Visited the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s web site lately? You might have been there without even knowing it. In recent days the site more closely resembled the home page for presidential candidate Barack Obama.
The last few times Static logged on to www.star-telegram.com, the first thing in sight was a huge banner with giant letters stating “Change We Can Believe In” and a picture of said Democratic presidential candidate. The viewer is encouraged to click on the site and watch a video about him. And just about the time you’re ready to hit backspace because you think you’ve mistakenly gone to Obama’s site, the ad shrinks in size – but never goes away – and the Star-Telegram banner come into view.
Plenty of readers surely have assumed that the “we” who is doing all this believing in Obama is the newspaper itself. It gets even more confusing when Obama is featured in front-page stories. The ad fades away, but there he is again, smiling in a photo for a local story. The confusion is complete when the paper’s editorial board endorses Obama in the Democratic primary, as it did recently.
At least this blurry kind of political advertorial reporting will end once the campaigns are over. When it comes to gas drilling in the Barnett Shale, however, there appears to be no end in sight to the ethical lapses. Last month the Star-T ran a Sunday front-page story under the headline “Area is equipped to resist recession,” lauding the natural gas drilling industry for pumping money into the region. Turn the page, and readers were greeted by a full-page ad for Chesapeake Energy bragging on itself for “powering our economy” by yes, pumping money into the region. The blurry line between news and bought-and-paid-for hype keeps getting fuzzier, and the Star-Telegram’s reputation is getting to be as oily as that of the companies such as Chesapeake, which would sell their grandmas (or more pertinent, your grandma) downriver in exchange for urban drilling rights.
The Thrill of Votery
For the record, Static in general loathes electoral politics, or at least covering same. Too many press buses, too many large egos of the national press corps type, too much fakery. But even its inkily preserved old ticker thumped a little when yours truly squeezed in as the laaast voter of the precinct Tuesday night – mere moments before these words were written, in fact.
The church parking lot outside probably hadn’t seen that many cars since the last Billy Graham revival. And inside, well, there was a revival of sorts going on. Poll workers who by this time of night are usually drooling with sheer boredom were practically shaking with fatigue from the workload. There were people in line who hadn’t voted since John McCain was a child, including one lady who had been to two previous polling places trying to figure out where to cast her ballot and was ecstatic to learn she’d found the right one just in time. She didn’t know a precinct caucus from a pica pole (that’s a printer’s ruler, to you snot-nosed, web-nursed infant journalists), but she was finding all about it from her neighbor in line. The caucusers, the neighbor explained, were those hundreds of people standing outside, keyed up and waiting to begin their meeting.
For once, it seemed, people felt like their vote counted for something – even if they weren’t sure exactly how. Whoa. Democracy.