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Archive for February, 2012

The residents of the City of Brotherly Love should be worried:

A couple of politicians lead a group trying to buy the city’s major newspapers — The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News.

And almost as worrisome, the papers’ publisher, Gregory J. Osberg, has been censoring articles about the pending sale of the company, apparently in an effort to quash other offers.

In recent weeks, according to a Feb. 16 article in The New York Times, Osberg:

:: Told top editors in a three-hour meeting that if any articles about the sale were run without his approval, the editors would be fired.

:: Apparently has held up — or ordered top editors to hold up — publication of an investigative story about conflicts of interest among board members of a hospital in nearby Camden, NJ. The hospital’s chairman is a member of the group seeking to buy the newspapers from the Philadelphia Media Network.

:: Apparently ordered editors to kill a paragraph in an article on Philly.com that said the newspapers had a value of about $40 million. It had been reported elsewhere that the current owner, Philadelphia Media Network was seeking $100 million.

Regarding the three-hour meeting, Osberg at first told a Times reporter that no such meeting had taken place. Then, the night before The Times’ story ran, he acknowledged that the meeting had occurred but denied interfering in editorial decisions.

“I have not been managing coverage of the sale and I am not doing that going forward,” The Times quoted Osberg as saying.

Rendell

The prospective owners include Edward G. Rendell, a powerful Democrat who is a former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor, and George E. Norcross III, whom The Times described as “a Democratic power-broker in South New Jersey.

In an op-ed piece that was also published Feb. 16 in The Times, Buzz Bissinger, a former Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter at the Inquirer, wrote: “If the sale goes through, Philadelphia will become the first major city in the country to actually cease to have a real daily newspaper. There will still be print and online products, sure, but those products will be owned by a group of power-hungry politicians and politically connected businessmen, who, far from respecting independent journalism, despise it.”

Paul Davies, former deputy editorial page editor at the Inquirer was quoted on The Washington Times web site as saying: “The prospect of Rendell’s group owning the newspapers is like the foxes watching the hen house and all of the sacred cows. Essentially, the Inquirer will cease to exist as a legitimate newspaper. It will become the insiders’ house organ.”

In The Times’ news story, Rendell said his only intention was to save the newspapers and keep them under local control. “Any ownership group may have some interest in controlling the content of the newspaper, but ours is no more or less than that,” he was quoted as saying.

At one time, the Inquirer and the Daily News were among a group of newspapers, along with The Kansas City Star, that were part of the Knight Ridder chain.

When Knight Ridder decided to go out of business in 2006, it sold The Star, the Philadelphia papers and 30 other papers to The McClatchy Co. for $4.5 billion.

The Inquirer and the Daily News were among a dozen less-profitable Knight Ridder newspapers that McClatchy immediately put up for sale. In June 2006, the Philadelphia papers were sold to a group of Philadelphia area business people, who filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009. Hedge fund owners, operating under the name Philadelphia Media Network, bought the papers out of bankruptcy in 2010.

The once-proud Philadelphia papers have had a tougher go of it the last 10 years or so than many of the other metropolitan dailies. That includes The Star, which is the source of constant griping from Kansas Citians about the paper’s ever-shrinking news hole.

Next time you hear someone complain about The Star, however, tell them it could be worse. Tell them we’re lucky that our paper is still owned by a reputable, if failing, chain. Tell them about Philadelphia.

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Every day for the last week I’ve expected to read or hear that Fox Sports has fired or suspended Jason Whitlock for the outrageous Twitter comment he made about women and New York Knicks’ sensation Jeremy Lin.

I don’t know how he did it, but with one little tweet he managed to paint women as sexual trophies to be used and abused, and he managed to stereotype Asian men as having…well, as former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner might have put it, inadequate “packages.”

Here’s what Whitlock tweeted the night of Feb. 10, after Lin scored a career-high 38 points as the Knicks beat the Los Angeles Lakers 92-85.

“Some lucky lady in NYC is gonna feel a couple inches of pain tonight.”

That brought this reaction from the Asian American Journalists Association:

“Outrage doesn’t begin to describe the reaction…to your unnecessary and demeaning tweet…Let’s not pretend we don’t know to what you were referring. The attempt at humor – and we hope that is all it was – fell flat. It also exposed how some media companies fail to adequately monitor the antics of their high-profile representatives. Standards need to be applied – by you and by Fox Sports.”

