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Archive for June, 2017

During the time Patty and I were driving back from St. Louis last Sunday, a 29-year-old St. Louis area man, Casey Saunders, was killed in a bike race after he crashed into a metal barrier at the corner of 18th and Oak streets here in Kansas City.

I don’t know about you, but when I hear about particularly heartbreaking tragedies, I often think about where I was and what I might have been doing at the time of the tragedy.

I guess it’s because of the shocking contrast between the moments surrounding a fellow human being’s encounter with violent death and the contemporaneous, uneventful moments (at least so far) for me.

When Casey Saunders hit that barrier about 1:30 p.m. during the Tour of Kansas City race, we were westbound on either I-64 or I-70. I don’t recall exactly what time we left St. Louis — where we had attended a wedding Saturday night — but I started out driving and Patty soon took over because I drive too slowly to suit her.

I don’t remember if she had taken over by 1:30, but, whatever the case, it was a blessedly uneventful trip.

I also don’t remember if we heard about the Kansas City tragedy that night or the next morning. In any event, like most people who read or heard about the incident, we wondered exactly what had happened.

For several days, no details emerged. Today, however, The Star’s Joe Robertson pinned it down in a front-page story. The main problem was that the barriers separating bystanders from the racers were not bound together. The racers were westbound on 18th, turning north onto Oak, when Casey got tangled up with another racer on the turn and was carried wide. He hit one of the barriers hard, knocking it backward. Then, Robertson said, “he flew over his handlebars at the suddenly exposed hard edge of the next barrier, slamming it with his forehead.”

Before the race resumed, workers tied the barriers together with zip ties.

Robertson’s reporting makes it clear this was an avoidable tragedy. While proper race course set-up would not have prevented the crash, in all likelihood it would have prevented Casey’s death.

As is often the case, the tragedy can be traced to a failed link in the chain of events leading up to the fatal incident.

The race was sanctioned by USA Cycling, which establishes regulations and assigns officials. When USA Cycling sets up barriers for championship races, it secures the barriers. In this case, however, Tour of Kansas City was responsible for setting up the course, and tour officials apparently delegated barrier set-up to a vendor, who, for whatever reason, didn’t tie the barriers together. Robertson did not attempt to address whether or not the vendor was instructed to secure the barriers.

On that point, Scott Ogilvie, a close friend of Casey, said in a Facebook message to me today that he had not made inquiries on that point. “If anyone is exploring that, it’s probably USA Cycling because they permit and insure the events,” he wrote.

**

Michael “Casey” Saunders lived in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood. Cycling was a big part of his life. He worked full time at Big Shark Bicycle Co., which has two locations in St. Louis City and one in Chesterfield, in St. Louis County.

Survivors include his parents, a grandfather and three sisters. His obituary also referenced his “loving soul mate,” Maria Elena Esswein, who had traveled to Kansas City with Casey for the race.

A memorial service was held Thursday at a funeral home on Manchester Road in Kirkwood.

Apparently, he had been a Boy Scout. The obituary said…

Casey lived his life according to the Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

This photo of Casey and Maria appears on the Facebook page of his friend Scott Ogilvie.

Ogilvie said of Maria: “She’s a very strong rider too and they did some great rides together. One of their first encounters was when he stopped to help her fix a flat during a mountain bike race.”

That’s a great “how-they-met” story. It’s a damn shame they didn’t get to spend a lot more time together.

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At a City Hall hearing this morning, I witnessed the breadth and depth of the forces that have aligned behind financing a new airport terminal with private funds — an approach I think is risky and far too costly.

The public hearing was before a joint session of two City Council committees, the Airport Committee and the Finance and Governance Committee. The issue at hand was an ordinance, sponsored by Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, that calls for the city to be in charge of constructing a new airport instead of relinquishing control to Burns & McDonnell or another private company.

Katheryn Shields

Specifically, Shields’ ordinance provides for the city Aviation Department to issue up to $990 million in revenue bonds, which would be paid off with an estimated $85 million a year in revenue generated by airport operations, including airline gate rentals and per-passenger fees the airlines have to pay the city. Also going toward the $85 million a year would be the city’s share of concessions and parking revenue.

About 10 people — many of them representing groups with vested interests — testified at the hearing. And all but one — me — spoke against the public-financing option. (The committee took no action on the ordinance; it will be considered again at a future meeting.)

