Archive for February, 2015

We will probably never know exactly what was going on in the mind of State Auditor Tom Schweich, who committed suicide in his Clayton, Missouri, home yesterday, just minutes after confirming to a reporter that he would give an interview in his home later in the day.

Schweich was reportedly beside himself about rumors, allegedly being spread by Republican state chairman John Hancock — that he was Jewish. (Schweich believed Hancock favored Catherine Hanaway over him for the Republican nomination for governor next year.)

The fact is Schweich had a Jewish grandfather but was a practicing Episcopalian.


Tom Schweich, his wife of 28 years, Kathleen, and their children Emilie and Thomas. (Facebook photo)

It is almost inconceivable that a false allegation of being Jewish would drive a seasoned politician with statewide experience to commit suicide. He knew that running against Hanaway her million-dollar donor/benefactor Rex Sinquefield was going to be rough. It would seem more than odd, then, that a relatively benign, easily disprovable allegation would throw him over the edge.

So, what we come to, as we do in nearly all suicide cases, is depression.

The “D” word hasn’t been mentioned in anything I’ve read — and I’ve read a lot — but that has to be a factor.

The biggest indicator I’ve seen that Schweich was coming unhinged before the suicide was a report I read in a blog called the Gateway Pundit, out of St. Louis. (I read the same thing elsewhere but can’t remember where.)

The Pundit said:

“Naturally high-strung, Schweich seemed unusually agitated — his voice sometimes quivering and his legs and hands shaking — when he told an AP reporter on Monday that he wanted to hold a press conference to allege that Missouri Republican Party Chairman John Hancock had made anti-Semitic remarks about him.

“Schweich postponed a planned press conference Tuesday. But he called the AP at 9:16 a.m. Thursday inviting an AP reporter to his home for a 2:30 p.m. interview and noting that a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch also had been invited. An AP reporter spoke with Schweich by phone again at 9:35 a.m. to confirm the upcoming interview.”

At 9:48 a.m., his wife called 911 to report that her husband had shot himself.

“…voice sometimes quivering and his legs and hands shaking.”

That — far more than a rumor being spread that he was Jewish — clearly signals that he was falling apart.


We expect our politicians to be in complete control — measured and composed — even under the greatest pressure and the ugliest of personal attacks. I’ve always admired how politicians like Bill Clinton and President Obama have carried on with equanimity while under attack from several sides.

Some people can stand up to that kind of pressure and spotlight, but only if they are well balanced psychologically and have the ability to let personal criticism slide off their backs…I’ll be the first to admit that, even though I have pretty thick skin, I couldn’t stand up to that kind of pressure — and wouldn’t voluntarily put myself in a situation where it was likely to emerge.

At one time, Schweich might have been up to that kind of pressure, but somewhere along the way — more than a year before the campaign sledding really got tough — depression must have taken hold.

And that, combined with fixation on whatever rumors were being spread — plunged him into the depths.

…I feel so bad about the misery that Tom Schweich went through the last few days, from the day his legs were shaking until yesterday morning. My heart, thoughts and prayers go out to his wife and daughters.

He was a good man, a straight arrow, and he probably would have been a very good governor. He was committed to rooting out corruption and cleaning up Missouri’s legislative cesspool.

Now, unfortunately, we’re probably left with a choice for governor between Hanaway, who’s already bought and paid for, and Chris Koster, our Democratic attorney general, who was the centerpiece of a recent New York Times expose.

Here’s the link to that story; it will make you sick…It shows, clearly, that Koster is also for sale.

So now, from all appearances, we’ve lost the one candidate who seemed capable of generating a fresh breeze through the marble halls of the State Capitol, and we’re left with two opportunists, either one of whom will probably keep fueling the stench.

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Call me a spoilsport, but I think the nation’s major conferences should follow the lead of the Southeastern Conference and ban court storming at basketball games.

Most of you have probably seen video of the Kansas State students rushing the Bramlage Auditorium court after K-State’s upset win over KU the other night.

In addition to the general mayhem, K-State and Kansas coaches Bruce Weber and Bill Self got pinned against the scorer’s table, and a K-State student –later identified as Nathan Power — “chicken winged” KU player Jamari Traylor with an elbow, knocking Traylor off balance (below). Fortunately, Traylor kept his footing — and his cool; he made no attempt to retaliate and just kept heading toward the locker room.

Police yesterday charged Power with disorderly conduct, which should give many students pause.


It was fortunate no one was injured in the melee, but as The Star’s Vahe Gregorian wrote yesterday, this court-storming custom can be downright life threatening.

