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Archive for January, 2012

A week after The Star ran its badly flawed red-light-camera story, aspects of the debacle are still coming to light.

Steve Glorioso, a public relations consultant for American Traffic Solutions (ATS), a private company that helps runs the red-light program for the city, contends that reporter Christine Vendel and her editors rushed the story into print prematurely last Tuesday because they badly wanted to scoop the other local news outlets.

STOP THAT STORY!

The Star should have sat on the story, Glorioso says, until all the facts were assembled and until his client had a chance to respond fully to police department-generated data that indicated the camera program has not been the boon to public safety that it was supposed to be.

Vendel, who has covered KCPD for more than 15 years, reported and wrote two stories based on a police department report about the red-light program.

She got the report a few days before it was to be released Tuesday at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting.

By Monday, Vendel was doing her final work on the story, and the editors were planning to make it the Tuesday, A1 “centerpiece” story. If it all came together as planned, Vendel would have a nice A1 byline, and The Star would have its scoop.

Being the main story of the day, the centerpiece usually takes a lot of planning because it usually involves photos and graphics and requires a big chunk of space. In addition, a lot of people are typically involved in the production of a centerpiece, and once the editors have committed to a centerpiece for the next day’s paper, every effort is exerted to make it happen.

It was clear from Vendel’s second-day story that the facts were in flux all day Monday and into the evening. In Wednesday’s story, she said, “Police officials fixed many of the math errors Monday night.”

That is very disturbing to me as a former story editor at The Star. When the facts are changing the night before a story is to run — and when the story doesn’t have to run the next day — it’s best to hold off until all elements are pinned down to the best extent they can be.

Also disturbing is the fact that, in developing its study, the police department didn’t bother to consult ATS, the people who set up the program and help run it. That should have raised flags with Vendel and her editors.

At any rate, the story hit the streets Tuesday morning and, indeed, made a big splash. The gist of it, which ran under the headline “Red-light cameras don’t add to safety,” was that the total number of wrecks at the 17 intersections where cameras were installed two years ago had actually increased since the cameras went up.

Unfortunately, the story contained at least one major error (picked up from the study) and had a major omission.

Neither the study nor the story contained this pivotal, all-important fact: Wrecks caused by people who ran red lights at the 17 intersections dropped from 52 wrecks before the cameras’ arrival to 24 wrecks in the second year after their arrival.

Consider this: Getting people to stop running red lights — not reducing fender benders — was the main reason for erecting the cameras in 2009. Anything else is secondary.

Then, there was this error: The initial version of the police study said that officers had written about 200,000 camera-related tickets since January 2009.

“At $100 a ticket,” The Star’s Tuesday story said, “these fines could bring in $20 million.”

But an ATS official told the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday that police had issued about 150,000 tickets, which, at an average fine of $100, would have generated about $15 million.

The cops, then, didn’t even know how many tickets they had issued.

In Wednesday’s follow-up story, which ran on Page A4, Vendel cleaned up the error about the number of tickets and added the statistic about the sharp reduction in wrecks resulting from red-light running.

Nevertheless, I think Glorioso is absolutely right: With some key facts up in the air as late as Monday night and the police department making last-minute changes, The Star should have pulled back, forgone its scoop and waited to publish until its report was rock solid.

I hate to hammer Vendel because she is an outstanding reporter who has written many significant and important stories, but there was another huge problem with this story: She and her editors failed to put the story in any context. When I was reading the story on Tuesday morning, my first reaction was: Why in the world would the police be putting out a report that is harshly critical of a program that they enforce and that has appeared to have reduced red-light running? It has been beneficial from a public safety standpoint, right?

The answer came to me as I thought about it and read Wednesday’s story carefully. In almost throwaway fashion, Vendel said in a subsidiary clause that ATS “has an annual $1.6 million contract with the city to run the camera program.”

Bingo. There was the answer: ATS’ contract is with the city, not the police department.

The city and the police department have been at odds for years, essentially because the city would like more control over the police department, but the department is overseen by the Board of Police Commissioners, all but one of whose members — the mayor — are appointed by the governor. State control of the department dates back to the post-Pendergast era.

It seems clear to me that the police department was seeking to undermine a City-Hall-initiated program that it considers bothersome.

