Chastisements

Polemicist hereby chastises...

"If, when a man has fallen into habits of idleness, of daydreaming, and of sloth, putting off his most important duties continually til the morrow, another man were to awaken him one fine morning with the heavy blows of a whip, and were to whip him unmercifully, until he who was unable to work for pleasure now worked for fear - would not that man, the chastiser, indeed be his benefactor and truest friend?"

-Charles Baudelaire
 Intimate Journals

 

February 1990; page 2; Volume 1, No. 4
Polemicist

Robert Bernstein
Bigot, Texas Department of Health Commisioner

Homophobia is as disgraceful as any form of bigotry; in the age of AIDS, it's nothing short of murderous. Any public official who practices homophobia should be shamed out of office, but one responsible for health policy for the entire state of Texas should be arrested and put on trial. Bernstein's crimes against his constituents include denying money to two groups dedicated to treating AIDS victims - just because they had ties to the gay community. Apologists for Bernstein say he was simply following a state law that forbids funding groups that "advocate or promote" illegal sexual acts. Homosexuality is illegal in Texas, reflecting the conservative, repressive nature of Texas' politicians. The 1989 law was eventually declared unconstitutional by attorney general Jim Mattox. But in the meantime, treatment was withheld from AIDS patients in Austin and Dallas. According to the deputy health commissioner, Robert MacLean, however, the department had known before Mattox's opinion that the provision was unconstitutional. Bernstein simply made the decision to wait, so the attorney general's once would take the political heat from the right wing. The lives of dying AIDS patients meant less to him than saving his political ass.

Texas has the fourth largest number of AIDS patients in the country, behind New York, California and Florida. Yet Texas AIDS spending lagged far behind these states - $.14 per capita, compared with $3 in New York and California. To deny these meager funds to the thousands of patients who need it is criminal. Bernstein shouldn't just be fired. He should be arrested and charged with manslaughter for every Texan who died with AIDS while his office withheld money. Hatred, bigotry and convenience must never be the basis for making public health policy.

Mary Dudley
Austin American-Statesman Reporter

In the past. we have labeled various Texan reporters "mouthpieces" for the UT administration, because of their unquestioning reportage of UT propaganda. But compared to the Statesman's Mary Dudley, those reporters are young I.F. Stones. In a January 6 puffpiece, she admiringly touted UT's ability to draw National Merit Scholars, applauding the fact that UT draws more NMS students than any university except Harvard. Lost in the euphoria was the essential context: the facts, for example, that UT is the second largest university in the nation, and more important, that UT spends $1.5 million per year to attract those students. One year, UT took prospective NMS students to the Barnum and Bailey Circus, even taking them backstage to meet the clowns.

To put this number in perspective, consider the University's Preview Program, aimed at attracting minority high-school students to the University. The program is highly successful, with a 79 percent retention rate for students who attend it. Last year, UT spent $78,000 to provide the program for 60 students. A Dudley article on January 21 lauded UT for increasing its funding to $130,000 to provide for 100 students, far short of the more than 200 students who applied last year. If the University were as anxious to recruit and retain minority students as they are National Merit Scholars, it could provide the Preview Program for over 1150 minority students, and with a 79 percent retention rate, go a long way toward solving UT's monumental minority recruitment problem.

Dudley offers no dissenting voice to place these numbers in perspective. In fact, her article on the Preview Program quotes only sources who praise the meager increase in funding. Never is the Statesman reader given the background to understand the size of commitment the University makes to minority students compared to other programs. Her article makes it seem as though the University actually makes a significant financial commitment to minority recruitment. Then, in her glowing piece on NMS students, she only vaguely, and in passing, mentions UT's huge investment in NMS recruitment, never giving exact figures.

We fear that Dudley is bounding down the path of her predecessor on the UT beat, Monty Jones. After years of copying UT press releases onto the Statesman' s newspages, UT hired Jones to write those very press releases for the UT News and Information Service, UT's propaganda arm. At least UT pays Monty; Dudley provides the same service at the expense of the Chamber of Commerce hacks who own and operate the Statesman.