A few people specifically expressed support for the widely publicized Burns and Mac proposal, including Patrick “Duke” Dujakovich, president of the Greater Kansas City AFL-CIO, who called Burns and Mac “the hometown team.” Dujakovich is a key figure in the debate because his organization represents most of the building and construction trades unions whose workers who would build the terminal.

Others who spoke in favor of private financing included representatives of organizations that advocate for women- and minority-owned construction firms.

A common assertion of the private-financing advocates was that Kansas City voters would be more likely to approve a project that is done with private funds as opposed to city-issued revenue bonds.

That may be true — at least right now, before an election date has been set and a campaign has been launched — but there are some significant down sides to private financing.

For one thing, I basically don’t like the idea of ceding control of the biggest project in city history to a private company — any private company. The overarching goal of any private company is, first and foremost, to make a profit. The city’s mission, on the other hand — and that of any public entity, by extension — is to provide good facilities and services for the public. Nobody at City Hall is going to get a $100,000 bonus if the project turns out well.

But the main advantage to the city retaining control and issuing revenue bonds is it could obtain financing at an interest rate 1 1/2 to 2 percent lower than what a private company would have to pay to borrow the money from conventional sources, such as insurance companies.

In remarks at today’s hearing, Shields estimated that over the life of a 30-to-35-year bond issue, the interest savings could be as much as $400 million. A local bond expert who was at the meeting told me privately he thought the difference would be closer to $200 million.

As I told the committee members, though, whether it’s $200 million, $300 million or $400 million, that is a ton of money, enough to constitute “an overpowering argument” in favor of public financing.

Shields emphasized that all the money needed to pay off city-issued revenue bonds would come from the airlines, plus concession and parking operations. General city revenue would not be tapped and would not be at risk. (As an aside, the Aviation and Water departments are the city’s only two “enterprise departments,” so named because they operate completely on the revenue they generate from their operations and fees rather than on general city tax revenue.)

Burns and Mac has attempted to counter the financing disparity by asserting it could build the new terminal in four years instead of the six that the city has estimated. But as I told the committee today, you never know what’s going to happen in a major construction project, and predictions on how long it will take to finish a major project are educated guesses, at best.

For example, early in my career as a KC Star reporter, I covered construction of the Truman Sports Complex. Along the way, a construction trades strike developed, and work came to a halt. The general contractor was helpless. And Jackson County, which had issued voter-approved general-obligation bonds to build the stadiums, could do little. It was so bad county officials fired the executive director of the Sports Complex Authority and replaced him with someone they thought could help resolve the impasse. Work eventually resumed, but precious weeks were lost.

(Coincidentally, yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the vote to approve the sports-complex bonds.)

Arrowhead Stadium, being built in 1970

**

Another issue that came up today, as I alluded to earlier, was the perceived lack of voter confidence in the city’s ability to pay off nearly $1 billion in revenue bonds.

To that I say balderdash.

On April 4, Kansas City voters dramatically and resoundingly demonstrated their confidence in the city when they overwhelmingly approved an $800 million general obligation bond issue to address a variety of needs, including new sidewalks, road and bridge maintenance, flood control, a new animal shelter and upgrades to city buildings to comply with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

Here’s how I closed my remarks today:

“If the need is clearly demonstrated, the financing well explained, and if residents are presented with an appealing design, I think we will have a successful airport election and we’ll all be winners — even those who are loath to part with their beloved horseshoe terminals at KCI.”

I fully believe that. I also believe it’s crazy to fork over $200 million or more in unnecessary interest payments. Eventually, that money could be spent on airport operations, amenities and additional improvements, instead of pissing it away on interest.

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If I could get my hands on the nuclear code right now, I’d be sorely tempted to blow North Korea into oblivion.

Is this the saddest thing you can ever imagine: 22-year-old Otto Warmbier lying in what amounts to a persistent vegetative state in a Cincinnati hospital after the North Koreans sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor for a moment of bad judgment and then did something to him to trigger a heart attack or other event that deprived his brain of oxygen?

It is unbelievable and as depressing as about anything could be.

Fred Warmbier, on Thursday

Today, his father, Fred Warmbier, said at a news conference Otto had become “fodder” for the Kim Jong-un regime after being lured into visiting the country by a Chinese travel company that said its customers were never detained while on a tour there. At the news conference, Fred Warmbier wore the light-colored sport coat his son wore in North Korean court appearances.

