Archive for January, 2021

This is a story about journalistic accountability.

Working as a reporter or editor at The New York Times is a great honor and privilege but carries with it tremendous risk and responsibility.

If you screw up at The Times, you will pay a price. Depending on the degree of the screw-up, it can be a career killer.

Several reporters and editors are now squirming as a result of a podcast series, called “Caliphate,” that went horribly awry.

Already, leadership of The Times’ audio department has changed; the chief reporter on the series has been reassigned; and just about everyone else who played a major role in the podcast is undoubtedly anxious about what further consequences there may be.

The two highest-profile people involved in the shipwreck are Michael Barbaro, who has shot to fame with the NYT’s popular podcast “The Daily,” and Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor who is a member of the Sulzberger family, which controls the paper.

Michael Barbaro

(A few years ago, Dolnick was one of three Sulzberger cousins who were the top candidates to become publisher. Dolnick lost out to A.G. Sulzberger, who, as many of you know, was once The Times’ Kansas City correspondent.)

First a synopsis and then the principals…


“Caliphate” was a 12-part, stand-alone podcast about ISIS. The central figure of the podcast was 25-year-old Shehroze Chaudhry, a Pakastani-Canadian who described atrocities, including executions, he claimed to have committed in Syria for ISIS. The “Caliphate” team made him the main character in the series despite red flags that indicated he was unreliable.

The Podcast won a Peabody Award and the Overseas Press Club of America Award in 2019, and the primary reporter was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

After doubts about Chaudhry’s veracity surfaced, The Times assigned a new team to re-report the story. The team found that Chaudhry was a fraud: There was no evidence he had killed anyone, joined ISIS or even traveled to Syria.

Last September, two and a half years after the podcast was released, Canadian police arrested Chaudhry and charged him with perpetrating a terrorist hoax.

On Dec. 18, Dean Baquet, executive editor of The Times, posted an editor’s note on the podcast saying, in a huge understatement, the series “did not meet our standards for accuracy.”

Among other things, Baquet said the series “should have had the regular participation of an editor experienced in the subject matter.”

“In addition,” he continued, “The Times should have pressed harder to verify Mr. Chaudhry’s claims before deciding to place so much emphasis on one individual’s account.”

The same day the editor’s note was published, The Times ran an episode of “The Daily,” in which Barbaro (pronounced Bar-bar-o) interviewed Baquet about the problems with “Caliphate.”

Completing its mea culpa, The Times returned the Peabody and Press Club awards and asked the Pulitzer board to rescind the main reporter’s 2019 finalist status.

Andy Mills and Rukmini Callimachi with the Peabody Award they won (and then had to return) for “Caliphate.”

The Principals

Rukmini Callimachi: Since arriving at The Times in 2014, she was the paper’s lead reporter on terrorism. She was a Pulitzer Prize finalist three times — in 2009, 2014 and 2016 — before being a finalist for “Caliphate” in 2019. After “Caliphate” was exposed as a sham, Callimachi was reassigned. She hasn’t had a byline since. An NPR story said The Times had quietly acknowledged that some of her previous print reporting was found to be deficient.

Andy Mills: He was Callimachi’s producer and accompanied her during most of her reporting. He worked at WNYC’s Radiolab before going to The Times in 2016.

Lisa Tobin: She is The Times’ executive producer of audio, which means she supervised Callimachi and Mills, among others. Like Mills, Tobin joined The Times in 2016. Before that she was with WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, for six years.

Sam Dolnick

Sam Dolnick: Dolnick is a Times assistant managing editor, whose responsibilities include overseeing the audio department, meaning he’s over Callimachi, Mills, Tobin and Barbaro. Dolnick has  been a “masthead” editor, one of the dozen or so top executives at the paper, since 2017.

Michael Barbaro: Although his hands were not directly soiled by “Caliphate,” Barbaro came under intense criticism from a group of more than 20 public radio stations for his part in trying to mop up the damage. In a letter, the station executives said it was inappropriate for Barbaro to interview Baquet for two reasons. First, at the same time he was helping air the journalistic lapses, he had urged other journalists, through private messages on social media, to temper their criticism of the podcast. Second, he failed to divulge that he was engaged to Tobin. The NPR letter said, “We feel Barbaro’s actions are in direct conflict with our ethical guidelines and they call his general credibility into question.” In response to the letter, Dolnick defended Barbaro’s participation in the interview but said Barbaro had been chastised for pressuring other reporters to go easy on “Caliphate.”


So, might this play out how for the principals?