Buttressing my assertion that the police consider the program a bother, a former City Hall operative sent me an e-mail last Friday saying, “You are right on the red lights. The police have always resented that they have to sort through the pictures and video for ATS,” while the proceeds benefit the city.

Of course, a majority of readers would not get the significance of the situation simply from Vendel’s reference to the ATS contract being “with the city.” The story cried out for explanation and motive. But Vendel and her editors, who must have been sound asleep, did not deliver.

To the average reader, it had to appear that the police department — for some unknown, unspoken reason — had decided to try to take down the red-light-camera program.

I said in Thursday’s post that we should summon Sherlock Holmes to try to figure out the police department’s motive…Today, I’m changing the call: We don’t need Sherlock; we need the JPD, the Journalism Police Department.

***

Post script: I want to add that while it’s great to be able to sit back and critique a story several days after it has run, it is a totally different situation when you’re in the newsroom, developing a story and working frantically to get it on the front page the next day. The adrenaline is flowing, and you and your editors badly want to “go with it.” It’s very hard to pull the plug; I realize that. I probably would have done exactly what Vendel did…But, hey, somebody’s gotta call it as he (or she) sees it, and, by the power vested in me by the Bloggers Association of America (which I just created and named myself president of), I’m that guy.

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To me, one of the best benefits of having a subscription to the printed edition of The Star is turning to the Letters to the Editor page, going over them leisurely and checking out the headlines for ones you might be interested in.

I would venture to say that very few people who go to kansascity.com bother to go to the letters page — too much clicking and the layout isn’t appealing.

So, for those of you who haven’t been keeping up with the letters, I’ve earmarked a few from recent days that I’d like to single out and comment on…Maybe you’d like to comment, too.

:: Wednesday, Jan. 25, “KC Fire Department budget cuts necessary.”

Jean Kaiser of Liberty posed the question of why Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters has such a “stranglehold” on city policymakers. She goes on to say:

“Mike Cambiano, new president of the firefighters union comments,  ‘I can’t imagine the city manager — who never consulted the fire chief about a reduction in force — would endanger public safety of the safety of our firefighters.’  That is inviting hysteria.

“It is common knowledge that the schedule and workload of firefighters, while providing needed emergency service, also provides time to sleep, exercise and barbecue — all while on the clock.”

Troy Schulte

I agree with Cambiano that City Manager Troy Schulte should have given Chief Smokey Dyer the courtesy of a call to advise him that he was going to recommend cutting 105 positions from the force. But Kaiser hit home on the point about all the down time that firefighters have.

The union, of course, would prefer to keep everyone’s attention on how the firefighters are constantly putting their lives on the line. Of course, they go into very dangerous situations sometimes, but at many fire stations there’s a lot more time spent shopping for groceries, preparing meals, eating and watching TV than going out on calls. I once had a KCK firefighter tell me, “It’s an easy job.”

:: Wednesday, Jan. 25, “Former House speaker.”

Fran Baker of Lee’s Summit wrote a short and bittersweet letter: “Did Steve Kraske need a transfusion after bleeding his heart out all over the Jan. 21 front page about former Missouri House Speaker Bob Griffin?”

Bull’s eye. I can’t stand stories that glamorize crooks, especially crooks who maintain their innocence, even after admitting wrongdoing.

I read Kraske’s story as far as the 11th paragraph, which went like this…

“Griffin’s message is this: He was innocent. He didn’t do what prosecutors said he did. He didn’t steer work to his longtime friend in exchange for cash. Even though he eventually pleaded guilty to a single charge of bribery, he didn’t do it, and he wishes now that he had stood up for himself and fought even harder.”

For the record, in 1997, Griffin was convicted of bribery and sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to a charge of trying to steer a $16 million casino-related contract to a consulting business owned by one of his allies, Cathryn Simmons. Griffin admitted in court that his deal with Simmons was that he would get a cut.

A few years before Griffin took his fall, a former state rep sat on my deck and said of Griffin: “He’s crooked.”

:: Thursday, Jan. 26, “Presidential coverage.”

This one is singular only because it should never have seen the light of print.

