Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

Could Rupert Murdoch Save Kansas City?

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

The current scandal involving Rupert Murdoch’s employees allegedly breaking laws and violating privacy in their attempts to dig up fresh angles on the stories involving a murder victim in England, and possibly even the 9/11 victims here in the U.S. has the journalism world in an uproar. Allegations of bribery and blackmail by reporters are being leveled, and the FBI is reportedly investigating.

Meanwhile, the Kansas City Star’s most groundbreaking work over the past 6 months was a backward-looking report on the Civil War. Today’s front page is dominated by a backward-looking report on the 30 year-old Hyatt tragedy and a completely news-free analysis of the debt ceiling negotiations that required the combined efforts of Steve Kraske and Dave Helling to compile from other news sources.

Can anybody imagine a Kansas City Star reporter actively investigating anything these days? Can anyone imagine a Kansas City Star reporter picking up his or her own phone to dig up a story, much less anyone else’s?

It’s not like there’s no news to report. Somebody could investigate whether that municipal judge is really living in Kansas City while fining others for failing to follow our ordinances. How about a follow-up on who was behind the “Committee for Integrity” that injected slime into the Mayoral campaign? How about doing some responsible reporting on the hundreds of rumors that appear on a local joke blog, some of which appear to raise legitimate news?

KC Political Nastiness – Who’s Covering for Whom?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

[UPDATE: According to a piece published at the Kansas City Star's Prime Buzz, Jim Bergfalk has explained that he does not appear on the ethics disclosure because he did the despicable last-minute mailing as a citizen exercising his free-speech rights for free Thanks to Dave Helling for tracking the info down. No thanks to Bergfalk for trying to drag a rare high-road campaign into the gutter. And shame on the labor groups for paying to spread Bergfalk's bile into my mailbox.]

Who was behind the repulsive anti-Burke flier that went out just before the KC Mayoral election?

Jim Bergfalk claimed he did it, in a piece written by Dave Helling. He said that the money came from labor groups.

Oddly enough, the MEC reports filed by the falsely-named “Committee for Integrity” confirm that labor paid for the slimy hit pieces (specifically, the Heavy Labor Construction Fund and the Operating Engineers Federal [?] PAC), but Bergfalk’s fingerprints are nowhere to be found. Instead, the money trail leads to The Lazarus Group.

Now, why would Jim Bergfalk claim responsibility for a mailer that came from someone else?

I honestly don’t know.

But I do know that the hasty “admission” came when Dave Helling was following up on this blog’s story that former king-maker Jim Nutter was a major donor to the “Committee for Integrity”.

It’s passing strange what comes out when you start kicking around the secretive committees and money streams that fuel the backroom deals of local politics.

Lynn Horsley – “A Local Paper” Plays it Loose with Facts and Attribution

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

The relationship between blogs and newspapers is often tense. Back in the Golden Days of the Star, I argued that bloggers and journalists are not equivalent, but the truth is that sometimes solid reporting happens on blogs, and sometimes loose copying happens in newspapers.

Witness this morning’s Kansas City Star, where Lynn Horsley resorts to cut-and-paste journalism, stealing a paragraph from this blog without attribution beyond a reference to “a local blog”.

I’m amused more than angry, and Lynn Horsley need not worry about hearing from my lawyers for her theft without proper attribution. She did the exact same thing that Tony’s Kansas City (a local joke blog, for those who don’t follow such things) did, but at least Tony had the blogger ethics to include me in his blogroll, even if he didn’t cite his source in the text of his article.

The shocking thing, though, is how thin a reed this story was built upon. Lynn Horsley doesn’t know me, and, for all she knows, I completely made up my post about Beth not seeking re-election. Or I could have been fooled by someone “leaking” such news to me. She didn’t even call me or email me to make sure the blog posting was the truth before she published. I published the release, Tony copied it, and that’s all it takes for the Star to put it in the paper. Lynn Horsley even had the nerve to publish that Beth Gottstein, the subject of her article, “could not be reached for comment.” What about reaching her for confirmation, Ms. Horsley?

Folks, that’s real sloppiness in the Kansas City Star, and it’s fortunate that this won’t be blowing up in Horsley’s face. But if Lynn Horsley wants to dismissively refer to Gone Mild as a nameless “local blog” – as if I’m too lowly to warrant a mention in her esteemed newspaper – she ought to act like a real journalist herself.

