Copyright 2002 The Washington Post
The Washington Post
October 08, 2002, Tuesday, Final Edition
A SECTION; Pg. A04
903 words HEADLINE:
Armey Seeks Provision in Bill To Punish Hometown Paper
Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post Staff Writer
Furious at how the Dallas Morning
News covered his son's failed congressional bid this year, House Majority Leader
Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) is trying to insert language in a military spending
bill that would force the newspaper's parent company to sell off one of its
Dallas media properties.
Armey privately asked Republican lawmakers to
place a provision in this year's military construction bill that would make Belo
Corp., which owns the Dallas Morning News as well as the Denton Record-Chronicle
and WFAA-TV of Dallas, shed one of its properties. The maneuver, which was first
reported Monday in the Dallas Morning News, has sparked protests among Democrats
While lawmakers frequently use must-pass spending bills
as a vehicle to attach special-interest provisions, Armey this time is unlikely
to succeed. House and Senate negotiators plan to complete work on the military
construction bill this afternoon, and House Appropriations Committee spokesman
John Scofield said they have no intention of including the majority leader's
language because it would violate Senate rules. "We have no intention of
including extraneous provisions in this bill," Scofield said. "It's too
important to the quality of life for our troops to get bogged down in a
Even Texas GOP colleague Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
opposes Armey's measure. "Nobody wants to kill the military construction bill,"
said her spokeswoman, Lisette McSoud Mondello.
Even if Armey fails to
punish Belo for its news coverage, however, his move reflects a broader unease
among lawmakers who fear corporate ownership of news outlets hurts their ability
to communicate with constituents. The prospect of new campaign finance rules has
only fueled these politicians' anxieties, because they say they fear the media
may become even more powerful once parties are no longer able to finance
Terry Holt, Armey's spokesman, said the congressman hoped
to "send a signal" to Belo that it needed to provide more balanced coverage in
its political reporting. "In America, the press is responsible for informing the
public and providing a forum for free debate," Holt said. "In this case, this
particular corporation has almost a stranglehold on Mr. Armey's constituency in
Mr. Armey's district."
The dispute between Armey and Belo stems from the
Dallas Morning News' reporting on his son Scott, a former Denton County judge
who hoped to succeed his father but lost in an April 9 GOP primary runoff. Armey
said the newspaper engaged in "vicious unprofessionalism" with a series of
articles this year critical of his son's judicial record, and since his son's
loss he has refused to speak with Belo reporters.
Scott Armey said he
was unsure whether his father's proposal would improve the Morning News'
reporting, but said it was fair to say the managing editor and a handful of
reporters were "intentionally trying to determine the outcome of an election"
this spring by publishing articles that implied he "was corrupt."
paper's top editors could not be reached for comment yesterday.
provision calls on the Federal Communications Commission to force any media
company to divest one outlet if, in a single market, it owns a newspaper with a
Sunday circulation of 750,000 or more that lacks a competitor with a Sunday
circulation above 350,000; owns another daily with a Sunday circulation of
25,000 or less, and a network-affiliated TV station.
Holt said the
measure was specifically crafted to affect Belo but not any other media company.
Belo's chairman, Robert W. Decherd issued a statement Sunday criticizing
the move. "Congressman Armey's misplaced blame of Belo for his son's loss in a
recent congressional primary in Denton County, Texas, is truly unfortunate,"
Decherd said. "His misuse of congressional leadership powers for personal
retaliation toward Belo is not in keeping with the positive results Congressman
Armey has produced for his constituents during his long tenure as a member of
the Texas congressional delegation."
Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Tex.), a
member of the House Appropriations Committee who informed Belo of Armey's plans
this weekend, called the move "absolutely outrageous."
inappropriate, wrong and unethical," Edwards said. "This bill is designed to
improve the quality of life of military families, not to carry out a personal
family feud. Mr. Armey has had a lot of fine moments in his congressional
career, but this not one of them."
But Holt said lawmakers had to be
particularly vigilant with the press because after the Nov. 5 election,
political parties will not be able to spend millions on paid media on behalf of
congressional candidates. "As part of campaign finance reform, the role of the
media will be much, much greater than in the past," he said. Some lawmakers,
while unwilling to defend Armey's move, said Congress needs to be more vigilant
about guarding against media
consolidation. The FCC is
considering whether to relax federal rules concerning media
and multiple ownership, as part of a process they must
undergo every two years.
Ken Ferree, who heads the FCC's media bureau,
said yesterday that while some suspect that commission officials are determined
to make it easier for large conglomerates to buy up local media outlets,
"There's no preordained conclusion to this."
October 08, 2002