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On Wednesday, Steve Kraske had the nation’s foremost press and media critic on his “Up to Date” show.

In the 26-minute interview — she was not in the studio — Margaret Sullivan gave listeners a lot of insight into the state of the news media.

Sullivan is former editor of The Buffalo News, former public editor at The New York Times (she followed Arthur Brisbane in that role), and former media columnist at The Washington Post. She has also written two books: “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy” and, most recently, “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life.”

Following are excerpts — some edited for clarity and length — from the interview. (You can listen to the entire interview here.)

Question: Has the media lost its voice of authority and, if so, can it ever get it back?

Sullivan: Well, one thing that’s happened over the past 50 years or so is that the trust in the news media has really plummeted. At the time of the mid-‘70s, after Watergate and after the Pentagon Papers were published, trust in the news media was quite high — in the mid-70s percentile, 76 percentile. That has dropped precipitously year after year after year, and so it’s low now; it’s certainly well below 50 percent, and sometimes, depending on what you look at, it could be in the 30s. So I do think that the voice of authority from kind of big-establishment media has been diminished, and there’s lots and lots of reasons for that.

Question: Why has trust in the media plummeted?

Sullivan: Well, one of the things that’s happened is now we have 24/7 cable news, and we have the internet and we have all of this information — and sometimes misinformation or even disinformation — coming at us all the time. The other thing that’s happened (is that) local journalism is actually more trusted, but the business model has been so diminished and newsrooms have been so shrunken that there’s less content and less ability to go out and report those stories. And meanwhile, you know, Fox News and all the other hyper-partisan news media are doing their thing. I think that all contributes.

Question: Can the media ever get it back, or are those days gone for good?

Sullivan: I think it’s a tough thing. I think we in the media can do some things to help that along. One of the things we can do is to explain ourselves better to our readers and listeners and viewers and kind of take people behind the curtain and be more transparent. And I think another thing that needs to happen is local news needs to be shored up and helped along. Not just newspapers but the new digital-only sites, public radio, radio in general, TV. All of these things can be sustained better, and that will help with trust as well.

Margaret Sullivan

Question: What effect did Donald Trump have with his constant attacks on the media?

Sullivan: I think that former President Trump did a lot of damage, as he used the disparagement of the news media as a central part of his initial campaign and of his administration and afterwards. And, as he so often did, he said the quiet part out loud. So he actually said to Leslie Stahl of CBS News at one point, “You know why I do this, right? It’s so when you do a negative story about me, no one will believe it.” So he was pretty up front about what he was doing, but, at the same time and by the same token, it has worked.”

Question: How much responsibility does the media have at this moment, with our democracy under assault?

Sullivan: Well, you know, I think we always have to remember that we in the news media are very unusual in that we have a constitutionally protected role. There’s nothing else that has an amendment essentially devoted, at least in part, to protecting our role in the governance of our country. So, you know, we need to remember that. We have a job, which is to inform the public and to do it properly. And our our job is not to just get the most clicks, and it’s not to get the most corporate profits, but it is to inform citizens so that they can be self-governing. And I think we’ve kind of lost touch with that, to some extent, and some of that is because there are so many pressures – competitive pressures, financial pressures – on journalists and on the news leadership that we’ve kind of, I think…only in the back of our heads do we recognize, “Oh, yeah, we actually have a public mission here.” And that should be first and foremost.

Question: What effect has the proliferation of news outlets had on the way people consume news?

Sullivan: We are really in our echo chambers; there’s no question about that. And I think social media, whether Facebook or Twitter or whatever it may be, has really exacerbated that so that you want to tune out or un-follow or block people who don’t agree with you. And so you hear the things from your own cohort and you get even more entrenched.

Question: So news consumers have a responsibility to be somewhat discerning?

Sullivan: Absolutely, and it’s hard because we have this kind of fire hose of information just blasting at us all the time, often from our phones. And this is another part of the problem: it’s very — I guess the technical term for it would be disaggregated. It’s all in sort of the same form. So it’s not as if in the old days you would read the newspaper and you’d see, okay, this is the news section, and now this is the opinion section, these are the editorials. It’s all kind of one thing, and it’s not very well labeled, and it’s not very well differentiated. So it all seems like a big blob.

Just a quick post today (well, pretty quick) to point out a feature at the new Kansas City International Airport that I think will be a big hit with travelers from here and elsewhere.

Many times when you’re traveling and land at an airport, there aren’t a lot of distinguishing features from one city to the next. Although it’s usually not as bad as, “Where am I,” you’re not really paying much attention to exactly where you are. So, I’ve always appreciated good and proud signage that lets travelers know where they are and, in some cases, what’s special about this particular place.