Eleven years ago a high school player in Tucson was caught up in a court swarming incident in which several fans tried to lift Joe Kay from the floor…but dropped him. He suffered a torn carotid artery and a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side.

Later that same year — I don’t know if it was coincidence or by design — the Southeastern Conference banned court storming.

And for the most part the league has been free of it since then.

The SEC policy states:

“For the safety of participants and spectators alike, at no time before, during or after a contest shall spectators be permitted to enter the competition area. It is the responsibility of each member institution to implement procedures to ensure compliance with this policy.”

For the first violation, a school can be fined $5,000; for the second, $25,000; and for the third and all ensuing offenses, $50,000.


This was the scene after a 2013 Maryland-Duke game: A student got trapped under chairs.

There’s another way to approach this problem — short of banning court storming.

One or more event companies have come up with a way to cordon off the bench area of the court.

It goes like this: As a game ends, two groups of security guards — one at each end of the court — move quickly to the middle of the court and form a human, arm-in-arm chain several feet in front of the team benches. Students are funneled onto the main part of the court, while the human chain allows the opposing coaches and players to conduct the traditional post-game greeting line.

Video from a University of Virginia-Duke University game two years ago shows how effective this strategy can be. In the video, the court looks like two different worlds — one where delirious students do their pancake stack, the other where players and coaches go calmly about their post-game business.

The video also shows a security guard at one end of the chain occasionally pushing back students trying to encroach on the no-fan zone. But the wall of safety held and all appeared to end well.

A story in yesterday’s Star said a similar plan was executed last week at West Virginia when the Mountaineers defeated Kansas and the student section flooded onto the floor without incident.

If a majority of schools decide that students should not be deprived of on-court celebrations, the least that should be done is to implement the human-chain strategy.


K-State Coach Bruce Weber attempting to shield KU coach Bill Self Monday night.

Another Star story said that the Big 12 Conference issued a public reprimand to Kansas State for its failure to appropriately handle Monday night’s post-game scene.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowslby said the league would look into prohibiting spectators from entering

Bowlsby also addressed another sorry aspect of Monday’s game — profane chants from K-State students, directed at KU, that could be heard during the game broadcast. He added:

“I have asked that discussions on both of these topics be placed on the agendas for the next meetings of the ADs (athletic directors) and of the CEOs…The events following the KU vs. K-State game should be a call to action for all of us.”


I hope Bowlsby and a majority of Big 12 school administrators ban court storming completely. Denying revved-up students the right to celebrate on court is no big deal. What is a big deal is having one more player, or a student, get paralyzed.

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Patty and I are just back from an overnight trip to Bentonville, Arkansas, where we visited the fabulous Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars by the Walton Family Foundation.

Early in our marriage, Patty and I frequently drove to Hot Springs, Arkansas — much farther south than Bentonville — and had some great times at Oaklawn Park, the thoroughbred race track, nestled in the Ouichita Mountains.

This time, on the occasion of our 30th wedding anniversary, we decided to take a shorter trip and see Crystal Bridges, which opened in 2011. We had heard a lot about it but hadn’t been there until now.

…A little background about Crystal Bridges. The moving force behind it was — and is — Alice Walton, 65, Sam Walton’s only daughter. (He had three sons, one of whom is dead.) As of February 2014, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Alice has an estimated net worth of $33.9 billion, making her the 13th richest person in the world.

Alice was born and raised in Arkansas, of course, but she has lived for several years on a ranch outside Fort Worth, Texas, where she raises “cutting” horses.

In a 2013 article Forbes magazine said the Walton Family Foundation put $1.2 billion into Crystal Bridges. That figure apparently includes construction and art acquisitions.

Walmart threw in another $20 million, sponsoring free admission to the museum for the next several years. 

Crystal Bridges was built in a deep ravine in the Ozarks. A tour guide told us that during construction, all that was visible to passers-by were huge cranes poking up into the sky from the valley floor.

The architect was none other than Moshe Safdie, who also designed the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Outward-angled glass walls are a common feature of both the museum and the performing arts center — and a tip-off that the same designer was at work.

Surrounded by wooded hills and walking paths, the museum consists of several pavilions, including three “bridges” constructed over a pond fed by Town Branch Creek and a spring — Crystal Spring, to be precise.

Now you’ve heard enough from me. A few photos will tell the rest of the story.


Looking down on the museum — lobby in the foreground and one of the museum’s “armadillo” bridges at the back of the photo.


One of three “bridge” buildings houses an excellent and inviting restaurant. Note the arching beams that form the ceiling.