Was bad judgment a factor here? Of course. He was crazy to go to North Korea…If for no other reason, the vast majority of sensible people would not go to North Korea because they’d be following the lead of a notorious nut job, former NBA player Dennis Rodman.

In Otto’s defense, however, he was an adventurous sort, having traveled overseas several times, including to twice to Europe as well as to Israel, Ecuador and Cuba. When asked about her reaction to her son’s desire to travel to North Korea, his mother, Cindy Warmbier, told The Washington Post two months ago, “Why would you say no to a kid like this?”

Otto, with his mother Cindy, in happier times

Mistake No. 2 was stealing a propaganda sign from a staff-only floor of the Yanggakdo International Hotel in Pyongyang. The poster said, “Let’s arm ourselves strongly with Kim Jong-il’s patriotism!”

Yanggakdo International Hotel

Kim Jong-il preceded Kim Jong-un. It is not clear if Otto, when he took the poster, realized that harming items with the name or image of a North Korean leader is considered a serious crime by the regime. 

On top of his errors of judgment, Otto also caught a terrible break. On Jan. 2, 2016, he was apprehended at the airport just before boarding a flight to come back home.

On March 16, 2016, two hours after U.S. envoy Bill Richardson met with two North Korean diplomats from the United Nations office to press for his release, Otto was sentenced. He is believed to have suffered the heart attack, or other life-threatening event, within a month or two after that.

For a long time, Otto’s parents followed the Obama administration’s advice to stay quiet so as not to antagonize or offend leaders in North Korea. So much for that strategy. Recently, they began speaking out.

When asked today whether he believes the Obama administration could have done more to secure Otto’s release, Fred Warmbier replied, “I think the results speak for themselves.”

The Warmbiers are from a small town about 20 minutes north of Cincinnati called Wyoming. Otto graduated from Wyoming High School in 2013. At the time of his trip to North Korea, he was a junior at the University of Virginia, where he was studying for a double major degree in commerce and economics. He has two younger siblings.

Being dragged to or from a North Korean court in March 2016

On April 28, before it was known that Otto had been in a coma for months, The Washington Post ran a feature story on Fred and Cindy Warmbier. The headline was: “Worried about North Korea? Spare a thought for Otto Warmbier’s family.”

The story quoted Fred Warmbier as saying, “We’ve not seen or heard from Otto in 16 months. We don’t know if Otto still exists.”

He does, but just barely…And now we need to spare a lot more than a thought for the Warmbier family. They need all the prayers and empathy we can collectively muster. And that’s not close to enough for that terribly unlucky family.

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About the only “good radio” available anywhere these days is National Public Radio, which most of us in the Kansas City area access through the local NPR affiliate, KCUR-FM, 89.3.

But, alas, even NPR occasionally disappoints its listeners, and just such a disappointment occurred this morning during coverage of a huge story — the shooting in Alexandria, VA, of U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and four other people, including two Capitol Police officers.

Ultimately, the shooter, identified as 66-year-old James Hodgkinson of Belleville, IL, was shot and killed, either by the Capitol Police officers, who served as security guards for Scalise, or Alexandria police.

Steve Inskeep

About 9:30 this morning, as I was driving home from the bank and listening to Morning Edition, one of the show’s hosts, Steve Inskeep, announced he had on the line Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, who had been at the baseball field and witnessed the entire event.

Brooks started by recounting how, while standing with a bat near the third-base line, “I heard this loud ‘blam!’ ”

He turned toward where the sound had come from and saw a man shooting a rifle through the holes of a chain-link fence that extended down and outside of the third-base line. Then, he heard someone scream “active shooter!”

Vulnerable and out in the open, Brooks ran toward the batting cage and got down behind a plastic shield at the base of the cage. Realizing the plastic wouldn’t be much help, he then ran toward and dove into the first-base dugout, the floor of which was a foot or so below ground level.

Other players had also taken cover there, and one of them, a congressional staff member, had been shot in the calf. Brooks said he pulled the belt off his shorts and tied it around the man’s leg to slow the blood flow.

Next, Brooks said he began hearing gunshots coming from the dugout and at first thought it could be a second shooter. Instead…”It was a Capitol Police officer who was using the cinder-block dugout area for cover, and he was shooting from around the edge (of the dugout).”