We’ll have to see how Kansas City’s special features are advertised and promoted at KCI, but I was very pleased — and a bit surprised — to learn that people pulling up at the departure level will be greeted by two large LED signs that simply say, “KANSAS CITY.”

Justin Meyer, deputy aviation director for Kansas City, told me the colorful, vertical signs will be inside “both stair towers of the parking garage…facing the departure-level curb.”

I think that is fantastic. We should all be proud of our city and proud that, after all these years, we’re finally getting a modern terminal. It is appropriate that we put the name of our city in large letters and do a little chest thumping.

This first came to my attention when The Kansas City Beacon published a story a few weeks ago about progress on the new terminal.

The photo that caught my eye in that story was taken by Christopher Smith, who is either a staff photographer for The Beacon or a freelancer.

I sent an email to Jennifer Hack Wolf, interim publisher of The Beacon, asking for permission to use Smith’s photo in my blog, assuring her I would credit the photographer and the publication. Jennifer graciously obliged, and here it is…

It looks like this photo was taken shortly before dusk, which gives the letters a warm glow. Nice, eh?

Before getting The Beacon’s permission to run that photo, I asked Justin Meyer if he would take a photo of the sign for me.

He did, and here’s what he sent…

You can see that in full daylight the sign is not as prominent, but it is still very impressive.

**

I first learned that an airport sign could be magical more than 50 years ago, when I would fly in and out of my hometown of Louisville.

At the time, the airport was named Standiford Field. (Years later, it was greatly expanded and renamed Louisville International Airport. Now it’s Muhammad Ali Louisville International Airport. But, as is traditional with airports, regardless of rebuilds and renovations, it retained its call letters, SDF.)

Back in those days, there were no jetways — the portable bridge-like tunnels all major airlines us to get passengers on and off the planes. Portable stairs were placed against the airplane door at the arrival area, and passengers would use them to get on or off right in the gate area.

At Standiford, when arriving planes pulled up to the gate area, passengers would see a red — or maybe pink — neon sign that said “LOUISVILLE.”

I loved that sign, partly because it announced that I was home.

When the airport was being expanded — many years after I had moved to Kansas City — I was very concerned that that sign would disappear…and it did. I have no idea what happened to it — whether it is is still around somewhere or if it was destroyed. I suspect the latter.

But now, more than a half century later, there’s a new sign, right here in Kansas City, that I expect will warm my heart when I see it at the airport. I think there’s a good chance that sign will become iconic, just like that one in Louisville.


Here’s that sign, behind an Eastern Air Lines plane. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a color version. But you get the idea…

As recently as four or five years ago, The Kansas City Star had an either seven- or eight-member editorial board, headed by then-Publisher Tony Berg.

The talented journalists on the board included Pulitzer-Prize winner Colleen McCain Nelson, editorial page editor; Melinda Henneberger; Mary Sanchez; and Dave Helling.

Today, that editorial board consists of two people: opinion writer Toriano Porter and “Letters to the Editor” overseer Derek Donovan.

The opinion page has suffered three big losses recently. Michael Lindenberger, who was appointed opinion page editor last July, died in December at age 51 after a mysterious illness. Dave Helling retired at year’s end. And today The Star reported that Mary Rose Williams, who joined the editorial board less than two years ago, has been promoted to assistant managing editor for race and equity issues.

Michael Lindenberger, after being announced as a Pulitzer Prize winner last May at the Houston Chronicle.

…It’s a rule of thumb that in Kansas City the Royals are always rebuilding, and now The Star’s editorial page will be rebuilding.

And McClatchy, The Star’s owner, is actually acknowledging that. The company’s advertisement for a new opinion page editor starts like this…

McClatchy is seeking a visionary opinion editor – driven by a clarity of purpose and commitment to community – to lead the Editorial Board of The Kansas City Star. The person in this role will be tasked with rebuilding and energizing one of the strongest local Editorial Boards in America, a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that creates deeply reported opinion journalism and convenes conversation that inspires change.

Back in 2018, The Star may have had “one of the strongest local Editorial Boards in America,” but it’s a long way from that now.

The Star is also advertising for an additional opinion writer, which, after those two jobs have been filled, will leave the paper with four editorial board members.

The executive editor’s job is also vacant in the wake of Mike Fannin’s resignation last year, and it is widely expected that Interim Executive Editor Greg Farmer will get that job, which McClatchy is also advertising. Assuming he is named, he would oversee the editorial board, like Fannin and Berg did before him, as well as The Star’s news operation.

The Star, like many major metropolitan newspapers, has been struggling to find its way the last 15 years or so, and it’s very hard to build readership and loyalty when staffs continually change shapes like sand castles on a windy beach.

I wrote the other day about how The Star is now running a lot of goofy stories on its website with the naked aim of generating computer “clicks,” instead of publishing responsibly and strategically. The stories on the website now literally shift before readers’ eyes, like sand castles on a sunless beach.