Here’s the letter of Frank Berry, Kansas City, in its entirety:

“CBS News is shooting itself in the leg. It matters not whether one agrees with candidate Ron Paul. Fair and impartial coverage is the issue.

“I, for one, will no longer view CBS News. And I’m sure there will be many others who are of like mind.”

What is the reader to make of this? Obviously, CBS aired something about Ron Paul that ticked off Berry. But what did it air and when, and exactly what did Berry find unfair? All of that should have been included to put the complaint in some sort of context.

Perhaps Berry did put it in, and Lewis Diuguid, the letters editor, edited it out. That’s unlikely, however. I think Diuguid simply was on autopilot and included a letter that made no sense — letter that should have gotten the “delete” treatment.

:: Tuesday, Jan. 24, “Loosen up slots in KC.”

This is one of the daffiest letters I’ve ever seen.

Citing news about the upcoming opening of a new casino in KCK, Larry Wilhite of Bonner Springs had some advice for casino managers everywhere.

“As a casual attendee at the casinos, I recommend that the slot machines allow a player to play longer on the money they feed into that machines.

“It seems now that a $20 bill fed into a quarter machine takes about five minutes to lose. I don’t mind losing $20 in the slot machines, but it is annoying to me that I can’t at least have minimum of 15 minutes of play for that amount. You hardly have time to sit down and relax and your twenty bucks is gone.

“Loosen up the machines and allow people’s money to last longer, even if the person ends up losing it in the long run.

“I think this is the biggest gripe among slot players — not being able to play as long as their $20 should allow.”

Kind of makes you want to hit your head a couple of times, doesn’t it, to see if it’s your brain that’s not functioning properly? But, then, after a second you realize it’s definitely Wilhite’s brain that malfunctioned.

When Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved “riverboat gaming” about 20 years ago, nobody thought about how fast they might lose their money; they just wanted an opportunity to lose their money…It was, “Get the boats in here as soon as possible!”

Larry, I’ve got news for you: The casino managers’ philosophy is the same as that of the late, great W.C. Fields (pictured above): “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.” 

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The red-light-camera controversy, which ignited on Tuesday when The Star published a front-page story under the headline “Red-light cameras don’t add to safety,” is very weird.

Almost inexplicably weird.

Almost, I said, and that’s why I suggest you read on.

Darryl Forte

It appears to me, based largely on Wednesday’s follow-up article, which exposed some glaring mistakes in the study, that Police Chief Darryl Forte has taken his first belly flop into the mud since taking office last year.

I also believe that the Police Department came out with this badly flawed study because it was eager to make the traffic-camera program — which City Hall, not the Police Department, initiated two years ago — look like a big money grab by the city.

The real damage, unfortunately, was done by The Star’s first story, the one on Tuesday, which blared the tainted results of the Police Department study. That story was not only on the front page, it was the A1 “centerpiece,” accompanied by an image of a big traffic signal, with statistics printed inside the red, yellow and green lights.

The corrections — “additional data,” as the police called it — came out in a Star story on Wednesday. The problem is that the follow-up article was “buried” on page A4, where it probably was seen by a third or less of  the number of people who saw Tuesday’s front-page story.

In my opinion, KC Star editors should have put the follow-up story on the front page, too. It wouldn’t have had to be a centerpiece story, exactly matching the proportions of the first story, but the errors and omissions in the first article were so significant that the “fix” should at least have made the front page.

But the biggest transgressor here is not The Star; I don’t think the editors understood the significance of the screw-ups and what was behind the curious release of a police study bashing the traffic-camera program.

No, the biggest crook here is the Police Department, which conducted and released the study.

That’s where Forte comes into the picture. He wasn’t quoted or mentioned in either article, but certainly he reviewed the study and signed off on it before it was released.

Let’s take a step back now and look at two of the biggest problems with the study:

First: The initial version did not include the fact that “wrecks caused by red-light runners at the 17 intersections (where cameras are located) dropped from 52 wrecks before the cameras’ arrival to 24 wrecks in the second year after their arrival.”

That’s from the second-day story.

The gist of the first-day story was that the total number of wrecks at the 17 intersections increased after the cameras were installed. But that seemingly damning statistic took into account all wrecks — not just those resulting from red-light running. Many wrecks were rear-end jobs and or from right turns on red. Those types of wrecks result in far fewer serious injuries than the T-bone crashes caused by red-light runners.

