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'Culture of Fear' At Dallas Paper After Reporter-Prosecutor Dispute

Miles Moffeit of the Dallas Morning News had asked John Creuzot, the top prosecutor for Dallas County, whether his office wanted more oversight of investigations into city police brutality, the subject of a series Moffeit co-wrote for the newspaper. “Well, it looks like you answered your own question,” Creuzot replied July 19. “Congratulations! See how smart you are! Yep, Pulitzer-Prize Nominated for good reason!” Moffeit used Creuzot’s cryptic and sarcastic response to report a week later that the D.A. wanted more power over the police department’s use-of-force investigations. Creuzot did not dispute the story until September, when Morning News editors contacted him and he told them that Moffeit misrepresented his stance. The reporter’s subsequent departure from the newspaper and the publication of a rare and humiliating front-page retraction of his story, has left one of the nation’s premier regional newsrooms in turmoil three months later, reports the Washington Post. The Morning News’s series of investigative reports on police brutality, which many hoped would be a Pulitzer contender, was halted prematurely.

Many of Moffeit’s former colleagues remain bitter about top editors’ reaction to what they see as a relatively minor mistake, an “inartful paraphrase,” as Moffeit described it, and concerned that it reflects a larger lack of managerial willingness to stand up to local officials who challenge their work. “The most pressing issue here is not my mistake,” Moffeit wrote in an email to editors after his resignation. “It is the fact that The News’ managers succumbed to pressure from Dallas politicians who want to mask a corrupt criminal justice system.” On Dec. 4, the newspaper’s union published an open letter signed by 89 of its journalists, who said they were “disturbed” by top editors’ decisions. They also called for the retraction to be corrected. Management “caved when Dallas political figures complained about [Moffeit’s] investigative project,” the union wrote, and its “disproportionate and heavy-handed discipline” has created a “culture of fear” in the newsroom. Morning News executive editor Katrice Hardy said the newspaper’s personnel decisions are “wholly independent of pressure or complaints from elected officials.”


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