Soon in Wichita: A panel discussion with audience interaction on the topic “The Future of News in Our Digital Age.”
New Symposium is a group of Wichitans who hold regular meetings of public interest. New Symposium describes its goal is to “engage in the kind of thoughtful and respectful dialogue that is so seldom experienced in our modern world of political propaganda and social media sound-bites … but which still characterizes men and women of good will when they take the time to step back and logically think things through together.” It also uses the motto “New Symposium: Rescuing Discourse from the Political Parties.”
New Symposium’s next event is on January 31, and I will be a symposiast. This event is a public forum on the topic “The Future of News in Our Digital Age.” It is a panel discussion with audience interaction.
This event will be held on Tuesday, January 31, 2017 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm. The location is Social Networking Technologies, Inc., located in the High Touch Building at 110 S. Main in downtown Wichita, Kansas. (Link to Google map.)
There is no cost to attend this event.
W. Davis (Buzz) Merritt, Former Senior Vice President and Senior Editor of The Wichita Eagle; Adjunct professor of journalism at University of Kansas
Dave Trabert, President of Kansas Policy Institute and Board Member of The Sentinel, a new online news service
Mike Marlett, Former owner of local, weekly newspaper F-5; current manager of website content at Wichita State University
Mark McCormick, Former professional journalist and current Executive Director of The Kansas African American Museum
For updates and dialogue on the symposium, see newsymposium.blogspot.com. Much more information may be found there. In particular, questions for consideration at this event include:
What are the motives and incentives that shape the “news” produced by the different forms of media (some more centralized, traditional, or corporate than others)? What should they be?
Given the internet’s enormous potential for misinformation, how can one find “just the facts”? When everyman’s a journalist, what happens to accountability for telling the truth?
Has the centralized, legacy media been caught up in the hyper-polarization of American politics? If so, is there a remedy? Can we have tough, independent investigative journalism that does not start with presupposition and prejudice?
What is the future of explanatory journalism that emphasizes nuance and context in a digital age in which speed and headlines are prized? How could Twitter and Snapchat ever properly inform?
Are digital media/communications making us all attention-deficit? Are we too easily “informed”?
The editorial boards of two large Kansas newspapers have shown how little effort goes into forming the opinions they foist upon our state.
Here’s a quote from a recent opinion piece in the Topeka Capital-Journal, the second-largest newspaper in Kansas: “If the past year is any indication, Totten is right about the harmful effects of KDOT sweeps on the construction industry in our state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, between July 2015 and July 2016, Kansas lost 4,400 construction jobs — a 7.3 percent decline. This means Kansas ranked 49th in the country for construction job growth.” 1
Here, the newspaper argues that transferring money from the state’s highway fund has led to a loss of construction jobs in the state. Fortunately, there are some institutions and people in our state that will actually look at statistics to see what they mean. And if the editorial board of the Capital-Journal had done this, they would have realized they were fed a line of hooey by a self-interested lobbyist. You see, the “Totten” the newspaper cited as an authority is Bob Totten, Executive Vice President of Kansas Contractors Assocation.2 His job is to agitate for as much spending as possible to benefit his members. It matters not if the spending is wise or needed. The members of Kansas Contractors Association would happily build the proverbial bridge to nowhere, as long as they were paid.
The Capital-Journal was not alone in believing what Totten told them. The editorial board of the Wichita Eagle did, too. It wrote a similar editorial, telling Kansans “Over the past six years, Brownback and the Legislature have taken $2.7 billion in transportation funding to help pay other state bills, Totten said. The loss of this funding has meant fewer projects and fewer jobs.”3
Had the Eagle bothered to examine Mr. Totten’s claim, they would have learned that only 2 percent of the construction job decline was attributable to highway construction and that the loss of 100 jobs is less than 1 percent of total highway jobs.
In addition to learning that Mr. Totten was grossly exaggerating, they would have learned that employment for construction of new homes and non-residential buildings showed very nice growth and the real problem is in specialty trade contractors for non-highway projects.
I verified these statistics and reported them in my article Kansas construction employment. I built an interactive visualization that anyone can use to explore this data.
The upshot is that Kansas highway construction jobs declined slightly, but the bulk of the job loss in construction was in other types of construction. Not in highway construction, as the highway construction lobbyist told Kansas editorial writers.
This is a sad episode in Kansas newspaper journalism. The editorial boards of two newspapers — one the state’s largest — accepted as true the claims of a lobbyist, apparently without spending a moment in verification. Both newspapers have staffs of reporters, some of which I’m sure are capable of accessing the Bureau of Labor Statistics to gather a few statistics and perform an independent investigation.
But that didn’t happen. Instead, it appears that these two newspapers accepted the claims of the Kansas Contractors Association at face value because it fit the editorialists’ world view — that view being that Sam Brownback is bad, state spending on everything has been slashed, and the only thing to do is raise taxes.
That’s an opinion, which is what newspaper editorial boards produce. Now Kansans know just how uninformed are these opinions.
In its coverage of the 2015 election, the Wichita Eagle prints several stories that ought to cause readers to question the reliability of its newsroom.
Readers of the Wichita Eagle must be wondering if the newspaper trusts its own reporting. In a fact check article regarding the Wichita mayoral general election printed on March 27, the newspaper looked at claims made by campaign ads. The story examined this claim from an advertisement by Sam Williams, referring to opponent Jeff Longwell: “Supported government handouts for low-paying jobs and then chastised voters when they rejected his plan.”
The article’s verdict on this claim: “There is no apparent reference to ‘chastising’ comments in the blog posts or article.”
Here’s what the Eagle itself reported on September 14, 2011, regarding the possibility that citizens might petition to overturn a measure Longwell supported. I’ve emphasized a few portions.
City council member Jeff Longwell called the petition drive “disappointing.” “We had a very transparent, open hearing, listened to both sides, listened to all of the arguments,” Longwell said. “We moved in a direction we felt was most compelling, and now you have a group that still is unhappy and it is just sour grapes. I’d argue that when they keep pulling these kinds of stunts, they will continue to lose credibility.
The dictionary holds this definition for chastise: “To criticize severely; reprimand or rebuke.” I’d say that Longwell’s criticisms fit this definition. It’s unknown why the Eagle reporters and editors came to a different conclusion.
This is not the only example. Here’s the start of the newspaper’s profile of Longwell:
It’s 4:45 a.m. on a Friday, and Jeff Longwell is playing basketball with a group of guys at the Northwest YMCA. Three days a week, 10 to 15 men gather before dawn to shoot hoops. Sneakers squeak. Shouts echo. Longwell, 55, jokingly describes himself as a “prolific three-point shooter.” “I don’t think WSU is going to recruit me,” he says, worn out after the game. The guys say that if Longwell is elected mayor, he still has to play with them. He agrees. Teamwork is his style, he says, and not only in basketball.
For the Williams profile, the article started with this:
Sam Williams sits on a cerulean blue couch in his campaign headquarters, nervously picking at the edges. “Stuck in the Middle With You” plays on the radio as volunteers – mostly family members – make calls, urging people to vote for Williams for mayor on April 7. For a few moments, a guy who spent a lifetime in advertising has trouble articulating why he should be mayor of Wichita. “It’s uncomfortable for me having this conversation talking about me,” Williams says, still picking at the couch.
The difference in the way the Wichita Eagle chose to portray the two candidates is startling. It’s not that there are no awkward or unflattering incidents that could be used to introduce Jeff Longwell. There are many. Likewise, there are many positive aspects to Sam Williams that could have been used in his introduction, including feats of athleticism. These two articles illustrate, in my opinion, an effort to promote Longwell and dismiss Williams.
This is not the only recent incident regarding the Eagle newsroom that is troubling. In the campaign for the Wichita sales tax last year, The newspaper published a fact-check article titled “Fact check: ‘No’ campaign ad on sales tax misleading.” There was no similar article examining ads from the “Yes Wichita” group that campaigned for the sales tax. Also, there was little or no material that examined the city’s claims and informational material in a critical manner.