The big problem at the camera-monitored intersections — and the main safety reason for installing the cameras — was to reduce red-light running and, consequently, the incidence of wrecks resulting from red-light running.

Holy crap! If the number of wrecks caused by red-light runners went down by more than half (which it apparently did), that alone justifies the installation of the cameras, in my opinion. Red-light runners are some of the most dangerous sons-of-bitches on the road, except for the criminals trying to elude police — and they’re running red lights, of course.

Second: The police study reported that officers had written about 200,000 camera-related tickets since January 2009. “At $100 a ticket,” The Star’s first story said, “these fines could bring in $20 million.” But officials with a private company that has a contract with the city to run the program, told the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday that police had issued about 150,000 tickets, which, at an average fine of $100, would have generated about$15 million.

Indeed, the program has proved to be a cash cow for the city, but apparently 25 percent less so than the police department portrayed it.

…And that brings us to this: Why would the Police Department want to trumpet the fact that the program is a cash cow for the city? And why would the department be so careless with numbers that portray the windfall as much bigger than it actually is?

My theory is that it stems from the ongoing bitterness between City Hall — which pays for the Police Department but has little say in its operations — and the Police Department, which thumbs its nose at the city and is run by a board of commissioners appointed by the governor.

For decades , the city has wanted to wrest control of the department from the state (a situation that goes back to the Pendergast days) so that it can hold the department’s feet to the fire on expenditures, priorities and policies.

Currently, City Hall and the Police Department are tangling over the issue of whether the PD should join the city’s health insurance plan, which would save the city, i.e., taxpayers, big bucks.

In an opinion piece last week, The Star’s Yael T. Abouhalkah wrote: “This has been discussed for years at City Hall, yet the goal of saving money for taxpayers has never gained traction with police officers who consider themselves special and want to keep their own insurance plan.”

The police, of course, want to keep things just as they are — less interference from that nettlesome city, don’t you know — and the chances of the Missouri General Assembly relinquishing state control of such a large and important function are probably about zero. I can’t foresee any circumstances under which the state would hand over the reins to KCMO.

So, here’s the scenario that is running through my head…

The traffic commander, whoever he is, brings the study to Chief Forte, and says, “Lookie here, chief, this traffic camera enforcement turns not to be all it was cracked up to be…wrecks everywhere and the money is pouring into City Hall.”

(Remember, as noted above, the private company that runs the program has a contract with the city, not the Police Department.)

And Forte replies, “Well, well, well, let’s put this report out as soon as possible; we’ll show Kansas Citians that our friends across the street are motivated only by the money they take in.”

Maybe I’m wrong, I don’t know. Maybe the chief just didn’t ask enough questions of the traffic commander and wanted to go along with division leaders who had put a lot of time and effort into the study.

All I know is that it does make sense if mutual mistrust and teeth gnashing is at the root of it. The two things that the cops look for in trying to solve murders are what? Motive and opportunity.

They had both in “The Case of the Flawed Study.”

Get Sherlock Holmes in here.

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No. 1: Joe Paterno

Why didn’t he quit, or why wasn’t he shown the door, several years ago? As it is, he remained the face of Penn State during the worst big-time-college-football, sex-abuse scandal in history, as far as I can tell.

If he had quit several years ago, the backlash from the scandal (including his failure to alert authorities to an assistant coach sexually assaulting a young boy in the showers) would not have caught him full blast. He might well have slipped to second-rung culprit and undoubtedly would have been remembered in more glowing terms by the general public.

So, why did he stay on? You know why — EGO! Now he’s dead and gone and not many people outside of State College, PA, care.

No. 2: Kansas City Manager Troy Schulte.

In his 2012-2013 budget proposal last week, Schulte recommended reducing the Fire Department by 105 positions. The justification? Fire calls have dropped dramatically in the past decade. How would the estimated $7.6 million in savings be used? To give other city employees raises.