This is a view of the restaurant from another bridge. Steel cables suspend the “armadillo” roof (above the glass). The hulking concrete bulwarks at either end of the bridge anchor the cables. (The bulwarks are known as “dead men.”)


A closer look at one of the steel cables from which the roof is suspended.


This is another bridge building, which is used for meetings and other gatherings. Unlike the two other bridges, the cables of this one are anchored by underwater concrete bulwarks.


The glass walls are similar to the facade of the Kauffman Performing Arts Center, except that the arts center facade is several stories tall.


A cedar and sanded-concrete exterior wall.


A closer look, from inside the museum, at a sanded-concrete and cedar wall. The floor tiles are Chinese marble, and the steps are cast concrete.


Finally, a closer look at the huge beams — consisting of layer upon layer of yellow-pine laminate — that comprise the bridge ceilings. At left, you can see part of one of the cables from which the roof is suspended.


Oh, and by the way, there’s more to the museum than its fabulous appearance. There’s plenty of great art there, too!

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It’s a happy day for the Kansas City political organization Freedom Inc.

With Theresa Garza Ruiz’ announcement that she is dropping out of the race for Kansas City’s 5th District at-large City Council seat, it is very likely that a black candidate, Lee Barnes Jr., will win the seat.

This is a very significant development because blacks held that seat from the mid-1970s until 1999 but lost control of it when Becky Nace, a white woman, was elected in 1999.

Nace held the post until 2007, when another white woman, Cindy Circo, was elected from the 5th at-large. Circo is now finishing up her second term and cannot seek re-election under the City Charter’s two-term limit.

Losing control of the seat irked Freedom officials because blacks comprise the majority in the 5th District, which encompasses much of southeast Kansas City.

“I feel good about this,” said Clinton Adams Jr., Freedom Inc. attorney. “Finally, we can break the cycle of (candidates) with limited support in the 5th district being elected at-large to represent a predominantly black district.”

Blacks currently hold the 3rd District and 3rd District at-large seats, as well as the 5th District seat, which Michael Brooks recently vacated in the wake of a well-deserved torrent of bad press.

The council consists of 13 members — six elected from districts, six at-large and the mayor.

The city primary election is April 7. With Garza Ruiz’ defection, Barnes and Dennis Anthony, the other remaining 5th District at-large candidate, will automatically advance to the general election in June.

Anthony, a former city employee with no name recognition or political experience, is not expected to be a factor. That means Barnes, a former Kansas City School Board member, should have an easy go of it in June.


Until today, Garza Ruiz, a high-profile member of the Jackson County Legislature, was the odds-on favorite to win the 5th District at-large seat. Barnes might have given her a good run, but she likely would have prevailed because of her name identity and political experience.



What brought Garza Ruiz down was a residency-related problem. The City Charter requires council members to have lived in their district boundaries for two years before the general election. In this case, the deadline was June 23, 2013.

Garza Ruiz produced records indicating she had moved, or was moving, from Blue Springs to Kansas City in March 2013. It wasn’t clear exactly when she moved, but the bigger problem was that Jackson County Election Board records show she voted in Blue Springs on April 2, 2013 — after she said she had moved to Kansas City.


Theresa Garza Ruiz

An attorney for Barnes filed a lawsuit, challenging Garza Ruiz’ residency and also alleging that she was guilty of voter fraud for voting from the Blue Springs address. Had the judge found Garza Ruiz guilty of voter fraud, she would have forfeited her right to ever again vote in Missouri.

With rare exceptions, Jackson County Circuit Court judges have been reluctant to strike candidates from ballots on residency challenges. But strong precedent exists for voter fraud, and that apparently is what prompted Garza Ruiz to get out of the race.

Not surprisingly, Garza Ruiz did not acknowledge that the possibility of being stricken from the voter rolls prompted her abdication. Instead she cited “personal issues that require my full focus at this time.”

With her out of the race, Barnes is now the odds-on favorite to win the 5th District at-large seat.


As some of you know, I worked with Freedom Inc. officials two years ago against Jackson County’s proposed half-cent translational medical research tax, which would have sent millions of dollars in public funds to two private, not-for-profit hospitals — Children’s Mercy and St. Luke’s.

I greatly admired Freedom’s principled stance against that proposal — which went down to an 86 percent to 14 percent drubbing — and I have worked with Freedom on a variety of political matters and issues since then.

Today I share Freedom officials’ satisfaction that an African-American probably will be reclaiming Kansas City’s 5th District at-large seat.

