Archive for May, 2022

The man who ushered in the era of corporate journalism — in which family- and employee-owned newspapers gave way to conglomerates and then hedge funds — died last Wednesday at his home in Rye, NY.

Thomas S. Murphy, who initiated corporate creep with his company’s purchase of The Kansas City Star and Times for $125 million in 1977, was a business genius as chairman and chief executive of then-little-known Capital Cities Communications. He was 96.

Tom Murphy

When Cap Cities, as it was known, bought the employee-owned Star, it owned mostly mid-level metro newspapers, along with TV and radio stations, and operated out of a small office in New York.

Murphy’s biggest coups came in two giant Monopoly-board steps, the first in 1985 when Cap Cities acquired the much larger American Broadcasting Co for $3.5 billion, the second in 1995, when he decided to sell CapCities-ABC to Disney for $19 billion.

Each move rocked the media world and made Murphy and many Cap Cities-ABC shareholders very wealthy.

In a news story about Murphy’s death last week, Douglas Martin of The New York Times wrote…

Mr. Murphy’s business success can be summed up in a single statistic: Capital Cities stock increased in value 2,000 times between 1957, when the company first sold stock to the public, and 1995, when Disney bought it.


That’s the overarching, national story, but now let me give you the up-close story from my perspective as a Star employee who started in 1969 at a salary of $550 a month.

When I arrived as a general assignment reporter, working from 4 to midnight, I didn’t really understand the significance of employee ownership, that is, that the owners, working in the newsroom every day, were in charge of the paper’s destiny.

A secretary named Grace Grafton used to meet annually with individual employees and ask us how much of our salaries we wanted to dedicate to stock ownership. I would always shrug, Grace would suggest a number, and I would go along.

Between 1969 and 1977, I built up $10,000 worth of stock. Other employees, many of whom had been at the paper for decades, had accumulated tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stock.

When Capital Cities and Tom Murphy came knocking in 1977, it rocked the newsroom. All of a sudden we lowly employees realized that things would be changing in a big way. Most of us were not happy about it and would have preferred that the paper remain employee owned, but, on the other hand, Cap Cities was offering $2 for every $1 worth of stock.

As suddenly as I realized big changes would be afoot, I also realized I was going to have more money than I’d ever thought about having. (After the sale, I used the $20,000 I cleared from the Cap Cities purchase to make a healthy down payment on a house at 51st and Grand. It was my first opportunity to buy a home.)

The company’s seven directors, who owned 11 percent of Star stock, agreed to the deal, and the other employees who had significant stakes followed their lead.

A group of 20 or so employees became overnight millionaires. After the deal closed, Cap Cities brought in James H. Hale, a Texan who was publisher of the Fort Worth-Star Telegram — which Cap Cities had bought in 1974 — to run The Star and The Times. Hale subsequently hired an editor named Gerald Garcia, who, on a Monday, called those nascent millionaires into a room and told them they were all fired. Within a year or so, Garcia himself was out — akin, it seemed in retrospect, to the Mafia hiring a hit man and then eliminating him after he’d accomplished his task.

Hale brought in excellent editors, for the most part, including Mike Davies and Mike Waller from The Courier-Journal in my hometown of Louisville, and the two papers began excelling both journalistically and financially. (A third editor who came from Louisville wasn’t so good. He was a chubby guy named Chris Waddle, who pronounced his name wa-dell in order, I believe, to disassociate himself from the way he walked and the way his last name probably was meant to be pronounced.)

Those were the days when owning a major metropolitan paper, and running it with any degree of skill, was like printing money. The Star and Times went from making about $5 million a year to making something like $30 million to $40 million a year.

The good times rolled for 19 years, until 1995 when Murphy engineered the blockbuster sale to Disney.

Despite Michael Eisner, Disney c.e.o. coming to The Star’s newsroom and saying he did not intend to sell the paper (the morning and afternoon papers had merged in 1990), the paper was on the block a year later.

We employees felt things would get back on the right track when Knight Ridder, a respected, all-newspaper company, purchased The Star and the other papers Disney had picked up with ABC.