Whitlock/Lin

Whitlock, who flamed out at The Star in August 2010, later apologized, saying in part:

“I…gave in to another part of my personality—my immature, sophomoric, comedic nature. It’s been with me since birth, a gift from my mother and honed as a child listening to my godmother’s Richard Pryor albums. I still want to be a standup comedian.”

So, it was the fault of his mother and godmother? I guess his godmother should be flogged for leaving those Richard Pryor albums lying around like loaded handguns.

Meanwhile, an ESPN editor got fired for using an ethnic slur  in a headline on ESPN.com’s mobile Web site, and an ESPN anchor was suspended for 30 days for using the same phrase during an interview about Lin with a former NBA player.

The headline posted by Anthony Federico of ESPN said, “Chink in the Armor: Jeremy Lin’s 9 Turnovers Cost Knicks in Streak-stopping Loss to Hornets.”

Federico, who deserved to be fired, apologized and in an interview with the New York Daily News said: “This had nothing to do with me being cute or funny. I’m so sorry that I offended people. I’m so sorry if I offended Jeremy.”

The suspended anchor man, Max Bretos, also apologized unequivocally, saying in a tweet, “My wife is Asian, would never intentionally say anything to disrespect her and that community.”

There you have the story, so far, of how two networks handled the same type of problem. ESPN fired one person and suspended another, while Fox Sports has remained largely silent on the matter of Whitlock’s double slur and his subsequent lame attempt to dismiss the ethnic element of it as a bad joke.

A week before Whitlock fired off his tweet, CNN suspended political analyst Roland Martin for tweets he posted during the Super Bowl.

Martin caused an uproar, particularly among gay rights groups, by tweeting that people should “smack the ish” out of any male fans of an underwear ad starring David Beckham.

He also made fun of a New England Patriots player who arrived wearing a pink jumpsuit. “He needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass,” Martin wrote.

As the Asian American Journalists Association said, “Standards need to be applied.”

I’m waiting for Fox to join ESPN and CNN in applying high standards to a sports writer who seems destined to be immature and sophomoric for life.

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Sometimes, my beloved New York Times tends to get too liberal and idealistic for my Democratic tastes.

One of the things I love about The Times is that it holds politicians to extremely high standards — as it should, of course — and seldom lowers the bar.

But in an editorial last Wednesday, The Times held President Barack Obama to an unrealistically high bar, in my opinion, when it chided him for deciding to cooperate with a super PAC called Priorities USA Action.

The Times said that Obama’s announcement “fully implicates the president, his campaign and his administration in the pollution of the political system unleashed by Citizens United and related court decisions.”

By agreeing to play ball with a super PAC, the editorial went on, Obama “gave in to the culture of the Citizens United decision that he once denounced as a ‘threat to our democracy.’ ”

The editorial ran under the headline, “Another Campaign for Sale.” The subhead said, “President Obama reverses position and joins the sleazy ‘Super PAC’ money race.”

Yes, the super PAC system is sleazy, and, yes, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010 was crazy and has further tainted our elective system. And, yes, it would be great if President Obama had decided to forgo the super PAC route.

But at what cost? Everyone knows the power of money in politics…If you (or somebody supporting you) can go on TV and say your opponent is a dipstick thousands of times more than you can say the same about him (or her), you’re likely to prevail. You have to respond to negative ads, and you need just about equal resources to even try to effectively counteract them.

The Times’ editorial board thoroughly dislikes all the Republican candidates and will undoubtedly endorse Obama for re-election. So, what it was doing in this editorial, it appears to me, was calling on Obama — its candidate — to take the biggest gamble of his political life and run without super PAC support.

Two days after the editorial was published, The Times ran five letters to the editor about the editorial.

Two of the writers sided with The Times’ editorial, and three took Obama’s side.

One of those who sided with The Times, Paul Bloustein of Cincinnati, said: “President Obama is a very principled man, until he isn’t. His decision to use super PAC money in his re-election effort is hugely disappointing…fear of being a one-term president has trumped principle.”

The other writer who sided with The Times, Margaret McGirr, Greenwich, CT, said: “It doesn’t get better than this: watching the very same people who scolded Supreme Court justices for their decision on campaign finance defend setting up a super PAC.”

I agree, however, with the letter writers who said Obama was left with little choice, if he hoped to be re-elected.

Douglas J. Cocuzza of Hackettstown, NJ, said, “You don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. You are forced to bring a gun or not participate in the fight.”