Only Schulte, who doesn’t have to stand for election, would dare propose something that dramatic. And, trust me, even he doesn’t believe it will happen. He might be hoping that the council — most of whose members won with backing from the fire fighters’ union — will approve a cut of somewhere between 10 and 20 firefighters. That’s about the best he can hope for, at least until there’s a real budget crisis, which probably is coming within five years. At that point, we’ll probably see a “hatchet council,” which will have no choice but to fire a lot of employees or see the city go broke.

No. 3: David Brooks

One of my favorite op-ed columnists veered off track last week, when he wrote about Mitt Romney having made a fortune because he was “a worker and a grinder.” Brooks proceeded to trace the family background of Romney, a Mormon.

A central figure in the family history is Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles Romney. Brooks recounts the journeys and travails of Miles Romney and “his three wives and their many children” like he’s talking about an everyday, conventional, American family. Mitt might come be a hard worker who comes from sturdy stock, but when someone starts talking casually about a candidate’s great-grandfather’s “three wives and many children,” my attention naturally shifts from the up-from-the-bootstraps story to, “Did you say three wives?”

No. 4: Newt Gingrich

It’s unnerving that a fat guy with a phony, adultery-abetting wife can catapult to victory in a state — even a mostly irrelevant, backasswards state like South Carolina — by attacking the “elite news media”; the “elites in New York and Washington”; and “the most effective food-stamp president in history.”

It’s promoting class warfare, with the goal of rallying hourly wage-earners and unemployed people to take up arms against the so-called “elites?” But who would really benefit under Newt’s scenario? The true “elites,” the one percenters.

No. 5: Thomas L. Friedman

I want to end on a hopeful note…

Perhaps the most incisive op-ed person in the opinion business, wrote in Sunday’s New York Times about what kind of candidate he would like to vote for.

It would be a candidate who:

“…advocates an immediate investment in infrastructure that will create jobs and upgrade American for the 21st century…and combines that with a long-term plan to fix our fiscal imbalances at the real scale of the problem, a plan that could be phased in as the economy recovers.”

A candidate who…

“…is committed to reforming taxes, and cutting spending, in a fair way. The rich must pay more, but everyone has to pay something. We are all in this together.”

A candidate who…

“…has an inspirational vision, not just a plan to balance the budget.”

And, finally, a candidate who…

“…supports a minimum floor of public financing of presidential, Senate and House campaigns. Money is politics is out of control today. Our Congress has become a forum for legalized bribery.”

Friedman concluded: “I hope it is Obama, because I agree with him on so many other issues. But if it’s Romney, he’d deserve to win. And, if by some miracle, both run that campaign, and the 2012 contest is about two such competing visions, then put every dollar you own in the U.S. stock market. It will go up a gazillion points.”

Happy days could be here again, if only Abe Lincoln was reincarnated.

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If Mitt Romney wasn’t finished as a viable presidential contender before Tuesday, he most certainly was, in my opinion, after his comments on taxes and income that day in Greenville, S.C.

Asked directly what his effective tax rate was, Romney said:

“It’s probably closer to the 15 percent rate than anything. For the past 10 years, my income comes overwhelmingly from investments made in the past, rather than ordinary income or earned annual income. I got a little bit of income from my book, but I gave that all away.”

That was bad enough because he pays a federal tax rate much lower than most salaried workers. (For example, a married couple filing jointly pays at a rate of 25 percent tax rate for taxable income above $69,000 in wages. Obama reported paying an effective tax rate of 26 percent on his 2010 income, the majority of which came from sale of his books.)

But Romney went on to really put his foot in it.

Finishing off the comment, he said, “I get speakers’ fees from time to time, but not very much.”

Not very much?

Well, according to his personal financial disclosure, from February 2010 to February 2011, Romney earned $374,327 in speaking fees.

(Unfortunately, if you only read the print version of The Kansas City Star, you wouldn’t know about the uproar over Romney’s speaking fees because it wasn’t included in The Star’s three paragraph “campaign roundup” on Page 2 Wednesday.)

In its front-page report on the story, The New York Times said that $374,000 “would, by itself, very nearly catapult most American families into the top 1 percent of the country’s earners.”

In December, The Times reported that Romney, with an estimated family fortune of $190 million to $250 million, “is among the wealthiest candidates ever to run for president.”