It’s a difficult situation, and I don’t envy anyone working down at those rented offices in a Crown Center building.

Making things worse is that The Star’s former landmark headquarters at 1729 Grand, which proudly housed The Star for more than 100 years, appears equally adrift. Developer Vince Bryant took control of it several years ago, talking a big game and promising a mix of commercial and retail. But today it looks just as forlorn as it did the day The Star “left the building.”

This is most painful to us journalists who were at The Star when it was proud and powerful operation, and there’s not a thing we can do about it except stand on the shore and watch the winds of change take their toll.

Judging from the websites of The Kansas City Star and a few other McClatchy newspapers, the McClatchy chain has gone into desperation mode.

I noticed a distinct change in approach on The Star’s website about a month ago, and I checked out a few other McClatchy paper websites to see if they had adopted the same changes. They had.

Before the change, The Star and other McClatchy papers focused primarily on local stories but repeated them several times as you scrolled down the front page of the site. (The repitition is because the chain’s staffs are so depleted that they simply can’t produce enough stories to present a website that appears substantive.)

Throughout the day, fresher stories would replace older ones, but stories continued to be repeated down the front page.

Now, not as many stories are being repeated, and I have noticed two other significant changes…

  • The featured stories change automatically every time a reader clicks on a story and subsequently returns to the home page. During the few seconds the page is refreshing, the reader sees a blurring of the boxes containing the featured stories. Then the page settles with new featured stories.
  • Many stories being featured now are absolute schlock.

Let me give you an example…

This afternoon, the lead story on the website featured a photo of four tacos, with the headline, “There are many ways to have the perfect taco at this Kansas City, Kansas, market.”

Below that were six boxes — three rows side by side — with the other featured stories.

The top row consisted of two local stories. The headline on one said, “Black baby rhino born at the Kansas City Zoo.”

The headline on the other was, “Chiefs rookie WR Skyy Moore won’t play in finale vs. Raiders.”

The second row featured one story under the “Entertainment” banner and another under the heading “MLB.”

The headline on the MLB story was, “Royals free agent pitching targets Johnny Cueto.”

The headline on the entertainment story read, “Holly Madison says Kendra Wilkinson, Bridget Marquardt had it easier in the Playboy mansion.”

Hef and friends

The third and final row consisted of a national story and a business story. The headline on the business story was, “Mark Cuban warns of potential new crypto scandal and fraud.”

The national story headline was, “Dark, slithering creature seen by boat captain near NC coast stirs debate. What is it?”

This photo accompanied the headline.

Now, if you ask me, the dark, slithering creature is not in North Carolina; it is in New Jersey, where Chatham Asset Management, the hedge fund that owns the McClatchy chain, is based. So, put your minds to rest, readers; there’s no need to return to The Star’s website tomorrow looking for a follow-up on the “dark, slithering creature” story. The mystery has been solved.

I didn’t have a New Year’s resolution when I went to bed about 12:30 a.m. this morning, but before I got out of bed about 9 a.m., I had one.

The first thing I do almost every morning — while lying in bed — is check NYT’s “The Morning,” a daily feature that focuses on the biggest piece of news or, on special occasions, timely subjects about one thing or another.

Today’s piece was titled “A happier new year.”

Well, who’s not interested in that? So I dived right in. The theme of the piece was simple and obvious, and the answer to having a happier new year was right there in the first paragraph…

“For over 80 years, researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life. They found one surefire, scientifically proven predictor of happiness: Developing warmer relationships.”

The piece went on to quote Jancee Dunn, a member of The Times’ “Well” desk, as saying…

“If you’re going to make one single decision that would ensure your own health and happiness, the science tells us that it should be to cultivate warm relationships of all kinds. It’s not just about having a partner. It’s in every realm of your life.”

Dunn had a few specific examples of how to cultivate more and warmer relationships, including by:

  • Thinking of someone you’re grateful to (either a current friend or relative or a person from your past) and tell them why you’re grateful for them. Dunn did that by contacting her fourth-grade teacher, who had changed the course of her life by telling her she was a good writer, and it led to the teacher becoming “my substitute grandmother.”
  • Striking up conversations with strangers…We’ve all experienced that. You know, you’re going about your business — maybe irritated about something or compulsively trying to accomplish a task — when somebody smiles at you and makes a casual observation or gives you a friendly greeting and immediately lifts you out of your preoccupation.

