Wichita Eagle fails readers, again

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.

Wichita Eagle Building, detail
Wichita Eagle Building, detail
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.

19 thoughts on “Wichita Eagle fails readers, again”

  1. Bob, you are correct in your examination of the facts. As one Eagle management employee told me during this mayoral campaign “we all look at issues through our own glasses”. Facts are not relevant. The media is playing the role of “kingmakers” in our local elections because of the low turnout and that is why it is imperative that the elections are moved to the fall election cycles because with more candidates and races the media can not zero in one race with so many other candidates to attack. Also, in 2003, the Wichita Eagle ran for a week “how to vote for write -in candidates” with instructions and tips” when Mrs. Knight and Mrs. Cole were running as write-in candidates, yet in this election with a Hispanic leader in the community running as a write-in they did NOTHING. This shows their bias and that is why they are not a credible source anymore, but more of an attack dog. Williams never stood a chance with the media, Warren and the Partnership group attacking him with Longwell seating back and relaxing. None of those three groups were on the ballot so Williams can not fight back. It is crazy and sad!

  2. Bob,

    As a blogger, you are likely unfamiliar with the journalistic process. Let me enlighten you.

    Not everything that we investigate goes into print.

    Also, not every opportunity we give candidates to meet with us is taken by those candidates. During the interview with Williams at his campaign office, we offered to go door-to-door with him during campaigning, or any other activity, and did not get a response. Thus, we were left with describing the interview that we were given in his campaign office.

    Longwell told us that he played basketball frequently at the YMCA and when we asked if we could tag along, he agreed.

    As for the mailer, when we say those comments were not apparent, we referred directly to the cited articles on the mailer, since that is what we were fact checking. Those citations did not include “chastising” comments.

    As for the sales tax fact check, we did look into the “yes” campaign and did an interview with Jon Rolph over their mailers. When we did not find false information presented in their mailers, we did not find it appropriate to write a fact check.

    In the future, if you have questions about the reporting process, please do not hesitate to ask before writing inflammatory statements about my journalistic integrity.

    Kelsey Ryan
    Reporter
    The Wichita Eagle

  3. Seriously, Bob? You’re giving lectures about news bias?
    You’ve spent the last month(s) relentlessly attacking Longwell day after day, and now you’re attacking Kelsey????
    You are way off base.
    If you stood a little closer to the center once in a while, maybe the rest of the world wouldn’t look so far left.

  4. Kelsey, if you couldn’t find any problems with the “Yes Wichita” material, you just weren’t looking very hard, or were willfully blind. It’s your competence that we question.

  5. I remember getting a post card with broken down, wooden water pipes “telling” me how bad the city’s infrastructure needed to be repaired with the tax money. Then I figured out the money didn’t even go to infrastructure, but the ASR. How is that not worth a fact-check? That burned me and caused a no vote.

  6. Hey Dion in case you haven’t noticed Bob Weeks doesn’t manage the so-called paper of record for Sedgwick County. You vermin at the Buzzard are barely in the closet communists. Viewing your own comments on the Buzzard’s site and your Twitter feed prove you a left leaning hack. At least we all know where Bob stands.

  7. If I understand your rebuttal, Kelsey, Longwell hosted you in a cooler place so you wrote a more flattering profile and your fact check wasn’t to find out if a particular (and important) statement was true or not, but what the story cited in the mailer supported the evidently true claim. Do I have that right?

    I’m new to the journalistic process, so you’ll be very kind to enlighten me.

  8. As a blogger, thank you for holding the “mainstream” media to the journalistic standards they should be held to.

  9. Out of curiosity, I used your search tool here on the blog and entered “Fact Checking Yes Wichita”. Eight results appeared. If the Eagle couldn’t find anything to fact check on Yes Wichita’s campaign, they should have asked you for help.

  10. Canceling my Eagle subscription continues to be the right decision. What is a journalistic process? Sounds like rhetoric to make an indefensible argument sound tenable.
    I Googled.
    Principles of Journalism (from the Pew Research Center)
    1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
    2. Its first loyalty is to citizens
    3. Its essence is a discipline of verification
    4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover
    5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power
    6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
    7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant
    8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional
    9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

    Kelsey you are 0 for 9 on the topics covered in the article and in the comments [shaking my head]. The Eagle makes Mike Shatz seem legitimate.

  11. One thing is clear: With Kelsey Ryan and the Wichita Eagle covering city hall, politicians and bureaucrats can rest well, and citizens and taxpayers had better watch out. Thanks for nothing, Wichita Eagle.

  12. Fat Man… Do you even know what a communist is? I do. My grandfather lost his three brothers escaping from them.
    I’ll take your comments more seriously if/when you’re not hiding behind trollish anonymity.

  13. “As a blogger, you are likely unfamiliar with the journalistic process. Let me enlighten you.”

    Kelsey, you are really good at making a person look petty and stupid.

  14. I am glad to see Dion and Kelsey participating in this discussion. That deserves praise. However, I would be more impressed if the eagle leaders, as well as these two reporters, would join Mr. Ashby on his program and discuss this on the radio. I won’t hold my breath.

    The Eagle has barely recognized the Ashby Show despite its proven success during the last couple of years.

    There was plenty of material to “fact check” the vote yes campaign last year and the Longwell campaign this month. The Eagle’s decision to whitewash the Longwell transgressions with the now indicted Minnesota guys (but not yet gone to trial), the airport contract that didn’t go to the low bidder (both firms had problems with sub-contractors, not just Donlinger), the reversion back to no-bid city contracts, and the special deals for certain downtown developers reflects badly on all of the local news media that gave the incumbents a pass on these issues during this month’s local election. It is also worth mentioning that one tv station joined the eagle in whitewashing the Longwell campaign and giving it the same sort of pass that the national news media reserves for our “dear leader” in the White House.

    Low voter turnout is another reason to move this election to a time that will hopefully generate more voter participation by holding it in November.

    Bob Weeks deserves tremendous credit for being the one person who is tracking the shenanigans coming out of our city hall and the local news media’s efforts to whitewash our 21st century city hall cronyism that would do the Pendergast machine in KC proud. If you don’t know the Pendergast machine, just read any bio of Harry Truman.

  15. Hey Dion if your story about your grandfather is true then he must be spinning in his grave. You dishonor his memory with your hardcore support of the left.

    Admit you are a hardcore lefty Dion. Do your own comments not accurately reflect your personal viewpoints? Probably not right because your a journalist and are above the fray and stuff, right Dion?

    Sincerely,
    One of many trolls on Al Gore’s internet.

  16. Miss Kelsey,

    The mailer from Williams footnotes the 9/15/11 Eagle article that Bob quotes from. What in the heck were you and your editors thinking of? Does this illustrate the “journalistic process” that we can expect in future Wichita Eagle news coverage?

  17. Fat Man…
    Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I’ve been really busy making up stories about my grandfather and plotting the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    Gently suggest you gain some connection to reality before it’s too late.

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