I sympathize, to some extent, with the Hispanic community, which suffered a big setback today…But in Lee Barnes, the council will be getting a humble man who will not seek the limelight and who, I believe, will look out for the interests of his constituents and all of Kansas City. 

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I hope some of you got to see a new true crime TV show last night called “See No Evil” on the Investigation Discovery Channel.

The subject was the 2007 kidnapping, rape and murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith of Overland Park.

Kelsey was one of those rape-and-murder victims — like Pamela Butler, Ann Harrison, Ali Kemp and Stephanie Schmidt — whose names we equate with the predatory layer of society that lurks, ever threateningly, around us.

Kelsey was 18, having just graduated from Shawnee Mission West and headed for Kansas State University in the fall of 2007. But she never made it through the summer:


Edwin Hall (Corrections Dept. photo)

A twisted 26-year-old man named Edwin R. Hall — who had been a ward of the state as a child and later threatened an adoptive sister with a knife — abducted her from a Target parking lot across from Oak Park Mall and forced her to drive to a wooded area near Longview Lake. There he had his way with her and then strangled her with her own belt, covered her body with sticks and drove off in her car.



I have more than a passing interest in this case because I know Kelsey’s father, Greg Smith, a former law enforcement officer and now a teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District.

In 2006, Greg and I were enrolled in Avila University’s teacher certification program. I had retired from The Star, and Greg was changing careers. We had at least two classes together — one in the fall of 2006 and I believe one in the spring of 2007. Greg always wore a ball cap and T-shirt to class, and in class he alluded to his law enforcement background more than once.

The last time I saw him was a few months ago, when I was substituting one day at a middle school (can’t recall which one) where he teaches. After I approached him and reminded him who I was, he greeted me warmly, and we had a brief and pleasant conversation.

In addition to teaching, Greg is a state senator. He first ran for state representative in 2010 and won, and two years later he won the Senate seat. Now, he teaches in the fall and then tends to his legislative duties in Topeka during spring semesters.

On his website he says this:

“My plans did not include being an elected official but circumstances have a way of influencing your life. The event that dramatically changed my life was the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of my daughter, Kelsey. Nothing I can do will bring Kelsey back but what I can do is use that event as the impetus to make a difference in the lives of my other children, my grandchildren, and in the lives of members of my community.”


Although very disturbing and heartbreaking, last night’s show was riveting and insightful. It focused on how Overland Park detectives painstakingly pieced together what had happened — and who did it — by poring over video from inside and outside the Target store and video from the Oak Park Mall parking lot, where Hall abandoned Kelsey’s Buick Regal after driving it back from where the murder took place.

The narrative was interspersed with re-enactments and interviews with police investigators and Greg and his wife, Missey Smith.

Kelsey Smith's family (from left) mother Missey Smith, dad,

Kelsey’s Smiths parents, Missey (left) and Greg; their daughter Stevie; and Kelsey’s boyfriend, John Biersmith, before a memorial service for Kelsey in 2007.

It wasn’t until investigators zoomed in on the video that they could see, for the first time after several viewings, a grainy figure jumping Kelsey as she was about to get into her car after leaving the Target store, where Hall first saw her and then stalked her for several minutes. The abduction happened in a flash — so fast and so effectively that, when I saw it, I immediately thought it must have been a practiced maneuver.

Later in the show, Sgt. Bob Miller of the Overland Park Police Department, talked about his own suspicion of previous criminal actions.

“We asked him about other murders in the Midwest,” Miller said, “and he said, ‘No, this is my first time of killing someone.’ My police instinct tells me it’s a lie.”

Hall, who is serving life in prison without parole, was not charged in any other murders. Before pleading guilty, however, he had been charged with two counts of aggravated indecent liberties, stemming from a 2004 consensual, sexual relationship with a 14-year-old girl.

At the time he was arrested, Hall was married.

After his arrest, his adoptive mother, Carol Hall, told the Emporia Gazette: “You think you can give them love and all those things they didn’t get, like support. It works with some, but with him, it didn’t.”


Near the end of the show, Missey Smith says this about Hall:

“I don’t think about him. I really don’t. He doesn’t matter in Kelsey’s story. He’s the means to the end of her life. But If I focus on him, then he takes more joy from my life, and I’m not going to allow that to happen.”

In the next frames, Greg Smith expresses an equally positive attitude, having achieved it only after years of grief.

“There’s a quote from Lincoln,” Greg says, “something to the effect of ‘It’s not the years in your life that matter; it’s the life in your years.’ And that’s Kelsey, and that’s her epitaph. It’s what we put on her headstone.”


