Flashes 12-09-99

Can't Buy Love

L'Affaire Steve just won't go away.

The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that Texas A&M University had rejected $10,000 the Arizona Republic had sent to the university in an attempt to purchase penance for an editorial cartoon that offended Texans in general and Aggies in particular.

The Republic has been prostrate over its decision to print a Steve Benson editorial cartoon on November 19, the day after a bonfire collapse killed 12 at the Texas campus. The cartoon was titled "Texas Bonfire Traditions," and contained panels depicting the fatal inferno at the Branch Davidian compound, a KKK cross burning and the fallen timbers at Texas A&M.

On November 22, the Republic pulled the cartoon from its Web site, and posted an apology.

On Saturday, December 4 -- 13 days after groveling in cyberspace -- the print version of the Republic finally got around to informing Valley readers that it had apologized. That day's paper also contained two letters to the editor -- out of thousands reportedly received -- that were critical of the cartoon.

(It's no surprise that the Republic printed its apology on a Saturday -- typically the day of lowest readership among daily newspaper subscribers. It's a day when few people are at work to gossip about the morning paper. People are out running errands, doing yard work, going to soccer games. Their routines are broken, and many spend less time with the newspaper.)

While the Morning News was keeping its readers informed of L'Affaire Steve, Tuesday's Republic contained no mention of its spurned attempt to buy atonement. The Republic's purported news and editorial standards never seem to apply to the Republic itself. And with each passing day, the Republic's self-serving response heaps far more shame and humiliation on the Republic than any inflammatory cartoon ever will.

In rejecting the Republic's $10,000, Texas A&M president Ray Bowen said it "would do violence to our ethical standards to accept it," the Dallas Morning News reported.

Ethics -- a foreign concept at the Arizona Republic.

The Texas newspaper goes on to report:

. . . [I]n a letter dated Monday and addressed to Keven Ann Willey, editorial page editor of the Republic, Dr. Bowen said, "Texas A&M will not allow itself to become an agent for The Arizona Republic as it tries to manage the public criticism it is receiving."

Two $5,000 checks made out to the Bonfire Memorial Fund, care of the Texas A&M Foundation, and the Bonfire Relief Fund are being returned with the letter.

Ms. Willey said she was not aware of Dr. Bowen's action and was unable to comment. Dr. Bowen could not be reached Monday.

In the Dec. 1 letter to Dr. Bowen enclosing the checks, Ms. Willey said the Republic received thousands of e-mail messages about the cartoon.

In her letter, a copy of which was provided by A&M, Ms. Willey apologized for the Republic's decision to publish the piece by Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Steve Benson, which, she said, "inappropriately linked the tragedy of deaths at Waco and Jasper with those in the tragic bonfire accident."

Dr. Bowen's reply said, "While I respect and believe the sincerity of the apology you have delivered, I cannot say the same for The Arizona Republic." He denounced Arizona's leading newspaper for its "cruel and thoughtless act."

The Republic still has not told its readers that a big advertiser, Radio Shack, had canceled ads in the Republic over L'Affaire Steve.

The Republic should have stood by its fine cartoonist and taken the heat from Texas.

In any case, once it started apologizing and censoring its Web site and sending checks and losing advertisers, it should have informed its readers.

One would think this whole episode -- Benson's cartoon and the Republic's handling of the backlash -- would be grist for the newspaper's vaunted "Reader Advocate." Instead, he used his space on Sunday to extol the wonders of the Republic's sappy "Season for Sharing" stories.

The Professor and Marianne

We can all breathe easy. Poor dissed Puritan Marianne Moody Jennings -- jettisoned from the Republic's bunch of Sunday columnists as part of their new improved millennium look -- has landed safely at the Mesa Tribune.

And from the looks of her debut column, the East Valley folks there are thrilled to have her. Sadly, we didn't get to see her smiling face, which used to run inside the Republic's sections -- but we did get a splashy, front-of-the-Perspective-page presentation. A full-color illustration, a tall, four-deck headline and what might be the biggest byline in the Trib on Sunday accompanied her column on how she thinks Arizona kids can do better in math. The message was not earth-shattering (in fact, it was vaguely familiar), but the message of its packaging was stronger: In your face, godless Republic!

But wait. Is this a kinder, gentler Jennings we will see in the East Valley? For one thing, she is now going by Marianne M. Jennings. Perhaps she won't be so moody. And for another, there was not one, NOT ONE, reference to Bill or Hillary or the liberals that are ruining the very fiber of our country. This meant the Flash had to forgo a favorite Sunday morning pastime, finding the snotty Clinton and pinko references that were guaranteed to appear in her diatribes, regardless of the topic. It was sort of a Where's Waldo? exercise that was more entertaining than actually reading her stuff.

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