**

To personalize this, it struck me that lying right next to me in the bed, still asleep, was a person who fully understands the importance of strong and warm relationships and who is always reaching out to form new ones. Patty’s circle of friends is incredibly wide and forever growing, and it’s due to the fact that she is naturally gregarious and effuses an aura of kindness that is almost impossible to resist.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

:: At our church, Country Club Christian, I frequently oversee the offering collection and the distribution of communion at the 11 a.m. service. That involves leading other volunteers and orchestrating the goings-on from the back of the church, an area called the narthex. For years, a big, burly guy named Rick has sat in the back row, left side, on the aisle. His wife Nancy sings in the choir. Rick doesn’t usually say much to the people next to him, and while he would occasionally say hello, he seemed a bit unapproachable. So I made no effort to break the ice. Then, a few months ago Patty went on a church mission trip to Ecuador, and two of the people on it were Rick and Nancy. On that trip, which lasted a week, Patty and Rick — and Nancy to a lesser extent — struck up a friendship. The first Sunday after that trip, Rick gave me a big smile from his customary seat and said, “Is Patty coming today?” Then he told he how much he had enjoyed being around her and getting to know her in Ecuador. Now, every time we see them, Patty gets a big hug from Rick and I, by extension, have a developing relationship with a man and woman I never expected to get to know very well.

:: During Christmas week, when our son Charlie was in town, the four of us — including daughter Brooks — went to an annual party held by longtime friends who have children about Brooks’ and Charlie’s ages. A lot of the people at that party have known each other since our children went to Visitation School together in the 1990s. It’s always an eclectic group, however, because the host and hostess tend to “adopt” people who are new to town or are just in need of more human connections. A young woman at the party was one such adoptee — having come from Alabama a couple of years ago to work at the same company as our host. We met the young woman and one of us noted at some point that she had lost most of her southern accent. “If you want to hear a deep southern accent,” she said, “talk to my father.” She pointed to a gray-haired man seated nearby wearing silver-framed glasses. Beside him was his wife, a woman with long black hair and black-framed glasses. After a while, Patty noticed that the couple was not talking with anyone and said, “Come on. Let’s go talk to them.” We approached them and introduced ourselves, and in short order we were deep in conversation about them and the South, particularly their hometown, Montgomery, which we have become somewhat familiar with as we’ve traveled to and from Florida in recent winters. We talked with them for at least half an hour, after which the man — I believe his name was Jeff — thanked us profusely for coming up and talking to them. A while later, as they were about to walk out the front door, I hustled over to tell them goodbye. Once again Jeff thanked me for us having approached him and his wife…It was clear we had given them a good Midwestern welcome and had put them at ease, and it was all because of Patty’s gesture of goodwill.

…So, my New Year’s resolution is straightforward: Be more like Patty so I too can cultivate more and warmer relationships.

Patty

I urge you readers to do the same: Follow the lead of someone you know who’s like Patty, or just strike out on your own. You’re almost guaranteed to at least meet some interesting people, and chances are you’ll make new friends.

At the end, when we’re lying under the sheet, toes up, there will be be few things more important than how many friends we have made and how good our relationships have been.

A few weeks ago, I wrote two columns about the dishonor that Kansas City Manager Brian Platt has brought to City Hall with his assertion to Chris Hernandez, former communications director, that lying was an acceptable media strategy.

As I pointed out back then, the Platt story does not seem to have ignited significant public outrage, and I proposed that many people have become conditioned to government officials lying, partly because former President Trump set a new, upside-down standard for integrity.

And yet, here we are now faced with a classic example of what kind of public official (besides Trump) citizens can end up with when lying becomes routine.

I’m speaking, of course, of George Santos, the Republican from Long Island who was elected last month to the U.S. House of Representatives, while lying about everything from his finances to his education and work experience.

This guy is so bad he fabricated a story that he “lost four employees” in the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in 2016. He now says the unnamed people he was talking about didn’t actually work for him at the time but that he was in the process of hiring them for some company he was starting in Orlando.

In a story today, The Washington Post said Santos’ apparently baseless claim “will surely be worth delving into given that it might involve exploiting a tragedy for personal gain.”

While the Platt story didn’t seem to strike a chord, the Santos story has sparked outrage among many voters because, in his case, he was not talking about lying in the generic sense but lying about very specific things, such as where he attended college and where he had worked. (He claimed during the campaign that he graduated from Baruch College in 2010 with a bachelor’s in economics and finances, and he claimed he had worked for Goldman Sachs but quit after finding that it “was not as fulfilling as he had anticipated.”)

In Santos’ case, thousands of people who voted for him are calling for him not to be seated in Congress, or, if he is seated, to be expelled by his colleagues because he is an outright fraud.

His case has caused such an uproar that federal and local prosecutors are investigating whether he could be charged with crimes.

One official who is investigating, a Republican district attorney named Anne T. Donnelly, said in a statement: “The numerous fabrications and inconsistencies…are nothing short of stunning.”

**

That brings us back to Brian Platt.

