publisher's note
July 25, 2008


 

 

Reacting to The Star’s sins of omission
by Bruce Rodgers

Maybe it’s not so ironic that as The Kansas City Star struggles to make enough of a profit, letting go of seasoned reporters to help that along, it continues to attract more criticism (of which I participate in, also) in the way it reports. No longer a hometown paper — just a corporate branch doing its part for shareholders.

The latest attack comes in the form of a new online news “journal” called www.KCNewsWatch.com, founded by conservative Jackson County Republican Bob Gough. In announcing its launch, a press release stated:

“In Kansas City, unfortunately, the mainstream media are no longer mainstream. The goal of KCNewsWatch.com is to prod them gently to become what they once were and still pretend to be.”

Gough is quoted further as saying, “We will remind them of what they overlook and what they get wrong and we will nice about it. At least, we will try to be!”

Many liberal media critics would agree with the overlooked part. It’s been an ongoing complaint of left-leaning citizens that the mainstream media consistently misconstrues the meaning of “left,” mistakingly assuming — like the conservatives — that the terms liberal and left are interchangeable. For my part, it’s been a deliberate distorting because the media is hypersensitive to the conservative charge that “mainstream” is synonymous with liberal.

For example: When have you read in The Star an interview with a socialist seeking office — or Green for that matter — or read a story concerning the pros and cons of nationalizing the oil companies or the need to break up the telecom giants? Has a Noam Chomsky op-ed ever appeared in a McClatchy newspaper? Yet, The Star followed the rest of the mainstream media in giving faith-based intelligent design a pseudo-scientific bearing in discussing evolution.

For the record: A socialist is left; a member of the Democratic Party may, or may not be, liberal.

Veterans of the newspaper industry — journalists — know that such criticism from either political pole comes with the territory, and if “both” sides are mad, goes the adage, then the newspaper is doing something right in how it’s reporting on an issue. That adage satisfied most publishers and editors before the emphasis shifted to the bottom line and “mainstream” meant facts not ideology.

I believe facts still trump ideology at The Star in how the paper reports. For this leftist, and other local progressives, The Star — like most mainstream newspapers — suffers in the sin of omission rather than from an ideological cleansing of stories before they hit the reader.

Gough with the KCNewsWatch.com agrees. However, his delivery of what The Star may leave out of a story is weighed in the conservative politics of its founder and cohorts. One could even surmise that the motivating factor in the website’s founding — considering the coverage it gives to the wrongs it sees — was how Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline was being portrayed in The Star, particularly in the writings of Star columnist Mike Hendricks. Apparently for right-wing conservatives on the Missouri side, Johnson County, KS officeholder Kline is a man needing protection from the media.

But one can say that KCNewsWatch.com does report on items not in The Star — at least, not yet. A July 25 posting links to a National Enquirer story about former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards visiting what is called his “mistress and secret love child” in a Los Angeles hotel. The Enquirer also broke the story of the arrest of Republican Sen. Larry Craig for playing “footsies” in a restroom stall at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Edwards called the story “false, completely untrue…ridiculous.” Craig denied he was gay at a news conference attended by his wife.

Whether Edwards having a mistress or Craig being in the closet have anything to do with public policy, KCNewWatch.com doesn’t say. But one has to wonder if the website is equally perturbed that not all of Sen. John McCain’s mistakes in geographical and cultural references have be reported in The Star or that the fact that McCain’s only private sector job was connected to his wife’s business has gotten little coverage.

Leaving things out of a story happens in every media outlet. Pointing that out is the responsible thing to do in a democracy. Being selective in what you point out based on an ideological preference doesn’t serve the goal of having a well-informed electorate.

Neither does KCNewsWatch.com subtle racist overtones in what it chooses to report about — ironically using stories from The Star as its springboard rather than employing first-hand reporting techniques.

For example, a story in The Star titled “Grenade thrown at home” is titled on KCNewsWatch.com as “Grenade Attack on House in Unpacified Anbar Section of KCK,” with the teaser sentence of “Senator Barack Obama has recommended a six-month phased withdrawal of all KCK police.”

Read into what you want in that, but it does nothing to legitimize KCNewsWatch.com as factually based critic of reporting in The Star. Nor does a persistent referral by Gough’s email newsletter of Congressman Emanuel Cleaver as “Car Wash” Cleaver, supposedly in reference to Cleaver having to pay back taxes on a business he owned, attract minorities to the conservative side.

Because journalism is a human endeavor, reporting isn’t perfect. But there’s nothing wrong with other media outlets pointing out the wrongs of the big-dog media outlet in town. And omissions happen at The Star.

Take for example a front-page story on Sunday, July 20: “Thirst for oil turns sanctuary into battleground” by Scott Canon. In outlining the argument for drilling or not drilling in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, Canon failed to mention what the Arizona Republic reported on and what Amory Lovins, co-founder and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, said on Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and recently on PBS on Charlie Rose.

Lovins, who is also a consultant to the oil and auto manufacturing industries, pointed out that oil companies don’t have the money for exploration and speculative drilling, and that there’s a national security component with the current Alaskan oil pipeline magnified if another pipeline is built.

“…it doesn’t make any economic sense. There’s no business case for it. And the real showstopper, interestingly, is national security…” Lovins said on Democracy Now and Charlie Ross. “(The) former CIA director has actually testified against Artic Refuge drilling on national security grounds. There’s a very simple reason. There’s only one way to get the oil south; it’s through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which is the most vulnerable part of our energy infrastructure, the biggest terrorist target in our energy infrastructure.”

Lovins also told Rose of the 50-some attacks made on the pipeline during its history, including a drunk who “shut it down with one hole from a rifle bullet,” and a disgruntled engineer, with investments in oil futures, who planned to blow up parts of the pipeline.

Maybe Cannon or his editor knew about what Lovins was saying. Maybe not. And would KCNewsWatch.com use Lovins’ analysis to make fun of a conservative Republican politician supporting drilling in ANWR?

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.


              
              
                 

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