It’s one thing for the opinion page to be stocked solely with liberal columnists and cartoonists, considering the content that is locally produced. But newspapers like the Eagle tell us that the newsroom is separate from the opinion page. The opinion page endorsed Jeff Longwell for mayor, just as it endorsed passage of the sales tax. As far as the newsroom goes, by failing to hold Longwell accountable for his remarks, by printing the two introductions illustrated above, and fact-checking one side of an issue and failing to produce similar pieces for the other side — well, readers are free to draw their own conclusions about the reliability of the Wichita Eagle newsroom.
In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: Wichita Eagle labels hold a clue to the newspaper’s attitude, Kansas Democratic Party income tax reckoning, straight-ticket voting could leave some issues unvoted, and how a minimum wage hike would harm the most vulnerable workers. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 72, broadcast January 25, 2015.
Here’s what readers can learn about the mindset of the Wichita Eagle. These organizations were named. Named and referenced without labels, adjectives, or qualifications that give readers clues about the ideology of the organizations.
That wouldn’t be remarkable except for noticing the contrast in how the Eagle labels conservative and libertarian organizations, most notably Kansas Policy Institute. A quick use of Google finds these mentions of KPI in recent Eagle pieces:
“Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute and an outspoken advocate for conservative education reforms”
“The Kansas Policy Institute, a free-market think tank linked to Koch Industries”
“The Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank”
“Dave Trabert, president of the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank in Wichita”
“The Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative think tank based in Wichita”
“The Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative Wichita nonprofit organization”
“parallel recommendations from the Kansas Policy Institute, a conservative small-government think tank”
Always, a reference to Kansas Policy Institute includes a description of the organization’s politics. This is not inaccurate, as KPI is conservative and free-market.
Contrast with these recent excerpts from Eagle stories:
“Duane Goossen is a senior fellow at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth”
“said Annie McKay, director of the Kansas Center for Economic Growth”
“The Kansas Center for Economic Growth recently surveyed districts and analyzed data from the Kansas State Department of Education”
“A study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy that Laffer disputes”
“said Matt Gardner, executive director of the liberal-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy”
“according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, which is based in Washington, D.C.”
“Wednesday’s report by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says”
You can see that one time the Eagle slipped and labeled ITEP as “liberal-leaning.” That’s actually a gentle characterization of ITEP, which in reality lies quite far on the left end of the political spectrum, as does Kansas Center for Economic Growth. But the use of a label shows that someone, at one time, was aware of ITEP’s politics.
So why does the Eagle routinely label Kansas Policy Institute, but never or rarely label Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Kansas Center for Economic Growth?
We know the editorial page of the Eagle is liberal, favoring progressive policies of more taxes and larger government over economic freedom almost without exception. We see too that the newsroom shares the same view, as shown by the sampling of references above. Labeling a source as conservative, free-market, and linked to Koch Industries is not meant by the Eagle to be a compliment.
In this excerpt from WichitaLiberty.TV: In its coverage of the recent election, the Wichita Eagle has failed to inform its readers of city and state issues. View below, or click here to view at YouTube.
Citizens want to trust their hometown newspaper as a reliable source of information. The Wichita Eagle has not only fallen short of this goal, it seems to have abandoned it.
The Wichita Eagle last week published a fact-check article titled “Fact check: ‘No’ campaign ad on sales tax misleading.” As of today, the day before the election, I’ve not seen any similar article examining ads from the “Yes Wichita” group that campaigns for the sales tax. Also, there has been little or no material that examined the city’s claims and informational material in a critical manner.
Someone told me that I should be disappointed that such articles have not appeared. I suppose I am, a little. But that is balanced by the increasing awareness of Wichitans that the Wichita Eagle is simply not doing its job.
It’s one thing for the opinion page to be stocked solely with liberal columnists and cartoonists, considering the content that is locally produced. But newspapers like the Eagle tell us that the newsroom is separate from the opinion page. The opinion page has endorsed passage of the sales tax. As far as the newsroom goes, by printing an article fact-checking one side of an issue and failing to produce similar pieces for the other side — well, readers are free to draw their own conclusions about the reliability of the Wichita Eagle newsroom.
As a privately-owned publication, the Wichita Eagle is free to do whatever it wants. But when readers see obvious neglect of a newspaper’s duty to inform readers, readers are correct to be concerned about the credibility of our state’s largest newspaper.
Citizens want to trust their hometown newspaper as a reliable source of information. The Wichita Eagle has not only fallen short of this goal, it seems to have abandoned it.
Here are some topics and questions the Eagle could have examined in fact-checking articles on the “Yes Wichita” campaign and the City of Wichita’s informational and educational campaign.
The Wichita Eagle could start with itself and explain why it chose a photograph of an arterial street to illustrate a story on a sales tax that is dedicated solely for neighborhood streets. The caption under the photo read “Road construction, such as on East 13th Street between Oliver and I-135, would be part of the projects paid for by a city sales tax.”
Issues regarding “Yes Wichita”
The “Yes Wichita” campaign uses an image of bursting wooden water pipes to persuade voters. Does Wichita have any wooden water pipes? And isn’t the purpose of the sales tax to build one parallel pipeline, not replace old water pipes? See Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Water pipe(s).
The “Yes Wichita” campaign group claims that the sales tax will replace old rusty pipes that are dangerous. Is that true?
The City and “Yes Wichita” give voters two choices regarding a future water supply: Either vote for the sales tax, or the city will use debt to pay for ASR expansion and it will cost an additional $221 million. But the decision to use debt has not been made, has it? Wouldn’t the city council have to vote to issue those bonds? Is there any guarantee that the council will do that?
The “Yes Wichita” group says that one-third of the sales tax will be paid by visitors to Wichita. But the city’s documents cite the Kansas Department of Revenue which gives the number as 13.5 percent. Which is correct? This is a difference of 2.5 times in the estimate of Wichita sales tax paid by visitors. This is a material difference in something used to persuade voters.
The city’s informational material states “The City has not increased the mill levy rate for 21 years.” In 1994 the Wichita mill levy rate was 31.290, and in 2013 it was 32.509. That’s an increase of 1.219 mills, or 3.9 percent. The Wichita City Council did not take explicit action, such as passing an ordinance, to raise this rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to taxation by the city. While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. Whatever the cause, the mill levy has risen. See Fact-checking Yes Wichita: Tax rates.
“Yes Wichita” says there is a plan for the economic development portion of the sales tax. If the plan for economic development is definite, why did the city decide to participate in the development of another economic development plan just last month? What if that plan recommends something different than what the city has been telling voters? And if the plan is unlikely to recommend anything different, why do we need it?
Citizens have asked to know more about the types of spending records the city will provide. Will the city commit to providing checkbook register-level spending data? Or will the city set up separate agencies to hide the spending of taxpayer funds like it has with the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Corporation?
Issues regarding the City of Wichita
Mayor Carl Brewer said the city spent $47,000 of taxpayer funds to send a letter and brochure to voters because he was concerned about misinformation. In light of some of the claims made by the “Yes Wichita” group, does the city have plans to inform voters of that misinformation?
Hasn’t the city really been campaigning in favor of the sales tax? Has the city manager been speaking to groups to give them reasons to vote against the tax? Does the city’s website provide any information that would give voters any reason to consider voting other than yes?
The “Yes Wichita” group refers voters to the city’s website and information to learn about the sales tax issue. Since the “Yes Wichita” group campaigns for the sales tax, it doesn’t seem likely it would refer voters to information that would be negative, or even neutral, towards the tax. Is this evidence that the city is, in fact, campaigning for the sales tax?