On the Dec. 16 edition of KCPT’s “Week in Review,” host Nick Haines asked his panelists if they thought Platt would be fired.

Two of the panelists took up the issue, with Pete Mundo, a conservative radio talk-show host, going first. Mundo scoffed at the idea of Platt getting fired, saying…

“The debate is whether they lied about whether or not nearly 300 miles of street lanes were being paved, or over 300 miles. If I had a dime for every time a politician thought about or said they were going to lie to the media, I’d be sitting on an island somewhere. This is not a story.”

Eric Wesson, managing editor and publisher of The Kansas City Call, took sharp issue with Mundo.

“Somewhere in this is public trust,” Wesson said. “I have to believe what the city manager says — whether it’s potholes or whether it’s whatever. I have to believe that.”

I side, of course, with Wesson. To me, it’s a short span from George Santos’ specific, outrageous lies to Platt’s general assertion that lying to the media — and by extension the public — is acceptable.

This leaves us with two questions about Platt…

First, can Kansas Citians trust anything Brian Platt says from here on out?

And, second, what are the chances of him “finding” integrity all of a sudden because he’s been exposed as one who condones lying?

You tell me.

I recall one year, maybe around 2000, when I was The Star’s Wyandotte County bureau chief, and I was working a day or two after Christmas. I had to make the rounds — police and fire department checks and such — because the beat reporter was off.

I went to the KCK Police Department building, then on Seventh Street, and an officer I knew was on duty. Before getting down to business, I said, “How was your Christmas?”

“Oh, great,” he said, with a beaming smile. “Just perfect. The perfect Christmas.”

I didn’t ask him why or how his Christmas was so perfect. With a comment like that, you don’t ask how or why, you just nod and go on, which is exactly what I did.

But I still think of that every once in a while because, I ask you, how many of us, as adults, have ever had “the perfect Christmas”?

Challenges, tensions, setbacks, disappointments and — sometimes — tragedies inevitably intrude, just like they do the other 51 weeks of the year.

So, here’s a quick rundown of our 2022 Christmas story…

:: I caught a cold — hasn’t everybody had something? — 10 days before Christmas, and it was still bothering me in the last days before Christmas. On Christmas Eve, I felt lousy and spent most of the day in an upholstered chair, watching the Chiefs’ game and taking a nap. Our daughter Brooks said she’d never seen me so “mopey.” She laughed when she said it, which at least got a small laugh out of me.

I had to pull myself together, however, because we were going to some friends’ home for a Christmas Eve party and gift exchange, and beyond that I had signed up to oversee the collection and sort the offering money at our church’s 11 p.m. service.

The party was very good, and by the time I got to church around 10:30 I wasn’t thinking about that cold at all. The service went well, except that I was struck by the fact I had never seen the vast majority of the approximately 110 people in the pews. The regulars probably had gone to the two earlier services.

On Christmas Day, I felt pretty good, thankfully, and we had a family gift exchange around noon. I had requested a sweater from Patty, noting that at least one sweater I already had was too tight. So, I opened a box to find a beautiful, merino, cable-knit sweater. I opened another box, which contained a bonus — a good-looking, casual shirt. Then I tried on the shirt. It was too big. “Put on the sweater,” Patty said. When I did, I must not have looked very happy because our 34-year-old daughter Brooks said, “What’s the matter, Dad?”

“It’s too tight,” I said. She laughed, which, like her reaction to my mopiness of the previous day, made me laugh.

Within a couple of hours, though, I was on the Dillards website, ordering a LARGE cable-knit sweater and a MEDIUM shirt.

Not “perfect” but pretty damn good.

:: Our 33-year-old son Charlie is in from Chicago, and it’s always very rewarding to have him around. Every since he could put a pencil to paper, Charlie has produced long Christmas gift request lists. But this year, oddly, he had sent us a request for just one gift — a Seiko, stainless steel watch, which, when he sent the request well before Christmas, was selling for slightly more than $100.

Usually, Patty takes the lead on the gifts planning, but I asked her weeks ago if I should buy the watch. She told me to hold off because she was thinking about presenting both Brooks and Charlie with the prospect of a family trip to Mexico in the fall. Patty said she thought Charlie would be fine with that very expensive proposition as a substitute, of sorts, for the watch.

Charlie still got some other gifts, but after all had been opened, he raised the subject of the watch. “I really wanted that watch,” he said. “It was on sale and now it’s not!”

Later, he requested that, in the future, if we we didn’t intend to give him the main gift he asked for to let us know so he could make other arrangements.

:: As usual, Patty worked hard in the kitchen on both Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, preparing dishes for the Christmas Eve party and a Christmas Day gathering at our niece’s house in Oak Grove.