Callimachi, who is 47, has probably seen her best days at The Times. I doubt she will be let go, but she might find her position uncomfortable enough that she decides to leave the paper in a year or two.

Mills, on the other hand, might well be eased out. In addition to failing to install guardrails around Callimachi on “Caliphate,” he has been the subject, according to NPR, “of repeated complaints from women over alleged demeaning or dismissive behavior,” both at The Times and at WNYC, which produces Radiolab.

Lisa Tobin

Tobin probably will survive, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she got transferred from the audio department.

Barbaro is likely to emerge relatively unscathed. “The Daily” has an audience of millions and is ranked No. 2 on Apple’s Top Charts for Podcasts. (No. 1 is “The Apology Line,” which I’ve never heard.”) Since its launch in 2017, “The Daily” has expanded from a staff of four to more than 17. The fact that he made a couple of errors in judgment, although serious errors, will not be enough to displace him as king of audio.

The stakes could be the highest for Dolnick. As a member of the Sulzberger family, he’s got close to lifetime-employment protection, but his position in the NYT hierarchy has become much more wobbly. Just this week, The Times elevated the metro editor, Cliff Levy, to the position of deputy managing editor — a notch above assistant managing editor — and put him, for the time being, over the audio department.

Cliff Levy

In a note to the newsroom, Baquet said Levy would temporarily advise the audio department before taking on a broader role, which Baquet did not elaborate on.

This could put Levy, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, in the leading position to succeed Baquet as executive editor in a couple of years. Baquet, who is 64, is expected to retire before he turns 67.

Levy, who has headed metro for two years, is just 53.

If Dolnick aspired to be executive editor, his prospects have dimmed. As a result of the calamity called “Caliphate,” he has been leapfrogged, and a lot of the spring has gone out of his legs.

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News on the news front

There have been a few interesting developments in the world of journalism the last few days, and I know many of you will be interested.

Let’s start with the local and move to national.

Shawnee Mission Post

The Post, which started up in 2010 and focuses on northern Johnson County, reported today that it now has more than 4,000 paid subscribers. That’s quite impressive, especially considering that the (once?) mighty Kansas City Star has only about 12,500 stand-alone digital subscribers.

Jay Senter, publisher of SMP, said in today’s story that the online paper signed up 1,300 new subscribers last year. As a result of the growth, the paper has been able to go from three employees — Senter, wife Julia Westhoff and reporter Leah Wankum — to six. The newest staff members are Juliana Garcia, a reporter who was hired at the start of last year; Holly Cook, who joined as deputy editor in March; and Kyle Palmer, whom Jay and Julia hired away from KCUR last summer to become SMP editor.

Subscriptions cost $6 a month or $65 a year. (You can get a one-month test for $1.)

In the story, Senter said SMP’s year-over-year readership was up 70 to 80 percent in three key areas — users (72 percent), user sessions (81 percent) and page views (77 percent).

Julia Westhoff and Jay Senter

Senter and Westhoff met while they attended the University of Wisconsin and worked at the school newspaper. After graduating, they settled in Prairie Village, where they were frustrated by the lack of news coverage in their community. So, they started the Prairie Village Post, which evolved into The Shawnee Mission Post. They lived in Prairie Village before moving to Minnesota late last year with their three daughters. (Palmer said they continue to own the paper and be involved with it.)

SMP’s success is a tribute to Jay’s and Julia’s skills and perseverance. By giving northern Johnson County residents a reliable source of news in their community, they have made Johnson County better for everyone.

(Note: When this was first published, I said Jay Senter and Julia Westhoff live in Prairie Village. I have corrected that.)

The Washington Post

Marty Baron, 66-year-old acclaimed executive editor of The Post, announced Tuesday that he would be retiring at the end of February. During Baron’s eight years at The Post, the paper won 10 Pulitzer Prizes, including the 2020 award in the explanatory reporting category for a series on the effects of climate change.

Marty Baron

Before going to The Post, he was editor at The Boston Globe, which won six Pulitzers during his run. With the public, he is best known for overseeing The Globe’s “Spotlight” team of investigative reporters, who reported on a pattern of sexual abuse by clergy in the Catholic Church and the church’s effort to cover it up.

A series of more than 20 stories won the paper the 2003 Pulitzer in the public service category. The investigation was the subject of the 2015 film “Spotlight,” a riveting drama about how The Globe got onto the story and wouldn’t let go of it. (In one memorable scene, a reporter sneaks into a lawyer’s office while the receptionist is distracted, and the reporter convinces the reluctant lawyer to start talking.)

