Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Chapped Fannies and Cow Dung

NPR commentators have been lampooned for their cardboard on-air personalities. Then there is Wade Goodwyn, public radio’s man in Texas.

wgoodwynsmallGoodwyn, who is based in Dallas, is easily the most colorful, distinctive voice on NPR. In his story this week about the Texas primary election, Goodwyn led off with this, “There’s no need to call Central Casting to find the leading man of your new Netflix political blockbuster, ‘House of Cowboy Boots.’ U.S. Senator John Cornyn is already perfect for the part.”

Later in the same piece, which described the failure of the Texas Tea Party to find a serious challenger to Cornyn, Goodwyn quipped, “This is what chaps the fannies of the Tea Party faithful. Instead of standing with (Texas Senator) Ted Cruz, who was trying to take it to the Democrats, John Cornyn voted to keep the federal government open. For Dale Huls, that was plenty enough to want someone else.”

Earlier in his career, Goodwyn worked in New York City as a political consultant, but he graduated from the University of Texas and displays an innate ability to channel simultaneously – and improbably –political reality and the thinking of Texans.

He also has a vast panoply of story opportunities. In the last decade and a half, Goodwyn covered Enron’s implosion, the prosecution of polygamist Waren Jeffs and the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco. His reporting has such a strong following that NPR dispatched Goodwyn to cover the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, devastation in Tornado Alley, the shootings at Columbine High School and the Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Goodwyn’s reporting isn’t limited to breaking news. He has filed major stories about American and Southwest Airlines and the wrongful conviction of blacks and Latinos in Texas and Louisiana.

What sets Goodwyn apart from many of his NPR colleagues – and, for that matter, most reporters on radio – is his vivid speech. The Poynter Institute uses Goodwyn’s coverage of tornado damage in Moore, Oklahoma as as example of how to cover spot news with the eye of a journalist and the sensibility of novelist:

“The tornado started small and ropelike, but in a matter of minutes grew more than a mile wide, then a mile and a half, astonishing the storm chasers following it. As sirens began to scream in the town of Moore, people had but a few minutes to find their safest spot, hunker down and wait…

“Two hundred mile an hour winds plowed a deadly trough through town. If your house or school or business were in the monster’s path, there was precious little you could do to save yourself but pray. Homes were swept up into a massive field of debris that circled aloft, hiding the actual funnel. As the twister rushed across a horse farm, dozens of animals were swept up into the horrifying spiral. The tornado then slammed into two elementary schools, their walls and roof giving way.

“Molly Edwards and her husband had picked up their children from Plaza Towers Elementary just before the tornado hit the school. They drove away with the funnel in their rearview mirror…

“As the light faded from the sky and evening turned dark, lightning flashed in the east, a spectacular display. Massive bolts streaked from one towering thunderhead to another, an unhappy reminder that it’s only May and the tornado season is just begun.”

Facebook comments on the report said Goodwyn’s gripping radio account made it seem as if listeners were standing in the tornado’s lethal path.

However, Goodwyn’s barbecue-basted phrasing is at its best when he covers politics. Texas politicians such as Governor Rick Perry and Tom Delay give him ready-made brisket.

Goodwyn filed a story about the race for governor to succeed Perry. In a report that sounded off-the-cuff, Goodwyn said Democratic contender Wendy Davis stumbled badly out of the gate when the Dallas Morning News reported she exaggerated putting herself through college and Harvard Law School and living as  single mother in a trailer. Her second husband helped and she lived in a mobile home for only a few months.

“This was not earthshaking stuff…, but the story stretched on for weeks, so long that it began raising questions about Wendy Davis’ campaign’s competence. And that became the story about Wendy Davis, not rags to success.”

Then he continued, “You couldn’t have been a happier candidate than Greg Abbott (the leading GOP candidate), watching your opponent self-destruct. And then he started doing it, too, in the form of rock-and-roller Ted Nugent. Abbott began touring Texas with Nugent at his side, and the cow dung hit the fan.”

We’re lucky to have Goodwyn reporting from Texas. Listening to his resonant voice with  pleasing Southern inflection, we can enjoy the savory aromas of Texas without chapping our fannies or stepping on cow dung.

http://www.npr.org/2014/03/04/285580896/sen-cornyn-expected-to-win-tuesday-s-gop-primary-in-texas

http://www.npr.org/2013/05/21/185723559/death-toll-expected-to-rise-after-monster-twister-in-oklahoma

http://www.npr.org/2014/02/26/282836424/davis-abbott-expected-to-win-texas-gubernatorial-primary

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