Greg and Missey Smith should be an inspiration to us all — to be courageous in the face of tragedy and persevering in lives redirected by horrible luck…And let’s face it, but for good fortune, any of us parents could be walking in Greg’s and Missey’s shoes.

Note: From the Investigation Discovery Channel website, it does not appear that “See No Evil” will be replayed anytime soon.

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The Kansas City Star has undergone a lot of changes since I retired in 2006, and now a very big change is on the way.

This time, fortunately, change apparently won’t involve staff cuts.

But it will alter the basic look and direction of The Kansas City Star.

From what I gather, the biggest changes will be:

:: Shifting the focus from print to digital.

:: A redesign of both the print edition and the kansascity.com website.

:: The print-edition deadline moving up to 9.m. instead of about 11...The sports department is said to be particularly unhappy about that because, if true, it will be almost impossible to get the results of most Royals’ games and other 7 p.m. start-time events in the print edition.

A reliable source told me editor Mike Fannin laid out the plan at a meeting last Friday and said the changes would be phased in between now and September.

My source said the redesign probably will be along the lines of the Idaho Statesman, another McClatchy Co. paper that rolled out its redesign and new website early last week.

Also known as the “replica” edition, this is an electronic facsimile of the print edition. The reader can skim headlines and sections, and click on specific stories and photos for an enlarged view. (The New Yorker magazine went to the online replica several years ago, with the “zoom-in” feature, and it’s very easy to navigate.)

The Statesman is betting the e-edition will be a significant money-maker. For non-print subscribers, the Statesman digital package will be $9.99 a month or $99.99 for an annual subscription. As an introductory offer, the Statesman will give digital-only customers the first month for 99 cents.

If The Star follows the Statesman’s lead, it will continue to publish a print edition every day.

A big change at the Statesman’s is that there will be just four Sunday sections, including a separate sports section. Monday through Saturday, however, sports will go to the back of the A section.

Somehow, I have a hard time seeing The Star dropping its daily sports section. This is Kansas City, after all, and we have three major professional sports teams (the Chiefs, Royals and Sporting Kansas City) and four Division I schools (KU, K-State, Missouri and UMKC).

In addition, while other sections have shrunk (and some, like Metro, have gone away), sports has held its ground and is the biggest draw for many male subscribers. Indicative of the emphasis The Star puts on sports, just last week the Associated Press Sports Editors named The Star as a “Triple Crown” winner among large-circulation news organizations.

It was the fourth consecutive year The Star has won that honor.

To win the APSE’s version of  the Triple Crown, a paper must rank in the top 10 papers in three of four categories: daily coverage, Sunday section, special print section and website.

The Star made the top 10 in website, Sunday section and special section, the latter being the paper’s “Football 2014” section.


I’m a little surprised The Star hasn’t moved its focus to digital before now. But it’s all got to do with revenue. Print advertising is still the cash cow and newspapers haven’t been able to get nearly as much revenue from digital ads. As a result, papers have been shifting the financial balance from advertising to subscriptions, raising prices for print as well as online subscriptions. The Star bumped up its print subscription price at least 20 percent this year.

For the sake of the city and KC Star readers, I hope Fannin and publisher Mi-Ai Parrish are able to make this change work, and I hope the paper doesn’t lose too many readers in the transition. What Fannin and Parrish are betting on is any downturn in print subscriptions will be more than offset by an upswing in digital subscriptions, ideally from younger readers.

This is a long-term proposition for The Star: It will take years to determine if the digital part of the equation pans out.

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In the cat-and-mouse, high-stakes game between St. Louis and Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke, I am rooting hard for the city to emerge with a new riverfront stadium — and either keeping the Rams or getting another NFL team down the road.

With its many corporate headquarters, Heartland location and rich sports history, St. Louis is too good a city not to have an NFL team.

stadium site2But the main reason I want St. Louis to pull this off is that a new open-air, riverfront stadium in a blighted area north of the Edward Jones Dome would be a fabulous extension of the city’s $400 million “CityArchRiver” project, which is well underway.

As great an attraction as the Arch is, it has always been cut off from downtown by Interstate 44, which lies between the Arch and downtown, and has been hard to get to. In addition, the ground around the Arch has been very uninviting, just a big patch of unattractive and often-littered grass.

When Patty and I were there last year, we navigated our way in the car down to the riverfront area and parked a few blocks from the Arch in a lot that was chained off but not securely enough to keep me from squeezing past. Then we walked along a cobblestone, potentially ankle-busting street to get to the Arch grounds.