The “Yes Wichita” group says that one-third of the sales tax will be paid by visitors to Wichita. But the city’s documents cite the Kansas Department of Revenue which gives the number as 13.5%. Which is correct? This is a difference of 2.5 times in the estimate of Wichita sales tax paid by visitors. This is a material difference in something used to persuade voters. If “Yes Wichita” is wrong, will the city send a mailer to correct the misinformation?
The city’s informational material states “The City has not increased the mill levy rate for 21 years.” But the city’s comprehensive annual financial reports show that in 1994 the Wichita mill levy rate was 31.290, and in 2013 it was 32.509. That’s an increase of 1.219 mills, or 3.9 percent. The Wichita City Council did not take explicit action, such as passing an ordinance, to raise this rate. Instead, the rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to taxation by the city. While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. Whatever the cause, the mill levy has risen. Is this misinformation that needs to be corrected?
The city says that the ASR project is a proven solution that will provide for Wichita’s water needs for a long time. Has the city told voters that the present ASR system had its expected production rate cut in half? Has the city presented to voters that the present ASR system is still in its commissioning phase, and that new things are still being learned about how the system operates?
The City and “Yes Wichita” give voters two choices regarding a future water supply: Either vote for the sales tax, or the city will use debt to pay for ASR expansion and it will cost an additional $221 million. But the decision to use debt has not been made, has it? Wouldn’t the city council have to vote to issue those bonds? Is the any guarantee that the council will do that?
If the plan for economic development is definite, why did the city decide to participate in the development of another economic development plan just last month? What if that plan recommends something different than what the city has been telling voters? And if the plan is unlikely to recommend anything different, why do we need it?
Citizens have asked to know more about the types of spending records the city will provide. Will the city commit to providing checkbook register-level spending data? Or will the city set up separate agencies to hide the spending of taxpayer funds like it has with the Wichita Downtown Development Corporation, Go Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Greater Wichita Economic Development Corporation?
The “Yes Wichita” campaign uses an image of bursting wooden water pipes to persuade voters. Does Wichita have any wooden water pipes? And isn’t the purpose of the sales tax to build one parallel pipeline, not replace old water pipes? If this advertisement by “Yes Wichita” is misleading, will the city send an educational mailing to correct this?
The Yes Wichita campaign group claims that the sales tax will replace old rusty pipes that are dangerous. Is that true? If not, will the city do anything to correct this misinformation?
The investigation of a candidate for United States Senator by an appointed board in Kansas raises questions of propriety, and Senator Pat Roberts’ use of it in advertising is shameful.
If you’ve paid attention to television advertisements in Kansas, you probably are aware that United States Senate Candidate Dr. Milton Wolf has come under investigation by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts. His act that lead to this investigation was posting anonymous X-rays on Facebook.
The campaign of Pat Roberts is spending mightily to make sure Kansans are aware of the investigation, which was launched just two seeks for an election. That is more than a little troubling. That’s because Roberts’ campaign manager is a former journalism professor, Leroy Towns. I’m sure he knows that “being under investigation” and “found in violation” are two very different things. He probably taught that to his journalism students in North Carolina. But as executive campaign manager for Pat Roberts — well, it seems a different standard applies.
(For what it’s worth, after serving in the United States Marines, Pat Roberts was a newspaper publisher in Arizona before he moved to Washington. I guess that’s sort of like a journalist.)
This matter is especially important because the investigation of Dr. Wolf is political to the extreme. It was announced two weeks before the election.
I received an email message from a Kansas political observer that explains. The Anne Hodgdon mentioned below describes herself as a “political strategist and advocate” and is a major campaign donor to Roberts.
Bob, I’m sure you probably know this, but in case you don’t: Did you know Anne Hodgden is on the Kansas Board of Healing Arts? I think the timing of the board’s decision to look into Wolf is pretty transparent.
Shouldn’t [Kansas Governor Sam] Brownback be held accountable for his appointees using boards’ power politically? It’s maddening.
It’s no wonder good candidates won’t or don’t run. They have to worry about people like Anne Hodgdon using their political power to ruin their careers. It’s despicable. I am repulsed that this sort of thing is acceptable.
I’m repulsed, too, and saddened that a senior United States Senator uses this tactic in his campaign.
Fast forward four years. As executive campaign manager for Pat Roberts during his primary campaign for United States Senator, Towns now says Roberts won’t debate challengers.
You might think that a former journalism professor would be in favor of the voting public having greater access to candidates. Especially candidates when in pressure situations, as Towns advocated in 2010. This idea is congruent with Roberts’ campaign commercials. They portray the senator as tough and tested; a Marine who will stand up to anyone.
Roberts’ decision to skip a useful ritual of American politics may lessen his stress level and advance his personal political career, and the career of campaign manager Towns. But it disrespects Kansas voters.
The quiz takes just a few moments to complete, and answering the questions will help you discover all the things that citizens can do to be involved in government, especially at the local level. My Watchdog type is “Content Creator.” What is yours?
“The salvation of the state is watchfulness in the citizen.”
This quote inscribed on the state capitol building in Lincoln, Nebraska, has become our North Star here at Watchdog Wire. We believe that citizens can contribute to better and more efficient local government by staying involved in their communities and speaking up when something doesn’t add up.
But what does it mean to be “watchful?”
The answer is different for everyone, and has changed throughout American history. For Thomas Paine and Ben Franklin, staying watchful came in the form of pamphlets and newspaper columns. Later, being watchful was entrusted to elected representatives in Congress. Now, technology has made it easier than ever for citizens to stay informed and hold government accountable.
The medium used is ever-changing but the sentiment of keeping watch remains the same — to ensure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic.” — Thomas Jefferson
I wonder what Mr. Jefferson would say about the state of today’s media. Television, cable, print and internet media routinely ignore basic journalistic principles and openly choose sides, often ignoring the facts and perpetuating falsehoods to convince citizens that their view is the right one. In some cases, it’s done in support of conservative causes; most often, it’s in support of “progressive” ideals that strip citizens of their personal freedom. It’s bad enough when facts are ignored in editorials but ignoring facts and choosing sides in news stories is tantamount to journalistic malpractice.
Local media gave us two examples of this behavior recently. A November 22 Kansas City Star report said, “Kansas still had fewer jobs in October 2013 than it did in December 2012, the month before the Brownback tax cuts took effect.” The reporter when on to say, “Put another way: Kansas has actually lost 3,311 jobs since the Brownback tax cuts took effect.”
This is a great example of media looking for ways to inject their support or opposition of policy into news stories while quite deliberately ignoring pertinent facts. The clear purpose in that KC Star story was to show disdain for tax reform and the facts were not allowed to detract from that purpose.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics employment data quoted by the reporter (although certainly not disclosed) was Labor Force Employment, which comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and represents employed persons by place of residence. The more commonly-used BLS report of non-farm employment is estimated based on the Current Employment Statistics (CES) survey of business establishments, and represents a count of jobs by place of work.
The CPS data chosen by the KC Star is based on where people live, not where they work. There is no way of knowing to what extent the job losses reported in the CPS data are attributable to people who live in Kansas but work in Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado or Oklahoma. Data from the CES survey of businesses, however, avoids that issue because it is based on where people work.
And surprise! This data shows just the opposite of the story told by the KC Star.
Job growth is occurring in Kansas but that inconvenient truth gets in the way of the Star’s opposition to tax reform, so they spin a tale that suits their purpose and pass it off as “news.”
“When Gov. Sam Brownback took office, schools like this one were already reeling. The recession had brought what were likely the largest cuts to their operating budgets in state history. But once the recession faded, those funds didn’t rebound as some had hoped. Meanwhile, the governor cut income taxes — reductions meant to bolster the economy.”
That reads like an ad for a made-for-TV fictional movie, with the emphasis on fiction. Not a shred of funding facts were provided, which would of course expose that the claims are crafted to meet the political purpose.