In an interview with The New York Times, Baron said the biggest challenge facing the news media was the “level of conspiracy thinking that has become entrenched with a substantial portion of the American public.”

“(T)raditionally,” he said, “we have always operated from a common set of facts — and now people can’t even agree on what happened yesterday.”

“New” McClatchy

I wrote yesterday about VOA (Voice of America) and mentioned that a good friend, Ernie Torriero, is an editor there. Today, Ernie passed on a story out of Idaho that reflects very poorly on the New McClatchy, which last year went into bankruptcy and was purchased by a New Jersey hedge fund, Chatham Asset Management.

A publication called Idaho Press reported that the editor of the state’s biggest newspaper, The Idaho Statesman, was fired after publicly criticizing parent company New McClatchy for allegedly refusing to pay for a Microsoft Excel account for the paper’s newest investigative reporter.

Christina Lords

The editor, 34-year-old Christina Lords, tweeted her allegation last Friday and was fired on Monday for violating New McClatchy’s social media policy.

A McClatchy spokesperson told The Washington Post “the full facts of the situation are not accurately represented on social media.”

If what Lords said is correct, it would represent a new low for McClatchy, either new or old. An Excel spreadsheet would be a basic tool for an investigative reporter. And what would the cost be — $100 a year or so?

I hope that’s not the full story, but, tellingly, the McClatchy spokesperson didn’t deny it.

Hedge funds and newspapers…a nasty stew, but it’s going to be with us for the foreseeable future.

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We all know how bad some of former President Trump’s political appointees were — Bill Barr, Mike Pompeo and Alex Azar, among others — but there were many others with lower profiles who took sledgehammers to their respective agencies to inflict as much damage as possible.

One such person — and many of you probably have never heard of him — was Michael Pack, a weasel if there ever was one.

He was Trump’s choice to oversee the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM).

It may not sound like an important agency, but it supervises several government-run media outlets, including Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and Radio Free Asia.

I am more than passingly interested in USAGM because a very good friend — a former KC Star colleague named Ernie Torriero — is an editor at VOA.

The USAGM website says that its networks “communicate each week with more than 354 million people across the globe.” Its mission is simple and straightforward: “To inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy.”

Michael Pack

That’s not how Pack saw it, though. In just seven months as C.E.O. of the agency — from June 2020 to Inauguration Day — Pack did everything he could to convert the agency into a Trump propaganda machine.

Pack, who is about 67, is a conservative who produced documentaries, including one with Steve Bannon (yikes!) before he got his hands on USAGM.

The agency’s outlets are supposed to operate free of political influence, but Pack turned everything upside down and inside out, in service to his master, Trump.

Take a look at some of the things Pack did…

  • He ousted top managers of USAGM and the directors of the agencies under his supervision and replaced them with conservative appointees. (One board appointee was Roger L. Simon, a columnist for the pro-Trump and conspiracy-theory website The Epoch Times, who alleges leftists in disguise were behind the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.)
  • He refused to renew the expiring visas of foreign journalists who work for VOA, saying they had not been properly vetted and suggesting the agency was harboring foreign spies.
  • He installed Trump loyalists in leadership positions within the organization and disbanded a bipartisan board that oversees the USAGM.
  • He planned for editorials to be read and posted on the USAGM website in various languages that would present administration policy as set by the president.
  • In late July, Pack announced an investigation of a VOA video that purportedly promoted Biden’s presidential campaign.
  • In October, he attempted to rescind rules at USAGM that protected journalists at VOA and other affiliates from political interference. Fortunately, a U.S. District Court judge granted an injunction to VOA employees who filed suit seeking to block the rules changes.

Finally, just yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Pack had hired two law firms to open-ended, no-bid contracts that cost taxpayers about $4 million over a five-month period. Under one contract, the most experienced lawyers would be paid $1,470 per hour for their work.

About $3 million of the $4 million went toward an extensive review of email archives, a review that was aimed at documenting “misconduct” by five executive members of USAGM. He suspended and replaced all five in August.

As you might expect, Pack never granted interviews to the mainstream media, restricting his appearances to conservative outlets like Fox News. (I caught part of one Fox News interview, and it was so boring that the anchor cut him off.)

Had Trump been re-elected, Pack almost certainly would have left the VOA and the other global media agencies in complete shambles; they would have been reduced to Trump sounding boards.

Fortunately, Biden was well aware what Pack was up to and put Pack on notice several weeks ago.

Last Wednesday, a few hours before the inauguration, Pack submitted his resignation.

