In 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.