Let’s look at the facts (all of which are readily available from the Kansas Department of Education). First of all, we’ll look at actual spending instead of the misleading reference to “budget.” Individuals and businesses think of “budget cuts” as spending reductions but when government says their budget was cut, it most often means that their plan to spend more was partly stymied.
I’ll make an assumption here that “operating” means current operating costs and excludes capital outlay and debt service (it wasn’t defined in the CJ story).
There was a 2.3 percent reduction in total operating expenditures in 2010, with per-pupil operating spending dipping by 3.5 percent. Portraying reaction to this paltry decline as “reeling” (or allowing school districts to do so) is hardly justifiable. Those small declines in total and per-pupil spending came on the heels of very large spending increases between 2005 and 2009 of 35 percent and 32 percent, respectively. (FYI, in case anyone tries to claim that schools suffered because state funding declined dramatically in 2010, remind them that nearly all of that money was replaced by legislators with federal stimulus money; the funding just temporarily shifted.)
Calling the 2010 minor spending dip the largest cut in state history makes it sound monumental and only feeds the political hype. In reality, 2010 was the only spending reduction that occurred since 1990, which is as far back as KSDE can cite; they tell us that prior years’ data has been archived and isn’t readily available. Details needed to identify operating spending in the KSDE online database only go back to 2004 (KPI has tracked it since 2005) but we do know that total spending did not decline between 1990 and 2010.
Allowing districts to claim they were “reeling” and quoting a legislator as saying districts are in “survival mode” deliberately ignores well-known facts that counter the veracity of those claims. For example, districts haven’t even spent all of the tax money received since 2005; about $420 million was used to increase operating cash reserves. Districts are also wasting a lot of money with inefficient operations. Every single Legislative Post Audit study on school efficiency has found that schools could operate much more efficiently. If media is going to print “sky-is-falling” claims by school districts and those who support their institutional desires, they have a journalistic obligation to also publish facts that call such claims into question.
The article also perpetuates the myth that Base State Aid Per Pupil (BSAPP) is all districts receive to operate schools. The story allows two legislators and others to at least imply that BSAPP is the sole funding source and that the Legislature is deliberately underfunding schools despite a large body of evidence to the contrary.
The story cites no other per-pupil amount and fails to disclose that BSAPP is only about 30 percent of total funding provided by taxpayers. For the record, KSDE reports that per-pupil support of public education set a new record last year at $12,781 and is expected to hit $12,885 this year. District administrators know (and we’ve certainly informed media quite often) that they receive a lot more money than BSAPP to fund general operations. Local Option Budget (LOB) funds, which are provided through legislative authority, have increased 71% between 2005 and 2013, going from $341.7 million to $585.3 million.
Contrary to the claim made by one legislator quoted in the story, BSAPP was not put into statute as what the Legislature deemed to be “… the appropriate number to fund our schools.” The Legislature made no such declaration. The Legislature increased funding based on a court order and under threat of having the State Supreme Court close schools. But the facts don’t fit the story that some people want to perpetuate, so rhetoric is substituted to fulfill a political purpose.
Kansas Policy Institute and other have published the facts surrounding school funding cases, including a full legal analysis of Montoy vs. State of Kansas. We most recently published “Student-Focused Funding Solutions for Public Education,” which again cites many facts that explain why every court case on school funding is based on deliberately-inflated figures. Despite all the rhetoric, supposition and claims to the contrary, the simple proven truth is that no one — not a single legislator, superintendent, reporter, policy analyst or judge — knows how much money schools need to achieve required outcomes while operating efficiently. No such study or analysis has ever been conducted in Kansas.
Having spent more than twenty years managing news operations in several states, I have great respect for journalism and those who diligently work to honestly inform citizens. I also know that reporters are sometimes forced to cover stories by editors and managers in ways they find objectionable and have misleading headlines slapped on their stories. But to paraphrase Jefferson, our republic cannot properly function when citizens are deliberately deprived of information. It is not the duty of media (or policy analysts) to make decisions for citizens, but to inform them so they can make their own decisions.
TEACHER SAID: There “is absolutely, positively no such thing as an unbiased piece of writing.”
During a junior high-school English class decades ago, I eagerly raised my hand to answer a teacher’s question about news reporting. He wanted us to explain the kind of sources we would use and how we would assure that our writing was fair.
I would rely on “unbiased” books and articles, I explained. The teacher threw his hands in the air and started yelling (in a friendly manner) that there “is absolutely, positively no such thing as an unbiased piece of writing.” The lesson was learned — and it stuck with me through my long and continuing journalism and writing career.
Human beings have biases. There’s no way around it. The most biased news stories I’ve ever read have been presented in a perfectly fair manner, with two sides of an issue presented, but where the basic premise points in one direction or another. The biggest bias actually might come in what reporters choose not to cover.
Yet some journalists still believe they can present news stories free from any bias. That’s a declining view in today’s wide-open online news world, where people know that balance is achieved by reading articles with myriad perspectives rather than relying on one superficial piece distributed by, say, the Associated Press.
For an example of this musty and arrogant “we are the arbiters of fairness” thinking, I offer Karen Peterson, editor of the Tacoma News Tribune in Washington. In a Sept. 29 column, she blasted my former employer, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, after the nonprofit news group (parent company of Watchdog.org) emailed her offering a news partnership.
Watchdog.org offers free reprint rights to newspapers and has engaged in myriad partnerships with local and national media. Peterson said she was interested, but then did a little “research” on the group. She found that Watchdog’s work “revealed a list of stories and sources with an anti-taxation and deregulation bent.” She couldn’t find any list of its funding sources.
And then she did more research (i.e., a Google search) and reported on the findings of “The Center for Public Integrity, a 24-year-old nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism organization.” Peterson’s conclusion is that the Franklin Center is an ideologically oriented group that tries to pass its work off as “unbiased journalism.”
She accuses the group of dishonesty, but her writing not only is disturbingly short of forthrightness, but reveals the weakness in the old, “we have no biases” thinking.
For starters, the Franklin Center does not claim to produce unbiased journalism. I know. When I was vice president of journalism there, I crafted the policy and worked with reporters and editors to enforce it. Watchdog produces quality journalism that conforms to professional journalism standards — but it admits that it has a pro-taxpayer, pro-liberty perspective.
Franklin is not the only nonprofit that doesn’t list donors, by the way. But whatever one thinks of that policy, the group spells it out and doesn’t try to pretend otherwise. If a newspaper doesn’t like that policy, then it shouldn’t use Watchdog’s articles. But that’s not dishonesty — it’s the epitome of truthfulness.
Here’s what’s really revealing. Peterson refers to the Center for Public Integrity in a way that would make one think that it is just some unbiased good-journalism group. But it is a nonprofit with a hard-left political perspective and it didn’t just do some “research” on Franklin. It published a poorly crafted hit piece with a transparent political agenda.
“The fact that you didn’t question its findings suggests something of your own bias,” wrote Franklin Vice President Will Swaim in an email to Peterson, who never responded to his correspondence.
You see the ironies here. A newspaper editor attacks a libertarian-leaning group that admits its view of the world for the crime of offering news stories for reprinting. Meanwhile, she champions as unbiased the work of left-wing groups that are cagier about their perspective. Too bad she wasn’t in my junior high class that day.
No wonder the public has been frustrated over the years with perceptions of media bias. It’s not really the bias that’s the problem, but the insistence by some editors that they are untainted by any worldview — even as they so obviously trumpet one. (Not long ago, for instance, I received an angry email from a reader about one of my newspaper articles. She couldn’t believe how biased it was. After I explained to her that it was an opinion column, her view totally changed. She didn’t mind my idiotic view — as long as it wasn’t dressed up as unbiased!)
Don’t like Franklin or Watchdog? That’s fine. Then don’t use their work. But don’t dress up your own political biases as a bold defense of journalistic integrity.
