Skip to comments.Report From Crawford, Texas
Posted on 10/02/2004 9:07:43 PM PDT by Richard Kimball
As many of you know, I have been a sports photographer for the Texas Iconoclast for the last three years. This week, the Iconoclast endorsed John Kerry over President Bush. Of course, Bush's home town newspaper endorsing his challenger made national news. While it came as no surprise to local residents, it was a chance for the national media to tout that even in Crawford, Texas, the citizens were turning against George Bush. The reality of the situation is a little bit different. As someone who has worked for the paper for a while, I know a little bit more about the story than most. While I will not reveal inside information (I believe it's unethical), here's the real scoop on what has happened.
Most of the editorial board on the Iconoclast is liberal. Leon Smith started the paper after George Bush was elected in 2000. He also runs the Clifton paper, and started up a paper in Valley Mills, which quickly folded. Don Fisher asked me to take sports photographs beginning in 2002. The Iconoclast is run completely out of Clifton. It has no offices in Crawford, nor do any of the principal figures operating the paper live in Crawford.
Crawford, Texas is a small town, with approximately 900 residents. It's located approximately 15 miles west of Waco, Texas. Prior to George Bush moving there, it was just another Texas town. Regionally, it has always been known for having an excellent school system and being extremely competitive in all sports. It's an unusual year when the Crawford Pirates, the local high school football team, don't go to the playoffs.
The citizens of Crawford are generally culturally conservative. They like George Bush, whether they are Republican or Democrat, and consider him a good neighbor. Practically every business in town either has a "George Bush 2004" banner or a "Four More Years" sign. Part of this is business, of course. Crawford has experienced a boom from having the President as a resident. There's something beyond that, though. If George Bush is faking being a "good ole' boy", he's a better actor than Dustin Hoffman ever was. Most of the local citizenry who have met him like him as a neighbor and a person.
When the paper first started, the citizens were thrilled. Previously, the McGregor Mirror, from seven miles south, provided the only newspaper coverage for Crawford. Generally, that meant one black and white photo whenever the McGregor Bulldogs had an off week. After the Iconoclast came to town, there was weekly coverage, with at least eight or ten photos, over half in color, and some on the front page.
After a while, though, it became apparent that something else was going on. Shortly after the Democrats began their drive to unseat George Bush, a group came to town and bought an old house. They called it the Crawford Peace House. The house serves as a meeting place for people who want to have demonstrations and parades against the President. None of the people associated with the Peace House are residents of Crawford, and all they really bring to the area are headaches. From my perspective, they're the same bunch of sixties radicals who now use bandanas to cover up bald spots and haven't done anything since 1967 except look for things to protest and a camera to photograph them doing it. The Iconoclast started giving gushing coverage to the Peace House. There were almost weekly stories. The founder was called "a visionary." Most people I talk to hate the Peace House. But to read the Iconoclast, you'd think the Peace House was the only going concern in town. Other events started to crowd the pages of the Iconoclast. When a group of Nader supporters came to town, the paper gave it more coverage than they had the previous year's football playoff games. One photo showed a man with long hair and a beard holding up a Viet Nam Veterans Against the War sign. Another showed a float of a grinning George Bush holding a missile. Most of the citizens ignored the stories, because the paper still covered the local things of interest, including the football, volleyball, and basketball games of the beloved Pirates.
With the endorsement of John Kerry, though, the citizens of Crawford felt betrayed. While everyone might not be voting for George Bush, they didn't like the tactics used by Leon and the paper. If, they felt, he wanted to endorse John Kerry, why not do it in the Clifton paper? There was a collective sense of being used as an elaborate prop. If an actively Democratic newspaper publisher in Clifton, Texas had endorsed John Kerry, it wouldn't have even been news in Waco. By using the Crawford paper to make the endorsement, though, he had used them as a prop, implying defections from President Bush that don't exist. It wasn't so much the endorsement that bothered them, as the sense that he had used them to climb aboard a national stage to stab one of their neighbors in the back.
From a local standpoint, the paper is now in trouble. The reporter that used to cover most of the local stories didn't go to the homecoming game Friday night. I heard rumors that he had been threatened, but also that many citizens had just made it plain they didn't want him there. A local college student covered the story. There were a spate of cancelled advertisements and subscriptions. It was suggested to me that I could pick up the paper for a song, and that the local subscriptions and adverstising would return, but that doesn't really make any financial sense. There are rumors that other organizations are considering starting a paper there, and for the first time in a couple of years, I saw the owner of the McGregor paper at the homecoming game, taking some photographs. I've been approached about moving my sports photos to another paper. From a national standpoint, the endorsement was a commercial success. There were hundreds of new subscriptions, although none from Crawford, and most of the thousands of letters were supportive, although again, few of those letters were from Crawford.