He didn’t leave gracefully, though. In fact, he went out sputtering and spewing. In his resignation letter, he complained that Biden’s request for his resignation was “a partisan act” and said leadership of the agency was “meant to be non-partisan, untethered to alternations in the political regime.”

What a piece of work. Now he’s free to rejoin fellow wacko Bannon, and they can continue making documentaries together.

The best thing, though, is Pack will no longer have the power to make conscientious public employees miserable, and the VOA and other global media agencies can go on providing “straight news” to people around the world.

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With Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s death this week, the video of him hitting his 715th home run on April 8, 1974, is getting a tremendous number of views.

Watch this, if you will, and then read on.

A friend sent that link to me in an email in which he called attention to legendary baseball announcer Vin Scully’s call of the homer and the ensuing few minutes of bedlam.

But what caught my eye in the video was a young reporter, with a mop of dark hair, holding an old, boxy tape recorder in one hand and an attached microphone in the other. The reporter was one of the first non-players to arrive at home plate just seconds before Aaron planted his foot on it and was engulfed by players and others.

In the video, the reporter alternately looks around, seemingly unfocused, and sweeps his hair aside, as he keeps extending the microphone in Aaron’s general direction. At one point, he gets a few quick words with Aaron’s mother, who is wearing a light blue outfit.

I immediately thought, “That’s Craig Sager.”

Sager, as some of you probably know, made his fame as a sideline reporter for Turner Sports, covering the NBA, mostly on the TNT cable channel. He was known not only as a great interviewer but also for his outlandish outfits, which came in nearly blinding, super rainbow colors.

The reason I recognized him, though, was that before he made it big nationally, he was a sports reporter for KMBC-TV Channel 9. He was in Kansas City from 1978 to 1981. It was here that he met his first wife, Lisa Gabel, while covering a Royals game in 1980.

Craig Sager with a certain Royals’ star, when Sager was a sports reporter with Channel 9.

The couple named their first child Kacy because she was born following the Royals 1985 World Series win. (Note that for later.)

In 1981, CNN hired him in its second year of operation, and Sager stayed with the network (which owns TNT) for the rest of his career.

You may remember that Sager caught a tough break. In 2014, when he was 63 and still in the prime of his career, he was diagnosed with leukemia. He missed the NBA playoffs that year and much of the following season as he underwent two bone marrow transplants.

He returned to work, though, and kept plugging away through the 2016 season. He died in December of that year at age 65.

…Now, it’s a sad story, but that’s not the entire story. It seems that Sager was, well, something less than first class. Additionally, his second wife, Stacy, apparently was right there with him, well beneath the top rung of the human ladder.

Two deeds tell the story. First, Sager cut his three children by first wife Lisa out of his will. He did so despite the fact that Craig Sager Jr. had twice donated bone marrow to his father in an effort to save his life. The two other children by Lisa were Kacy, mentioned above, and Krista.

Second, wife Stacy (with whom Sager had two children) apparently refused to let Craig Jr., Kacy and Krista see Craig Sr. when he was actively dying.

Kacy tweeted this in 2018: She didn’t even let us say goodbye to him because she wanted to spend his last day of consciousness alone with him. My brother saved his life & she still tried to poison our father against us.”

And what was at the root of the enmity between the oldest three children and Stacy? The seeds could have been planted early on, after Sager reportedly started seeing Stacy before he was divorced from Lisa.

Craig Jr., Kacy and Krista were remarkably accepting — at least publicly — at being cut out of the will. In a Twitter post about the same time as Kacy’s, Craig Jr. said he and his sisters never contested the will…

“because…primarily I expected it & it’s what he wanted. It is what it is. We put our heads down & moved the hell on.”

Kacy Sager

On Friday, the day after Aaron died, Kacy Sager, who followed her father into sports reporting, showed her class once again. She Tweeted this:

“Struggling to put into words the emotions I’ve felt since hearing the news. After all, the biggest moment of Hank Aaron’s career & the one that launched my dad’s were one in (stet) the same. Here’s hoping my dad once again welcomed him home & that he had a better haircut this time.”

She ended the post with this…

: )

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It’s all good news today, readers.

Let the celebrating begin tonight and continue all day tomorrow. For all the world, it feels like New Year’s Eve. Can’t you just feel a giant weight being raised from the nation’s collective shoulders?

I started feeling the winds of change this evening as I was reading some of today’s headlines. Consider these stories, for starters…

:: My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell, a big-time Trump backer and devotee of “the-election-was-stolen” school of thought, said Kohl’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Wayfair and other retailers were dropping his products. Isn’t it pathetic when a con man can become a celebrity? And, what got into Royals’ announcer Ryan Lefebvre when he agreed to pitch this goofball’s pillows?