There, we had a “white elephant” gift exchange, the theme of which was “keep it local.” My entry was a copy of “Tom’s Town,” the story of political boss Tom Pendergast. I had a feeling who would end up with that book, and I was right. Patty’s brother, a history buff, snapped it up in a “steal” from the person who first got it.

I came away with a recipe book. Although I don’t cook, I was satisfied because I knew it probably would be of use to Patty.

:: We got home about 9 last night and started coming down off the two-day high. Patty, Brooks and Charlie settled in the living room to watch Jim Carrey in “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and I went to the front room to finish re-reading a paperback I had first read decades ago about an aspiring baseball pitcher who didn’t make it far up the ladder and ultimately became a sportswriter.

When we went to bed about midnight, Patty said, “Don’t wake me up in the morning; I want to sleep late.” We kissed goodnight, and I thanked her for the gifts and all she had done to make this Christmas a success.

When I woke up about 9 this morning, I looked over and saw that her side of the bed was empty. I started padding around, doing my usual ministrations in the bathroom, and half and hour or so later she came into the room.

“You’ve got to get out of here,” she said. “I’m going back to bed. I’m sick.”

There we were, hours from having had not “the perfect Christmas” but a pretty damn good one, and — wham! — another of life’s routine setbacks was at our doorstep.

…It got me wondering if that police officer had really had the perfect Christmas or if he knew that comment would end the conversation and we could just keep moving ahead toward the new year.

Occasionally, I check out the number of views I’ve been getting on my website, and sometimes I get surprised.

Like tonight. I made a random check and saw that I had over 100 views on a 2018 post about former Independence City Councilman and former Jackson County legislator John Carnes.

My first thought was that John, a long-time acquaintance, had died.

Fearing the worst, I did a quick Google search and quickly found he’s still very much alive but once again has been charged with felonies by federal prosecutors.

He’s 67 and likely headed back to prison, where he spent two years — 1989 to 1991 — for bribing an Independence councilman…He lost his law license for that offense but got it reinstated in 2006.

Before I go any farther, let me make clear that I don’t admire John in the least. He’s cost Independence taxpayers millions of dollars over the years because, with his influence and willingness to buy votes, he has been able to convince some past Independence Council members to pay exorbitant amounts for services and real estate.

But he has always been wickedly funny and straightforward, and, unlike most white-collar crooks, he doesn’t hide. The last time I visited with him was a year or two ago after a friend and I had finished lunch at Dave’s Bakery & Deli on the Independence Square. John’s office is next door to the deli, and he was on the sidewalk. He invited us in and proceeded to regale us with profane and funny stories about current and past Jackson County politicians.

The most recent example of his unusually candid way of responding to, uh, problems, came today after he picked up the phone when a KC Star reporter was calling to get his reaction to having been indicted by a federal grand jury on two felonies related to tax evasion and several misdemeanors.

The typical response by a prominent defendant — if he would even consent to making a statement — would be something like, “I unequivocally deny these outrageous charges and eagerly look forward to clearing my good name in court.”

But not Carnes. He told the reporter…

“The FBI has been investigating me for over 30 years. And I’m 67 years old, and they had to come up with something before I passed on. They have come up with something, and we’ll go to court and see what that something is.”

No angry denial, just the facts about where things stand…resolution to be determined. Maybe thumbs up, but probably down. The feds, you know, don’t lose many cases.

**

I’m not going into the details of this case, but a KSHB-TV story says he had a gambling problem. I’m just sad to see that John — a smart, witty guy who could have made a good living without bribing politicians and cheating on his taxes — got himself into deep trouble again. This time, I’m afraid, he might die in prison.

When he was young, he was devastatingly handsome and very personable. Below are contrasting photos that show what he looked like back in the early ’80s and four years ago, when he was about 63. Needless to say, he looked worse when I saw him a year or two ago.

For a while back in the ’80s he dated a woman who was the sister of a high-ranking woman in Mayor Richard Berkley’s office. One summer night, Carnes and his date got drunk and took a swim in Meyer Circle Fountain.

It didn’t make the papers, but it was pretty shocking, given that he was a lawyer and had political aspirations. But nothing came of it. That’s when I first realized John was capable of jaunts on the wild side.

Unfortunately, his wild side didn’t stop at harmless high jinks. Several years later he landed in prison on the bribery conviction.

After he got out, I ran into him one night — I think it was a New Year’s Eve — at the old Jimmy and Mary’s Steakhouse at 34th and Main. We chatted, and I said, “You’ll probably be back in politics pretty soon.”

He smiled and said, “I doubt that.”

Well, he was right, and I was wrong. But I didn’t think he’d be dumb enough to break the law again.

What a terrible waste of talent and personality. What a sorry case for a guy who had so much going for him so long ago.

Although the Brian Platt “why-can’t-we-just-lie-to-the-media” story seems to have faded almost as quickly as it arose, there’s one voice in this community that will not let it slip away: mine.

