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James Ragland Returns, Omits One Big Detail

RaglandIn Sunday’s paper, Dallas Morning News editor Bob Mong announced that James Ragland would return today with “a new column focused on four substantive topics: race and culture, education, social services and public health.” Left unsaid was what he would return from. Ragland was reassigned in 2011 after he was arrested for a misdemeanor family violence assault charge against him involving his wife, who claimed that during an argument he had pushed her to the floor and pulled her hair. He had to give up his column, and he was banished to the paper’s Collin County bureau.

A judge dismissed the charge against Ragland in late September of this year because his wife, Shannon Morley-Ragland, wouldn’t testify against him. More important, in April of last year she told prosecutors that Ragland “did not grab the phone from her hands, did not push her down, did not throw the phone at her and that she was not scared of the defendant,” all claims she’d made in the police report.

Why it took from April 2012 till September 2013 to get the charge dismissed is something I would have asked Ragland if he’d responded to the email I sent him yesterday. I asked if he was going to address his domestic situations in his new column. Like I say, no response.

So why bother to bring up all this ugly personal stuff? I talked with Zac and Eric yesterday about whether I should post anything today about Ragland. They talked me out of it. Given the way events unfolded, we have to assume Ragland is innocent. That’s clearly what the paper thinks, given how quickly he was reinstated after the charge was dismissed. If he’s innocent, then we’ve got no victim, and any discussion of what happened in 2011 leads to more pain for two people who’ve had at least one rocky spot in their marriage. Who hasn’t? It’s none of our business. When Ragland didn’t respond to me, and given how Mong announced the news, I assumed Ragland would come out of the gate with a column about social services or whatever. I decided not to post anything.

But then I read his column today. It begins:

Hey, it’s good to be back.

I’ve been on a reporting sabbatical for two years, covering everything from UFO sightings to an insidious food-borne illness that left many Texans with a sick stomach.

And then it goes on to say:

[In 1999] I took my first sabbatical from the newsroom, agreeing to a yearlong teaching stint as visiting professor of journalism at Texas A&M University-Commerce, my alma mater.

My time in the classroom reminded me of why I got into journalism. It is my passion. I care deeply about this city and this nation, and I want them to be better, for their sake and ours.

That’s why I morphed into a columnist in 2000, to give voice to people who don’t have one, to dwell on issues of fairness and justice, to bring Fourth Estate tension and relief where needed.

And it’s why I’m picking up that mantle again.

He took his first sabbatical from the newsroom to teach. He took his second sabbatical from the newsroom to — report? What? And he’s returning to give voice to people who don’t have one? Okay, sure, that might be technically true. But he’s returning because he’s being allowed to return.

To my mind, this is a lie of omission. When you are a high-profile columnist, you take up the mantle to use first person. And if you’re going to write about yourself, if you’re going to give us your bio from birth and reintroduce yourself to us, then you owe it to us to at least acknowledge the real reason you were gone for two years — or still with us but sitting in the backseat, being much quieter than we were used to. “I stepped away from my column so that I could more effectively deal with some family issues.” Words to that effect.

But just pretending it never happened? That’s makes me wonder how much I can trust you.

19 comments on “James Ragland Returns, Omits One Big Detail

  1. One more point: while on his “sabbatical,” Ragland appears to have aged. But I think he wears the gray well. I wonder why they haven’t updated the headshot that accompanies his column.

  2. When I read “I’ve been on a reporting sabbatical for two years” in his column i wracked my brain trying to remember why he was on a sabbatical.
    Thanks for reminding us, and yes he should have mentioned why and brought the readers up to date, unless he was legally prevented from doing so.
    now as to the ” four substantive topics: race and culture, education, social services and public health.” I would hope that the “race and culture” topic is not the same ol same ol that we see from other columnists who write about race from one side of the equation.

  3. Also going to start asking the ladies to bring Fourth Estate tension and relief where needed. [RIMSHOT]

  4. Could they not find a single other black person in all of Dallas who could address those topics in print, and therefore they were forced to bring him back? Seems like this was a good opportunity to bring in a fresh voice.