My friends at the paper seemed genuinely shocked and hurt at the reaction. They reasoned, and accurately, that they came into Crawford, started a newspaper, and had been darned good local citizens. They covered the local sports teams religiously, and covered every local event. The joke around small Texas newspaper offices is that you're not really a reporter or photographer until you've tried to make a chili cookoff interesting. Crawford's paper has a color front and back page, and the reproduction is as good as a daily. Very few weekly newspapers send both a writer and a photographer to cover every football game for the local sports team. It genuinely hurt the staff that one story turned the town so strongly against them.
Friday night, I went and took my photos, as usual, and said hi to all my friends there. I did what I always do. I covered the Pirates, took the best photos I'm capable of taking, posted them to my web site, emailed the notes and names to the paper, and sent an announcement that the pages were posted to all my friends in Crawford.
Here's my perspective. When Don Fisher asked me to take sports photos for the Crawford Pirates three years ago, I didn't know I was starting a love affair. There's something special about Crawford, though, irrespective of whether the President lives there or not. When I was a kid, I hated high school. I didn't go to the football games, the prom, or homecoming. I didn't join any clubs. The only thing I wanted from Richfield High School was out. When I walk into Pirates stadium each week, now, it's like I've finally, at fifty years of age, found my high school. There's a reverent silence during the school song. People stand at attention during the national anthem, and actually get misty. Every little girl from age 18 months up, it seems like, has a Crawford cheerleader uniform. I see my old students from the fire academy, and at least ten people every game shout "hi" from outside the chain link fence that surrounds the field. When I walk around during game breaks to get fan shots, the children crowd down to the front and wave to get my attention. The cheerleaders and players are all friendly, and some of the best looking kids I've ever seen in my life. Sometimes I don't think it's possible to take an ugly photo of a Crawford student. Every game's a family reunion. I've never had a cross word with anyone at Pirate Field.
I've deliberately stayed away from politics in my role as both an employee of a small town paper, and as a sports photographer. Small towns, not just in Texas, but across the country, are unique treasures. They're also increasingly under pressure. Economic forces make being a small farmer or rancher difficult. Most of the decent jobs are in big cities. More and more towns are losing their identities, as they become bedroom communities of larger cities. People often sleep there, but they don't live there. Both the football team and the newspaper are often the unifying factors that help these towns keep their identities. During the week, we may be Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, or agnostics. We may be farmers, lawyers, policemen, teachers or students. We're Democrats, Republicans, Constitutionalists, Anarchists and Idon'tcareists. On Friday night, though, when the lights go on at Pirate Field, we're all Pirates.
Small town papers should serve as a unifying force in the town. People don't buy the local weekly paper to get national news. They buy it to see stories about their town. They want to see which local kid graduated from college. They want to see who's getting married, and who's passed away. They want to see photos of their football team and their annual events. In this respect, I do think the paper has let the town down. If they didn't know this endorsement would create hard feelings, they should have. They also chose to do it here first, and wait a week to put it in the Clifton paper, letting Crawford be the eye of the storm. The national publicity may let Leon create a national paper, which is a local paper in name only. If he wants any long term success, though, he'd better be praying for a Bush victory. He owes this publicity to the man he's trying to unseat. It's a pretty safe bet that none of the new subscribers in Los Angeles or Washington D. C. give a darned about what a small-town newspaperman in Clifton, Texas thinks about national politics, unless the Western White House is twenty miles down the road.
Sad. Even in Texas, of all states, the liberal media is still around to crash the party.
IS that a Chicago Bears Helmet? Da Bears! :^D
What is up with the Pinky & Thumb hand signal from the football players??
Gosh, now.... I loved reading this. Thanks for posting. I'm sending this to Bob Cole at KVET.
Sounds like another George "I hate God, and I'm a loser" Soros enterprise, especially the "peace" house.
Great story. We up in Dallas knew what the real story was. When the Dallas Morning News and the Star-Telegram endorse W, lets see the national coverage.
The "Vietnam syndrome" being reenacted all over this country.
Don't take this the wrong way - but - this looks like another case where people look for a reason to be silent and not stir the pot, so to speak -
just my thought - but, then again, I'm not there so - - - - - -
What an interesting and absorbing piece. I love your portrait of a small town being changed by outsiders yet retaining its core. Very well done.
Good post. Thanks.
Thanks for your perspective; you shed some light on what the real story is in Crawford. One question -- are you still going to work for the paper?
Great story !!! and love the pics, I grew up in Texas and I'm still here. I live in a small town, not as small as Crawford. The people in small towns I think are the lucky one's they're just good folks.
Thanks for the post and the Friday Night photos of small town Texas Football.
I asked the same thing the first time I photographed a game. It's a Pirate hat. Attend about eight games and you'll start doing it, too.
Their days are numbered. Forums like this will bring them to their knees.
Yeah, I think the conservatives in town should start another local newspaper. The whole town (it sounds like) would support it and abandon the liberal paper.
Get it going before the election and endorse Pres. Bush.