:: Georgia election officials certified the victories of Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. They will be sworn in tomorrow by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

Avril Haines

:: During her Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, Avril D. Haines, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence, said she would release an unclassified report on the killing of Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. (The Trump administration wouldn’t give it to the Senate.) As a bonus, Haines also condemned waterboarding, saying: “I believe that waterboarding is, in fact, torture…And all those techniques that use cruel and inhuman treatment are unlawful.”

:: Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken told senators that he would appoint a chief diversity officer to help oversee and insure the State Department had “a workforce that looks like the country it represents.”

:: Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee to be Secretary of Homeland Security, told senators:  “I can assure you that the cybersecurity of our nation will be one of my highest priorities because…the threat is real and the threat is every day, and we have to do a much better job than we are doing now.”

:: Defense secretary nominee Lloyd J. Austin III said he would act to stamp out extremism in the military. “We can never take our hands off the wheel on this,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “It has no place in the military of the United States of America.”

Lloyd J. Austin III

:: Even outgoing Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell got in on the shifting tide, telling senators that “we stood together and said an angry mob would not get veto power over the rule of law in our nation.”

:: After a four-year hiatus, Hollywood stars and noted performers are stepping back under the White House arc lights. Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Garth Brooks will perform at the inauguration, and several others, including Tom Hanks, Demi Lovato, Bruce Springsteen and Lin-Manuel Miranda, will appear on a prime-time inaugural special called “Celebrating America.”

:: A tear ran down Biden’s cheek as he prepared to depart his home state of Delaware for Washington. He told supporters, “When I die, Delaware will be written on my heart.”

Of all things, a tear. From an incoming president who has a heart.

I tell you, after a long period of mourning, it’s a great day to be an American!

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We still have five more days of “Trump time,” making it too early to start celebrating Joe Biden’s inauguration. And, besides, who knows what the hell might happen between now and the inauguration?

So while we’re waiting for what we hope will be a “peaceful transfer of power,” let’s dial down and enjoy three memorable oldies.

For this installment, I’ve selected songs that sprang from three teams of powerhouse musical figures — The Lettermen and composer Jerome Kern; Paul Anka and conductor and record producer Don Costa; and Percy Faith and arranger and conductor Hugo Winterhalter.


First up is The Lettermen’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” an achingly beautiful song released in 1961.

No wonder this song has endured: The music was written by the great Jerome Kern, whom Wikipedia calls “one of the most important American theater composers of the early 20th century.” Kern wrote more than 700 songs, which were used in more than 100 stage works.

He wrote “The Way You Look Tonight” for the 1936 movie Swing Time, which starred Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. In the movie, Astaire sang the song to Rogers while she was washing her hair in an adjacent room. Astaire’s recording reached the top of the pop music charts in 1936, and it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song that year.

The lyrics were written by Dorothy Fields, who said: “The first time Jerry played that melody for me, I went out and started to cry. The release absolutely killed me. I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”

The Lettermen’s version was released in 1961 and went to No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was The Lettermen’s second biggest hit, after “When I Fall in Love,” which made it to the top, also in 1961.

Here it is, a song that never gets old…


“Put Your Head on My Shoulder” — Paul Anka

Anka, a Canadian by birth, wrote the words and music to this song and released it in 1959. It rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, behind only Bobby Darrin’s “Mack the Knife.”

The lyrics go a long way toward making this song irresistible…

Put your lips next to mine, dear
Won’t you kiss me once, baby?
Just a kiss goodnight, maybe
You and I will fall in love

…but it’s the arrangement, with lilting guitar chords interspersed throughout, that makes it soar.

The arranger was Don Costa, who, when Anka came along, was working for ABC-Paramount Records. Their first song together was “Diana,” which Anka recorded when he was just 15. “Diana,” released in 1957, went to No. 2.

Costa went on to work with such stars as Frank Sinatra, Sara Vaughan and Tony Bennett.

Costa died of a heart attack in 1983 at age 57. Anka, who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1990, is still living. He would be 80 in July.


“Theme from A Summer Place” — Percy Faith and his Orchestra

This song was written by Max Steiner, with lyrics by Mack Discant, for the for the 1959 film A Summer Place, starring Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue. (When I saw that movie at age 13, I thought it was the greatest movie ever made and Troy Donahue was the best actor who ever lived.)