Also using a fight analogy, Mike Cockrill of Brooklyn said: “If you’re in a boxing match and the judge says you can use chairs, you’d be a fool not to grab a chair when your opponent comes after you with one. Later in the recovery room, you can both discuss whether the chair rule is a bad one.”

(Don’t you love that last line?)

William D. Bandes of Roseville, CA, got the last word:

“You write that President Obama is ‘telling the country that simply getting re-elected is bigger than standing on principle.’ Getting re-elected is bigger than surrender, better than handing the reins over to those who bought government by giving us Citizens United in the first place.”

To be precise, Bandes should have said “better than handing the reins over to those who are trying to buy government” because the super PAC people haven’t yet bought either the executive branch of government or both divisions of the legislative branch.

I completely agree with Bandes that this is a case where the stakes are simply too big for Obama to forgo super PAC money. I sure don’t want any of those Republican dipsticks in the White House. Do you?

What Obama needs to do is get re-elected, hope some conservative Supreme Court justices die or retire and then appoint some justices who will get the court off the errant course it’s been on under John Roberts, Anton Scalia and the dope whom Jack Danforth gave us, Clarence (Coke Can) Thomas.

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Hats off to The Star for a fine Sunday paper. The front page consisted of three “enterprise” stories, that is, not breaking news but stories reported and written over a period of days or weeks and focus on a person or development that has been in the news.

Two sports-age stories —  one on new Kansas City Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and the other on Royals’ outfielder Alex Gordon — contributed to an overall excellent print edition.

A closer look at the front-page stories…

:: The Sunday “centerpiece,” by Rick Montgomery, was about the so-called Neo Luddites, those who eschew cellphones, iPads, computers and the like. Montgomery built the story around a man named Jeffrey Ruckman, a Kansas City composer who writes his scores by hand.

The only caveat on this story is that it trailed off at the end because it failed to return to Ruckman, whose personality Montgomery did a good job of developing in print, at the very end.

:: Another story, by Tony Rizzo, told the tale of Kansas Citian Odessa Brown, who got away with a murder in Muskogee, OK, but later confessed to it while serving time for a second murder. Her conscience got to her, and she seemingly has turned her life around in prison.

The only problem I had with this story is that it failed, as far as I can tell, to say how old Brown is. Because she graduated from high school in 1983, I figure she is about 47…But, as a wise editor once warned me, never make the reader do the math.

:: In the third story, Karen Dillon put the microscope on the dysfunctions of the Gardner, KS, city government. It involves the city’s loss of a huge intermodal freight hub (Edgerton stepped in and annexed the property), a mayor and interim city administrator who are openly defying the Kansas Open Meetings Law and a councilman whose goal is to drive the mayor crazy.

Dillon

Dillon is The Star’s environmental reporter, but she combines her knowledge of that field with a great talent for investigative reporting. It was good to see her on something besides asbestos and polluted water.

***

Finally, JimmyCsays sends out heartfelt congratulations to The Star’s Mike DeArmond, who retired Saturday after a 40-year career at the paper, almost all of it on the Sports Desk. He has covered University of Missouri athletics the last 20 years.

Mike DeArmond (right) and son Gabe, who also is a sports reporter

An opinionated and tenacious person, DeArmond once challenged former Royals’ outfielder Amos Otis to a fight after Otis got lippy with him for no good reason. After DeArmond made it clear he wasn’t going to let Otis mess with him, the two got along just fine.

DeArmond has certainly earned his sheet cake and pizza party. Good luck, Mike!

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Perhaps those of you who are interested in politics would like to know how the top candidates for the Republican nomination for President fared Tuesday in Kansas City and Jackson, Clay and Platte counties.

As far as I can tell — and I’ve looked and looked — The Star didn’t run the local results of Tuesday’s presidential primary election, either in print or online.

I hope I’m wrong. If not, it’s very disappointing.

I worked the election yesterday as a “deputy commissioner’ ‘in Kansas City, making the rounds of seven polling places in the Northeast part of Kansas City. (I’ve done that for several years now, and it’s always interesting and informative.)

When I got home at about 8:45 last night, I was interested, of course, in the statewide outcome. CNN was already projecting Rick Santorum as the winner, which was a bit surprising to me, but I knew he had been the only candidate to visit the state before the nonbinding, preferential primary.

I wanted to see local results, too, but thought I’d wait until this morning.

Instead of getting the local results in today’s Star, however, I had to go to the website of three jurisdictions (KC, Jackson and Clay) and call one (Platte) to get the results.

Here they are, then:

Kansas City, Mo.

