The National Texan?

The Texan Yanks Its Liberal Roots

The billboards around town proclaim, "It's not your same old Statesman." It's too bad that The Daily Texan editorial page couldn't have grabbed that slogan first.

Anyone who attended the University of Texas in previous decades will no doubt remember the joke: The Daily Pravda. Of course, the UT student newspaper's nickname was never truly deserved, except perhaps in the alternate reality of the Young Conservatives of Texas or The University Review, that bizarre world where George Bush was just a little too far to the left. Still, an unmistakable liberal strain threaded its way throughout the paper in days gone by, and was clearly evident on the opinion pages, even when Republican Karen Adams was editor. At the very least, it was a Democrat-oriented page.

Not anymore. And really, not for a while. Ever since conservative Christian Matthew Connally became editor in 1991, the Texan ship has been listing noticeably to the right. The current editorial board -- Editor Colby Angus Black and Associate Editors Jim Dedman and A. Hunter Stanco -- all solidly identify themselves as Republicans (though, oddly enough, Black did admit to voting for our flaming liberal congressman, Lloyd Doggett).

Ponder the board's virulently anti-union stance in recent editorials on the UPS strike:

UPS drivers' "wages are considerably higher than truck drivers earn on the nonunionized market; some drivers earn as little as $10 an hour to move oversize and unwieldy loads under worse conditions than UPS drivers," the Texan trio writes, as if the union should slide backwards towards poor conditions and be happy with it. "... the Teamsters and their families will be forced to live without pay because a few high-level union bureaucrats miss the days when unions ruled the land and their demands were always met." When the hell was that?!?

A couple of weeks before that, an editorial titled "Caveat emptor" harangued the poor old woman featured in the Austin American-Statesman, living on Social Security, who ran up nearly $10,000 in credit card bills at the hands of fast-talking Australian lottery salesmen.

"Burleson can blame no one but herself," the Texan wrote. "Credit card debt is the result of personal irresponsibility."

No time for pitying a confused, elderly woman -- the Statesman story, for these guys, "prompts serious thought about the politics of the elderly." One can only hope they possess such clarity of thought 50 or 60 years from now.

Although the Texan has always had conservative representation on its pages, it's unlikely that editors and their boards would have penned such opinions a decade ago.

How did such a shift occur? Why, through good ol' democracy. The Texan editor has traditionally been elected by the student body. It's a unique system, differing from the appointed-editor style that rules at almost every other college newspaper in the land. And it's a good one -- despite a recent failed attack on the system from certain elements in Texas Student Media (the paper's governing body, formerly Texas Student Publications), it has produced editors that generally have been no better or worse than any other student paper, and puts the editor in a unique position of being somewhat representative of the larger student body (well, as representative as one can be in UT's student elections, which generally have an even more pathetic turnout than "real" elections). The university's students, which have long shaped the liberal bent of the larger Austin community, are going through a noticeable change.

"It goes in cycles," Black says. "The student body has gotten more conservative."

"I think that the right shift is not something that you're only seeing on the campus of UT, it's something that's going on nationally right now," says Stanco. "If you look at the statistics of Congress in the Eighties versus the statistics of Congress now, you see a large right shift. With the exception of the presidency, the Republicans have gained seats in every possible venue that you can, from state legislatures to the national elections. As a university, we're just part of that. We're the sons and daughters of those people," says Stanco. "Compared to the Seventies, yeah, I'd say we're way more conservative."

"I don't think [of conservative ideology] and then try to mold the editorials I write into that," Black says. "I look at an issue and try to see what's the best stance for students. And the cool thing is, on this level -- on campus politics -- the party doesn't so much define the stance. A lot of the campus issues we attack, which is a good 40-60% of our viewpoints from week to week, aren't sent down from a release from the Republican national headquarters or anything. We're not getting our marching orders or anything like that... I don't think being conservative has hindered us from doing our job. I think we're still just as willing to go to the wall against the administration for students."

"I've found that we have a couple of very liberal columnists here," says Dedman, "And when they were trying out [for a position on the paper], they thought we would be conservative, and they were right, but when we go through and edit their work with them, they were actually surprised that we helped them make their liberal arguments stronger. That is our job as the editorial board, is to make sure that our columnists write very coherent and very strong columns."

Looking around the rest of the paper, not much else has changed, however. The paper is noticeably smaller, a combined effect of incompetence from certain members of Texas Student Media's professional (non-student) staff, and advertising revenue lost to the rapidly expanding Austin Chronicle, which has gone from averaging under 40 pages in its early years to over 100 of late. But the news coverage is still surprisingly strong for a student paper, even despite the expected ignorance on certain city issues that one would expect from reporters that have only been in town a couple of years or less.

One thing's for certain, though -- no one in their right (or left) mind will call it the Pravda anymore.

The Austin Review

Speaking of the aforementioned University Review, the right-wing campus publication has morphed into The Austin Review, with Brent Tantillo as publisher and former Texan columnist Marc Levin as editor-in-chief.

According to the first issue, "The last Austin election provided the impetus for starting this publication. In case you missed it, the Austin City Council is now totally controlled by environmental radicals, which prompted us to develop a publication which will rally the citizens of Austin to mobilize their efforts towards bringing common sense government to our community.... One of the reasons for these election results is the left-wing control over the media in Austin."

The green council makes a fat target for the new publication; the paper's first story -- decrying the council's passage of a measure requiring business owners to hold public hearings before expanding their businesses in East Austin -- dives into the attack. Calling the requirement of gathering public input from East Austin residents a "suffocating scheme," the story warns that "it could be a dark two years for the Austin business community." Other stories include praise for putting the homeless campus on hold, the assertion that Ozone Action Days are "nothing but hysteria," and lamentation over the loss of "reasonable voices like Eric Mitchell and Ronney Reynolds."

The Review's conservatism appears to be more of the libertarian than holy roller variety -- in fact, Tantillo editorializes against the proposed flag-burning amendment in his premiere editorial. The major rants are aimed more at environmentalists and affirmative action, with such illuminating observations as "the link between air quality and serious respiratory illnesses is virtually nonexistent."

Et Tu, KLRU?

Just across the plaza of the university's communications school complex from the Texan is KLRU-TV, Austin's PBS affiliate. The station held its pledge drive this month, wherein the station's staff frequently like to boast that "this is television you won't find anywhere else."

Yes, indeed, it's mighty hard to find... uh... football on those commercial stations. Apparently, in these days of attacks on government funding for public broadcasting and the increasing privatization of the airwaves, KLRU is having to resort to some... uh... innovative approaches to fundraising. The latest idea was an August 20 replay of last year's Big 12 Conference football championship game between UT's Longhorns and the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. That's right -- the era of that namby-pamby ballet stuff is surely coming to an end, and now we'll get to see some action on public television! Of course, Austin City Limits has been known to mix in Top 40 country singers with its more eclectic fare -- perhaps producer Terry Lickona could persuade Hank Williams, Jr., to come up with a nifty theme song for PBS like the one he did for ABC's Monday Night Football. Or maybe Don Meredith could be lured out of retirement to give commentary during the opera.

Seriously, though -- I know funding for non-commercial stations is a tenuous proposition these days, but is it really necessary to completely abandon the public broadcasting mission just to raise a few bucks?

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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