Released as a single before the film came out, the song was not an immediate hit. It didn’t break into the Billboard Hot 100 until mid-January 1960. Six weeks later, it went to No. 1 and stayed there for nine consecutive weeks — a record at the time.

The song earned Faith a Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1961. It was the first movie theme and the first instrumental to win that award.

Like Anka with “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” “Theme from a Summer Place” benefited from the touch of a great arranger and conductor, Hugo Winterhalter.

After graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music, Winterhalter taught school for several years before turning professional during the mid-1930s, serving as a sideman and arranger for Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey and other band leaders.

Some of the singers he arranged songs for included Dinah Shore, Billy Eckstine, Perry Como and Harry Belafonte.

Winterhalter died from cancer in Greenwich, CT, on Sept. 17, 1973. He was 64. He had a son, Hugo Francis Winterhalter, who was killed in Vietnam on December 29, 1966.

Faith died in 1976 at age 67.

On this snowy winter’s day in early 2021, here’s “Theme from a Summer Place,” in memory of Percy Faith and Hugo Winterhalter, two musicians who made the world a better place.

P.S. Minutes after I posted this, our 32-year-old son Charlie, an amateur musician and Oldies aficionado, told me The Lettermen did a cover version of “Theme From a Summer Place.” I listened to it, but…it isn’t in the same league with Percy Faith’s original. I won’t link to it, but you can check it out on YouTube if you’re inclined.     

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For the first time in more than 20 years, today’s Kansas City Star did not contain the image and slogan of its founder.

Since a 1998 redesign, William Rockhill Nelson’s imperious mugshot and condescending slogan — “A Paper for the People” — had appeared on The Star’s masthead. (The masthead is the copy block at the bottom of the Opinion page, which lists the paper’s top executives.)

But after an expansive examination of its coverage of Black people and institutions over the decades — shortcomings laid bare in a remarkable series of stories last month — Star editor and president Mike Fannin decided it was time for the paper to formally distance itself from Nelson.

The new masthead is bare, but much, much better.

News of Fannin’s decision was reported in a Sunday story at the top of Page A4. In the story, development reporter Kevin Hardy wrote about the connection between Nelson and Kansas City’s most infamous racist, real estate developer J.C. Nichols.

Nelson was 40 years older than Nichols and schooled him in real estate development.

As Hardy said, both men were visionaries but also avowed segregationists. Besides leading The Star, Nelson built homes, many for Star employees, on land north of Brush Creek and south of the site of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the museum board was the next institution to review its linkage to Nelson.)

The residential developments of both men came with racially restrictive covenants — the only difference being that Nelson’s covenants expired after a period of years, while those of Nichols did not.

(As a side note, I live in a Nichols-developed neighborhood, Romanelli West, near Meyer Circle. A few years ago when I was president of our homes association, I found once, to my horror, that language prohibiting Blacks and Jews from owning homes in the neighborhood remained in deed restrictions on our website. Years earlier, the Missouri General Assembly had passed a bill banning the restrictions and language, but somehow it had not been excised from our records. I had the deed restrictions pulled immediately.)

In his story, Hardy quoted Fannin, Star editor, as saying Nelson’s slogan was “lofty but ultimately dishonest.”

“The Star was not ‘A Paper for the People’ through much of its history,” Fannin said. “It was a paper for only some people, namely white people. Those values don’t square at all with The Star newsroom of today.”


After 140 years of celebrating W.R. Nelson, The Star is now consigning him to his proper place in history.

He may be turning over in his grave, but who cares?

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Here’s a question a lot of people have these days: How did the U.S. of A. come to have the most fertile ground for cultivating irrationality?

We’ve always had the best soil for agriculture, which helped make us a great nation, but the cultivation needle has begun tilting more toward irrationality the last decade or so.

How did that happen? I wish I could give you the answer, and I’d like to hear your thoughts. I guess technology is a big factor, with crazy people being able to disseminate crazy notions to hundreds of thousands or even millions of people almost instantly. But that can’t be all of it.

I don’t know…What I do know is that Wednesday’s sacking of the U.S. Capitol was the most disturbing evidence yet that, as a country, we are whipping out a way disproportionate amount of inanity.

Let’s take three specific examples.

First, there’s this guy, whom I call Viking Man.

Jacob A. Chansley, a.k.a. Jake Angeli, was arrested this morning (Saturday) in Phoenix and is charged with three federal crimes — knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

My first thought is I could understand dressing up like that if it was for Halloween or a Visigoth-themed party, but why in the world would you don such an outfit for a political demonstration?