  5. I do not know the Rogers Rules® w/r/t the Oxford comma, but it seems as if the DMN’s counting is off.

    “[A] new column focused on four substantive topics: race and culture, education, social services and public health.”

    I can count three topics or five, but not four.

  6. As a DMN subscriber I received an email yesterday announcing Ragland’s return. I did not forget why he left so I was shocked to read his column today. It is exactly what you said it is, a lie of omission. One line acknowledging what happened is all that was needed. Instead I dislike the guy even more.

  7. When I saw today’s column, my head started spinning around and I quickly started to post a “comment.”

    After I got about half way through, I thought, ehhh… notwithstanding the weirdness of the whole thing, I didn’t want to kick the guy in his junk on his first day back.

  8. There is always more than one way to look at anything. You can be suspicious and raise everything to doubt by saying okay, “I know I’m a news hound hungry for every juicy tidbit of the lives of others so I’m going to stick it to this guy.” Or, you can welcome back a fellow journalist and understand he’s probably been through a lot and say, “Welcome back. No need to tell us anything more than what will be in your upcoming columns.” Remember, James rocked as a columnist with humor and insight. And, NO , I do not work for the DMN. I simply liked and respected him as a journalist.

  9. “More important, in April of last year she told prosecutors that Ragland “did not grab the phone from her hands, did not push her down, did not throw the phone at her and that she was not scared of the defendant,” all claims she’d made in the police report.” If this statement is true, Mrs. Ragland should be headed to jail for initiating a false arrest and wasting tax payer dollars by tying up the court system with a phony case.
    On the other hand, if that statement is false, she may not be so lucky next time.

  10. if you need a job try this site JOBS61 (dot)COM. Dan does it at home and makes $17.91 hourly just sitting and typing stuff all day…No experience needed too

  11. Get a clue. Clearly the DMN leadership has restricted comments on the matter. Don’t you think everyone would like to tell their side of the story, clear the air, cleanse their good name–especially when innocent. What is really stuck in your craw?

  12. “I asked if he was going to address his domestic situations in his new column. Like I say, no response.”

    Seriously, Timmy? You really thought James Ragland was going to address this whole distasteful episode when he’s trying to start anew? Why would you think that? And what’s in it for him if he talked to Frontburner? More importantly, what’s in it for you?

    I think what we have here is a case of columnist envy! Yes, I’m sure it sucks when an upstanding, talented writer-guy like you, who’s patiently paid his dues; is 17 on a 10-point scale of ‘best hubby ever;’ is a rock star in the parental unit world (if you are a parent); goes above and beyond in his professional life; is kind to animals, mammals and sea mollusks; puts in quality time as a member of his community; and is an all-around swell citizen, sees James get another shot with his old job at a dying paper that none of my well-read friends seem to read. Believe me, I, like former President Clinton, ‘feel your pain.’ I really, really do! The least DMN could have done was approach you about the columnist gig, not that you’d ever consider taking it, given you’re still in D magazine love. But why shouldn’t they have considered and/or talked to you? I mean, you’ve got perspective, writing chops, a following, and a stable personality.

    Generally speaking, being an upstanding member of the human race is a thankless state of being most of the time. It baffles me still as to the powerful allure of dysfunction. You’re probably an old soul, Timmy, whereas James is probably a young soul. Old souls are more sage-like, which keeps them away from unnecessary drama. Redemption evolves a young soul.

    I know James. He’s always been a swell guy to me, but I’m not privy to what goes on behind the closed doors of married folk. All I really know is that sometimes when guys are in the path of a middle-age crisis, they seem to be traveling the same route as (my big brother’s terminology, not mine) ‘some strange.” If that’s the case, ‘date it, don’t marry it!’

  13. I’m sure he has lawsuits or something on DMN and they probably got tired of paying him to do nothing.

  14. 1. race and culture
    2. education
    3. social services
    4. public health

    AP style (used by most U.S. newspapers) omits the Oxford comma.