In that story, The Times also said that after Romney left Bain Capital, the hugely successful private equity firm he helped start, “he negotiated a retirement agreement with his former partners that has paid him a share of Bain’s profits ever since, bringing the Romney family millions of dollars in income each year and bolstering the fortune that has helped finance Mr. Romney’s political aspirations.”

The ever-prescient Times went on to say that since Mr. Romney’s payouts from Bain “have come partly from the firm’s share of profits on its customers’ investments, that income probably qualifies for the 15 percent tax rate reserved for capital gains, rather than the 35 percent that wealthy taxpayers pay on ordinary income.”

So there’s a thumbnail sketch of the man who’s going to try to beat Obama by contending that average Americans will do better under a Romney presidency than they have under Obama.

Talk about a disconnect. Voters are going to listen to that pitch, consider the source and flee into Obama’s arms.

I can’t imagine how Romney is going to be able to convince ordinary, working Americans that he should be their guy.

I’m going to predict that he’s ultimately going to lose the votes of the majority of the millions of people who don’t read newspapers, proclaim they don’t care about current events and just want to bitch about how bad Obama is. They can cover their ears and hum, but osmosis will do the job.

Immediately after Romney is nominated — if he survives the Gingrich mauling — he might match or go slightly ahead of Obama in the polls. But after that, I see him slipping steadily downhill.

I can’t remember a presidential campaign where one major candidate had so much working against him before the general-election campaign got underway.

Understandably, the Democrats are drooling.

The Times’ story on Wednesday quoted Bill Burton, a spokesman for Priorities USA Action, a “super Pac” supporting Obama as saying, “We won’t be waiting until he (Romney) reveals his returns in April to remind voters that Romney’s tax policy would keep taxes low for millionaires like himself, putting a burden on the middle class.”

If Romney is the Republican nominee, you’ll see me smiling next summer and fall…I’ll be much more worried, however, if  Obama has to run against Newt and Callista.

There’s a gal that will probably appeal to the rednecks, whose votes the Republicans can’t win without.

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On Monday, I met Mi-Ai Parrish and heard her speak for the first time since she arrived in Kansas City last August to succeed Mark Zieman as Kansas City Star publisher.

Parrish spoke to the 40 Years Ago Column Club at the Plaza III restaurant. A crowd of about 35 was on hand, including longtime society writer Laura Rollins Hockaday and Guy Townsend, president and publisher of  Townsend Communications. (Townsend will be the featured speaker at the club’s February meeting.)

It was an interesting and informative session, and Parrish demonstrated that her leadership style is much different than Zieman’s.

The last Star publisher, in my experience, who had a strong personal appeal was the late James H. Hale, who brought a Texas-sized personality from the Lone Star State after Capital Cities Inc. bought the employee-owned paper in 1977. (That was the first in a series of transactions that ended up six years ago with The Star in the hands of The McClatchy Company.)

It appears to me that with some aggressive profile building, the 40- or 41-year-old Parrish also has a  chance  to establish a strong personal appeal and, in so doing, push the paper toward renewed stability and greater profitability…Just because the newspaper industry is in the tank doesn’t mean that every paper has to fare poorly.

Financially, The Star reached its apex under Hale; for years, it was a virtual money-disgorging machine. Of course, the environment for newspapers was much, much stronger back then, but I think it was not just favorable economic conditions that enabled The Star to flourish under Hale. He was a reporters’ and editors’ publisher — a colorful guy who was accessible, funny and didn’t hesitate to take on the established powers, even though he drank and ate barbecue with them.

Hale was succeeded by a series of arched-back publishers, including Robert Woodworth, Mac Tully and Zieman, all of whom thought The Star was a cut above the other major businesses in town and that they, personally, didn’t need to sell the community on the value of the paper.

They knew they needed to sell papers; they just didn’t understand that, like selling cars, a key ingredient is a good salesman or saleswoman.

They ran it like it was on autopilot, and then, almost overnight, the motor stopped, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the Great Recession.

So, against the backdrop of an insipid entity (The Kansas City Star Co.) and in the worst newspaper environment we have ever seen, along comes Parrish.

