Last year, Chris Tomlinson was known as a progressive (IOW left-leaning) political activist in Texas. But the year 2011 has been very good to him. Tomlinson’s success at reinventing himself bears an important lesson for us all.
Tomlinson was managing editor of the Texas Observer, which describes the goal of its publisher, the Texas Democracy Foundation, as promoting “progressive change for Texas.” The publication gets progressive cred from its founding editor, Ronnie Dugger. And its reputation is known within Texas. The Austinist referred to the Texas Observer as “the fantastic non-profit, non-partisan (but totally liberal) news and culture magazine.” Bear that in mind when you see an outfit described as “non-partisan” in a news article.
The Texas Observer on Feb. 2, 2011, advertised a project to train the next generation of “progressive” activists (emphasis mine):
“TDL Next Gen Leaders will spend time with Texas Democracy Foundation Board members and with Editor Bob Moser and the staff of The Texas Observer. Mentors and workshop speakers include Jim Hightower, Senator Rodney Gibbs, Chris Tomlinson, Genevieve Van Cleve, Mayor Julián Castro and others. The Next Gen group will conduct research and pursue community projects to connect Texas citizens to progressive ideas that promote social justice and equality”
Now, why should you care about one of many of Texas’ left-leaning activists? Because Chris Tomlinson the political activist is now Chris Tomlinson the reporter for the “objective” Associated Press, covering Texas politics. (The Texas Observer’s Web site solicits a replacement for Tomlinson’s vacated ME position).
You’ll come across Tomlinson’s stories about Texas under the Associated Press banner, both with his name, and without his name. In particular, one story by Tomlinson describes how the Texas Legislature’s new budget was crafted to advance Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Republican presidential campaign. The story’s premise is that the budget was pasted together with gimmicks. Tomlinson writes:
“It accomplishes, however, what the Republican majority wanted most: It did not raise taxes, took little from the Rainy Day Fund and shifted any future deficits onto the next Legislature.
“Those are key talking points for Perry, as he speaks to the conservative faithful around the country and considers a run for president in 2012. Many Republican lawmakers have complained privately, and Democrats publicly, that Perry has heavily influenced the session to make sure nothing passed that would hurt a potential campaign.”
Tomlinson also demonstrated his ability as a mind-reader of conservative motivations (emphasis added):
“Lawmakers also chose to ignore the estimated $4.8 billion extra it would need for the Medicaid health care program because of Texas’ fast-growing population and high poverty rate. By simply opting not to budget for it, conservatives showed their hatred for the program and could technically balance the budget.”
So according to Tomlinson, Texas conservatives hate Medicaid. That doesn’t leave much room to describe the emotions of Texas’ Tea Party Caucus, which Tomlinson calls “ultra-conservative”.
Tomlinson may have an in when it comes to understanding the Texas Legislature: His impressive bio (PDF) lists him as a former speechwriter for State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat from Laredo.
I found Tomlinson’s story on the Texas budget slamming Rick Perry thanks to a link from LA Observed’s Mark Lacter. Lacter’s message is not to believe everything you hear about Texas’ superior economy, because the ambitious Rick Perry forced a deceitful budget on the state.
Lacter directed readers to a version of the story on the Washington Post, which as is the practice with many newspapers, deleted the name of the AP reporter. Because they’re all the same with their dedication to journalism, and bring no ideological baggage to their jobs. And if they do, why let the readers know, so they’ll lose confidence in media objectivity?
But being a curious journalist type myself, I just had to know just who wrote this article that paints Perry in an unflattering light, using what I considered a loaded vocabulary, such as the condescending reference to “conservative faithful” and anonymous attacks on Perry. Did I detect a whiff of the reporter’s politics, or was it just my imagination? So I Googled the article’s lead. Look, here’s another Tomlinson special knocking Perry! Well, this sure is getting interesting.
Could it be that Tomlinson has Rick Perry on the brain? Sure seems that way from his tweets:
Over at the conservative site NewsBusters, explicitly dedicated to attacking leftist media bias, Tom Blumer finds some math boners in a Tomlinson budget story. The AP issued a correction. (NOTE: AP has vanished the correction, but I’m leaving the link here so you can know how much AP respects accuracy). Blumer notes that the order-of-magnitude correction hasn’t been applied to Tomlinson stories at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal and on AP’s own site. (AP, again, has vanished the story that used to reside at that link).
Don’t do this kind of investigating yourself. Now that he’s been re-ordained in the Church of Objective Journalism, Tomlinson has no partisan axe to grind. That’s the guarantee the Associated Press provides its valued readers. However, we can’t have those valued readers actually using the Internet to check up on the political biases of reporters.
What makes this story even more heartwarming is that Tomlinson came to the Texas Observer from the Associated Press, where he covered the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as part of a long journalistic career. Back in the mid-90s, Tomlinson also dabbled in politics as a speechwriter for Texas state Senator Judith Zaffirini, a Democrat representing Laredo.
And now that the Texas Legislature has concluded its season, Gov. Rick Perry is reportedly getting ready to announce his own presidential candidacy. And of course, Tomlinson is looking forward to 2012 as well. Expect to see Tomlinson’s brand of “objective” stories about Perry in the Associated Press. For a taste of the coverage to come, Tomlinson’s Twitter feed may provide some clues:
So here’s to Chris Tomlinson, the journalist/political activist/journalist/political activist who the revolving door has placed back at the Associated Press. It takes an immense amount of mental flexibility to handle such transitions from reporter to activist back to reporter in such a short time. But we can be assured Chris Tomlinson won’t let his leftist views color his reporting.
We have AP’s professionalism — and Tomlinson’s — to guarantee it.
Molly Ivins would have been proud.
(DISCLAIMER: This article represents the opinion of Bradley J. Fikes, and not necessarily that of his employer, the North County Times.)