The key element to the CityArchRiver project is construction of a park over I-44, meaning people will be able to walk straight from downtown to the Arch grounds. When the project is completed, perhaps sometime next year, it should significantly increase visitor traffic to the Arch and make the experience of visiting the Arch grounds a memorable experience.


A park being built over I-44 (center) from the Old Courthouse to the Gateway Arch will allow people to walk from downtown to the Arch grounds.

The CityArchRiver project includes new spaces for events, expanded museum space, bicycle trails, children’s play areas and performance venues.


Of course, building a new stadium for the Rams — or another team the city might attract in the future — is going to be expensive. The new stadium would cost about $900 million, including more than $400 million in public funds.

The potential loss of the Rams got serious in January, when Kroenke, a Missouri boy who married a Walton girl, unveiled a plan to build a stadium in Inglewood, Calif., with his own money. The Rams can easily leave St. Louis because they are on a year-to-year lease, unlike the Chiefs long-term lease with Jackson County. 


Site of the proposed new open-air stadium. north of the Edward Jones Dome.

Fortunately, St. Louis didn’t just sit down and wring its hands. Gov. Jay Nixon — no doubt sick of being pummeled for his lack of leadership in the Ferguson upheaval last summer — jumped into action. He appointed a stadium task force, and this week Nixon announced a deal to move rail lines to make way for a new stadium just north of the existing Edward Jones Dome.

It would cost about $25 million to move the rail lines, and, as far as I can tell, it’s not yet clear who would pay.

Yesterday, St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz tipped his hat to Nixon for his hands-on approach to the Rams/riverfront situation. Miklasz said Nixon has had at least three recent discussions with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Miklasz said Nixon also participated Tuesday in a meeting that included the NFL’s executive vice president.

At the news conference where he announced the deal on the railroad tracks, Nixon sketched an alluring picture of a new, fleshed-out St. Louis riverfront. He said:

“This is a historic opportunity to bring hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to this area, build an iconic stadium that will stand the test of time, and transform these deserted streets into a thriving destination for residents, workers, tourists and football fans.”

If St. Louis can pull this off, I’ll be among the tourists visiting the new Arch grounds and possibly the stadium. And I’ll be parking downtown, not in a chained-off lot on a cobblestone street.

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I am in shock.

I was getting ready to go to bed when I made one last check of The New York Times website and saw, to my utter disbelief, that David Carr, the nation’s foremost observer of the media, collapsed and died tonight in The Times’ newsroom.

He died about 8 p.m. Kansas City time. He was 58.

Earlier in the evening he moderated a panel discussion about the film “Citizenfour,” a 2014 documentary film about Edward Snowden and the NSA spying scandal. Participating in the panel discussion was none other than Snowden, as well as the film’s director, Laura Poitras.

Dean Baquet, New York Times executive editor, said of Carr, “He was the finest media reporter of his generation, a remarkable and funny man who was one of the leaders of our newsroom.”


David Carr

For the past several years, the first thing I went to in the Monday morning Times was Carr’s column, “The Media Equation,” where he dissected a media matter that had been on his mind or the simmering media issue of the day.

His last “Media Equation” column, published Monday, was about NBC’s Brian Williams having lied about riding in a helicopter that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade during the Iraq War. The story was utter balderdash, and Carr began his column like this:

“For some time now, there have been two versions of Brian Williams. One is an Emmy-winning, sober, talented anchor on the “NBC Nightly News” and the other is a funny, urbane celebrity who hosts “Saturday Night Live,” slow-jams the news with Jimmy Fallon and crushes it in every speech and public appearance he makes.

“Each of those personas benefited the other, and his fame and appeal grew accordingly, past the anchor chair he occupied every weeknight and into a realm of celebrity that reaches all demographics and platforms. Even young people who wouldn’t be caught dead watching the evening news know who Mr. Williams is.

“Which is good until it isn’t.”

And doesn’t that just about sum up the Brian Williams saga — the story of a TV anchor who got so caught up in his celebrity status that sticking to the facts was no longer enough to satisfy the ego?

Carr wasn’t shy about pointing out his own shortcomings. I recall, especially, a column a few months ago about Bill Cosby. Carr wrote:

“In 2011, I did a Q. and A. with Mr. Cosby for Hemispheres magazine, the in-flight magazine of United Airlines, and never found the space or the time to ask him why so many women had accused him of drugging and then assaulting them.

“We all have our excuses, but in ignoring these claims, we let down the women who were brave enough to speak out publicly against a powerful entertainer.”


