John Aloysius Farrell, who was an investigative reporter for The Boston Globe during the 2000 campaign and is now the Washington bureau chief for The Denver Post, says the stories done by the Texas papers “had become the bible for the work that the rest of us used when we got on the scene a year or two later.” In fact, Farrell said that several months ago, while he was still at the Globe, he wrote a memo to his editors that used the investigative work done on Bush by Texas papers as an example of the kind of coverage that the Globe should be doing on John Kerry. Farrell said he told his editors that they “can look brilliant in the way the Texas papers did. But if you don’t do it, you’ll look foolish.” For example:

The first story to detail Bush’s less-than-stellar history in the oil business was done by The Dallas Morning News in May 1994. That story, written by Charlotte-Anne Lucas, contained many of the details about Bush’s sale of Harken Energy stock that later became the subject of dozens of stories by the national press.

R.G Ratcliffe, a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, was the first to delve into some of the investment deals that the University of Texas and the state’s Teacher Retirement System did with Bush’s supporters. Ratcliffe explained how the university’s endowment money was being invested in deals controlled by Tom Hicks, a wealthy Dallas entrepreneur who was on the University of Texas board of regents and had been a big donor to Bush’s gubernatorial campaign. Hicks later bought the Texas Rangers baseball team in a deal that gave the future president a profit of nearly $15 million.
The first questions about Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard were raised by Jim Moore, a reporter for KHOU-TV in Houston, during a televised debate in 1994. (Moore has just released a book, Bush’s War for Re-election, that contains new details about the president’s military record.) The first major story to explain how much money Bush would make from his investment in the Texas Rangers — and how the team’s owners plotted to use the power of eminent domain to gain control over land that they didn’t own near the ballpark in Arlington — was done by The Texas Observer in mid-1997. In September 2000, Pete Slover, a reporter at The Dallas Morning News, was the first to report the fact that while Dick Cheney was living in Dallas, he had neglected to vote in fourteen of the previous sixteen elections.

Many Texas journalists, especially those on the left, have feasted on Bush 43. Few have gained more attention — or barbecued Bush and his cohorts more often — than Lou Dubose, a former editor of The Texas Observer. Over the past four years, Dubose has co-authored three books, two about Bush and one about Karl Rove. Two of those books, Shrub and Bushwhacked (both of which he co-wrote with another Austinite, the syndicated columnist Molly Ivins) have been New York Times best sellers. “Bush’s presidency helped me,” said Dubose. “It helped Slater, Molly, Jim Moore, it helped everybody but Burka, who was the most obsequious.” And while Dubose has made a good living off Bush, he’s had enough. He’s pulling for John Kerry in November “or anybody else that can end the situation that Bush has put us into. The prospect of another four years of this guy is too much. I don’t want to write another book.” Dubose is now co-writing a book on another powerful Texan, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Texas Monthly has done “a more than honorable job covering Bush over the past fifteen years,” Evan Smith, the magazine’s editor, told CJR in mid-March. “People misunderstood our coverage of Bush as an endorsement or an embrace of what Bush did. Like everybody else, we were charmed by Bush. We found him to be a good governor.” But he quickly adds, “Our view of Bush in the White House today is wholly different from the Bush of Austin.”

Justin Peters is editor-at-large of the Columbia Journalism Review.