a lot more than can be said for those currently leading our state. Facing truly serious state problems, the governor and Legislature are engaged in a blindfolded, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game of congressional redistricting. The same gang celebrated its achievement in overcoming a $10 billion budget shortfall without raising taxes with the kind of self-congratulatory verbal procession more commonly associated with military victories. Adding to the cacophony was the applause of the partisan faithful as well as the relief of a population already feeling overtaxed.

The sad truth, however, is that this is a sound not only signifying nothing, but that will do nothing to blunt the coming fury. This budget will have a devastating impact on the social safety net and the Texas job market, and because of the leadership's politically convenient cowardice, it will cost all of us more in the long run. That cost doesn't simply include the social consequences of underserving the ill, the mentally impaired, the poor, and a couple of generations of Texas children. Money you may feel was left in your pocket will soon be coming out to cover the real-world costs of elected officials' shameful lack of responsibility. Contrary to the naive assertion that the state's budget was filled with trimable fat and unnecessary discretionary spending, what's really happened is just a shift in how and by whom we are charged. In fact, most citizens will be paying more for less, even in the short run. Solely to please Tom DeLay, without regard for Texas and its people, the GOP leadership is ignoring impending crises while they play with themselves over redistricting. The motivation here is not only base, but ill considered. The number of Republican community and business leaders, all over the state, opposed to redistricting provides ample proof of how substantial the economic impact on the state of losing incumbent Texas Democrats' congressional seniority will be (that dictates committee rank and therefore legislative power).


The future for Austin is unclear, though this city's leadership (mayor, council, and city manager) is so attuned and concerned by comparison that they make the state's look even more like kindergartners playing at being legislators for a day. It is too early in Will Wynn's administration to offer much of a read, though the signs offer reason for optimism. But I have to note that some of the recent blame-laying and hand-wringing over Austin's loss of 1,100 citizens shows just how determined some folks are in their dislike of the city in which they live. Saying this number is statistically negligible is to exaggerate its importance.


People sometimes ask about what kind of public feedback we've gotten on some story or another. Given the limited social lives of at least some of the staff, myself included, the answer is usually not much. Recently, this has not been the case, as many people have been going out of their way to compliment the paper. All areas draw praise, but the Politics/News coverage is a consistent recipient. Certainly the times we are living through generate many important stories, but News Editor Michael King has done a brilliant job employing, inspiring, and editing, assisted by City Editor Mike Clark-Madison and Assistant News Editor Lee Nichols. In all modesty, I feel comfortable noting that the whole News staff, including Amy Smith, Jordan Smith, and Lauri Apple, is doing extraordinary work. Among the highest compliments we're paid is when someone says that they disagree with our politics, but our reporting delivers far and away the best local and state coverage.

I don't believe in "objective" reporting -- in even a mildly complex story. Who and why and how many of those involved that a reporter interviews and what quotes he or she chooses all reflect editorial involvement and judgment. The best you can do is try to be fair and comprehensive and to make your biases explicit.

It is hysterical that passionate right-wingers describe the "liberal bias" of the national media as an indisputable truth while maintaining the objectivity of Fox News. Mainstream media reflect homogenized news, more "moderate" than anything else, that's distilled to appeal to the largest audience, as unsatisfying and alienating to liberals as it is to conservatives. The primary media prejudice is in favor of noncontroversial brevity, radical simplicity, and the broadest possible accessibility. The media generates conservative anger because it doesn't inevitably reflect pronounced "conservative" biases, rather than any "liberal" biases it may also occasionally reflect. Witness the passionate embracing of Fox News and increasingly partisan talk radio, along with the ludicrous argument that those outlets offer the factual truth -- that is, "They reinforce my prejudices and beliefs rather than in any way challenging them."

Ironically, when Rush Limbaugh pioneered the current talk-show generation, although outspokenly conservative he really was a rebellious outsider, often chastising Republicans though not as often as Democrats. Power does corrupt -- Limbaugh and the gang are now mainstreamed, welcomed into the Republicans' inner power circles. Consequently, they are establishment flunkies; their content is aggressively partisan, with no longer even a hint of independent thought. Anyone regarding what they say as remotely "factual," much less "the truth," is so beyond caring about "bias" that they should find it difficult to utter the word. We should be so lucky.

The Chronicle is an advocacy paper. The staff generally shares broad values and commitments, but there is no clearly articulated or binding house ideology. Editorially, we almost never take a unified official position unless it pertains to an election -- we enthusiastically disagree on too many things. At the paper's core is our trust in our readers, the expectation they'll make their own judgments, and a sense of responsibility to be as honest as we can. This means not just fairly and clearly offering information -- but making our biases explicit.

I am completely and consistently proud of the Chronicle's staff. Each issue gives me great pleasure, as I read it after publication I'm continually delighted by the quality and passion of the work. Not just the editorial staff, but production, advertising, classified, and marketing people are working here in concert to create what you hold.

Readers, you are not only welcome but encouraged to think what you will of our efforts and to share your thoughts (over the next months we're planning on introducing some new Web features designed to encourage this). If you were not a crucial part of the process, then the paper really wouldn't be worth doing. end story

NOTE: An editing mistake in last issue's "Page Two" had me saying, "that Saddam Hussein didn't use WMDs seems to suggest he doesn't have them." I have never suggested or argued that these weapons don't exist. In one form or another they probably do. I did suggest that if they do exist and he didn't use them, it implies something about his intentions.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 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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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Robert Rodriguez, Elizabeth Avellán, redistricting, Tom DeLay, City Council, Will Wynn, Michael King, Mike Clark-Madison, Lee Nichols, Amy Smith, Jordan Smith, Lauri Apple, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein

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