Adding to his mystique — and, more important, a credit to his genius and his ability to pull himself from the depths — Carr was a former drug addict.

In his 2008 memoir, “The Night of the Gun,” he related that he became addicted to crack cocaine and lived with a woman who was both a drug dealer and the mother of his twin daughters. He told about a night when the girls were infants that he left them in a car while he went into a house to score some coke from a dealer named Kenny.

“I decided that my teeny twin girls would be safe, that God would look after them while I did not,” he wrote.

In a 2008 article called “Me and My Girls” in the Times Sunday Magazine, Carr wrote that being an addict is being “a cognitive acrobat.”

He explained:

“You spread versions of yourself around, giving each person the truth he or she needs — you need, actually — to keep them at a remove. Let’s stipulate that I do not have a good memory, having recklessly sautéed my brain in fistfuls of pharmaceutical spices. Beyond impairment, there may be no more unreliable narrator than an addict. Recovered or not, I am someone who used my mouth to constantly create one more opportunity to get high.

“Here is what I deserved: hepatitis C, federal prison time, H.I.V., a cold park bench, an early, addled death.

“Here is what I got: the smart, pretty wife, the three lovely children, the job that impresses.”


Carr joined The Times in 2002 as a business reporter, covering magazine publishing.

Earlier, he was a contributing writer for The Atlantic Monthly and New York magazine. He also served as editor of the Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly in Washington, D.C., and before that he was editor of a Minneapolis-based alternative weekly called The Twin Cities Reader.

…In other words, Carr went from editing a paper like the Pitch in Kansas City to being the top media writer for the nation’s foremost paper.

I think about the best way I can describe Carr is that he was a clear-thinking, intelligible version of the late Hunter Thompson, the prominent Rolling Stone magazine writer.

Damn, he was good! I am really, really going to miss him.

Survivors include his wife, Jill Rooney Carr, an event planner, and their daughter Maddie. His twins, by an earlier relationship, are named Erin and Meagan.

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Quite a few bones to chew on today. Try these:

:: It continues to mystify me why people and institutions are so reluctant to admit wrongdoing when caught lying or cheating at the expense of their personal credibility or that of the organizations they represent.

We’ve got two such cases going on now, one local and one national.

The local case, of course, is UMKC and the scandal surrounding the Bloch business school’s falsification of data to get inflated academic rankings for the business school.

UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton’s first response was to take responsibility for problems in three very narrow areas but not for the whole megillah: Oh, no, we didn’t do all that!

As a result, Morton looked foolish in the face of The Kansas City Star’s expose, which first broke seven months ago and was recently confirmed by an accounting firm’s investigation.

Inevitably, though, Morton had to give more ground, and he chose to do it yesterday on KCUR’s “Up to Date” program, with Steve Kraske, who now teaches at UMKC.

“This is very serious to me because this is not what we are about, and I want everyone to know that we are addressing it in a very serious way,” he said.

…Well, I’m glad Morton is finally getting serious about this serious situation, but I think his institution has lost an awful lot of credibility, not only by cheating but also failing to accept full responsibility until well past the point that all the cards were face up on the table.

By extension, the fiasco hurts Kansas City, too. It’s our university, our state-supported, higher-learning institution. As a proud Kansas Citian, I don’t like it when cheaters get one of our institutions unwelcome headlines. And it bothers me even more when the people in charge refuse to stand up and take full responsibility for wrongdoing.

:: The second case, of course, is NBC’s Brian Williams, who today was suspended without pay for six months for creating and perpetuating a false story about being on a helicopter in Iraq that was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

His first explanation was just as lame as Morton’s. He said he “conflated” the helicopter he was on with one that was really hit. That one was traveling an hour ahead of the helicopter Williams was in.

Before he was outed by troops who were on the helicopter that came under fire, Williams ranked as the 23rd most-trusted person in the country, according to Marketing Arm, a research firm that tracks celebrity perception through online polls of consumers.

On Monday, however, Williams plummeted to No. 835, which puts him on the same level as the main duck on “Duck Dynasty.”

…I’m glad to see that NBC executives acted relatively swiftly and brought the hammer down hard. I’m also not sure that Williams will be back in the anchor chair after his suspension. That’s a long time to be out of the public view. It’s also a long time for Lester Holt, acting anchor — or someone else — to make people forget Williams. That might be what NBC executives had in mind with this long-term suspension — marginalize Williams and see how things unfold, keeping their options open.

:: While I’m in a complaining mood, I want to drop this discussion down a few notches and tell you one of my personal peeves.