Moments later, as Brooks recounted how the officer was shooting “”across the baseball diamond,” Inskeep interrupted him, saying…

“Congressman, I’m obliged to stop you there for the moment. If you’ll stay on the line, we’d like to come back after a short break — which we’re required to take for our NPR stations — and hear more of your story.”

…It was very disconcerting and frustrating to have the Congressman’s story interrupted, but I thought the break would last a minute or two and then it would be back to his story.

But no. That was at 9:40 a.m. After station identification, it was on to several minutes of national news. Then several minutes of local news. Then to a lengthy local story from KCUR’s Dan Margolies, who’s a great reporter but the last person I wanted to be hearing from just then.

To my dismay, I soon realized that we listeners of KCUR would not be hearing the rest of Brooks’ compelling story.

At the top of the hour, it was another round of national news and then on to the ever-riveting Gina Kaufman and her local Central Standard show.

Within minutes, we were exposed to radio at its best and radio at its worst. It’s a damn shame that NPR is so rigid that it had to break off precisely when it did. Certainly, Inskeep, veteran that he is, could have wrung out another minute or two! What’s the worst that could have happened? The KCUR staff would have had to adjust on the fly and cut a minute or two of local programming and news.

I blame Inskeep. He should have held off on the break and found a way to wrap up the story, even if it meant breaking the agreement NPR has with its affiliates…This was a monster story. There are times for exceptions, and this was one of them.

…Later, I went to the NPR website and saw that, indeed, Inskeep had kept Brooks on the line and had given him about three more minutes of air time…at some point.

In Round Two of the interview, Brooks recounted how he and two other Congressmen, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Brad Wenstrip of Ohio, went to the aid of Scalise, who, after being shot in the hip, had dragged himself from near second base to the outfield grass. At the direction of Wenstrup, a podiatrist, Brooks applied pressure to Scalise’s wound with a cloth.

“He was conscious,” Brooks said, referring to Scalise. “You could tell he was in pain; he was immobile.”

Brooks concluded by expressing “tremendous gratitude” to the Capitol Police. “But for them, it would have been a massacre,” he said.

It was good to get the second part of the interview, but I imagine very few KCUR listeners got to hear it, online or elsewhere.

That was bad radio, a tremendous disservice to listeners not only in Kansas City but around the country.

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Despite the lurching, neck-snapping ride Mayor Sly James has put Kansas City residents and fellow City Council members through on his drive for a single-terminal airport, real progress is now starting to be made.

A clearer direction is coming into focus because at least one key council member is moving decisively to take the reins away from James, whose impatience and secretiveness set the airport proposal careening down pit road.

Yes, the city is still fooling around with the Burns & McDonnell, private-finance, private-build proposal, which James hatched last month. And, yes, the city is going to accept other private proposals and will give interested companies at least a few additional weeks to assemble their proposals.

That’s all well and good. The best news, however, is that Councilwoman Katheryn Shields has introduced an ordinance that would do the project the right way: It would put the city back in the driver’s seat.

Katheryn Shields

The ordinance, which she introduced at last Thursday’s council meeting would authorize a Nov. 7 election on a proposal for the city to issue up to $990 million in airport revenue bonds. It also provide for “a  competitive bidding process for any construction.”

Now, we can argue about the timing of an election — it might be best to carry it over to next spring — but I cannot overestimate the importance of the two main elements of Shields’ ordinance.

James threw this whole process into reverse when he played the Burns and Mac card. It threw not only the public for a loop but a majority of the other council members. It took a while for them to collect themselves and realize that all the mayor had really done was launched an unguided missile.

Shields, who’s got more elective experience than any other council member, has contended all along that the city could do the job cheaper because it would get a significantly lower interest rate on bonds it issued than bonds, or loans, issued or arranged by private interests. Burns and Mac acknowledges that point but says it can make up the difference by building the terminal in four years instead of the six that the city has projected.

I say balderdash. Maybe Burns and Mac could do it faster, maybe not. Who knows what’s going to happen? When the Truman Sports Complex was being built in the early 1970s, a building and construction trades strike delayed construction for months. That could happen again. Anything could happen. All in all, it’s hard for me to see how a private deal can beat a public deal involving probably at least a hundred million dollars less in interest payments.

