CJRColumbia Journalism Review

January/February 1999 | Contents

The Worst Newspaper in America
part 1 of 5

by Bruce Selcraig
Selcraig is a former U.S. Senate investigator and staff writer for Sports Illustrated who lives in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at selcraig@ccsi.com

daily oklahomanOne Sunday morning many months ago the Rev. Robin Meyers stood before some five-hundred members of his eclectic flock at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City and ruminated about what he might do if he ever won a lottery jackpot. "I said I would give a lot of money to education, children, the homeless, that sort of thing," he recalls. "Then I mentioned that if there were any money left over I would start what this city really needs -- a competing daily newspaper to The Daily Oklahoman . . . Well, everyone just started applauding. The place went wild. And this is not a wild church. Even the Republicans were clapping."

That same Sunday, like every day in Oklahoma City, a group of news-starved citizens ranging between five thousand and ten thousand, depending upon the quality of the football season, bought what many here call the most respected daily newspaper in town -- a paper produced two-hundred miles away, The Dallas Morning News.

"I simply won't subscribe to The Daily Oklahoman. They skew the news," says one of the local defectors, junior college professor Frank Silovsky.

"I'm always encouraging my students to read newspapers," says former Oklahoman city editor Randy Splaingard, a journalism professor at Oklahoma City University, "but I never require that they read the Oklahoman. The Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment."

"I have to read it," says Oklahoma Democratic political consultant and former Oklahoma City reporter Mike Carrier, "but it is without question the worst metropolitan newspaper in America."

Maybe you could find critics like these in any American city where an influential newspaper and billionaire publisher reign, but it's doubtful they could match the fervor of these aggrieved Oklahomans, these Democrats and Republicans of all colors and classes, ranchers, teachers, oil executives. They live with a civic wound that's been festering for twenty-five years, a newspaper whose unflattering nickname has become so ingrained in the state lexicon that from Muskogee to Guymon hardly a literate soul doesn't know of "The Daily Disappointment."

What other major newspaper in a metro area of one million people, and with a newsroom of 145 full-time reporters and editors, has only three African-Americans on its news staff?

Where else can you find a big-city editorial page -- run by a Christian Coalition devotee plucked from Washington D.C.'s right-wing Free Congress Foundation -- that not only demonizes unions, environmentalists, feminists, Planned Parenthood, and public education, but also seems obsessed with lecturing gays? From an Oklahoman editorial titled, sin no more?: "There's no solid proof that anyone is born a homosexual . . . . Homosexuality is a sin . . . . But to deny that a sin is a sin and wallow in it is the first step toward damnation. To recognize bad behavior as a sin, repent of it and ‘go and sin no more' is the first step toward salvation."

Want lots of enterprising, in-depth stories with plenty of world and national news in your newspaper's front section? How about praline recipes instead?

At the Oklahoman, which runs a front-page prayer every day, the news-lite front section is larded with cooking contests, horoscopes, Dear Abby, Billy Graham, Zig Ziglar, and women's fashion tips. Need a good chuckle? Try the six-day-a-week column on page two by "clean, keen, and topical" stand-up comedian Argus Hamilton, the son of an Oklahoma City Methodist minister. Hold on to your funny bone:

A whale is dead after a whale-watching boat hit it Monday off Boston Harbor . . . no wonder Monica Lewinsky won't come out of her apartment . . . .

part 1: The Worst Newspaper in America
part 2: By design or neglect
part 3: But Oklahoma City isn't
part 4: Democrats claim
part 5: ...sucking intelligence from its readers