She can do one of two things:

Present the same cool, presumptive demeanor that her immediate predecessors did and watch the paper’s fortunes continue to decline, or…

Let down her beautiful hair (figuratively, because it’s already down literally) and push “my Star,” as she calls it, with demonic persistence throughout the community.

After lunch yesterday, when Parrish stood up and began to speak, I was worried.

She proceeded to read a prepared speech, in which she traced the tired history of The Star. (Sorry, that doesn’t even excite many members of the 40 Years Ago Club.) She also talked about how, in the future, we’d be reading the paper on all sorts of electronic gadgets. We’re already doing that, of course, but I guess she meant there’d be even more, fancier gadgets down the road.

Not only did she read the speech, she read it fast, like she wanted to get through it as quickly as possible. In the process, she made no connection whatsoever with the audience.

The only line that really caught my ear was this:

“When people ask me, ‘Why should I care about the newspaper?’ I say, ‘If you value democracy, you damn well better.’ “

After the prepared speech, however — when she began taking questions — she showed another, more open side of herself.

Among other things, she said that:

:: The Star remains profitable. (Reassuring, for sure.)

:: We were seeing the “infancy” of the new Star model develop before our eyes. (Put that way, it sounded a lot more interesting than what gadgets we might be using to access the paper.)

:: Printed newspapers would be around “for many, many, many, many years.” (Encouraging to me and, I’m sure, many other dead-tree devotees.)

:: The Star generates about 85 percent of its revenue from advertising and 15 percent from circulation. Before the precipitous decline of the newspaper industry, starting in 2005, ad revenue accounted for about 90 percent of revenue, she said. (As surely as Obama is going to kick Romney to the curb, the percentage of revenue from circulation must continue to rise.)

:: Even at $1 a copy on newsstands, the daily Star remains a bargain. (Probably true.)

:: The Star is among the top three properties in the McClatchy chain. “We’re a big dog,” she said. (See next graph.)

Like the prepared speech, the “big dog” comment bothered me because that dog, while it’s still pretty big, doesn’t have nearly the bite that it used to. And it’s by no means safe to assume that most or all of its teeth will stay around “many, many, many, many years.”

All in all, I saw more positives than negatives in Parrish. For one thing, she talked about a specific story and mentioned a specific reporter, demonstrating that she’s closely in tune with the product and that, like Hale, she might be a reporters’ and editors’ publisher. (Which, in my opinion, translates into a readers’ publisher.)

The reporter she mentioned was Steve Kraske:  “Steve Kraske?, she said, illustrating her assertion that the paper was still a bargain. “He’s totally worth a dollar a day.”

The story she mentioned was Kent Babb’s fabulous but disturbing Sunday take-out on the brainwashing and intimidation that Kansas City Chiefs’ employees are being subjected to under Chiefs’ owner Clark Hunt, president Mark Donovan and general manager Scott Pioli.

Other general, positive indications were that Parrish answered questions directly, for the most part, and made it clear that she is taking personal responsibility for The Star’s future.

In addition to referring to it as “my Star,” she said, in explaining why the paper remained a good deal for customers: “I put the whole darn thing together for you, and I deliver it to you.”

She wasn’t looking for a pat on the back there; it seemed to me that she was simply accepting responsibility for keeping the presses running and making sure the paper got to people’s front yards.

And since she is willing to put that responsibility squarely on her shoulders, I say this:

Mi-Ai — Get out there every chance you get; attend every luncheon you possibly can; do every TV and radio interview you’re asked to do; attend every major civic function you can weasel your way into; don’t miss an opportunity to mingle with members of the public and tell them who you are and what your vision is for the hometown paper.

In short, make your presence felt; let the Kansas City area know who you are and why “your Star” is important to us…True, The Star isn’t what it used to be, but you’re right about it still being important and a good deal.

Sell it, lady!

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I want to preface this piece by saying I’m no fan of Mitt Romney. In fact, I think he’s the most opportunistic and malleable of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President.

He will say just about anything to get elected, which, fortunately, probably isn’t going to happen. President Obama is the only candidate on either side who is consistently logical and reasonable when he opens his mouth. Plus, Romney probably won’t get the vote of a single black person.

Like most people, I enjoy humor at the expense of some of the gaffes that politicians make, but I don’t like cheap shots. Especially cheap shots that are fashioned into a running joke.

