publisher's note
July 21, 2006




Color instead of reporting
by Bruce Rodgers

About every chance he gets, Richard Tolbert, Democratic candidate for Jackson County executive, bags on The Kansas City Star. Given just a little prodding at the candidate forums he religiously attends, Tolbert favorite phrase is calling the newspaper the (new) “Pendergast machine.”

The implication, of course, is that the Star calls the public policy shots in the Kansas City area, and that the newspaper’s endorsements and editorials help make, or break, political careers. Considering the cost a candidate must endure to run an effective race, Tolbert has a good point. Most times for a candidate to beat his or her opponent, who has received the Star’s endorsement, it takes money, a lot of hard work, luck and tapping into the Star’s base of hostile readers that are against most what the paper editorizes for — usually all four, that’s why beating the endorsement doesn’t happen much.

But sometimes when the newspaper generally ignores a race — except for what appears as a last-minute candidate profile and listing of positions — surprises happen. Credit some of the resurgence of the right wing and its ongoing influence in Kansas/Johnson County politics to the Star’s lack of real political reporting. The Star’s management is deadly afraid of the label “liberal, left newspaper” hanging around its editorial neck so any substantial reporting on the legislative shneggians of the right wing doesn’t happen.

Take for example the near revolutionary defection of GOP moderates to the Democratic Party and the right-wing attacks on current Republican officeholders running for reelection. If a citizen wants some perspective on the newly discovered allure of the Democratic Party by the likes of Mark Parkinson and Paul Morrison, or the right-wing campaign against Republican officeholders Ron Thornburgh and Sandy Praeger, it’s The Sun, not the Star, that will give a more complete picture, both in The Sun’s reporting of public forums and meetings, and in Steve Rose’s weekly column.

On the Missouri side, the same holds true to an extent. The suburban newspapers, from Lee’s Summit to Grain Valley to Platte City to Raytown generally report more, and better, on local political campaigns than the Star. If a citizen wants to find out about their state representative race, turn to the suburban paper.

Tolbert, and maybe to a certain extent his opponents Mike Sanders and Charles Wheeler also, would agree. During the League of Women Voters forum on July 18 presenting the Democratic candidates for Jackson County executive at Blue River Community College, Tolbert and Sanders made a friendly bet on whether an article about the event would appear in the Star. Tolbert didn’t think so; Sanders thought an article would appear.

Sanders was right. The Star ran a recount of the candidates’ forum the next day. But by my counting, it was only the sixth mention — and the second full reporting piece — on the race since politicking got going in April. Let me repeat: six mentions, four in “briefs” or at the end of another article on another race, and two pieces on the actual race and its candidates — and this is on the Democrats only; Bob Gough, the GOP candidate, has yet to receive mention in any article on the county executive race by my count. If I’m wrong, it’s because I don’t dwell long with articles buried in the back pages by the obituaries.

Whatever the count overall, the Star’s reporting is pathetic.

Here we have a hot race between a 39-year-old county prosecutor and a 79-year-old departing state senator — with a possible spoiler for either side in a much-more-voter friendly Tolbert — in a county with over 600,000 people, with a budget of nearly $300 million and 1,600 employees, facing a $575 renovation at the Truman Sports Complex, in an atmosphere where county officeholders can get intimate with the FBI and the state ethics commission on a regular basis, and with political wheeling and dealing overflowing inside and outside the county courthouse like a grease trap in a barbecue restaurant — and The Kansas City Star treats it in its usual dumb and dumber manner: Know a lot, don’t report a lot.

Rumors, charges, deals and issues about age, the buzzing influence of Katheryn Shields, Phillip Cardarella, the Fireman’s Union, Henry Rizzo, J.E. Dunn, Mark Bryant, James Nutter and Victor Callahan swirl about like fruit flies landing and taking off an eastern Jackson County peach left rotting in the field.

If you don’t know who those people are I just mentioned, call The Kansas City Star's political reporter (if they have one) and complain.

The New Yorker noted in their April 2006 issue, “McClatchy’s operating (profit) margin last year was twenty-eight percent, while ExxonMobil’s was around sixteen percent.”

So what’s the conclusion in noting that comparison? With ExxonMobil, we get denials of global warming and higher gas prices. With McClatchy’s Kansas City Star, we get less news and more color.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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