The two main objections to having the city in the driver’s seat are: 1) some people, maybe many, worry that there wouldn’t be enough revenue to pay off the bonds, leaving the city on the hook, and 2) a lot of people just don’t trust the city to properly monitor a project this big.

To the first point, there’s going to be plenty of revenue. It’s going to come primarily from the airlines — in the form of landing fees and gate rentals — and parking and concession fees. Does anyone really think fewer people are going to use a new, more appealing airport? Does anyone really think fewer planes are going to be coming into and going out of Kansas City? Ridiculous. It’s going to grow and grow fast. The Kansas City area is experiencing breathtaking growth and expansion, and people are not going to decide they want to drive from here to California, even if gas prices stay at $2.20 for the next five years.

To the second point, no one expects the Aviation Department, as presently constituted and staffed, to oversee all aspects of the construction of a new, billion-dollar airport. But just as the City Council hired two law firms to help it sort through the various contractual approaches being considered, it could hire a team of full-time airport consultants and advisers to oversee construction. I’m sure there are any number of experts who would be thrilled to move here for five or six years and get paid handsomely to make sure the job is done right.

Finally, the last and best reason to keep this a publicly controlled lies at the basic distinction between public and private.

Private companies, while they generally strive to produce good products and do quality work, are motivated by one overarching goal: to make money. There would be ample motivation for Burns and Mac, or another company, to do right by the city and Kansas City area residents. However, as we have seen time and time again — i.e., Volkswagen cheating on emissions and General Motors covering up faulty, life-taking ignition switches — profit reigns above all else, in the end.

On the other hand, government — whether you like it or not — is not out to make a profit. No matter how good the new terminal ends up being, the aviation director is not going to be in a position to dole out tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonuses to the troops. Government’s overarching mission, at every level, is to look out for the public welfare and public safety, provide good services and facilities, and improve the quality of life for all citizens.

Call me Polyanna, call me a hopeless Democrat, but plant me 100 percent behind Katheryn Shields’ proposal: Trust municipal government to get this done at the best price and with a minimum of hanky panky. If Burns and Mac wants to do the job for the city and comes in with the “lowest and best bid,” that’s fine.

What we should not do is entrust a billion-dollar airport job to a private company — lock, stock and barrel — and then close our eyes, cross our fingers and hope the company doesn’t screw us before it’s all over.

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You probably saw this photo at some point yesterday…


It’s a remarkable photo by Doug Mills, a 15-year veteran of The New York Times. (The larger it runs, the better it looks. Unfortunately, this is as big as I can run it.)

It is such a standout photo The Times wrote a story about it in today’s edition. The headline was, “A Comey Photo Storms the Internet.”

It earned tens of thousands of “upvotes” on Reddit, a social news aggregation and web-content rating website.

Doug Mills (2011 photo)

Scores of photographers were in the room for the Comey hearing and all were hoping for a memorable shot. Mills, it seems, got the one that stood out.

He mapped out his game plan well in advance, getting to the hearing room shortly after 5 a.m. — about five hours before the hearing began.

From there, in Mills’ words, is how the photo came together…

“I…set up three remote cameras: one behind the chairman; one in the ‘well,’ looking up at Mr. Comey’s chair; and one way in the back, looking out over the whole room.

“With hearings like this one, I have to preconceive the scene. I make a layout in my mind of everything that’s going to happen: the moment he arrives, the moment he sits down, the moment he raises his hand to be sworn in. And I set up my cameras to capture all those moments, to be fired remotely, all at the same time. (When I fired the picture of Mr. Comey surrounded by the press, I had the three other cameras firing too.)

“I put my fourth camera up on a full-length monopod and held it as high as I could. I pre-focused the shot ahead of time, and spent a little time making sure the image would be sharp. And, as more people arrived, I thought, ‘There’s no way I can’t put all these photographers into the foreground of the picture.’ So I took three or four steps back and zoomed out a bit.

“I wasn’t sure how well things would line up — where Mr. Comey would be, or what would be behind him. But, as it turned out, he was perfectly framed by the chairs behind him. Even before I looked at the picture, I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to be nice.’ ”

A monopod is a staff, or pole, on which a camera can be mounted. It was with the monopod that Mills got the head-on photo of Comey, with the other photographers pushing forward.