And she really ought to tighten up her standards before April 1.

Star – No News is Bad News

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Monday, the KC Free Press published my thoughts on labor’s desperate attempt to get one last favor out of Henry Rizzo before he loses to Crystal Williams. This morning, the KC Star ran the same thing, anonymously rehashing my analysis into their own words, but adding a nice bit about how Fred “I’m NOT Running – Oh, Wait, Maybe I Am” Arbanas is pathetically seeking labor support to avoid being ousted by Terry Riley.

I’m not complaining about the Star using me for analytical guidance – I applaud them for that. Editorially, they can gain much from following the lead of bloggers, who are often more insightful and creative than their stable of entrenched former journalists. (Maybe there’s something in the walnut wood polish that causes weariness?)

The point that ought to outrage intelligent and alert Kansas Citians is the fact that THE STAR HAS NOT WRITTEN A SINGLE NEWS PIECE ON RIZZO’S AND ARBANAS’ SELL-OUT TO LABOR!

The only place Star subscribers can read about labor’s scheme to seize control of county contracts is in the editorial pages, where it’s been mentioned twice. Today’s article and last week’s article are merely editorials, opinion pieces unsupported by factual reporting from the news sections of the paper.

This is a real and serious problem, and it says volumes about the sinking of a once-great paper. The news sections ought to be the driving force of the paper – the place where the facts are gathered and the secrets exposed. And the editorial page ought to be where the editors get to analyze and opine about the news covered in the meaty news sections.

At the Star now, the news offerings are so meager that the editorialists have found it necessary to “go rogue” and bring forth facts that no reporter has gotten around to actually writing up as news. You can’t find a single news article even mentioning the proposal, but the editorial page has deemed it important enough to address twice.

When the news division of the paper is so weak that it does not have the resources to cover enough news to keep up with the editorial writers, the newspaper has lost its purpose.

Funkhouser’s Chances in 2011

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

There is nobody in Kansas City with a better chance of winning the 2011 Mayor’s race than Mark Funkhouser. Now that Steve “Karnac” Kraske has declared his chance “microbe on a diet” slim, things are looking pretty good for Funkhouser, since Kraske never gets anything right. Go read my analysis at the KC Free Press if you’re interested.

Stephanopoulos Makes a Fool of Himself

Friday, April 9th, 2010

George Stephanopoulos is not a fool – but he can’t help behaving like one sometimes. In this exchange, President Obama demonstrates that not every dog must be wagged by the tail end of our national intellect.

STEPHANOPOULOS:I want to get to some of those broader issues [of nuclear proliferation]. Because you’re also facing criticism on that. Sarah Palin, taking aim at your decision to restrict the use of nuclear weapons. Your pledge not to strike nations, non-nuclear nations, who abide by the nonproliferation treaty. Here’s what she said. She said, “It’s unbelievable, no other administration would do it.” And then she likened it to kids on the playground. She said you’re like a kid who says, “Punch me in the face, and I’m not going to retaliate.” Your response?

OBAMA: I really have no response. Because last I checked, Sarah Palin’s not much of an expert on nuclear issues.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But the string of criticism has been out there among other Republicans as well. They think you’re restricting use of nuclear weapons too much.

OBAMA: And what I would say to them is that if the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff are comfortable with it, I’m probably going to take my advice from them and not from Sarah Palin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not concerned about her criticisms?

OBAMA: No.

Bravo, President Obama. Bravo.

Politics Elsewhere

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

I’ve been neglecting this blog a bit, but that’s just a temporary thing. If you care to read more, I’m doing a weekly post for KCFreePress.com. This week’s piece addresses the efforts to increase the role of money in selecting Missouri’s judges.

Kevin Collison’s Tiny Rolodex

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

This morning’s paper brings yet another example of how the Kansas City Star’s journalistic lapses have degraded this city’s schools, public safety and tax base. This time, it’s Kevin Collison who fails to ask questions and present facts to help our city assess a humongous investment of borrowed money. By failing to seek input from the people truly concerned with the real cost of development, Collison neglects to present a complete story.

Page 3 of the Business Section features Collison at his worst, complete with sloppy, lazy reporting and misleading graphics. In an advocacy piece masquerading as journalism, Collison presents the bracingly silly argument that because hotel occupancy is suffering in Kansas City, we need to increase our supply of hotel rooms. In the paper, the headline reads “KC Hotels Seek an Awakening”, with the slanted subtitle “Supporters of a proposed downtown convention hotel say it would help increase demand.” Uh-huh.

