Kerry Year One

No surprises at the Texas dailies – one good failure deserves another

Austinites lined the Congress Avenue bridge Sunday to protest the <i>Statesman</i>'s endorsement of Bush.
Austinites lined the Congress Avenue bridge Sunday to protest the Statesman's endorsement of Bush.

We are of course grateful that the editorial board of the Statesman has once again been kind enough to remind our readers that Austin is not a one-newspaper town. Sunday's furiously backpedaling endorsement of George W. Bush is yet another distinguished moment in time-serving, lukewarm, craven – excuse me, "serious and sober" – journalism. We don't begrudge the daily's editors their opinion, but we do wish that it made even a trifle more sense. Amidst the baritone hemmings and hawings, the bathetic damnation with faint praise, there are even more comic highlights than is customary in that cavernous space. Who could resist, for example, the Churchillian invocation, "When you're going through hell, keep going"? How did they know what it's like, week after week, to soldier on bravely through the "Insight" section?

Also highly entertaining are the little tidbits of advice the editors timidly offer the President Who Makes No Mistakes, like those shy little admonitions concerning Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Ashcroft, whose collective judgment "has been cloudy at times." That's telling him. And then there's the heartfelt wish that Bush's future Supreme Court choices will show "balance" – do the names Charles Pickering, William Pryor, or Priscilla Owen conjure up anything on the editors' "balance" scale? Vaguely aware that this nominally "conservative" president is in fact "radically changing the course of government," they mince no mincing final words: "We ask that the president return our faith by acknowledging his failures and acting to correct them."

Speaking as a long shipwrecked sojourner in the Isle of Oppel-Inania, aka Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, I dearly hope that the Statesman editors are grimly holding their collective breath as they patiently wait for their president's response.


Back to Coolidge

As much as I enjoyed those Sunday morning guffaws over the breakfast table, let me heartily applaud those Austinites who gathered on the Congress Avenue bridge that afternoon to blow enthusiastic raspberries at Laosa, Oppel & Co. for maintaining their high standard of ineptitude. If I had to guess, I suspect publisher Michael "Opus Dei" Laosa – who most recently brandished his mighty vestal sword defending readers of the sports pages from the sinister blandishments of a stripper called "Maxi Mounds" – tipped the balance among that cabal of hapless ditherers. They didn't even have the excuse, this time, that an edict came down from Cox in Atlanta – Cox's flagship Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and its swing-state Palm Beach Post and Dayton Daily News, and even its stalwart little Waco Herald-Tribune (in much more hostile territory), have all endorsed John Kerry. The Statesman hastened to note that the state's four other major dailies – The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News, and Fort Worth Star-Telegram – endorsed Bush, thereby making hash of the perennial Texas GOP frothings over the putative "liberal media."

The Morning News, predictably, was the most bloodthirsty ("It's called guts") of the bunch, quoting approvingly National Review ranter Victor Davis Hanson, "We really are in a war for our very survival to stop those who would kill us." (So our president and his reckless crew are doing their level best to manufacture more of the same.) And like the Statesman, the DMN issued brooding crocodile threats about budget slashing in a second Bush term, although the Statesman more explicitly targeted Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare.

On the other hand, the Statesman did not win the prize for self-contradiction. That goes to the Star-Telegram, which spent its entire editorial – under the headline, "Backing the Old George Bush" – recounting President Bush's myriad failures, and then explaining that the paper is endorsing the Bush who was governor of Texas, even though the editors dimly acknowledge they haven't seen hide nor hair of him in four years. The Startlegram's endorsement elicited the best of the many astounded responses from readers around the state, including this gem from one Bill Youngblood of North Richland Hills: "A posthumous endorsement of Calvin Coolidge would have been far more logical."


A Light in the Darkness

It should give the Austin protesters some comfort that across the country, Kerry is comfortably leading in the endorsement race, as of Monday having garnered the approval of 128 newspapers representing 16.9 million in daily circulation, as opposed to the incumbent's 105 newspapers representing 10.9 million. Even more interestingly, according to Editor & Publisher's daily count (www.editorandpublisher.com), 35 papers that endorsed Bush in 2000 have moved to Kerry this time, as opposed to only four Gore papers in 2000 now endorsing W. (Among the Kerry backers are a couple of Texas dailies, largest being the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, joining the Tribune-Herald. The Bryan-College Station Eagle – home paper for the elder George Bush's presidential library – made no endorsement, writing, "This country deserves better.") Of course, for a president who proudly proclaims that he does not read newspapers (or much of anything else), and who enthusiastically identifies with a large part of the electorate that also prefers cable- and talk-show-induced ignorance, it's not at all clear that any of this means anything at all.

The same goes for the "dead heat" polls; with registration and early voting burgeoning as they have, my best guess is that the polls based on previously "likely voters" are hopelessly detached from ground-based reality. Indeed, I've begun to suspect – barring outright and successful Republican thievery in more than one state this time – that Bush and his feckless cronies will be righteously fired for malfeasance (and much worse) in office, Kerry will win easily, and we can all turn our attention to beating his overburdened and hesitant new administration into something resembling an actual government.

Elsewhere in this issue we celebrate The Lone Star Iconoclast, the brave little Crawford newspaper that chose, in the middle of "Bush Country," to look at the actual Bush record and therefore endorse John Kerry. The paper may well pay for that bravery with its commercial life, a bitter and lamentable fate, though hardly the first time an iconoclast went down in Texas. For the record, the Iconoclast's presidential endorsement is far more thoughtful, detailed, and painstakingly accurate than all those of the five major Texas dailies put together. W. Leon Smith and his unfairly beleaguered colleagues fully deserve a Thoreauvian accolade: "Any newspaper more right than its neighbors constitutes a majority of one." end story

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

Election 2004, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Austin American-Statesman, Michael Laosa, Rich Oppel, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Editor & Publisher, The Lone Star Iconoclast, W. Leon Smith

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