In obituaries, mostly, you’ll see this once in a while: “He (she) was a devout Catholic.”

That goofy term was in an obituary today for Michele Theresa Gould, a 54-year-old Leawood woman who died Sunday. Here’s the term in the context of a full sentence of the obit:

“Michele was a was a devout Catholic and was an active parishioner at Nativity Parish School and Church.”

Now, I’m not taking anything at all away from Mrs. Gould or the family member or members who wrote the obituary.

But just what the hell does it mean being a devout Catholic?

Is a devout Catholic a couple of tiers above someone who is just “a Catholic”?

Does being a devout Catholic mean you get a press pass to heaven without a stop in purgatory?

And where does that leave lowly Protestants?

Or somebody like me, who was a Catholic but flew the coop after becoming disillusioned with the “we-are-the-chosen, we’ve-got-all-the-answers” attitude that permeates some of the rank and file and much of the church hierarchy.

So, here’s how I want that part of my obituary to read. (Patty, are you paying attention? Patty? Patty?)

“…Jim was a member of Saint Andrew Christian Church, Olathe, and a devout member of the Disciples of Christ denomination. He didn’t rank up there with devout Catholics but, by God, he gave them a run for their money.”

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One of the things I love about The New York Times is the special, unexpected, innovative features it periodically offers.

A case in point, today, is “The Sounds of the Downhill,” an interactive post that is the “centerpiece” of the paper’s home page. Through a body- or helmet-mounted camera fixed to a world-class skier, the two-plus minute feature takes you on an entire downhill run on a competitive ski course. It’s like you are riding piggyback with the skier as he whooshes along, tilting and turning past red course markers that come and go in the flash of an eye. You hear the sounds of rushing wind; the low-crushing skis on ice; and the skier’s voice, describing what he’s feeling and hearing.

It is an amazing piece of video. It took at least four people — those named in the credits — to put it together.

This is where The Times stands head and shoulders above other papers. It invests in technology and integrates it into its coverage of news and feature stories. It does not cut corners, and it is willing to spend whatever it takes to stay on top.

:: If you like “NBC Nightly News” and anchor Brian Williams, you might want to grab a freeze frame of Brian because he might not be occupying the anchor chair much longer.

That’s the way I see it, anyway, after news surfaced yesterday that Williams’ longstanding claim that he was in a helicopter that was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) in 2003 is untrue.

This story has been all over the news yesterday and today.

Williams, whose newscast has led the network ratings for most of the last decade, has said several times in recent years that he was aboard a U.S. Army helicopter when it was hit by an RPG on one of the first days of the Iraq War in 2003.



As recently as last Friday, while honoring a veteran on “NBC Nightly News,” Williams recounted how his helicopter was “forced down after being hit by an RPG.”

He was actually aboard a different helicopter.

Williams’ fabrication came to light when Flight Engineer Lance Reynolds, who really was on the helicopter that was hit with an RPG, posted a comment on the “NBC Nightly News” Facebook page. Reynolds wrote:

“Sorry dude, I don’t remember you being on my aircraft. I do remember you walking up about an hour after we had landed to ask me what had happened. Then I remember you guys taking back off in a different flight of Chinooks from another unit and heading to Kuwait to report your ‘war story’ to the Nightly News. The whole time we were still stuck in Iraq trying to repair the aircraft…”

Reynolds told Stars and Stripes: “It was something personal for us that was kind of life-changing for me. I’ve know how lucky I was to survive it. It felt like a personal experience that someone else wanted to participate in and didn’t deserve to participate in.”

Williams then fessed up in a Facebook post of his own, saying:

“I spent much of the weekend thinking I’d gone crazy.  I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp.  Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

Interesting, don’t you think?

:: “I have no desire to dramatize events as they actually happened.” Really? No desire whatsoever to make yourself seem a little larger in life than you actually are?

:: “…the fog of memory…made me conflate the two.” Conflation? Fog of memory? Nope. The euphemistic word he should have used was “mislead,” as in, “I don’t know what prompted me to mislead.”

CNN reported today that the network “stood by Williams’ apology and had nothing further to say.”

CNN went on to say that others within the news division had said off the record that “shock and disbelief about Williams’ foggy-memory explanation” was widespread.

…My guess is NBC executives will hold their collective finger in the air and see how strongly the wind blows. The network would love to keep Williams, but if the blowback gets too strong, with falling ratings, he’ll be ushered out.

You already know what I think — and I hope most of you agree: He should be fired today. How can a news organization — any news organization — that prides itself on going after “the truth” and getting to the bottom of stories keep a liar as the face of its operation?

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