Collison makes quite clear he is one of the aforementioned supporters. In the paper edition of his story, he provides a graphic employing the age-old trick of “truncated scales”. Collison adapts Darrell Huff’s advice in How to Lie with Statistics (a wonderful book everyone should read): “Chop off the bottom. Of course the eye doesn’t ‘understand’ what isn’t there, and a small rise [can] become, visually, a big one.” In this case, of course it is a big decline that Collison is trying to exaggerate, so his scare graph shows “KC occupancy rates, 1989-2009″ plummeting to near the “rock bottom” of 50% – the drop looks a lot more precipitous when it drops to the bottom instead of hovers above the 50% line.

Collison’s graphical tomfoolery is just the most visible bias, though. He quotes Bill George extensively and unquestioningly, despite Mr. George’s surprising statement that “We don’t believe there will be a problem with the financial success of a new hotel, and we’re also looking at what it would do to boost the occupancy of other hotels.” This financial cockiness contrasts with the one representative of the hotel industry Collison quotes, who tells us that more than a quarter billion dollars worth of Kansas City hotels are already in financial distress, and that banks have run Kansas City hotels for several years. When our City Council is toying with the idea of tossing tax dollars into a failing business model, it would be reassuring to see some follow-up questions from a reporter.

One explanation of the apparent contrast between Mr. George and the person actually in the hotel industry is not found anywhere in Collison’s article. Mr. George made his money in the cab and shuttle business, dropping people off at the doors of the hotels. He also has served multiple times as chair of the Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association. That’s not in any way a criticism of Mr. George – he has a legitimate interest in doing whatever it takes to increase the number of conventioneers. He’s doing his job.

Unfortunately, Kevin Collison is not doing his job. Where is a quotation from the manager of the Marriott – does he or she buy into the argument that the correct solution to low demand is to increase supply? What about the Hyatt or Westin?

Most damningly, where is the input from the people whose money they are proposing to spend on this project? The decision on whether to divert city assets to a fat-cat hotel is not merely a squabble between current hotel owners and people who want to drive more taxis.

We’re talking about tax money here. These people want our dollars. They’re not fools – they’re not going to gamble their own fortunes on the claim that you should build more supply when the buyers stop buying.

They want to take more of the money that should have gone to clear streets this winter. They want to take money that might allow a few of the schools to remain open. This is not free money that they want to spend.

Why didn’t Kevin Collison put in a quotation from a student whose school is being closed? Why didn’t he ask a grieving family on the East side about the relative importance of hotels and public safety? Maybe those people aren’t “important” enough to wind up in a business reporter’s call list – okay, then why didn’t he call Crosby Kemper, the head of the Kansas City Library? If we’re only going to hear from people who might be found at the River Club, could we at least get a word in from someone who cares about the impact on the taxpayer, when he’s writing about spending tax dollars??

The Star Gives Republican Ryan Silvey A Free Pass to Lie

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Jason Noble of the Kansas City Star proved today that he is a stenographer, not a journalist.

Back in the day, journalists had a higher duty than simply copying down whatever lies a favored politician offered up. Instead, they would ask follow-up questions to expose the lie, or even put a sentence in their article explaining that what the politician said was false.

But, at the Kansas City Star, if the lie you are spouting is an attack on our Mayor, you face no such hostility or defense of the truth.

Today, Republican Ryan Silvey pulled a shallow publicity stunt, threatening to harm Kansas City because he wants our city to take tax dollars from basic services and donate it to the County for the stadiums. So far, so good – I understand that Ryan Silvey is part of a minority of people who think that we should not fully fund our police department but we should fully fund stadiums for suburbanites. We disagree, but he’s entitled to his own positions.

Ryan Silvey is not entitled to make up his own facts, though. In defending his publicity stunt, Silvey claimed, “Pulling the money breaches the city’s contract with the Chiefs and Royals . . .“.

Folks, that’s a lie. A big, fat whopper of a lie that no serious observer of the stadium drama could fail to recognize. There is no contract between the city and the teams.

Did Jason Noble challenge the falsehood? Did Jason Noble point out in his article that there is no contract between the city and the teams? Did Jason Noble ask a follow-up question to clarify the point?

No.