And that’s exactly what liberal columnist Gail Collins of The New York Times is guilty of. Collins is often funny, and I look forward to her columns, but she has gone way overboard on the subject of Romney and a nearly 30-year-old incident involving his family’s Irish setter, now deceased.

Every time she writes about Romney — and I mean every time — Collins works in a line about the time that Romney “drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon.”

When I first read it, sometime last year, I was horrified. With subsequent references, however, I started wanting more details. A few months ago, I sent an e-mail to Collins, asking her if the dog was strapped bodily to the car or if he was in a crate. If he was in a crate, I asked, was he protected from the wind?

A few weeks later, Collins wrote back, saying that the dog was in a crate and protected from the wind, but she noted that the dog must have been in distress because he got diarrhea during the trip.

A week or so after my e-mail, Collins included the first and only reference I have seen her make to the dog having been in a crate. Thereafter, it was back to the dog being strapped to the roof.

Take these recent references in Collins columns, for example:

Jan. 12: There is nothing Gingrich won’t do to get Mitt. At the end of the video, there’s a clip of Romney speaking French! And now Newt’s Web site has a video that basically asks whether America will elect a president who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Which is, of course, an excellent question.

Jan. 5: Did I ever mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car? The dog’s name was Seamus. New Hampshire Republicans, if you can’t think of anybody to vote for on Tuesday, consider writing in the name Seamus when you go to the polls. Maybe we can start a boomlet.

Dec. 15: …the odds are very good that no one has ever called Mitt zany in his entire life. Unless it was when he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon.

Dec. 1: And maybe we could get over his driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car if he’d just admit it was because he was too cheap to hire a dog-sitter. Maybe.

That’s at least four mentions in the last six weeks. In my opinion that’s beating a dead horse.

And the horse doesn’t deserve to be beaten. Here’s why…

Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum did some reporting on the Seamus situation recently and, in a Dec. 29, column set the record straight, doing so deftly and humorously, without taking a sledgehammer to Collins.

Daum’s column begins:

“In 1983, a 36-year-old Romney and his wife and five young boys piled into the family station wagon for a 12-hour drive from Boston to Lake Huron in Canada. As was the custom, Seamus, their Irish setter, rode in a crate strapped to the top of the car.

“Somewhere along the way, the dog began to experience, shall we say, digestive trouble that made its presence known via, uh, streaks on the back windshield. Ever the efficiency enforcer, Romney pulled into a gas station, hosed the dog off, put him back on the roof and continued the trip.

“The anecdote was first relayed in a Boston Globe article in 2007, the last time Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Since then, it’s endured a long telephone game of exaggerations and misconstruels. (Gail Collins likes to write about it in her New York Times column.)

“Many versions of the story imply that the dog was not in a crate but rather tethered to the luggage rack in the manner of a silent movie damsel tied to railroad tracks. Others seem to conflate it with the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation…in which Chevy Chase inadvertently (and supposedly hilariously) drags a dog to its death after forgetting to untie it from the car after a picnic.”

Daum goes on to say that “the truth is considerably less cartoonish than the myth.” Not only was Seamus in a crate, she said, but Romney had fashioned a windscreen that protected the crate.

“Look,” Daum continued, “I’m not suggesting that Seamus’ rides on the roof were ecstatic journeys akin to Snoopy piloting his doghouse in the spirit of the Red Baron. But let’s try to think objectively. Assuming his car sickness was an isolated event, would Seamus really have been better off crammed into a station wagon with seven humans than up top in a secure, enclosed crate with a windscreen? Moreover, if Seamus had been, say, a Texas dog in the back of a pickup, as opposed to a Massachusetts dog on top of a car, would anyone have batted an eye?”

Excellent observations, especially about the Texas dog in the back of a truck. For example, if George W. Bush drove across Texas with his dog (if he still has one) in the bed of the pickup, would anyone other than a card-carrying SPCA member voice concern?

In conclusion, Daum suggests it’s time to give Romney a break on his idea of proper pet transportation.

“Sure, his judgment may have been lacking when it came to canine transportation,” she said, “but if this is the extent of his personal baggage, he’s been traveling light.”

That’s for sure.

Seamus -- RIP

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