By: Ana Mantica
After years of uncovering the news, sometimes journalists, like former investigative reporter Laura Miller, get frustrated with reporting — and decide they can do a better job than the people they write about.
Four years ago, Miller reached that point after working for the Dallas Observer, an alternative weekly, for six years. She ran for a seat on the City Council and won. Now, she’s the favorite in the run-off for mayor of Dallas on Feb. 16, having polled the most votes (nearly 50% of the total) on Jan. 19, in a special nonpartisan election.
Once known for uncovering corruption at a City Hall she described as “ass-backwards,” Miller, 43, now campaigns in what many consider a “populist” style.
Eric Celeste, associate editor of the Observer, said that when she was writing her columns it was about “screwing someone to the floor if she needed,” and that politics has offered Miller a natural way to still do what she thinks is right.
The switch from journalist to politician, however, didn’t necessarily teach Miller how to deal with coverage about herself, Celeste told E&P. Now, on the other side of the news, Miller is “thin-skinned” when it comes to press coverage about herself, he argued. “She doesn’t ask of herself the same ability to shrug off criticism that she asked the people she wrote about,” Celeste added.
He said Miller has been angry with people who work at the Observer for the sort of stories she would have written about somebody else.
Julie Lyons, editor of the Observer, describes Miller as a brilliant reporter. “She’s great with details. She’s good at spotting what isn’t working in the city,” Lyons told E&P. But, she added, an investigative journalist’s instinct “is to kill, kill, kill. As mayor she has to make friends with people on the council, some of whom she has written about sharply in the past, very sharply, and that’s going to be working against her. A good number of people don’t like her that much because of her past and because of her tenure on the council.”
Miller did not respond to several calls from E&P seeking comment.
And she faces one more obstacle. According to Celeste, who worked with Miller at the city’s D Magazine, “People, especially in Texas, especially in Dallas, have this idea that not only are things better settled in a quiet room, but that women should be more of the quiet southern belles,” he said. “Laura is none of that.”
As a columnist for the Observer, Miller mainly covered City Hall before becoming “frustrated,” “fed up,” and “ready for a fight” as she wrote in her last column “Mr. Mayor Meet Your Nightmare” (Dec. 18, 1997). In that column she explained she was “tired of watching a small number of overly influential people manipulate the system to their own advantage.” And that she was going to “stop whining” and do something — run for City Council.
Bob Mong, president and editor of The Dallas Morning News, has known Miller since she was in college and said her “bright and persistent” reporting qualities have helped her be successful in politics. Mong, who hired Miller in the mid-’80s as a general assignment reporter, says, “She’s never been intimidated to call somebody up.”
Before joining the Observer in 1991, Miller worked as a columnist and writer-at-large for D Magazine for two years. She also served as a columnist for the Dallas Times Herald and the New York Daily News. From 1981 to 1986 Miller worked for The Miami Herald and The Dallas Morning News as a free-lance foreign corespondent. She has won numerous awards including the H.L. Mencken Award for her columns (1995).