(Update: A commenter below points out that the Kansas City Business Journal has the journalistic integrity and tenacity to look at the contracts and acknowledge that there is no legal agreement binding the city to any payment.)

Outrage Addicts and Zero Tolerance

Friday, October 16th, 2009

“Outrage Addicts” are a peculiar set of amateur commenters, quick to express their shock and dismay about the latest offense against “common sense”, and eager to decry the bureaucrats or activists who wander into their crossfire. They thrive on disgruntlement and tend to view themselves as homespun geniuses of horse sense – if only the world would check in with them before acting, it would be a better, if less outrageous, place.

(As an aside, this group tends to be the absolute worst at fact-checking, though the very outrages they speak against tend to be those that cry out for suspicion. Thus, they send out their OMG via emails and blog posts on “controversies” that are almost always fictional or exaggerated. Thus, a suit about a religious symbol on public land mysteriously becomes an attempt to remove the crosses from Arlington Cemetery, and a product liability lawsuit filed becomes a multi-million dollar award for a misspelled word in a warning label. Snopes is their buzz-kill.)

All of which is a lengthy introduction to the latest “outrage” circulating through the community of Outrage Addicts, and their long-suffering email companions. A 6 year-old Cub Scout in Delaware brought a camp eating utensil to school, and was suspended under a post-Columbine zero-tolerance policy against bringing weapons to school. Under the policy, he could conceivably be sent to the District’s reform school for 45 days, and so that is the exaggerated threat being reported by the Outrage Addicts.

In this instance, the Outrage Addicts have the facts mostly right, partially because they are relying on a report by the New York Times. (More commonly, the outrage of the week comes from less credible sources, like AM radio or World Net Daily.) Of course, the threat is exaggerated and the slanted facts are picked like ripe red cherries, and the fact that the School District has already resolved the problem in favor of the little boy has not caught up (and never will catch up) to the exaggerated story of his peril, but that’s part and parcel of stories like this one.

While this particular anecdote is being circulated as an attack on zero tolerance policies, the same facts could be used as an instance of outrage if the official response had been to ignore the tiny knife-wielder.

“Troubled child from a broken home, in defiance of well-publicized policy to protect his tiny classmates from injury and death, brandishes a knife in the classroom. Upon being stopped before the blade ‘accidentally’ removed some little girl’s eye, he claimed he only brought it to use on his lunch. His irresponsible single mother, who sent her child to school armed with a knife even though she knew of the policy, is seeking to get the policy changed so that 6 year-olds can carry weapons to school when they or their parents see fit.”

Outrageous, isn’t it? If the story had included a few other facts, such as a child being accidentally hurt or, God forbid, if the child had been poor and a minority, these same circumstances could be circulated among the Outrage Addicts as a shining example of why common sense requires that we need a strong policy of zero-tolerance to protect our children from these knife-wielding barbarians.

So, in that context, what does the outrage du jour teach us about the impact of zero-tolerance policies? Sadly, it teaches us almost nothing, except for the fact that they can, in some instances, result in penalties for those who choose to ignore them. But acts portrayed as outrageous can have a disproportionate impact on public policy.

Long before the Delaware Dagger case made headlines in the Times, serious people have been struggling with the issue of the impact of zero-tolerance policies. Some argue that they over-criminalize, and others argue that more discretionary policies result in discrimination against minorities and ignoring dangerous behavior. A quick search can turn up dozens of studies supporting either view.

Honestly, I have no spectacular wisdom on the subject of zero-tolerance policies (surprised, aren’t you?). Having glanced at a few of the studies and given it a bit of thought, I probably lean against them, and certainly acknowledge that, for them to be fair and effective, they need to be drafted with incredible care and forethought – more of both than one typically finds in policy manuals.

But I insist that my knowingly-uninformed indecisiveness is superior to the knee-jerk “common sense” being spread by the Outrage Addicts. I know what I don’t know, and I would not want to form public policy on the basis of a cherubic 6 year-old Cub Scout who wanted to eat lunch with his new toy. My critical faculties make me realize that I could just as easily be forming public policy on the basis of a thuggish 6 year-old crack baby sent to school with a blade by an unemployed drug-dealing mom.

Reaction to outrageous anecdotes is a poor substitute for careful thought. If we’re going to engage in a rational discussion of zero-tolerance – and I think that’s a great discussion to have – then let’s be careful to look at both the angels and the demons.