Things went along fairly well for several years, but then in 2006, Knight Ridder — pressed by an unhappy, major stockholder — decided to sell out. That’s when McClatchy, which owned a majority of its papers in California, bought the Knight Ridder papers for $4.5 billion and took on $1 billion in debt, including the $199 million cost of The Star’s glass printing plant that opened the year of the transaction.


By then I’d had enough. We were coming under new ownership for the third time in 10 years, and while I didn’t see on the horizon the precipitous decline that ensued (not only with The Star but at most major metropolitan dailies) the future looked cloudy to me.

It turned out I left at the most fortuitous time: Two years later the layoffs started, and they continued for 11 years, until 2019. Had I stayed, there would have been no sheet cake and pizza party for me; I would have been unceremoniously bounced like scores of other employees, I feel sure.

The trend Tom Murphy started in 1977 picked up steam in the 1980s, with such legendary papers as The Courier-Journal, owned by the Bingham family, and The Des Moines Register, owned by the Cowles family, being sold to the nation’s largest newspaper chain, Gannett.

Now, the journalistic landscape is littered with papers, like The Star, that are shells of their former selves.

I don’t blame Tom Murphy for what transpired. If it hadn’t been he, it would have been somebody else. And, like I say, he believed in putting out quality products that made good money because they were well managed.

Moreover, I feel sure he never envisioned the day when hedge funds would own slews of newspaper, including The Star.


Tom Murphy was a brilliant businessman, and we who worked for him — indirectly — had a good run under Cap Cities.

My only regret is that sometime back in the mid- to late-1980s, during a period when the stock market was languishing, I sold all my Cap Cities stock. Of course, the price soon jumped back up and continued its meteoric rise. I left a lot of money on the table.

I made another financial mistake in 2006 when, despite those clouds in the crystal ball, I bought thousands of dollars of McClatchy stock, only to see it plunge to a fraction of its per-share value in a few years.

I learned from those two mistakes, though, and will leave you with this tip:

Buy NYT. You don’t have to bother to look up what the stock-market experts have to say. In a sea of tattered and torn newspapers, that is one that has consistently been good and is one of very few that remains family controlled.

The Sulzbergers would never have sold to Tom Murphy. They might be the only newspaper people who are as smart today as he was back then.

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It’s become painfully clear the past couple of days that the Texas Department of Public Safety is all hat and no cattle.

Or, in the alternative, all cowboy but no law enforcement.

Check this out…

Those boys with the 10-gallon hats, gray suits and red ties look pretty dang formidable don’t they?

Well, I think it was guys like those — at least in spirit, if not attire — who held their ground in Uvalde on Tuesday while an 18-year-old with an AR-15 was inside an elementary school killing 19 children and two teachers.

Not only wouldn’t “law enforcement” enter the building, they wouldn’t let a specially trained cadre of Border Patrol agents go in… agents who had arrived within half an hour of reports of an “active shooter” and were champing at the bit to be cut loose to go get the turd with the semi-automatic rifle. They had to cool their heels for about 45 minutes before Texas authorities gave them the green light.

For the first couple of days after the shooting, this was an all-out “cover-your-ass” effort by Texas law enforcement authorities.

It took two days for them to officially retract the bogus report that a school security guard had confronted the shooter when he entered the school. Remember that business about “confusion” over whether the guard and the shooter had exchanged gunfire?

Not only was there no exchange of gunfire, there was no guard!

The shooter entered through an unlocked door — a fact that is probably going to cost the school district, or its insurance company, millions of dollars.

Then there was NRA-lapdog Gov. Greg Abbott’s initial reaction. On Tuesday, several hours after the shooting, he took to the podium in Uvalde (this was after attending a fund-raiser in a county north of Houston, which showed what he’s really made of) and praised law enforcement’s response to the shooting…

“As horrible as what happened, it could have been worse. The reason it was not worse is because law enforcement officials did what they do. They showed amazing courage by running toward gunfire for the singular purpose of trying to save lives.”

What they showed, in truth, was amazing cowardice.