I think the story did not take hold for two reasons: first, the police board’s fumbling and controversial selection of a new chief overshadowed it, and, second, since the 2016 Triumph of Trumpism, many people assume public officials mostly lie and that honest dealing is an outdated concept.

Lying has essentially lost its shock value. But there’s at least one group that does not swallow it easily — reporters and editors and former reporters and editors. Endorsement of lying as a policy crosses a line that I and others in that group will always denounce, no matter how far society descends.

But surprisingly, even my former employer, The Kansas City Star, could muster little more than a finger wag at the Platt expose. A Dec. 8 editorial said…

“We’ll want to keep a careful eye on this case. (Chris) Hernandez had critics during his time as communications director, and lawsuits from allegedly disgruntled employees must be considered carefully. On the other hand, if these allegations are proven, it could suggest Platt needs to find work somewhere else.”

“Could suggest…”? Well, how’s that for going out on a limb?

On that particular editorial, however, I’m giving The Star some forbearance, mainly because its editorial page editor, Michael Lindenberger, was dying when the Platt story broke (he died on Sunday, the 10th, from an unknown illness), and the remaining three editorial writers probably were preoccupied and adrift.

But let’s take a closer look at Platt, who burst on the Kansas City scene two years ago after a seven-year stint in upper management in Jersey City, NJ.

He was selected by Mayor Quinton Lucas, who probably saw something of Platt in himself, insofar as youthful ascendance. (Lucas is 38; Platt, 37.)

Lucas was able to secure eight other votes for Platt, but he was rebuffed by the four other Black City Council members, who thought the majority was sticking Platt down their throats.

The fact that Platt was not a unanimous or near-unanimous choice — along with at least the Hernandez allegations — probably will spell trouble for him down the road. A Council with at least six new members will be taking office in August 2023.

After the rush of publicity about the Hernandez lawsuit, I started hearing more talk about Platt, and I began looking more closely at his background. One thing that stands out as particularly worrisome, retrospectively, is that for two years, from when he was about 22 to 24 — he worked for McKinsey & Co., a giant consulting firm that boasts of having offices in more than 130 cities in more than 65 countries.

The firm, founded in 1926, focuses mainly on client finances and operations. Wikipedia says, “Many of McKinsey’s alumni become CEOs of major corporations or hold important government positions.”

Two of the most notorious companies that McKinsey has represented were Enron and Purdue Pharma.

Enron was a Houston-based energy and commodities giant that imploded amid scandal in 2001. Several of its executives ended up in prison.

Purdue Pharma was the company that created and fueled the OxyContin scourge, which killed hundreds of thousands of Americans. In November 2020, the company, pleaded guilty to three criminal felonies and agreed to a settlement potentially worth $8.3 billion. The company admitted that it “knowingly and intentionally conspired…to aid and abet” doctors dispensing medication “without a legitimate medical purpose.”

McKinsey represented Purdue Pharma for more than a decade, and at one point made a series of recommendations to the Sackler family, which owned the company, about how the company could “turbocharge” sales of OxyContin.

In his book “Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty,” Patrick Radden Keefe wrote, “It was important, the consultants suggested, to convince physicians that opioids provide ‘freedom’ for patients and ‘the best possible chance to live a full and active life.’ “

In November 2021, McKinsey agreed to pay nearly $573 million to settle investigations into its role in the case.

**

McKinsey & Co. has been a stopping point on the managerial ladder for many up and comers, including Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and Sheryl Sandberg, former chief operating officer at Facebook. For his part, Platt worked for McKinsey from June 2011 to July 2013.

I don’t know if Platt got anywhere near the Purdue Pharma account, but trouble had been on the horizon long before he went to work at the company. In 2007, for example, Purdue Pharma’s holding company, Purdue Frederick, and three of its executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges of misbranding OxyContin by claiming it was less addictive and less subject to abuse and diversion than other opioids.

Fast forward to November 2020 when, in a Kansas City Star story, Platt depicted himself as a person who brought a unique approach to solving problems. The Star story said, “He sharpened those skills at McKinsey & Co…”

…I have no doubt he sharpened all sorts of skills at McKinsey, including how to twist facts and even dismiss them.

At a party at our house last week, I was talking to a lawyer friend about this, and I said, “You know, it’s a short jump from working for McKinsey & Co. to saying that lying is an acceptable media strategy.”

My friend looked at me and said, “It’s no jump at all.”

I don’t really know what to make of the Board of Police Commissioners’ selection today of Maj. Stacey Graves to be the new chief at KCPD.

Maybe she will turn out to be revolutionary and have more guts than any of the previous insiders, who have monopolized the chief’s job since the late Joseph McNamara served from 1973 to 1976. Or maybe she will just talk about significant change, which the department is crying out for, and make superficial changes.

