Archive for the ‘KC Star’ 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.

Heeter and McClanahan Discover the KC Fringe Festival

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

When older white guys from the suburbs sit down and talk about how to improve “our” city, prepare to observe an exercise in ignorance and self-absorption. This morning’s Star delivers a heaping pile of both when the Star’s Tom McClanahan gushes about the great idea that “seems to have bubbled up by itself” and was voiced by Mission Hills resident Jim Heeter – a Kansas City arts festival.

By the end of the column, McClanahan shows the extent of his knowledge of the arts community by suggesting that “all the Kansas City Arts Festival needs is an energetic coordinator”, and he nominates none other than Mission Hills resident Jim Heeter.

Now, to be clear, the idea is not a bad one. In fact, it’s a great one. In fact, it IS one – as in, we already have the Kansas City Fringe Festival, which has been growing in size and artistic impact for 7 years right here in Kansas City. This year, it will stretch over two weekends in July, and projections are that it will draw thousands into our city to attend plays, fashion shows, gallery openings, poetry readings, and performances of all types in dozens of venues.

Let’s also be clear that the Fringe Festival could use some help to become the huge civic event that McClanahan and Heeter have in mind. If people like McClanahan would get on board and use his influence to direct attention and dollars to the Fringe Festival, it could be much bigger and much better publicized. (It should be noted that the Star’s InkKC does publicize the Fringe, as do the excellent writers on the Star’s A&E page.) If GKC Chamber of Commerce ED Jim Heeter used his substantial pull in the business community to direct sponsorship dollars to the Fringe Festival, it could expand its scope both in length and in number of performances.

It’s more than mildly frustrating to see people like McClanahan and Heeter use their over-sized soapboxes to propose ideas that are already struggling to thrive. So much more could be accomplished if people with money and power would investigate the real world before announcing their board-room suburban solutions. (The same board-room suburban myopia dooms many “great ideas” about urban core crime and education.)

Whatever frustration arises from that myopia, though, it is tempered by pleasure in the fact that people like McClanahan and Heeter are realizing that there is real civic value in the arts community of Kansas City. If they follow up their day-dreaming with research and resources, even more good things might start happening.

As an aside, guess how much money the government of Jim Heeter’s Mission Hills directs to supporting regional art festivals . . .


(By way of full disclosure, I serve as a volunteer on the board of the KC Fringe Festival, though this post represents my own thoughts only, and has not been reviewed or discussed by anyone connected to the organization.)

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.

KC Star Stands Up for Corporate Interests Over Poor People

Monday, June 21st, 2010

This morning’s Kansas City Star features a sneaky little front page Valentine to the insurance industry. Instead of reporting on any legitimate news or local issues, the Star takes the lazy AP cut-and-paste route and splashes “Fears of lawsuits leads to overtesting, emergency-room doctors say” across the top of the Monday morning edition.

A better and more accurate title would be “Some Lazy Doctors Need Lawsuits to Give a Rat’s Ass about Poor People”.

In a nutshell, the article points out that shocking fact that when people present symptoms of chest pains at the Emergency Room, doctors respond by ordering tests to rule out heart attack. Spun through an insurance company PR office, this bit of common sense turns out to be a bad thing – “However, as many as 95 percent of ER patients with chest pain aren’t having a heart attack, so it’s more likely that doctors overtest.”

Get that? If testing for a heart attack comes back negative, then it’s “overtesting”.

Personally, I’m okay with a doctor going ahead and seeing if I’m dying when I show up at an ER, even if it turns out that I’m not. The Star and the insurance industry may view that as a bad thing, but I think 95% of us would disagree, and I’m certain that 5% – 1 in 20 – would disagree strongly.

In another leap of illogic, the Star goes on to blame this life-saving over-testing on the bogey-man of the insurance industry, litigation. “The Physicians Insurers Association of America, which represents almost two-thirds of private practice doctors, lists more than 600 lawsuits against ER doctors nationwide between 2006 and 2008.” In the article, the fact that 600 lawsuits were filed over 3 years is not contrasted with the later-reported fact that “116 million ER visits each year nationwide.” Bumping up the number of lawsuits to reflect the other one-third of doctors not covered by PIAA, that amounts to an unimpressive 900/348,000,000, or .00026% of cases.

Despite the evidence that lawsuits are scarce as hen’s teeth and the fact that negative test results do NOT mean “overtesting”, the AP/Star makes the following unsupported statement – “Lawsuit concerns play a role in testing decisions at ERs, especially in publicly funded hospitals, some doctors say.” Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Damn those pesky lawyers!

But, really, if some doctors need the remote fear of a lawsuit to decide that my life is worthy of a blood test (even if, God forbid, I visit a “publicly funded hospital”), then, yet again, the trial lawyers may have saved my life. Just as they have forced car manufacturers to innovate in automotive safety, just as they have forced employers to avoid sexual harassment, and just as they have exposed tobacco companies as craven murderers, it is trial lawyers that stand between poor people and corporate interests who tend to think that they should not be bothered with the concerns of little people.