Roger Kintzel
Publisher, Austin American-Statesman

Given the affiliation of Dudley's boss at the Statesman, Roger Kintzel, it's not surprising that she bows so enthusiastically to a big economic entity like UT. The Austin Chronicle's Daryl Slusher for years has labeled the paper the Real Estatesman for its unashamably pro-business slant. Now, to our horror, we see that Kintzel has institutionalized this incestuous relationship by becoming chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce.

For his part, Kintzel declares in the Austin Business Journal, "I don't know why people would think I would violate my standards of integrity for one year as chairman. Why would I damage the integrity of a paper that's been around for 100 years and will be around for another 100 years." Well, we don't think he'd violate his integrity just to be the chair of the chamber. Kintzel has acted as publisher for Cox Enterprises, the owner of the Real Estatesman, in four different cities. His corporate biases were institutionalized years before he came to Austin.

The Statesman is infamous in journalism circles for firing a reporter in 1988 for crossing local business interests. Even worse, when U.S. Memories crashed recently, a Statesman article declared the consortium's downfall "more boon than boondoggle" despite the fact that nothing in the article supported that statement.

And consider the paper's recent coverage of the Savings and Loan crisis. In that article the Statesman reported that in Austin 65 percent of apartments, half of all downtown office buildings and most major hotels have been repossessed by banks or defaulted to the federal government. Given this context why did the Statesman's Capital Business section feature a cover story entitled, "Texas Enters the 90's: Real Estate opportunities entice international investors"? Above the headline floated an optimistic vision: A sparkling, golden image of Texas, emerging grandly from the Earth, beckoning foreign investors to invest in its majestic splendor.

No, we don't think Kintzel will change his biases just because he's now chairman, no matter how much we wish he would.

Coverage of the Angela Davis speech
The Daily Texan, Austin American-Statesman

We didn't expect intelligent coverage of the Angela Davis speech on Martin Luther King's birthday. After all, Davis is black, a woman and a member of the Communist party - three strikes and you're out. And in fact our expectations were fulfilled.

Daily Texan coverage may be usefully compared to its coverage of the speech by Ross Perot - a rich, white male - last fall. Perot's speech garnered some 2,000 listeners, who heard him call for, as The Texan put it, "sound business practices." Our student paper ran the story on the top half of the page, with a large photo of Perot, and a four-deck headline. By contrast, the Angela Davis speech drew over 3,000 people, some of whom had to watch the event on closed-circuit television. The audience gave her standing ovations after almost every sentence. But thanks to The Texan, the Davis story ran at the bottom of the front page, under a small, unassuming one-deck headline. Clearly the Davis story was more important to more people, but one would never know it from the news coverage. Similarly,the Statesman buried the Davis story in the inside pages, and went out of its way to quote the least inspiring or provocative of Davis' statements. In addition, the reporter falsely called the crowd a "mostly black audience." No coverage we saw of the Ross Perot speech mentioned a mostly white audience, though that was certainly the case. That statement trivializes both Davis and her message to the reader, implying that only black people cared about what she said.

At least, for once, the Statesman didn't label the event a "boon to the economy."

Polis magazine

We noticed that Polis, the official "journal of student opinion," beat us to the punch on our free speech polemic. Last fall, the magazine ran a group of articles entitled "Fading Respect for the First Amendment." What it really expressed was a fading respect for serious journalism and cogent thought.

The free speech articles amounted to a series of lightweight attempts to affirm liberalism in it's most drab and banal forms.

Leading this parade was Kevin McHargue, Texan managing editor, who spent 700 words examining both sides of the case, before finally coming out in favor of free speech. Like the other two articles, McHargue favors free speech in the abstract - he even drags out the old yelling fire in a theatre cliché.

But none of the articles ever address the more complex and immediate question of free speech at UT. We have all the abstract speech we can handle. We just want to distribute Polemicist on the West Mall.