Steven Greenhut is a Watchdog.org contributor and former vice president of Journalism for Watchdog’s parent, the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.
When I read this opening paragraph of a letter from the leaders of Media Matters, I double-checked that this wasn’t a story from The Onion, the humorous and satirical news source:
Five years ago, Media Matters was founded with a few staffers dedicated to a singular, and daunting, goal: restoring accountability and integrity to American journalism after both had been systematically eroded by decades of conservative attacks. Until then, no progressive organization had been solely dedicated to this crucial task, allowing the right-wing media machine to run roughshod over one of our democracy’s most vital institutions. The consequences were obvious, as lies, smears, and misinformation proved instrumental in electing George W. Bush not once but twice, and in building public support for his radically conservative agenda.
An internal Media Matters For America memo obtained by The Daily Caller reveals that the left-wing media watchdog group employs an “opposition research team” to target its political enemies. Included in the list of targets are right-leaning websites, conservative think tanks, prominent financiers and donors, and more than a dozen specific Fox News Channel and News Corporation employees.
Fracking — short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of oil and gas production by injecting pressurized fluid into rock formations. Along with horizontal drilling, this technology has lead to a rise in the production of natural gas, leading to much lower prices for consumers, and to the possibility of U.S. exports.
FrackNation, the film that McAleer and McElhinney made, is set for premier on AXS TV on January 22, 2013 at 9:00 pm eastern.
I spoke to McAleer on the telephone last week. I asked is fracking really a big deal for America? He answered:”The word game changer is much overused, but this really is a game changer. It’s going to make America an energy producer. Natural gas is no longer tied to the price of oil. Anywhere there’s fracking in America, there’s no recession.”
“I’d almost go as far as to say fracking is maybe the reason President Obama was reelected. The reason he won Ohio because there’s a fracking boom going on there. People have money in their pockets. … If you live in a fracking area or near where there is going to be fracking you’re feeling good.”
So why are progressives and liberals opposed to fracking? “Fracking brings economic boom to rural America, and many people view rural America as a backdrop, as something to be used.”
The elitists don’t really like farmers, he said. But they will gladly use them to make a political point. The idea that they would become independent from their largess is their concern. He added that opposition to fracking is anti-fossil fuel, anti-progress, and anti-modernity, but above all it is anti-American.
Those opposed to fracking spread fear of environmental damage such as spilling the chemicals or polluting ground water. Is this fear real? McAleer said fracking has been going on since 1947. How long can you fear something that hasn’t happened, he asked.
On the new Matt Damon movie Promised Land, described by the New York Times as “an earnest attempt, sometimes effective, sometimes clumsy, to dramatize the central arguments about fracking and its impact,” I asked what’s wrong with that movie?
McAleer said “It’s not fair, I suppose, to fact check a work of fiction. Having said that, it is pretending to be in a real world situation. There are lots of allegations, lots of multimillion dollar lawsuits, but no scientific evidence. There’s no scientific evidence about what Matt Damon talks about in promised land. The biggest lie of all is that the fraudulent environmentalists — of which there are many — are somehow in the pay of oil and gas companies to smear environmentalists. That’s just ludicrous. Yes there are fraudulent environmentalists — many of them — but they work for the environmental movement, not for oil and gas.”
I mentioned an incident in an advertisement for the movie that shows a family receiving the results from testing their water. The tests showed that the water was clean and not dirty, like illustrated in a dirty brown milk jug. The reaction of the family was anger. McAleer explained that these people were suing the oil and gas companies. They demanded that the EPA come in and test their water, and the EPA said their water is safe. They watched their multimillion dollar lawsuit flushed down the drain, along with their celebrity status.
Your movie FrackNation that’s coming out in January: What will it tell Americans?
McAleer said the film will show there is absolutely no evidence that fracking has ever contaminated groundwater. But there is plenty of evidence that people have lied, exaggerated, and misrepresented fracking.
I asked about the famous example in the movie Gasland of a family being able to light their drinking water on fire, the implication being that this was possible due to methane gas leaking into their water supply, with fracking being the cause. McAller said that people have been able to like their water on fire for many years before fracking started. Native Americans called certain places “burning springs.” These are naturally occurring events. The director of Gasland knew that, but he told me he left it out because it wasn’t relevant. It’s unethical journalism.
During these convention weeks, advocates on both sides have been fact-checking the other side, and charges are being made about which side is the biggest, boldest liar. But when people lie about lying … that’s a whole new level. Human Events reports on DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and sums up this way: “It was already common knowledge that Wasserman Schultz is a serial liar — on one memorable recent occasion, when CNN host Wolf Blitzer called her out for lying about Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposals, she essentially insisted that the urgency of her political agenda gives her the right to lie as necessary.” See Debbie Wasserman Schultz Caught Lying about Lying.
Speaking of facts and Politifact
What happens when the fact checker of record isn’t reliable? That’s the situation Politifact finds itself in, according to reporting by Jon Cassidy in Human Events: “Once widely regarded as a unique, rigorous and reasonably independent investigator of political claims, PolitiFact now declares conservatives wrong three times more often than liberals. More pointedly, the journalism organization concludes that conservatives have flat out lied nine times more often than liberals.” More at PolitiFact bias: Does the GOP tell nine times more lies than left? Really?
This week the Wichita Pachyderm Club features Republican candidates for the Kansas House of Representatives. Scheduled to appear are: Jim Howell (District 81), John Stevens (86), George F. “Joe” Edwards II (93), Benny Boman (95), and Phil Hermanson (98). The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. Meetings are Fridays at noon, in the Wichita Petroleum Club on the top floor of the Bank of America Building at 100 N. Broadway. The meeting costs $10, which includes a delicious buffet lunch and beverage. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.
Even garage sales can’t escape the regulatory regime
Related to garage sale signs, Wichitans can now apply to be part of the civilian sign enforcement patrol. The city has made these documents available on its website: Overview of the Volunteer Sign Removal Program and Sign Removal Volunteer Application. If you want to participate in this program, you’ll need to complete a volunteer sign removal application, complete the required training course, sign a liability release, sign an oath or statement agreeing to abide by city codes and the program rules, submit to and successfully pass a background check, have valid Kansas drivers license, have a currently registered vehicle in good operating condition, have current vehicle insurance, commit to a geographic area and time, commit to safety first; appropriately use provided vests and tools, commit to provide required reports, commit to dispose of signs as directed, commit to wear the provided identification badge, and commit to allowing only authorized (city trained and approved) persons to remove signs. The city also advises applicants to check with their insurance agents for coverage relative to the use of vehicles in this program. I can’t imagine most auto insurance companies will be happy that their customers are using their cars in a quasi-law enforcement application. … For more on why this law is a bad idea, see Proposed Wichita sign ordinance problematic.
As a result of an excellent day-long training session recently produced in Wichita by Campaign for Liberty, activists that support limited government and free markets are meeting regularly. For information about the Wichita meetings, contact John Axtell.
The seven rules of bureaucracy
In this article, authors Loyd S. Pettegrew and Carol A. Vance quote Thomas Sowell: “When the government creates some new program, nothing is easier than to show whatever benefits that program produces. … But it is virtually impossible to trace the taxes that paid for the program back to their sources and to show the alternative uses of that same money that could have been far more beneficial.” In order to understand the foundation of America’s morass, we must examine bureaucracy. At the root of this growing evil is the very nature of bureaucracy, especially political bureaucracy. French economist Frédéric Bastiat offered an early warning in 1850 that laws, institutions, and acts — the stuff of political bureaucracy — produce economic effects that can be seen immediately, but that other, unforeseen effects happen much later. He claimed that bad economists look only at the immediate, seeable effects and ignore effects that come later, while good economists are able to look at the immediate effects and foresee effects, both good and bad, that come later. … Both the seen and the unseen have become a necessary condition of modern bureaucracy. (Bastiat: That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen.) The first rule? “Maintain the problem at all costs!”