Before being arrested, Chansley gave an interview to NBC News and gloated about how the mob infiltrated the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to flee. He said: “The fact that we had a bunch of our traitors in office hunker down, put on their gas masks and retreat into their underground bunker, I consider that a win.”


Next in our line-up demented thinkers is former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

In an interview Wednesday evening with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum, Palin suggested that Antifa, the far-left organization, was behind the raid on the Capitol. With her usual circuitous reasoning and grammatical stumbles, she said…

“But Martha, keep in mind, we don’t know who all were the instigators in this, these horrible things that happened today. I think a lot of it is the Antifa folks. I’ve been sent pictures of the same characters, whom were captured on images today storming the Capitol, as had been in protests on the other side of politics earlier in the summer. So I don’t know, there’s a lot of questions out there, and I wish that we could trust the media to do its job to do the research and report who all these people are.”

If the police were looking for people to arrest, by her reasoning, I guess it should have been the known leaders of Antifa, whoever and wherever they are, and the members of the media who were covering the riot.


That brings us to one of the unluckiest and most mixed-up people in the mob: Ashli Babbitt.

Babbitt, of course, was the 35-year-old Air Force veteran whom Capitol Police fatally shot as she attempted to leap through a broken window of a door leading to the House Majority Leader’s lobby.

It is a terrible thing that she died, but she was not a martyr, as those who sympathize with Wednesday’s insurrection contend. Rather, she was a misguided hothead.

To see that she was a hothead, all you have to do is look at the one minute, 38 second Twitter rant she posted two years ago. (Today’s Washington Post story about Babbitt linked to it.)

One of the most amazing things about that rant is she recorded it while driving! God forbid what might have happened if someone had cut in front of her while she was recording.

Proof of her distorted thought processes is in a sign on the door of a pool supply company she operated with her husband in a San Diego suburb. (The Post’s story, linked above, includes a photo of the sign.)

The sign describes the pool company as a “Mask Free Autonomous Zone Better Known as America.”

The last words on the sign are…

“Tyranny, lawlessness, disrespect and hate for your fellow man will not be tolerated.”

…Like I said up top, how in the world did we become the most fertile ground for irrationality?

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To quote the best lyricist of all time, Oscar Hammerstein II: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ”

That’s how I felt after waking up, turning on the radio and hearing that the Rev. Ralph Warnock had won and Jon Ossoff was on the way to winning in Georgia.

Shortly after getting that great news, I began assembling election-related quotes that I picked up from a variety of places, including MSNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Here are some of the best I came up with…

Michael Steele

Michael Steele, former Republican Party chairman and a senior advisor on the Lincoln Project: “Today will be the day, in my view, if this goes forward as planned, where Republican senators — I don’t care if it’s 13 or just one — stands up and objects to the duly confirmed election of Joe Biden, it will be sealing the Republican Party inside the tomb that Donald Trump has created for them. And that’s, at the end of the day, their truth.”

Astead W. Herndon, The New York Times: “…Mr. Warnock’s journey from Black pastor to Black senator is an exercise…of faith: It’s a belief that American politics can change from the inside, that the Democratic Party’s most loyal voters can see themselves represented in Congress. That there is room to push the country forward within its institutions, rather than diagnosing its problems from outside.”

Karen Tumulty

Karen Tumulty, The Washington Post: “To Trump, the party of Lincoln was a rental vehicle, one that he took for a joyride and is getting ready to turn back in, with trash jammed under the seats and stains covering the upholstery. Also, the tank is empty, and there’s a crack in the windshield.”

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, Georgia state Democratic Party chairwoman, who was sworn into Congress this week: “This election was not about Donald Trump. This was about people on the ground realizing that if they show up en masse they can overcome the voter suppression and we can win Georgia.”

Lisa Lerer and Richard Fausset, The New York Times: “The victory on Wednesday morning by the Rev. Raphael Warnock, who becomes the first Black Democrat to be elected to the Senate from the South, confirmed that Georgia’s metamorphosis from conservative bastion to battleground state was complete. The changing demographics are likely to reshape the political dynamics of this Deep South state for a generation.”

Timothy Bella and Tim Elfrink, The Washington Post: “Black voters…delivered in a big way on Tuesday, both in urban and rural districts. In Fulton County, the state’s most populous county and where a substantial share of voters are Black, more in-person voters showed up on Tuesday than on Election Day in November.”

Josh Billinson

Josh Billinson, Twitter habitue: “Jon Ossoff winning a Senate seat at 33 would set an impossible standard for nice Jewish boys everywhere and the mothers who ask what they’re going to do with their lives.”

