by gabrielle cosgriff
I OS just can't take any more," said
Laura Furman, resigning her job
m* as senior editor of Houston City
Magazine. "I thought about it hard over
the Memorial Day weekend and decided
that unless I was hurting people by resigning, I wanted nothing more than to
Furman resigned because City's new
owner, Francois de Menil, FDM Publications, pulled a story on the South Texas
Nuclear Project (STNP) from the magazine's June issue. De Menil had already
enraged staffers by yanking the same
story from the May issue (See Media
Matters, May 1979), then had mollified
them temporarily by saying the story
needed more research and checks for
At a luncheon with the staff on May
16, de Menil said the story could be
printed "whenever David wants to run
Editor David Crossley, who had assigned the story originally, and who
shared the byline on it with Andrew
Sansom, immediately put it in the June
in the June issue."
"This story exists by itself," said
Crossley, "and is apart from my position as editor of the magazine. I wanted
it to get out to the people of Houston."
So why did de Menil kill the story?
The reason he gave several reporters was
that it needed more research and libel
According to Furman, senior editor
Linda Sylvan and research editor John
Wilburn "packaged the research and did a
research memo—that is, they made it
understandable to a lay person as they
were taught to do at Readers' Digest—
and zipped it off to Francois in New
De Menil told KPRC-TV that he didn't
want "a magazine that terrorizes people
and makes them want to leave Houston."
Texas Monthly's page on "State Secrets," (May, 1979) reported, "Francois de
Menil thought the story might embarrass
his friend and neighbor George Brown,
founder of Brown & Root, which is building the nuclear plant." No source for that
information was given.
The same rationale was offered by
search was needed." Then why did his
staff include it in that issue and take it
to the printer? "Well, I think there is a
misunderstanding between them and me,
and that's unfortunate," he said.
In a telephone interview, de Menil
declined to discuss "conditions of sale"
several times, saying "I don't think that's
anybody's business." Finally, he said,
magazine. There will be a presence where
there was none before, and that's just a
fact of life."
Laura Furman had spoken of the independence of the staff at City. "We
started out independent and it seemed to
us, and maybe this was naive, that our
problems were financial. This is like getting married for security and then finding
"In a city choking on its own boosterism, I
was convinced that good hard stories and
good service pieces would make our magazine one we could be proud of."
"All of a sudden there was this containment,
as Haldeman used to say in the White House."
That issue was at the printers, on the
boards, when de Menil pulled it again.
"That was it for me," said Furman.
In her letter of resignation, she expressed her concern that killing the story
"reflects an attitude toward the readers
I cannot condone: that is, a magazine is
only a business whose duty it is to make
money . . . but any form of media also
bears the responsibility to make known
information that is important to the
health and well-being of its public. . .
"In a city that is choking on its own
boosterism, I was convinced that the
combination of good hard stories and
good service pieces would make our
magazine a success, and one we could be
proud of. I still have hopes that this can
come to pass, but I no longer feel the
dedication and energy necessary to carry
on as senior editor."
That was also the last straw for Cross-
ley and Sansom, £s far as their story was
concerned. They withdrew it from City
and made it available to Houston Breakthrough, Texas Observer, and Galveston
County's In Between magazine.
"When the story was pulled the first
time, I was depressed," said Sansom, "but
then when it happened a second time, I
felt the situation shouldn't have
happened. All of a sudden there was this
containment, as Haldeman used to say in
the White House.
"I called Francois in New York and
told him I would like to have this story
published, and published in this market.
He said 'give me a few more days.' We
flew the research and libel materials up
to him. The next thing I heard, it wasn't
City staffers, but again, no one had any
first-hand information. When I asked de
Menil if that report were correct, he said,
"No, not at all."
Whatever reasons de Menil gave for
pulling the story seem academic considering this one fact: It was agreed on May
1 that the story would not appear in City
magazine, at least not in the May issue.
In a letter of intent to buy the magazine, dated May 1, it was stated as a
condition of sale that the magazine "delete the article on nuclear energy." The
"Look, if someone has leaked something
to you, that's unfortunate, but it doesn't
mean I have to comment on it."
Nor was he willing to comment on his
plans for City magazine. "That would
sort of take the wind out of whatever
announcements we may make . . ."
Not much was forthcoming, either,
on his recent trip to Cuba with local
U.S. Congressman (and former Menil
Foundation board member) Mickey Leland. De Menil had provided the private
jet to fly Leland and his party to Cuba on
an unofficial visit. Leland was received
as a Member of Congress and had a 30-
minute discussion with Cuban leader
De Menil took along a writer from
Washington and a photographer from
New York. When asked why he didn't
take anyone connected with City magazine, de Menil replied, "A photographer is
a photographer is a photographer . . .the
reporter was approved by the editorial
staff. There was no one on staff who was
capable of writing that ..."
I asked, "Was the journalist chosen by
the editorial staff?"
This story exists by itself and is apart from
my position as editor, I wanted it to get out
to the people of Houston."
letter was signed by publisher Gary Easterly and FDM Publications vice president
I asked both de Menil and Easterly if
indeed the story was ever intended to run
in the June issue, or if 'delete' meant
Easterly thought the letter was intended only to keep the story out of the
May issue. He understood it could appear
at a later date. Did he think the promise
of running it in June could have been
made to calm a restless staff? "That's
possible," he said.
De Menil said, "In my mind it was not
going to be run in June because more re-
"No, they did not come up with him,"
said de Menil.
I then asked, "How do you see yourself as owner, making editorial decisions?
You assigned this Cuba story and you
killed the nuclear story. Does that mean
you are in essence the editor's editor?"
"I don't know what you're getting at
here," he said.
"Should I rephrase it?" I asked.
"I don't think that's necessary, " he
replied. "I'll put it one simple way. I'm
not going to comment on my role. The
editor has his job, everybody has their
job. However, we own the magazine and
intend to have our ideas included in the
out that you're only allowed out of the
house five minutes every day."
De Menil made no bones about his
active participation in the magazine.
"If they (the editorial staff) want all of
the liabilities, then they can put up all
of the money, and then they can ... be
independent. But as long as they're not
sharing the liabilities they cannot expect
to have a complete free rein. It's just
normal business practice."
"That's life," said Crossley. "He does
own the magazine."
In Between printed the story on
Thursday, June 9. Breakthrough is running
it in this issue (see box opposite page.)
The day the story broke in Galveston,
KPRC-TV began a series of reports on
the nuclear story and the situation at
City magazine. They were the only local
news organization to pick up on the
The Washington Post ran a story on
it on June 10 and Newsweek has a story
in their current issue. The Houston Post
and the Houston Chronicle have not
mentioned the story. The other Houston
TV network affiliates have said nothing.
KTRH Radio, when it finally covered
the story the next Monday, quoted only
the NRC spokesperson, who dismissed
the allegations in the story as just problems in "record keeping." "They do not
represent any real significance to the
construction of the plant," he said.
Harold Scarlett, Post environmental
writer, said In Between publisher Joe
Murphy had promised him a copy of the
story the day it broke. None was forthcoming for several days.
Scarlett commented about the story
being on TV that night. "I'm a little
teed off that he got it to a TV station
and left us out in the cold," he said.
"After reading the story, I frankly don't
see what all the shouting was about. We
have carried virtually all of this material
already in the Houston Post."
Would Scarlett have used the story if
he hadn't been "scooped" by the TV
station? "I would have been more favorably inclined to do something with it,"
Had he written anything on the STNP
in the last month? "No."