Democracy, or majority rule?
A new video from LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies is titled Should Majorities Decide Everything? To me, the most important part is near the end, when the speaker says that without a properly limited government, rule by majority “substitute[s] the tyranny of a king with the tyranny of a larger group.” LearnLiberty also explains: “According to Professor Munger, democratic constitutions consist of two parts: one defining the limits within which decisions can be made democratically, and the other establishing the process by which decisions will be made. In the United States Constitution, the individual is protected from majority decisions. Professor Munger warns, however, that these protections are slowly being stripped away as American courts of law fail to recognize the limits of what can be decided by majority rule.”
George Soros: Media Mogul. Dan Gainor and Iris Somberg of the Business and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center, have produced a report on the media-related activities of liberal financier George Soros. In the executive summary, Gainor and Somberg report: “George Soros is arguably the most influential liberal financier in the United States, donating more than $8 billion just to his Open Society Foundations. In 2004, he spent more than $27 million to defeat President George W. Bush and has given away millions more since to promote the left-wing agenda. But what goes almost without notice is Soros’ extensive influence on and involvement with the media. … His media funding has helped create a liberal ‘echo chamber,’ in the words of one group he backs, ‘in which a message pushes the larger public or the mainstream media to acknowledge, respond, and give airtime to progressive ideas because it is repeated many times.'” … As a person with an interest in news media, I can attest that the liberal echo chamber is quite effective, with stories spreading rapidly across a network of media outlets. Liberal politicians — even President Obama — pick up on and repeat the echoes. The executive summary of the report is at George Soros: Media Mogul — Lefty Businessman Spends Millions Funding Journalism. That page contains a link to the full report and additional material.
‘Nullify Now’ tour in Kansas City. The idea that states can nullify unconstitutional laws passed by Congress is gaining traction as a way to reign in the federal government. This week an event in Kansas City will help citizens learn more about this possibility. Write the event’s organizers: “Crushing debt, health care mandates, ‘super’ congress, and more. The list of constitutional violations from DC never seems to end. The good news is that we don’t have to wait for DC to fix itself. As Thomas Jefferson told us, state nullification is “THE RIGHTFUL REMEDY” to unconstitutional actions by the federal government. … At Nullify Now! Kansas City, you’ll hear nationally-renowned speaker Thomas Woods (and nine others) present the constitutional case for nullification. You’ll learn: the constitutional basis for nullification, how nullification has been used in history, how nullification is being called upon right now vs Obamacare, to protect gun rights, against the TSA, and more, and what YOU CAN DO RIGHT NOW to get your state to put a stop to the Feds.” The event is Saturday August 20, and tickets, ranging in cost from free to $75, are required. For more information click on Nullify Now! Kansas City.
Krugman: government spending and inflation will save us. On a Sunday television show economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman revealed a plan to restore our economy: Pretend that an enemy is about to attack us — an imaginary enemy is best — and put concerns of inflation and budget deficits aside in favor of a massive defense buildup. Yes, he actually said that. He also repeated the myth that World War II ended the Great Depression. In the past, Krugman wrote that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 “could even do some economic good” as rebuilding will increase spending. Video is at Paul Krugman: Massive Defense Buildup to Stimulate Economy. A very good analysis of Krugman’s ideas by Michael Pento is at Krugman’s War Won’t Avert Depression: “After all, the Keynesian economist’s favorite pastime is seeing people waste their lives digging holes in the ground or sacrifice their lives in war. Both acts create economic growth according to the topsy-turvy logic of men like Krugman. The truth is that wars are a miserable misallocation of capital and usually leave financial ruin in their wake. … The logical implication of Krugman’s arguments remains that working in productive employment is not at all necessary. If this is true, why not have people just save gas and stay home? The government could simply borrow and/or print money and send it to foreign countries that are dumb enough to produce goods and services for US consumption.”
Stossel on history. In a recent episode of the John Stossel television program, now available on the free hulu service by clicking on Stossel: Politically Incorrect History, we learn of the falsehoods of labor union mythology, how unions limited the ability of minority workers to get jobs, how workplace safety was increasing before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, how the New Deal didn’t fix the Great Depression despite what is taught in public school, and how President Hoover doubled government spending in spite of his reputation. This is all in just the first segment.
Midwest economic model in decline. Michael Barone in the Wall Street JournalThe Fall of the Midwest Economic Model: “Michigan is an extreme example of what has afflicted the industrial Midwest. Big corporations were replaced by big government as the leading employer, and public-employee unions replaced industrial unions as the chief financiers of the Democratic Party. In effect, public-employee unions have been a mechanism by which taxpayer money, in the form of union dues, permanently finances a lobby with a vested interest in higher spending and less accountability. It’s a lobby that’s benefited from the Democratic Party loyalties of black voters, of Latinos in Chicago (the only large Hispanic presence in the Midwest) and of culturally liberal suburbanites. This Midwestern model is unraveling before our eyes. The Midwest has not been hit as hard by foreclosures or unemployment as some other places, with Michigan an exception on both counts, but you have to look hard for green shoots of growth. They may be most evident in North Dakota, where low costs and light regulation have produced booms in energy and high tech. … So what does the president have to offer the Midwest? The idea that the wave of the future is an ever-larger public sector financed by a more or less stagnant private sector looks increasingly absurd. The Midwest’s public sector has, as Margaret Thatcher put it, run on ‘other people’s money.'”
Optimal level of government spending. In a video by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, Dan Mitchell explains that while some government is necessary, too much is harmful, and it’s certain that we have too much. In the video, Mitchell explains that government is useful when it provides core goods like rule of law and property rights, which gives people confidence to own property and produce goods and services. But once government gets too large, economic performance suffers, and prosperity is reduced. Mitchell cites a variety of studies that estimate that the economy works best when government spending is from 15 to 25 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Today, Mitchell says government spending in the U.S. consumes 40 percent of GDP, which is far above the growth-maximizing level — perhaps twice as much. The trend is upwards, too. At least we’re not France, where the figure is over 50 percent. Concluding, Mitchell said “Government today is far too big and this is hurting growth, undermining prosperity, and reducing competitiveness. It doesn’t matter whether Republicans are spending too much money, or Democrats are spending too much money. … If we want a strong economy, the Rahn curve tells use we need to dramatically reduce the burden of government spending.”
This Week in Kansas. On This Week in Kansas guests Rebecca Zepick of State of the State KS, Joe Aistrup of Kansas State University, and myself discuss Kansas House of Representatives leadership, Governor-elect Brownback’s appointments, and voter ID. Tim Brown is the host. This Week in Kansas airs on KAKE TV channel 10, Sunday morning at 9:00 am.
Cato scholar to speak on economic freedom. Today’s meeting (December 10) of the Wichita Pachyderm Club features noted Cato Institute scholar, Principal Attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, and author Timothy Sandefur. He will discuss his recent book The Right to Earn a Living: Economic Freedom and the Law. A description of the book at Amazon.com reads: “America’s founders thought the right to earn a living was so basic and obvious that it didn’t need to be mentioned in the Bill of Rights. Yet today that right is burdened by a wide array of government rules and regulations that play favorites, rewrite contracts, encourage frivolous lawsuits, seize private property, and manipulate economic choices to achieve outcomes that bureaucrats favor. The Right to Earn a Living charts the history of this fundamental human right, from the constitutional system that was designed to protect it by limiting government’s powers, to the Civil War Amendments that expanded protection to all Americans, regardless of race. It then focuses on the Progressive-era judges who began to erode those protections, and concludes with today’s controversies over abusive occupational licensing laws, freedom of speech in advertising, regulatory takings, and much more.” … Of the book, Dick Armey said: “Government today puts so many burdens and restrictions on entrepreneurs and business owners that we’re squandering our most precious resource: the entrepreneurial spirit and drive of our people. Sandefur’s book explains how this problem began, and what steps we can take to ensure that we all enjoy the freedom to pursue the American Dream.” … The public is welcome and encouraged to attend Wichita Pachyderm meetings. For more information click on Wichita Pachyderm Club.