It appears from a photo that Mills took with another camera — one pointed toward the area where the senators were seated — that only one or possibly two other photographers had monopods. So he had an edge on most of the others in the equipment department.

Mills said crowd in the hearing room was as big as any he has ever seen.

“When I arrived this morning,” he said, “people were running at full speed down the hallways to try to get into the visitors’ line. They were actually running down the hallways — mostly young people who were going to stand in line for the seats open to the public. By 7 a.m. the line was as far as you can see.”

One of the most satisfying aspects of the photo is that it was on The Times’ home page in minutes, thanks to the wonders of technology.

“I use a Wi-Fi hot spot to send my pictures directly to the photo editors in New York,” Mills said, “and I can send them straight from my camera, so it happens very quickly. With this particular photo, I alerted my editor with a text message beforehand: ‘Sending you a nice picture now.’ A little while later, I saw that people were posting it on Twitter — so I knew it made it.”

…In today’s print edition, The Times ran the photo across 10 columns, straddling pages A16 and A17.

It was a thing of beauty. And you might be hearing more about it next year, when the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners are announced.

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Reporting on a nighttime deadline is a lot different from crafting a story all day long — or all week, month or year, depending on the nature of the story — and The Star and many other metropolitan dailies are now doing a lot less true deadline reporting.

Yes, reporters are under deadline pressure to get stories on the Internet as soon as possible, but most of those can easily be edited, augmented or pared down after the first version has gone “up.”

Because of relatively early deadlines and much-diminished staffing, however, many papers don’t routinely cover nighttime developments, unless they are really big.

Such a story occurred last night, when, remarkably, the Kansas Legislature voted to roll back Gov. Sam Brownback’s 5-year-old tax cuts, which plunged the state into operational uncertainty and a long period of strangulation-level budgets.

The vote in Topeka was historic, partly because it took a two-thirds majority to override Brownback’s recent veto of the same tax-increase bill.

Unfortunately, The Star’s latter-day lack of experience in covering breaking, nighttime stories was on full display in last night’s Web version of the story as well as in today’s print edition.

The Star’s Topeka correspondent, Hunter Woodall, a young reporter who was assigned to the legislative “beat” early this year, got the key element of the story — the override — but failed to address the critical issue of the raw vote count in the context of the two-thirds majority.

In the third paragraph of his story, Woodall said: “The Senate vote was 27 to 13, and the House followed by agreeing 88 to 31 to supersede the Republican governor’s wishes on the tax plan…”

Not a word, though, there or later, about how many votes it took to hit the two-thirds level in either chamber.

In fact, 27 was the precise number of votes needed to override in the Senate, and 84 was the number needed in the House.

That is important information, and virtually every experienced reporter would recognize that and put it high in the story.

For example, John Hanna, a 30-year, Associated Press reporter in Kansas, expounded on the two-thirds issue in the fifth paragraph of his story — a version The Star did not run because it relies on its own reporter, Woodall, for firsthand legislative coverage.

Hanna wrote: “The Senate’s vote to override 27-13, exactly the two-thirds majority required. The vote in the House was 88-31, giving supporters of the bill four votes more than a two-thirds majority.”

If you’ll notice, the first sentence is missing a verb, but I’ll give Hanna a pass on that, attributing the oversight to fast writing. Woodall doesn’t get a pass, though; he simply ignored that important element of the story. Contributing to the damage, neither his front-line editor nor the copy editor who gave the story a final read and added the headline bailed him out.

**

I heard about the override about 11 p.m. while returning home from Kauffman Stadium with Patty and two friends. One of the friends was checking The Star’s site on her phone and announced the legislative development, to our collective shock.

My first question was what the vote count was. The friend said it was 27 to 13 in the Senate. I said, “How many votes did it take to get the two-thirds?” She scoured the story but couldn’t find the answer. We then did the math in our heads and calculated that 27 was precisely the number needed, assuming the total number of votes — 40 — represented the full complement of senators. But most readers don’t know that, either.

After getting home, I took a closer look at the story, thinking — surely, surely — Woodall had included the two-thirds information somewhere in the story. Alas, no, not there — nor in today’s print edition.

…A long time ago, one of my first editors said something I took to heart and never forgot:

“Don’t make the reader do the math.”

It’s a great rule, and Woodall is one of many reporters who have broken it. We can only hope this rebuke will cure him of future violations.

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