Newspaper gives readers a bum steer on mascot Rusty


Richard Connor


Whoops. I mean longhorn sh..!

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Truly, I love the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Many of my best days were spent there as president and publisher for over a decade.

I promoted Jim Witt to his current position as editor. That was in the mid-1990s. He’s been there a long time; maybe so long his memory is fading.

How else can you explain the newspaper’s inability to get its facts straight?

I hate to horn in on a good story, a nicely spun yarn, but the Star-Telegram is a long way from the truth when writing the history of “Rusty,” the newspaper’s longhorn steer mascot.

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The original Rusty was purchased under my direction by our chief financial officer Denise Spitler, or perhaps by my son. We’ll get to that later.

Rusty I is long gone. Euthanized and replaced by the current Rusty.

The daily newspaper reported last week that Rusty II is going to the Fort Worth Herd in the Stockyards because the paper cannot keep him any longer at its former printing facility in Edgecliff Village.

The Dallas Morning News now prints the Star-Telegram in Plano. Who would have thought?

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Well, back to the basic mistruth about the original Rusty and my purchase. Here is what the Star-Telegram wrote and it is startling that the newspaper cannot get is own history right: “The original Rusty was purchased by former Star-Telegram publisher Rich Connor in the 1980s but no one was sure what to do with him.”

Now, that’s pure bullsh..! Whoops. There I go again. Longhorn sh..!

We knew exactly what to do with Rusty. We had developed a plan two years in the making. Each year at the former Charles Goodnight Foundation Gala, which I started along with Kit Moncrief to raise money for TCU’s Ranch Management Program and other nonprofit cattle and western heritage organizations, there was a live auction of a longhorn steer. In those first days, Lee and Ramona Bass always donated the steer.

I wanted one for the newspaper and Spitler knew why. However, she was the CFO and tight with a buck. She was outbid the first year.

The next year, I told Spitler that under no circumstances were we to lose the bidding. I told my son the same thing.

I was emcee of the event. Midway through the bidding on Rusty I realized from my view at the podium that Spitler and my son were bidding against one another.

I motioned to the auctioneer to please stop.

We had our steer – Rusty. (And it was the early 1990s, not the ‘80s; wrong again, Star-Telegram.)

The plan was to stable Rusty at the printing plant and use him to teach history about the importance of the longhorn and the cattle drives in Texas.

In those years, the Star-Telegram had a marvelous museum about the history of printing, Amon Carter and the Carter family, and the history of the newspaper. We were among the most visited “museums” in a city that boasts great museums.

Pam Barker from our promotions department helped organize tours. Thousands of schoolchildren visited the printing plant each year. Those tours ended at the fenced-in pasture where Rusty stood regally. Near the gate was a short history of the longhorn steer and its place in Texas history.

No one was sure what to do with him?

Maybe Jim Witt was out that day.

We even had a special keeper for Rusty, Trail Boss Harold. He wore the boots, had the handlebar mustache, the whole deal. And he loved Rusty. Loved him so much he wanted Rusty to have a family. So we added to our herd over the years. Later on, Rusty’s handler became Donnie Legrand, a great guy from our production department.

Eventually, the Star-Telegram reports, a business writer at the paper had the idea to have Rusty be a stock-picker:

“Enter Scott Fagerstrom, who was writing a business column about Texas stocks for the Star-Telegram business pages in the mid-90s.

“Fagerstrom, who now has his own Minneapolis public relations firm, was talking to colleagues about longhorn lottos, where cattle would drop their load and people would win prizes based on where the cow chips fell.

‘“I was kidding but (Star-Telegram Executive Editor) Jim Witt happened to be walking by and said: ‘That is the greatest idea in the history of journalism,’” Fagerstrom said.”

Well, it was a great idea because it gave the newspaper a mascot and gave Rusty a presence away from his pasture. He was a novelty and became especially well-known.

But the part about “history” and “journalism?” The Star-Telegram needs to get its head out of the mud – if you get my drift. They failed on two counts with this story.

They steered their readers in the wrong direction.

Richard Connor is CEO of the Business Press’ parent company, DRC Media. Contact him at