On Friday, The Washington Post quoted Texas state Rep. Richard Raymon, a Democrat, as saying: “If I were the governor, when you have something this terrible affecting so many lives, I would want to make sure my information is rock solid. You can’t fumble this one.”

Abbott, who is running for re-election this year, didn’t just fumble the ball; he never made it to the huddle. He just went on stage and ad libbed.

It remains to be seen if Texas voters will hold Abbott responsible for the Department of Public Safety’s meltdown. My guess is they won’t because, as I’ve said, before — or at least intimated — Texas is probably the worst state in the country.

Many elected officials in Texas, like Abbott, are horrible. One of the good ones, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro put it on Abbott when he told The Post that the erroneous statements from state leaders and law enforcement had “shaken Texans’ confidence in state government and in the governor.”

Castro also accused Abbott of having made state “more dangerous by making it easier for dangerous people to get a gun.”

Among other things, a year ago Abbott signed into law a bill allowing Texans to carry handguns without a license or training. Salvador Ramos may have directly benefited from that.


In Wednesday’s post, I ran a couple of graphics that illustrate how disproportionate the homicide and mass-shooting rates are in the U.S., compared to other wealthy and developed countries.

Here’s another graphic that my friend Lonnie Shalton, a retired attorney with the Polsinelli firm, sent me yesterday. It shows how the number of mass shootings in the U.S. have skyrocketed in recent decades.

All the arguments made by advocates of few or no restrictions on gun purchasing — arguments like it’s a mental-health problem or we need to increase prison terms for violent criminals — pale beside this and similar graphics.

Back in the 1980s, mass shootings looked, on this chart, like a rifle shot. Now they look like a shotgun blast…And the body count reflects the evolving horror.

And now, to wrap up this grim treatise, I want to quote New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, whose latest piece was published online today under the headline “America May Be Broken Beyond Repair.”

The last paragraph is the gut punch.

“The real nightmare is not that the repetition of nihilist terrorism brings American politics to an inflection point, but that it doesn’t. The nightmare is that we simply stumble on, helpless as things keep getting worse.”

Read it again, then get to bed (it’s after midnight) and sleep as tight as you can.

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We live in a wonderful but horribly fucked up country.

The U.S. offers the best quality of life and the best opportunity for people to reach their potential, and yet it is the most dangerous, wealthy country in the world.

It tops that category for one reason: lack of political will to impose reasonable gun-control laws.

I was shocked — shouldn’t have been but was — when I got our of bed this morning and saw this New York Times graphic.

The homicide rate in America is more than double that of the second highest-ranking wealthy country…Greenland?

In his morning report, Dave Leonhardt of The Times wrote: “If American gun violence is no longer surprising, it still is shocking. On an average day in the U.S., more than 35 people are murdered with a gun. No other affluent country in the world has a gun homicide rate nearly as high.”


It is maddening that the vast majority of the public favors stricter gun-control laws, such as mandatory background checks and licensing, but intransigent, bought-and-paid-for Republican lawmakers at every level have succeeded in blocking the path to rational regulation.

It is maddening to see Gov. Greg Abbott, one of the biggest gun-rights advocates, out front in response to the Uvalde, TX, murders of 19 school children and two teachers.

Today, Abbott said his state does not need to adopt tougher gun laws because gun restriction is “not a real solution” to ending mass shootings. He regurgitated the now-rote, Republican line that the answer is improved school safety and better mental health care.

I guess that means every student gets a counselor, schools become fortresses and grudge-toting gun carriers fire away at brick walls and bullet-proof windows.

Abbott is one of many prominent Republicans who are certified stooges to the National Rifle Association. It’s so bad that Abbott and fellow Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz are (at this writing) still planning to attend the NRA’s annual convention this weekend in Houston, (along, naturally, with Donald Trump).

I don’t know how much money the NRA has contributed to Abbott’s campaigns, but The Washington Post reported today that 19 current or recent Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Joni Ernst of Iowa, have each received at least $1 million in NRA campaign contributions over their careers, according to 2019 data from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

That the Republicans are in league with an organization that appears to be rotten to the core — as well as committed to the notion that mass shootings are collateral, Second-Amendment damage — is appalling and saddening.

