In May, Lynn Davenport lost her bid for a place on the Richardson ISD school board. Afterwards, Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News wrote about the election campaign. Lieber listed a harassing tweet, rumors about Davenport's conservative politics, and a hack of her website that redirected traffic to a porn site. Lieber wrote, "Her problems stemmed, she believes, from her opponent's veteran political consultant, C.P. Henry of Dallas." That accusation in Lieber's column caught the attention of Jim Schutze of The Dallas Observer.
Schutze called Lieber out. He wrote that no matter what Lieber might think about the system of public education in Texas, "you still have to be careful what you say about people. You can’t take a guy like C.P. Henry, who is a respectable, normal, decent human being and member of the community, and imply broadly in the newspaper that he's a pornographer unless you can prove it dead to rights."
That sounds right to me. Not only didn't Lieber "prove it dead to rights," the only evidence Lieber offers that C.P. Henry was behind any of the alleged dirty tricks is that Davenport told him that C.P. Henry took offense that she answered a question in The Dallas Morning News Voter Guide by writing "I did not hire a campaign consultant." "I don't draw first blood," C.P. Henry reportedly told her. That's it. That's Lieber's whole case. On that he hangs everything bad that happened to Davenport on C.P. Henry. Why did the "Morning News' 'Watchdog' Slime Political Consultant", which is how Schutze put it in the headline to his column? Lieber says Davenport herself believes her problems stemmed from C.P. Henry, but Schutze says Davenport told him, "The website hacking and the porn and all that, that had nothing to do with C.P. Henry." So which is it? It seems to me that Lieber jumped to conclusions on weak and conflicting evidence. Why is another question. Schutze hypothesizes it is Lieber's disdain for the system of public education in Texas that's behind his insinuations, but deducing motivation is difficult, if not impossible.
That brings us to Carol Toler of Lake Highlands Advocate, who responded to Schutze's column with the uncontroversial take, "School board members should not be victim to 'ostracism, rumors and personal attacks'". Toler says, "Schutze’s point — and here's what we need to talk about — is that personal attacks are just part of running for the school board."
No that's not what we need to talk about. Schutze does say that, but he doesn't endorse that behavior. Schutze is just saying that's the way things are, not the way they ought to be. Schutze's real point, which Toler totally ignores, is about journalistic ethics. Lieber "slimes" C.P. Henry without evidence. That's what we need to talk about. Not even Davenport will support Lieber any more when asked about it by Schutze. Nevertheless, Toler makes Schutze out to be the bad guy here, not Lieber.
A point that Schutze didn't make, but which has always puzzled me, is why Lieber and Toler act as if the personal attacks were on just one side in this election. From my vantage point, I saw plenty of bad-mouthing of both candidates on Facebook. And falsehoods and half-truths and personal attacks on all members of the school board, including the incumbent in this race, have been common for years in online forums and an anonymous website. So let's raise the level of political discourse, for sure, but let's make sure we include more balanced reporting in The Dallas Morning News and Lake Highlands Advocate.