DALLAS: House majority leader Dick Armey (R-TX) aimed a direct hit in his war of words with media company Belo by trying to attach a rider to a military-appropriations bill that would have forced the company to divest one of three North Texas media properties.
Belo execs publicly shot back, claiming Armey drafted the measure in retaliation to its papers' coverage of his son, Scott Armey. The Dallas Morning News, Belo's flagship property, devoted some 45 inches of its business section last Monday to a story heavily quoting Belo execs and comparing the situation to The Washington Post's difficulty in renewing broadcast licenses during Watergate.
Although Armey's proposed rider didn't expressly name Belo, its narrow language could only have applied to Belo's holdings of the News, Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA, and the nearby Denton Record-Chronicle. "Mr. Armey wrote this proposal to fit the constituency he represents," said his spokesman Terry Holt. The provision was later deleted, and stands little chance of reinstatement.
Former Denton County Judge Scott Armey unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for his retiring father's House seat. The Dallas Morning News' primary coverage included articles about county contracts benefiting Scott Armey's political associates. The elder Armey publicly accused the paper of "vicious unprofessionalism."
Holt told reporters that the rider reflected Armey's advocacy of competitive media markets and concerns that advertising limitations in proposed campaign-finance legislation would make news organizations more vital in informing the public about politics.
Wire services picked up Belo CEO Robert Decherd's statement calling Armey's actions "misplaced use of congressional power for personal retaliation," and Belo general counsel Guy Kerr fielded calls from national media. Dallas Morning News president and editor Bob Mong claimed his reporter wrote long to achieve "balance."
"It's not an easy story to tell in 15 or 20 inches," he said.