One thing that is clear, however, is that the four police board members appointed by the governor engineered the selection so that the insider would be the obvious choice.

One thing obviously working for her was her gender. The 25-year KCPD veteran will be the first woman police chief in Kansas City. That fact alone made her appealing, and, I grant, her ascendance is laudable.

But the two other finalists, DeShawn Beaufort of the Philadelphia Police Department and Scott Ebner, a retired commander from the New Jersey State Police, had significant questions hanging over them. Beaufort had been involved in a never-publicly-explained road-rage case in Philly, and Ebner was the object of two ongoing gender- and disability-discrimination lawsuits in New Jersey.

One of the reasons the two outside candidates were relatively weak, I believe, is that Missouri law sets the salary for the Kansas City police chief at no more than $189,700. (This is just one of myriad problems with state control of KCPD, but my hand hurts from writing so much about that.)

The Star quoted Darron Edwards, a civic activist and pastor, as saying, “Most top-notch, national-caliber candidates will require more than $189K to even consider a city like KCMO. When you compare (that) Wichita pays $225K, it’s embarrassing to be the largest city in Missouri with a non-competitive salary offer. The processes are designed to always choose an internal candidate.”

If Wichita is paying $225,000, Kansas City should be paying $275,000 or more. Then we’d see some top-tier, external candidates.

By process of elimination, then, the insider stood out. And that’s surely the way the police board — and maybe the rank and file — wanted it.

Now, I certainly congratulate Graves, wish her the best and hope she turns out to be the change agent this department has needed for many years. But I’m not extremely hopeful.

Stacey Graves after being sworn in Thursday as new Kansas City police chief

One thing that struck me was the reaction of Brad Lemon, president of Fraternal Order of Police union in KC, who told The Star:

“The conversation around her is that she’s very open to changes and very open to looking at our department internally and trying to see what are the things that we can fix as fast as we can fix them. What I see happening probably are some major changes happen quickly. And I think for the most part, our rank and file needs to see that.”

This comes from a guy who has helped build a veritable wall around uniformed officers, including a clause in their contract that allows officers involved in critical incidents, such as shootings, two full working days to collect themselves — or, in the alternative, devise a credible story — before they have to give a statement or submit to an interview by superiors.

So, Brad Lemon talking about wanting significant change? Ha. I suspect disingenuity. I think he and most of his fellow union members would be happy with things just the way they are, with the union continuing to earn more concessions at the bargaining table.

More credible was the reaction of Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City, who told The Star she was disappointed that the board hired someone promoted by former Chief Rick Smith, who had ZERO credibility with the Black community and who took an oath to serve the community but was focused exclusively on defending the department and officers’ actions, regardless of how inappropriate some of those actions were.

“This is yet another indication that this State appointed board is not representative of our community and it is not committed to acting in our best interests,” Grant said in a statement. “Maybe this will be the catalyst for all sectors of our community to come together to get local control.”

To the prospect of local control, I say fat chance but we can always hope.

**

Make no mistake, significant change is badly needed. This department has fallen a long way, little by little, in recent decades. It used to be an excellent department, from my perspective, and there still are many, many outstanding officers. I personally had a tremendous experience with an outstanding officer after our daughter was involved in a wreck a few years ago. He was understanding, measured and reasonable.

The problem is that uniformed officers have been led by commanders, including chiefs, who have been unwilling to insist on high standards and to hold rogue officers accountable.

Here are two specific examples of worrisome problems…

:: A few years ago it came to light that several officers in the children’s division decided they’d really rather not work. Instead they stuffed evidence in their desks and sat on cases, ignoring them for months, while children who had been the victims of crime — and their families — were left hanging. Eventually, seven officers in the children’s unit lost their jobs. Several others were transferred, and some were busted and put back on patrol duty.

I’d like to know what’s going on now in the children’s division. It hasn’t been in the news since the outrages came to light. We’ve got to assume it’s better, but who really knows? To the best of my knowledge, KCPD never talked about a turnabout there; the story just melted away.

:: In the recent David Jungerman murder trial, the defense exposed several violations of proper procedures by the homicide unit. Among other things, lead detective Bonita Cannon admitted that she had not included a voice recorder — on which Jungerman admitted to killing attorney Thomas Pickert — on an inventory list she prepared and submitted after the search. She also admitted to retrieving a computerized report after it had been submitted, and then correcting it, instead of filing a supplemental report, which would have been the appropriate remedy.

Fortunately, Jungerman was clearly guilty, and the jury convicted him within two hours. In a close case, however, the investigative errors could have been the difference between conviction and acquittal.

Well, Stacy Graves is our new chief. I hope she emerges as a strong and courageous advocate for significant change. It would be great for Kansas City.