Jon Ossoff: “Georgia, thank you so much for the confidence that you’ve placed in me. I am honored, honored, by your support, by your confidence, by your trust…and I will look forward to serving you in the United States Senate with integrity, with humility, with honor and getting things done for the people of Georgia. Thank you so much.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York: “It feels like a brand new day.”






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One of the most thrilling things for those of us in, or who have been in, the news business is seeing a major scoop or a big takeout on a subject of keen interest.

Just four days into 2021, we’ve seen one of each — one on the national level and one locally.

Let’s go national first.

:: You know a story is big when The New York Times strips it across the top of the front page. The story I’m talking about, of course, was The Washington Post’s great scoop of President Trump’s attempt to browbeat Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his attorney into magically turning around enough votes from the Nov. 3 election to give Trump the win over President-elect Joe Biden in Georgia.

The hour-long call between Trump and Raffensperger is full of jaw-dropping quotes from Trump, such as: “I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”

“Give me a break”??? It would be unbelievable, except that it’s Trump talking.

The reporter responsible for bringing the call to public attention, who got an audio recording of the complete call, was Amy Gardner, a WaPo reporter whose name I’d never heard before yesterday.

Amy Gardner

Gardner joined The Post in 2005. She first reported on the Virginia suburbs, before moving up to national reporting. Among other things, she covered the 2010 midterm elections and the 2012 battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Then she became an editor and spent five years doing that. In 2018 she returned to national political reporting.

I’ll be eager to read about how Gardner got that scoop, when the story behind the story comes out. All I can deduce at this point is that she must have at least one very good source in Georgia.

What we know is that Trump initiated the call to Raffensperger about 2:40 p.m. Saturday. Officials in the secretary of state’s office recorded it, but Raffensperger told his advisers he didn’t want to release a transcript or a recording unless the president attacked state officials or misrepresented what had been discussed. On Sunday morning, Trump unleashed a Twitter attack on Raffensperger, and Raffensperger quickly counter punched by giving the green light to release the recording.

Somehow, Gardner got the nod to be the first to get the recording.

More often than not, The New York Times beats The Post on big stories about Trump, primarily through the reporting skills of White House reporter Maggie Haberman, but this time The Post got the jump. (In a Nov. 8 profile of Haberman, NYT media columnist Ben Smith wrote that Haberman “lives rent-free in Donald Trump’s head, all over the front page of The New York Times.”)

An October 2020 story about Gardner on the George Washington University website quoted her as saying: “You have to be hungry and have an appetite for news. I find myself driven by this hunger to get a story, to beat the competitors, to signal to the sources that I’m the one who’s on it and who knows it best.”

On Sunday, she was definitely “on it,” and reporters everywhere (except maybe Maggie Haberman) are cheering from the grandstand.


Two local reporters had a hell of a story in the Sunday Kansas City Star. KCUR reporter and editor Dan Margolies — who I’m proud to say is a friend as well as a former colleague — and investigative Star reporter Steve Vockrodt collaborated on a disgusting but devastating story about a down-and-dirty former KCK police detective named Roger Golubski.

Dan Margolies

Steve Vockrodt

Golubski was a disgrace to law enforcement for more than 35 years. From Margolies’ and Vockrodt’s story, it appears Golubski spent much more time raping women and pressuring others into having sex in return for going easy on their relatives than he did at investigating cases. He’s also the person mostly responsible for sending Lamont McIntyre to prison for 23 years for two murders he did not commit.

The most amazing part of this story to me was that, from all appearances, at least three former police chiefs — Ron Miller, Rick Armstrong and Terry Ziegler — knew what Golubski was doing but didn’t have the guts to call him out. They simply averted their gaze.

One of those chiefs, Ziegler, who retired in September 2019, was a former partner of Golubski. On one occasion when Golubski went inside a house and allegedly raped a woman, Ziegler waited outside in their police car.

Another chief, Armstrong, was asked in a 2012 deposition if Golubski had fathered children by women who were involved in drugs or prostitution. He gave this halting answer: “I did not have any knowledge that he was involved in illegal activity with — regard his personal relationships.”

In a Sunday commentary, KC Star editorial writer Melinda Henneberger said the department presented Golubski with “a platinum-plated gift” when he retired in 2010: silence about his corrupt career.

Margolies and Vockrodt spent months combing through records and interviewing people, and they were rewarded with a front-page story that publicly shamed a terrible cop who worked for a department that has never looked very good and now looks much worse.

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