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.

Schools First – Can’t We Agree on Anything?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The level of discourse among the chattering class of Kansas City is sometimes astounding. Occasionally, though, a conversation with someone removed from the political sphere casts a shaft of light into the room, and the ugly reality of political gamesmanship is revealed in all its sordid detail.

A friend this weekend asked me what I thought about Funkhouser’s Schools First initiative. I started to discuss the challenges it will face, and whether Jan Marcason and a couple others will do their best to sink it, and what the ramifications of the bonds would be, etc.. My friend looked at me with something near disgust, and shut me up with a few simple words. “It’s a good idea, isn’t it?”

Wow.

Lost in all the maneuvering, all the intrigue, all the paybacks is that simple question. “It’s a good idea, isn’t it?”

It IS a good idea. The Schools First initiative would direct some of the city’s resources toward one of its most troubled areas of public service, perfectly timed to build upon the spirit of change and opportunity developing in the Kansas City Metropolitan School District. Each of the 5 facets of the initiative would have a positive impact on the lives of children and families in our city.

Only in the oxygen-starved rooms of Council Chambers and Star Editorial cubicles can that be a bad thing. When all is said and done, the Schools First initiative is about helping children and families. Can’t we at least agree on that?

What’s wrong with using $100 million in general obligation bonds to improve infrastructure around the schools? The need to upgrade the city’s infrastructure is universally acknowledged – the only question is where to start. Why not start where it will help the lives of children and families?

What’s wrong with renewing the public safety sales tax and using it to support security around schools? Jefferson City stands ready and willing to make the necessary changes to the law so that we can spend our money on people instead of buildings.

What’s wrong with prioritizing schools in city services? Why wouldn’t we want to clean up graffiti around our schools first, and clear weeds from where school children walk?

What’s wrong with seeking grant funding in partnerships with schools?

What’s wrong with putting someone in City Hall in charge of making all this work smoothly?

Only in the misguided power world of politicos and editorialists is there anything wrong with helping children, families and schools. I hope that those members of the City Council who are “struggling” with this simple decision will come to their senses and work to improve the lives of children and families.

If we can’t agree on that, voters will have a clear direction on whom to vote for in 2011. A lot of voters will agree on that.

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.)

Let’s Talk Politics This Time

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Last year about this time, we discussed whether the City Council should make a $2,000,000 donation to the County, in the form of stadium subsidies. I opposed the decision, the Mayor opposed the decision, but the City Council voted 12-1 to give money away.

Since then, the Chiefs and Royals have had horrific seasons with terrible attendance, the City has not had sufficient money to clear streets, our murder rate remains high, a rapist roams Waldo, city employees have been laid off, remaining city workers have had their wages frozen, and we’ve installed Cathy Jolly’s odious red light cameras to generate revenues. All this, and nobody has had the cleverness to point out that the City Councilmembers who voted for the donation should be held accountable for their shocking priorities.

And now the issue is back again.

(As an aside, why don’t some of the crack reporters for the Star do an article about the FREE Royals and Chiefs tickets handed out to County and City politicians? Who’s sitting in those seats? Are they even being used? I’d be willing to bet there’s a story there – either the politicians are handing them out to donors, or they’re wasting the tickets. And, as another aside, why doesn’t the Star do a story on why, exactly, we even have a Jackson County Sports Authority? How much bureaucracy do we need to pay for simply to keep track of two tenants??)

This year, I’m not even going to bother arguing about the wisdom of stealing $2,000,000 from the city’s coffers. My opinion remains clear, but let’s look at a much smaller issue.

How do the politics of this debate work this year? Will Funkhouser’s suggestion that we end the exemption do him political harm or political good? Will it harm him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and willing to risk our sports franchises? Or will it help him by showing him (again) as out of step with the Council and being the only one who prefers to spend $2,000,000 on things like police protection, snow removal, and city workers rather than weak athletes?

I’m curious about what people think. A good friend emailed me when the news came out and said that this closes off Funkhouser’s path to reelection – “Voters won’t tolerate our Mayor screwing Chiefs and Royals, regardless of the budget shortfalls.” He may be right, or he may be wrong, and the decision could be a step on the path toward reelection. (I know a lot of you disagree with a lot of Funkhouser’s decisions, and believe that reelection is utterly impossible. That’s fine – but, if you can, try to analyze the politics of this one decision. I’d love to know what you think.)

(Update: A commenter claimed that city officials get tickets, but county officials don’t. The commenter is mistaken. Under the lease agreements, County officials get a suite and prime parking. See page 16, section 7.4. It’s offensive to think that the City Council would steal money from city priorities so that county officials can watch games from a suite.)