Truth in Advertising

Chief sucker-puncher on the McNeely story has been Sherry Sylvester, who edits Texas Media Watch, an online political newsletter. According to Sylvester (on the Houston Chronicle op-ed page last week), “The district attorney is presented positively in [McNeely’s] story, and the targets of the investigation, Republicans and businessmen, are presented negatively.” That’s the best she can do: A story that recounts an official investigation of alleged corruption makes the investigators look better than the suspects. Sylvester denounces McNeely’s “ethical breach” and the alleged refusal of the state’s papers to make a big deal of it.
The Houston Chronicle identifies Sylvester as “the director of Texas Media Watch, an Austin think tank.” (Sylvester appears to be the only employee, and very little thinking visibly goes on there, but OK.) A few days earlier, in a ponderous mea culpa on the controversy by “senior editor/reader advocate” David House, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had referred to Sylvester’s newsletter as a “nonpartisan media watch-dog project.”

Hogwash.

From its inception during last year’s Lege session, Sylvester’s newsletter has been entirely dedicated to defending Republican officeholders and policies from critical coverage by the state’s major dailies. (It also devoted a considerable amount of virtual memory to laughable accusations that the papers were insufficiently enthusiastic about Bush’s war on Iraq.) That’s not surprising, since Media Watch is funded by the Lone Star Foundation (devoted to “family, freedom, free enterprise, and the Constitution”), and both are bankrolled by former Austin banker David Hartman, a 1994 GOP candidate for state treasurer and a state Republican heavyweight. Hartman also underwrites The Lone Star Report, a conservative legislative newsletter; LSR’s leading lights include The Dallas Morning News hard-rightist William Murchison and Citizens for a Sound Economy’s Peggy Venable, whose most recent contribution to the public discourse was to accuse MoveOn.org of being a Communist front-group.

Sylvester herself is a former politics reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, where one of her last features was a fawning profile of GOP big wallet James Leininger, an unctuous performance that perhaps caught the eye of conservative spin-doctors. In any event, she’s just doing the job she was hired to do. But that’s no reason for mainstream editors to fall for her officially “nonpartisan” pose whenever she launches one of her purchased crusades. They could cite her own hypocritical proviso: “One of the most basic responsibilities of a newspaper is accurate labeling.”

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