Tax rates still a secret. Rhonda Holman’s Wichita Eagle editorial asks the central question about signage requirements warning customers of Community Improvement Districts that they will be paying higher sales tax: “But if transparency about CIDs is bad for business, how can CIDs be good for citizens and the community?”
Federal spending oversight. In the U.S. House of Representatives, the actual spending of money happens in the Appropriations Committee, and this committee is a large source of the problems we have with federal spending. The Wall Street Journal column Oversight for the Spenders explains why: “The Members who join the Appropriations subcommittee on, say, agriculture do so precisely because they are advocates of farm spending. They have no interest in subjecting their own programs to greater public scrutiny.” What is the outlook going forward for this committee? Incoming Speaker John Boehner appointed Kentucky’s Hal Rogers as chair. The Journal column says his “spending record rivals that of any free-wheeling Democrat.” A bright spot: reformer Jeff Flake of Arizona is appointed to the committee, but his request to run an investigations subcommittee was not granted. The Journal is not impressed, concluding “Mr. Boehner’s selection of Mr. Rogers is a major disappointment and makes his promises to control spending suspect. If he really wants to change the spending culture, he should unleash Mr. Flake.”
Slow death for high-speed rail. From Randal O’Toole: “New transportation technologies are successful when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the technologies they replace. High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and at least five times more expensive than either one. It is only feasible with heavy taxpayer subsidies and even then it will only serve a tiny portion of the nation’s population.”
Does the New York Times have a double standard? John LaPlante in LaPlante: NY Times leaky double-standard: “Many newspapers in America reprint articles from the New York Times on a regular basis. So their editorial slant is of importance beyond the (direct) readership of the Gray Lady. Compare and contrast how the Times treated two recent leaks: ‘The documents appear to have been acquired illegally and contain all manner of private information and statements that were never intended for the public eye, so they won’t be posted here. — New York Times, on the Climategate emails, Nov. 20, 2009. … ‘The articles published today and in coming days are based on thousands of United States embassy cables, the daily reports from the field intended for the eyes of senior policy makers in Washington. … The Times believes that the documents serve an important public interest, illuminating the goals, successes, compromises and frustrations of American diplomacy in a way that other accounts cannot match.. — New York Times, on the WikiLeaks documents, Nov. 29, 2010.” I’ll let you make the call.
Wichita Eagle Opinion Line. “The party of the wealthy triumphs again. Congratulations, Republican voters. By extending the handout to the wealthy, you just increased the national debt.” I would say to this writer that action to prevent an increase in income tax from occurring is not a handout. The only way that extending the present tax rates qualifies as a handout is if you believe that the income people earn belongs first to government. This is entirely backwards and violates self-ownership. Further, the national debt — actually the deficit — has two moving parts: the government’s income, and its spending. We choose as a nation to spend more than the government takes in. That is the cause of the deficit.
Political pretense vs. market performance. What is the difference between markets and politics or government? “There is a large gap between the performance of markets and the public’s approval of markets. Despite the clear superiority of free markets over other economic arrangements at protecting liberty, promoting social cooperation and creating general prosperity, they have always been subject to pervasive doubts and, often, outright hostility. Of course, many people are also skeptical about government. Yet when problems arise that can even remotely be blamed on markets, the strong tendency is to ‘correct’ the ‘market failures’ by substituting more government control for market incentives.” The article is The Political Economy of Morality: Political Pretense vs. Market Performance by Dwight R. Lee. Lee explains the difference between “magnanimous morality” (helping people) and “mundane morality” (obeying the generally accepted rules or norms of conduct). Markets operate under mundane morality, which is not as emotionally appealing as as magnanimous morality. But it’s important, as it is markets — not government — that have provided economic progress. There’s much more to appreciate in this article, which ends this way: “The rhetoric dominating the public statements of politicians and their special-interest supplicants is successful at convincing people that magnanimous morality requires substituting political action for market incentives, even though the former generates outcomes that are less efficient and moral than does the latter. The reality is that political behavior is as motivated by self-interest as market behavior is. … As long as there are people who cannot resist the appeal of morality on the cheap, the political process will continue to serve up cheap morality. And the result will continue to be neither moral nor cheap.”
Begging for Billionaires. The documentary film Begging for Billionaires will be shown in Wichita next week. The film’s synopsis is this: “In 2005, a divided U.S. Supreme Court gave city governments the authority to take private homes and businesses by eminent domain and transfer ownership to private developers for the purpose of building things like shopping centers, corporate office towers and professional sports arenas. According to the court, the community economic development benefits of such private projects qualified them as being for ‘public use’ under the 5th Amendment’s ‘takings clause.’ The Court’s ruling immediately sparked public outrage and was broadly criticized as a gross misinterpretation of the constitution. Through a mix of guerrilla journalism, expert interviews, and the stories of victims; Begging For Billionaires reveals the fallout of the Kelo case, exposing how city governments brazenly seize property after property from the powerless and give it to the powerful for the pettiest of non-essential ‘economic development’ projects, many of which are subsidized with taxpayer money. Meanwhile, poor and disadvantaged families are forced from their homes. Everyday citizens watch helplessly as their family histories are bulldozed to smithereens. In some cases, homeowners scramble to save their life’s possessions as demolition crews pulverize the walls around them, and Centuries-old neighborhoods are wiped from existence despite rich histories and beautifully maintained homes. Begging for Billionaires begs the question: are we losing sight of the balance between individual property rights and those of the community?” The movie, sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, will be shown on Monday, December 13 from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm at the Lionel D. Alford Library located at 3447 S. Meridian in Wichita. The library is just north of the I-235 exit on Meridian. For more information on this event contact John Todd at [email protected] or 316-312-7335, or Susan Estes, AFP Field Director at [email protected] or 316-681-4415.
O’Toole on urban planning. As Wichita considers approving a plan for the revitalization of downtown Wichita, we should consider the wisdom of Randal O’Toole: “Urban planners want to shape our cities. And they want our cities to shape you. That’s the conclusion of Cato Institute Senior Fellow Randal O’Toole. He argues that the rationales for most urban planning collapses upon examination.” O’Toole visited Wichita earlier this year. Click here to view a short video of him speaking on urban planning.
Kansas House of Representatives leaders elected. “House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson and Rep. Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe, will hold pivotal leadership positions in the Kansas House after voting Monday among GOP members who re-elected O’Neal to the chamber’s top job and selected Siegfreid as the new House majority leader.” More from Tim Carpenter in the Topeka Capital-Journal.
School lessons learned.Joel Klein, Chancellor of New York City public schools, writing in the Wall Street Journal: “Over the past eight years, I’ve been privileged to serve as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school district. Working with a mayor who courageously took responsibility for our schools, our department has made significant changes and progress. Along the way, I’ve learned some important lessons about what works in public education, what doesn’t, and what (and who) are the biggest obstacles to the transformative changes we still need. … Traditional proposals for improving education — more money, better curriculum, smaller classes, etc. — aren’t going to get the job done. … Bureaucrats, unions and politicians had their way, and they blamed poor results on students and their families. … The people with the loudest and best-funded voices are committed to maintaining a status quo that protects their needs even if it doesn’t work for children. … As I leave the best job I’ve ever had, I know that more progress is possible despite the inevitable resistance to change. To prevail, the public and, most importantly, parents must insist on a single standard: Every school has to be one to which we’d send our own kids. We are not remotely close to that today. We know how to fix public education. The question is whether we have the political will to do it.” This is more evidence of how far behind the rest of the states is Kansas.
