No Country for Old Reporters

Two-sided Tweet

The reaction to the Texas Tribune piece has been mostly condescension from Trib reporters. None of them addressed me directly in their tweets but one of their digirati tweeted a “counter-counter” response, “No country for old men.” I’m sure that is patently true. Best I can tell the only people over 50 at the Tribune are Ross Ramsey, though I think Jay Root is 50 or close, and Evan Smith is 47. Everyone else is quite young, and much more affordable, and easily taught the way things are done.

But youth doesn’t slow down the Trib. CEO Evan Smith tweeted that they were looking for a reporter to do a deep, investigative dive into the Texas criminal justice system. A complex as hell topic that has befuddled many a grizzled journalistic veteran but the Trib is advertising the slot as “entry level.” Good luck, kid, from an old man who apparently doesn’t belong in that country.

Former Trib reporter Elis Hu, who is now with NPR, was exceedingly skilled at her condescension explaining that the piece “forgets where journalism came from (patronage and sketchy monopolies.”) Not sure what a sketchy monopoly is and doubt such a thing exists but Ms. Hu said she did not like my “sanctimonious tone.” I don’t like her condescension and besmirching my fine public university education. But I guess when someone calls out a journalism organization for taking money from lobbyists and corporations that they are reporting on they probably sound sanctimonious to the people in the institution taking the money, even if she is a Trib alum.

Hu said she had started reading the piece but had to stop and get a snack because it was too long. Funny, I was driving and listening to one of her NPR pieces a few months ago, more than five minutes, I think, on the “Bossless Office.” I thought I was having an NPR “driveway moment” but I later realized I had just nodded off listening to the overly long report. Hu suggested my Trib story was 40,000 words, but how would she know it was about 10,000, if she didn’t bother to read it? I do hope her snack rejuvenated her, however. Her tweets are amiss.

I was unsurprised by my friends in the capitol, in both the lobby and the media, who remained silent. But they have to get by in the lobby and media culture where the Tribune wields great influence. People who normally tweet and cross post my work any time I write, generally, stayed away from the story, and not because I said something wrong or inaccurate. They just have to keep doing business and swimming in that murk.

I did get a lot of supportive emails and direct messages on Twitter and Facebook; most of them were journalists or political consultants. One said, “Thank god someone is finally saying what everyone’s been thinking for some time.” Another friend told me what I had written was very important but he was “too chicken to even comment on the story publicly.”

There was also political finessing. My favorite was in a tweet from my pal Harold Cook, a lobbyist. (I assume he’s still a friend.) He tweeted: “Coming next week: @moorethink writes on the dark and sordid side of Mother Theresa. With bonus recipes!”

Two-sided Tweet
Two-sided Tweet

Cook is a veteran hand at the capitol and if you consider his tweet you will see the beauty of his politics. He sure can’t alienate the Texas Tribune crowd so he writes something that looks like he’s making fun of me, which, by god, he was, and defending the Tribune. Trib folks will love him for not taking my side. Harold also knows that from my perspective I will see his tweet and assume he’s kidding. See what he’s done there? Pretty good, eh? I highly recommend Mr. Cook if you need to work your way through the minefields of the Texas legislature.

There was a lot of entertainment watching Facebook discussions on the article. A couple of former reporters felt I should have called the Tribune and interviewed CEO Smith or one of the reporters referenced in the story. Why? I’m an analyst and I write commentary. I examine what is taking place or is being written and I offer my opinion, on journalism, media, and politics, and I try to persuade that my point of view is correct. The critic is a role that’s been pretty steady in our culture for a long time. I presented more than enough information to condemn the construct of the Texas Tribune, and I included management’s point of view, which would have been no different even if CEO Smith had answered the phone.

And here’s another example of how the Trib works, which I did not include in the story but it freshly makes the point. Gary Scharrer, a former reporter for the El Paso Times, mentioned on Facebook that businessman Paul Foster of the border city gave the Texas Tribune $100,000. Might not matter much except for the fact that Foster is the chairman of the University of Texas board of regents. How, precisely, is anyone supposed to trust the reporting on the UT board of regents by the Texas Tribune when they have $100,000 in their bank account from the board’s chairman?

Want another little nugget? The Tribune often links on a daily basis to stories by the El Paso Times. A couple of weeks ago the paper published a story connecting Paul Foster to the Koch Brothers. The Trib did not publish that link. I guess we can assume that was a mere oversight but why should we when the Trib has $100,000 of Foster’s protection money?

As Scharrer said on Facebook, “Come on, folks, it’s always about the money. And when a news outlet has its hands out for big bucks, we all know the outcome.”


  1. I suspect Evan Smith expected the kind of softshoe treatment and cursory examination from the news media that he gave the people he interviewed on his public television program, a bunch of whom were some of the worst most damaging people in public life. After all, that’s supposed to be part of the incentive of doing bidness in Texas, where the laws and the news have always been ‘donated’ by the business interests.

  2. Jim….as our old Nebraska friend (and State Senator) Ernie Chambers used to say….”You know you’re getting close to the target win the snakes starts hissing”.

    • Love this, Stu. I remember Ernie. He was a classic outsider, which I loved. Also, totally fearless of the bastids who ran the game in Lincoln.

  3. I could not help but notice that some journalists who commented on Facebook do not know the difference between Affects and Effects. C’mon people, really???

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