Santorum — 2,502
Romney — 1,709
Paul — 824

Jackson County (not including Kansas City)

Santorum — 7,372
Romney — 4,695
Paul — 1,922

Clay County (including the Kansas City part of the county)

Santorum — 3,567
Romney — 1,538
Paul — 770

Platte County (including the Kansas City part of the county)

Santorum — 1,551
Romney — 832
Paul — 292

The main thing that surprised me about those results — although it probably shouldn’t have — was the large Republican vote in Jackson County, where, again, the vote totals do not include Kansas City.

That shows dramatically the extent to which Republicans have cut into what traditionally has been a Democratic county (when you include Kansas City).

The political C.O.G. (center of gravity) seems to have swung to the GOP in Jackson County.

Jackson

President Andrew Jackson is probably sitting up in his grave today, preparing to mount a campaign in his namesake county.

It was his followers, after all, who created the modern Democratic Party in the 1830s, after “Old Hickory” was elected President.

Wikipedia says that Jackson “fought politically against what he denounced as a closed, undemocratic aristocracy.”

And isn’t that just about a perfect description of today’s Republican Party?

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Slowly, federal and city governments are taking steps to mop up the criminal and environmental detritus of a long-term, aborted attempt to develop the northwest corner of 63rd and Prospect.

On Thursday, as reported by The Star’s Mark Morris, developer William M. Threatt, 71, pleaded guilty to failing to properly remove and dispose of asbestos while overseeing the planned Citadel Plaza retail project in the early and mid 2000s.

Threatt and a co-defendant who pleaded guilty last October, Anthony Crompton, face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. A sentencing date has not been set.

The damage that those two inflicted — along with the previous City Council, which stupidly voted in 2008 to provide $20.5 million to jump start the project — is clearly and pathetically visible.

A concentration of trash

The acreage essentially is a big, brown field, littered with tires, plastic bags, trash, discarded carpet, concrete chunks and asbestos-tainted building materials.

What was supposed to be there was an $80 million shopping center, including a grocery, retail stores, restaurants and homes.

The difference between success and failure in this instance has left the city with perhaps the biggest East Side abomination in city history.

Most, or perhaps all, of the money that the council approved in 2008, was not appropriated after it became clear that Crompton, Threatt and their Community Development Corp. of Kansas City could not deliver on the plans they laid out on paper.

Looking south, across 63rd Street, toward Research Medical Center

Looking south, toward a Valero station on 63rd Street

The firm had no experience with a major development, and the council gave it the green light primarily because it was under pressure from East Side leaders and community members to deliver a major project to a neighborhood that was ripe for development and that would give the 63rd and Prospect area a big boost.

The council, in short, voted on hope rather than track record. After the city pulled the plug on the Citadel project, however, Threatt and Crompton sued the city for failure to deliver on the $20.5 million. Two weeks ago, a $15 million court settlement was finalized.

Yes, that is $15 million in taxpayer funds.

Looking east, from the Citadel site, toward a BP station on the northeast corner of 63rd and Prospect

Looking north on Park, a block west of Prospect

As Morris reported in his story: “For its $15 million, the city received most of the real estate and the rights to take another crack at redeveloping it.”

He quoted city officials as saying none of the money would go to Threatt. Same goes for Crompton, I trust.

The whole mess reminds me of the proposed Sailors project east of the Plaza many years ago, when the council approved a multi-story office building that had Plaza area residents up in arms. Like Community Development Corp., the R.H. Sailors Co. had no experience with a development on the scale that it was proposing.

In that case, fortunately, citizens who were opposed to the project mounted a successful petition drive, and voters defeated it at the polls in 1986.

In this case, the city is giving up a lot of money, and it looks like it’s going to be a while before the brown, trashy field on the northwest corner of 63rd and Prospect will be converted into something respectable.

On a positive note, however,when I was out photographing the site yesterday, along came an official with the City Planning & Development Department. The official, Andy Bracker, was taking photos and familiarizing himself with the site, in preparation for a major clean-up. He said he would be tracking the progress closely.

An hour or so later, I sent him an e-mail, asking when the clean-up might begin and how much it might cost.

He wrote back, saying that the plan was “to clean up the site as soon as practicable,” and that he didn’t have any facts and figures on the job just yet.

Let’s all wish Andy the best of luck and hope that the current City Council makes some wise and careful decisions about what should happen next on the northwest corner of 63rd and Prospect.

Yes, thank you, Mr. Threatt, Mr. Crompton and 2008 City Council members

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