As newspapers and other forms of traditional news media experience economic difficulty, a gap has been created that needs to be filled. One of the solutions is the rise of non-profit organizations that have stepped in to provide the watchdog service that investigative journalism provides. Jason Stverak, author of the piece below, is president of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which funds investigative journalism in a growing number of states, including Kansas at Kansas Watchdog. This piece also appeared in National Review Online.
Corruption and scandal are not simply bred in D.C. — crooked politicians have to start somewhere. Gone unnoticed, scandal-plagued local politicians sometimes escalate to Congress or other federal positions.
The cure for a dishonest politician is an investigative reporter willing to allocate the time to expose the truth. However, the decline of resources at newspapers around the nation has increased the vacuum in state-based coverage. As such, newspapers around the country are curbing reporters’ ability to spend the time or money to investigate a story in addition to the daily beat they write. This growing hole in investigative journalism is now being filled by non-profit organizations that have the capacity to spend time becoming immersed in a story.
The formula for success for the non-profits is to hire straight-shooting professionals and provide them the opportunity and training to reemerge as the beat reporters from yesteryear. With local focuses, specific targets, a commitment to using highly trained and professional journalists, and a strategic approach to using and distributing resources, online non-profits are the future of journalism.
Just recently, a series of state-based watchdog groups have demonstrated that online news websites can churn out substantive investigative pieces. Jim Scarantino, the New Mexico Watchdog at the Rio Grande Foundation, found that New Mexico’s lieutenant governor was utilizing tax dollars to buy Christmas cards for her political committee. Joe Jordan, a dedicated state-based reporter at NebraskaWatchdog.org, uncovered that their state’s educators were using taxpayer-funded credit cards to purchase a first-class plane tickets to China for $11,000. And it was a Watchdog in Ohio that publicized a candidate’s attempt to pay for votes among college students.
Kathy Hoekstra, a watchdog from Michigan, found herself investigating a union day-care scandal when her organization, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, sued Michigan’s Department of Human Services. The lawsuit stemmed from the two home day-care owners receiving a notification that they were members of a union, and that dues would be taken out of the subsidy checks they receive on behalf of low-income parents who qualify for aid. The lawsuit alleged that these home day-care owners are businesses, not government employees, and therefore it is illegal to siphon union dues from government-subsidy checks. Weeks of investigating the details of this case paid off when Kathy’s article was welcomed with open arms in all the major news outlets in Michigan, exposing this story to millions of readers.
Although many of the state-based watchdogs are local in focus, on several occasions, one watchdog’s local discovery has led to a major news story. This past November, Jim Scarantino was doing research on Recovery.gov when he noticed that a few of the congressional districts that received stimulus funding in New Mexico did not exist. The story he wrote about that obvious error prompted a watchdog in another state to look into his own state’s information. As more and more watchdogs looked into their own state’s data on recovery.gov, more congressional districts proved to be fabricated. What came to be known as the “Phantom Congressional District Scandal” lead to the discovery of more than 440 phantom congressional districts nationwide and hearings on Capitol Hill. The Colbert Report even refashioned its popular “Better Known as a District” into a new segment, “Know Your Made-Up District.”
Non-profit journalism organizations are changing the conversation in politics, the media, and for news consumers around the nation. Benjamin Franklin, a printer by trade, once said that “a newspaper in every home” was the “principle support of … morality” in civic life. The decline of American newspapers might sadden Mr. Franklin, but the pursuit of greatness in journalism by online non-profits would without a doubt bring him pride.
Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity promotes social welfare and civil betterment by undertaking programs that promote journalism and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence, fraud, or taxpayer abuse by elected officials at all levels of government. Founded in January of 2009, The Franklin Center is a nonpartisan organization that believes that new technology can advance the cause of transparency in government. The Franklin Center aims to educate, to advise and to train individuals and organizations from all backgrounds to become thorough, unbiased and responsible reporters well versed in new media techniques and journalistic integrity. For more information on the Franklin Center please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.
On Saturday October 17, 2009, about 50 Wichitans met in front of Wichita’s KSN Television studio to express their concerns about the state of news media. The event was part of a national protest named “Can you hear us now?” Locally, the South Central Kansas 9.12 Group promoted the event.
Kravarik stressed that KSN is a local news organization. It is affiliated with NBC News, but KSN employees are not employees of NBC. The focus of KSN is local news, not national. When national news stories appear on KSN, they’re furnished by NBC.
Someone in the crowd asked: “Why don’t you correct the national news?”
Kravarik replied that KSN covers national news as it affects Wichita. KSN can’t send reporters to Washington.
The crowd was critical of KSN’s news coverage of the Wichita tea parties. It’s possible that KSN may have broadcast a mistake when counting the number of attendees in its coverage of one of the tea parties. But by and large, KSN has covered the Wichita tea parties. As Kravarik mentioned, this website (WichitaLiberty.org) holds several references to KSN’s coverage. (See Wichita tax day tea party preview on KSN news and Wichita Tea Party News Coverage on KSN Television for examples.)
He also told the group that KSN provides no opinion or commentary, just coverage of local new stories.
One complaint from the audience was that KSN doesn’t provide advance notice of events like tea parties. Kravarik recommended that groups contact the station to make sure that reporters know of the event, and make contact well in advance of the date of the event — not just the day before.
(If I had been in Kravarik’s position, I might have said that local television news stations shouldn’t serve as advertising services for anyone.)
There was also mention of cable television news networks. Kravarik told the audience that based on the ratings success of Fox News with shows like The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC decided to counter with their own opinion-based shows like Keith Olbermann’s.
One speaker requested time for local exploration of national issues and how they will affect us locally in Wichita and the surrounding area.
Kravarik also mentioned that when local people do things with national impact, that’s something his station is interested in. But reporters need to be notified of such things.
One audience member said “The print media is useless, because people might see it, but it doesn’t register. You guys put stuff on the actual news on the television. People look at that television and take it as gospel, as bad as it is.”
Kravarik also mentioned that as events such as tea parties are repeated, they become less newsworthy: “By the time there’s a hundred of these, will they get as much coverage as day two, three, and four?”
He urged the group to get specific with its issues. Are there local people who are being negatively affected by a policy? Then it moves from the abstract to the concrete. It then becomes a new story idea.
In response to a question about the economics of news, Kravarik mentioned that his station is struggling, as are all stations, due to loss of advertising revenue.
While the protesters complained that the issues they’re concerned about are not being covered, somehow the members of the group are informed about them. So the news must be getting out somehow. I believe this points to the diversity of news sources available today, largely due to the Internet.
Some of the protesters were complaining to the wrong person. One person complained about the reporting of the count of protesters at the September 12 protest event in Washington. Regardless of the merits of the complaint, Kravarik’s news station didn’t cover that event.
The plea for attention is understandable. But if KSN gives more attention to issues and events that are important to the protesters, we would expect other interest groups to insist on increased coverage of their issues.
The criticism of print media by one person is mistaken, I believe. One of the important differences between print journalism and television journalism is breadth and depth of coverage. Print media — Internet too — has the space to cover issues in depth. The daily television news broadcast doesn’t.
Some people asked why doesn’t local news media explain issues like the “Fair Tax” or the Federal Reserve system. This is more like educational programming, which network television has rarely embraced, as it doesn’t produce ratings. Public television is more likely to provide this type of programming. An important advance in just the past year or two is the rise of Internet video services like YouTube, which contains many educational videos.
There’s also the issue of “What is the truth?” While I am largely sympathetic with the political views of the protesters at this event, there are other groups that are just as firmly convinced that their version of the world is the truth.
Perception, too, plays a large role in opinion of news coverage. The Wall Street Journal has a reputation as a bastion of conservatism. But a UCLA study in 2005 found that “the newspaper’s news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times.”
As an example of how truth and perception can vary from person to person, I would be happy to make any readers a DVD of the video I captured of this event, on the condition that they write their own news coverage or commentary. (Or maybe create video or audio coverage and commentary.) I’ll then post it here.