Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Republican Mouthpieces, Eh?

An interesting article appeared last week in the FWWeekly basically accusing the Texas A&M Press of becoming a Republican Party mouthpiece. I myself being a knee-jerk liberal and true Orangeblood, the story made me go, "Yeah ... and so ...?"

However, one piece of evidence that Cynthia Shear used to support her thesis was this: "This fall, A&M Press will bring out a biography of Clayton Williams, paid for by Clayton Williams, an A&M alum who lost a gubernatorial race to Ann Richards in part because he said Texas weather is like rape: If it’s inevitable, relax and enjoy it."

Now say anything you want about Williams. It matters not to me. But I think Shear was a little off base by submitting the Williams bio as evidence of a vast Right Wing Aggie Conspiracy. This book, of course, has two Fort Worth connections: it's written by Mike Cochran with an editing assist from wordsmith Mike Blackman. Cochran is best known as the author of Texas vs. Davis, the story of the Cullen Davis murder trial, and as one of the pallbearers at the funeral of Arlington Heights alum (and alleged presidential assassin) Lee Harvey Oswald. Blackman is the former executive editor of the Star-Telegram and currently a journalism professor at Sam Houston State. These guys ... Republican mouthpieces? Seems pretty damn unlikely to me.

So I asked them both: was the Williams book a vanity project?

"When Claytie sat down with me and asked me to do this project, I told him I wasn't going to do a fluff book," Cochran said. "Claytie told me, 'I don't want no damn fluff book.'"

Blackman echoed that. "Cochran -- he's nobody's mouthpiece, and certainly not for Clayton Williams. Not once in our many hours of interviews did Williams ever say 'no comment.' Sometimes he and Cochran butted heads big time. Sometimes I became the referee, separating these two pugnacious rascals."

Cochran remembered one time when he and Williams got into it.

"I told him that Bush -- now this is fact -- Bush would never have run for governor in '94 if Williams had beat Ann Richards. And if that doesn't happen, Bush doesn't have a springboard to run for president. And we're not in Iraq right now. So we're not just talking about Williams changing the history of Texas. He changed the history of the world."

To put it mildly, Williams didn't agree with Cochran's reasoning. And that's sort of how it went. Sometimes they got along. Sometimes not. But they always managed to make up over tequila shots. So bottom line: was this a vanity project?

"Not at all," Cochran said. "Claytie wanted a book with humor in it. And I think that's what he got. If anything, Claytie's lovely wife, Modesta, thought he was too candid."

And that's pretty much what I thought I'd find -- two guys with decades of journalism experience between them just trying to tell a damn good story. "If Williams had wanted a book painting him in glowing colors, some heroic portrait, then he screwed up bad, because Cochran's book reveals flaws and shortcomings galore," Blackman said. "Besides, I ask you: What's the percentage in whoring at our age? We're not that fetching."

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