steve blow columns

Steve Blow, the DMN’s metro columnist, has been doing a great series of columns lately. In 1979, he and a photographer decided, just for the hell of it, to drive the length of State Highway 16, the longest highway in Texas, and tell the stories of whomever they met along the way. Now they’re doing it again, 25 years later.
Steve’s done a great job with it — and if you get a chance, pick up the paper and look at photog Randy Eli Grothe’s then and now photos. Here’s the Sunday column that started the series; here’s today’s part two. Two more parts to come; they’ll be linked here. Finally, here’s a video Randy made along the way.

still another w-h story

The streak lives! For the fourth consecutive day, I’ve got the lead story on today’s front page, this time coauthored with the multitalented Robert Tharp. The story: State officials have decided to launch an investigative audit into Wilmer-Hutchins’ finances. (And not to brag, but a couple state types told me this audit is a direct result of my stories.)
If all goes according to plan, there should be a fifth front-pager tomorrow, but no promises after that. Joe DiMaggio has nothing to worry about.
Since I never got around to posting it before, Chanda ended up losing to Mauresmo in Olympic singles, sadly.

school rivalries story

Just to prove I don’t write only about Wilmer-Hutchins: here’s my story from tomorrow’s paper. (New motto: Tomorrow’s news today!) It’s a highly subjective ranking of the 10 best local school rivalries. It’ll be on the cover of the Texas Living section tomorrow, with some lovely graphics drawn by the very talented Michael Hogue.

wilmer day 3

Here’s the latest chapter in the Wilmer-Hutchins saga, from today’s front page. (That would be three straight days writing the paper’s lead story — a new personal record.)
Today’s story reveals (a) a grand jury investigation into corruption at the district, (b) the finance director’s surprise acknowledgement the district is, in his words, “broke,” and (c) that state officials are meeting today to discuss intervention into the district’s affairs.
This journalism stuff is fun.
Maybe some day I’ll blog something not about Wilmer-Hutchins. Maybe.


Joshwatch: I just taped an appearance on TXCN that’ll run hourly tonight and repeat sporadically through the weekend. If you don’t know what I look like, I’ll be the guy looking very somber in a dark blue mock turtleneck.
Barring an unexpected late-night bender, I should also be interviewed live on KVIL 103.7 (“#1 for Lite Rock!”) at 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning. My apologies if the interview’s Yawn Count exceeds its Coherent Thought Count.
And pick up Sunday’s paper — I’ll have a big story on the front page. (That’s what I’m busy talking about in all these spots.) Should have another one on Monday’s front page, too.

great political ads

Dallasites, if you get a chance, stop by the Sixth Floor Museum sometime before the end of January. (Of course, all Dallasites have already been to the Sixth Floor Museum — a.k.a. where Oswald plugged JFK — many times. It’s just about the only tourist destination of note in town, which makes it a mandatory stop when out-of-town visitors drop in. I’ve been at least a dozen times.)
Anyway, their temporary exhibit is called The Living Room Candidate, and it’s an entertaining video history of TV commercials from presidential elections past. (The non-Texans among us should head to the web site, which has most of the ads available for viewing.)
Don’t worry about the later years — go straight to the early stuff from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s fascinating to see how quickly the form evolved. Eisenhower’s commercials were almost painfully earnest — the look of a military man forced to interact with The Public and mouth political hackery with fake conviction. But it’s not surprising he won two terms: Adlai Stevenson’s ads were ludicrously dull talkers that wouldn’t hack it on air today.
But the one election you want to check out is 1964, LBJ vs. Goldwater. It’s not hard to figure out why Johnson won in a landslide. Goldwater’s ads were stuck in Eisenhower form: people sitting in chairs and talking to the camera (if occasionally looking crazed while doing it). His only innovations seemed to be fascist parodies that seem to blame the nation’s ills on outtakes of West Side Story.
But LBJ’s ads were works of art. Emotionally manipulative, sure, but works of art nonetheless.
The most famous one, of course, is the daisy ad. That’s the one that features a cute little girl picking petals off a daisy — then segues into a vision of a nuclear holocaust, while an off-camera LBJ intones biblically: “We must either love each other…or we must die.” It’s an incredibly cheap shot (that only aired once), but it is nonetheless some powerful shit.
The ads, viewed as whole, did an amazingly good job of painting Goldwater as, well, batshit crazy: a loose cannon itching to nuke the Soviets, the Chinese, the Vietnamese — hell, maybe the Belgians if he got some bad waffles one morning. Johnson clearly had real filmmakers working for him — the quality of direction is much higher.
But the best of them all is Confessions of a Republican. It’s four minutes of an actor playing a Republican who doesn’t want to vote for Goldwater. It’s amazingly effective at seeding doubts and, even though it’s clearly an actor with a script, it seems infinitely more real than the “real” people in modern ads. I mean, were I a Republican in ’64, I think I’d be forced to think things through after seeing this. In this New Yorker article, professional quote machine Kathleen Hall Jamieson calls it the one of the most effective ads of all time. (Transcript here.)
If my eye for actors is right, the Humphrey campaign tried bringing the same guy back to do a somewhat similar ad against Nixon in ’68. But it’s nowhere near as effective — the dialogue is much obviously politically driven, the reasoning is gone, and the air of self-evaluation has disappeared. But honestly, I think a “Confessions of a Republican”-style ad could be used by either party effectively in ’04. Even the scripted can seem sincere.