So, while parents, other relatives and friends continue trying to come to grips with the fact that 19 children and two teachers are gone forever, the backslapping, handshaking and searching for the latest in gun firepower will go on, full tilt, this weekend in Houston.

God help us.

The mass shooter’s weapon of choice, the AR-15


Here’s another graphic from today’s (Thursday’s) New York Times morning report…

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We returned to Kansas City this evening after a busy, four-day visit to my hometown of Louisville, KY.

In past years, we’ve gone to Louisville during Derby Week, but this year, with the ticket and lodging prices having skyrocketed, Patty suggested we travel two weeks later and go to Churchill Downs the day of the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. That way, we could save money, see friends and relatives and also make it out to Churchill Downs.

We stayed in an Airbnb just a few blocks from where I lived until I left Louisville for a newspaper job in northern Kentucky in 1968. (I didn’t stay there long, winding up in KC in September 1969.)

The morning after we arrived in Louisville, I took a walk around my old neighborhood.

This is St. Agnes, Newburg Road and Speed Avenue, where I went to grade school.
Across Newburg Road from the school is Kaelin’s Restaurant, which claims to be “the home of the cheeseburger” and which may have had the first carryout window of any restaurant in the country. (The carryout window was in the recessed area behind the red umbrella.) Kaelin’s was also the first Louisville restaurant that sold Col. Harlan Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken.
As far as a I know, this landmark sign has been there since the restaurant was founded, which was before we moved to the neighborhood.
A couple of hundred yards from the school is St. Agnes Church, where I served many a 6:30 a.m. Mass and where I “confessed” to the parish priests to being besieged by “impure thoughts.” I can’t tell you how many “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys” I said to try to atone for those terrible sins.
About a block from the church was our modest, two-bedroom home at 1632 Ruth Avenue. A big Chinese elm once graced the front yard, and my father affixed a basketball goal to the garage. Also back then, the driveway consisted of two narrow concrete paths — wide enough to accommodate the car tires — not the wide slab that’s there now.
This is looking down Ruth Avenue in the direction of Newburg Road and St. Agnes Church. When we moved to Ruth in about 1951, the section of the street you are looking at was a bed of rocks, not pavement. The pavement came a year or two after we arrived.


I also got in a round of golf…

That’s my dear, longtime friend Bill Russell at left and another longtime friend, Bernie Bell, at right.

We also visited cousins Sharron Hillbrecht (left) and Colleen Salazar. Sharron and Colleen are the oldest daughters of my father’s youngest brother.


On Saturday, we made it to the track…

Here the horses are coming out onto the track for one of 10 races that day. In the background, middle right, is the Winner’s Circle, where Rich Strike had the Bed of Roses tossed over his mane on Derby Day, May 7.
Before one of the races, my friend Bill, his wife Denise Carroll and Patty studied the program.

We stayed for about five races and decided to leave as storm clouds rolled in. Leaving when we did was a bad call: no sooner had we started for the car than the skies opened up, and pouring rain and howling wind laid waste to our small umbrellas. We went back to Bill and Denise’s downtown condo, borrowed outfits from them while our wet clothes took a spin in the drier, then settled down to bet the Preakness on the Twin Spires app.

If you’ll recall, my Derby pick was Zandon, on whom I bet $100 to win. He finished third, behind Rich Strike and Epicenter. On Preakness Day, though, it was a different story. Being a good Democrat, I felt sure that the No. 5 horse, Early Voting, was going to run well. In addition to fancying the name, I also like Early Voting’s trainer, Chad Brown, who trained Zandon and is regarded as the best trainer on the East Coast.

I stuck with Brown in the Preakness and was rewarded with a $187 profit, which made me a winner in the first two legs of the 2022 Triple Crown.

…It was a great trip to Louisville. Good to see the old neighborhood, spend time with friends and relatives and spend a few hours, once again, in the Churchill Downs grandstand under the Twin Spires.

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With news coverage so splintered these days among online publications and old-fashioned newspapers, I’m here to help you sort out some of the main things the Missouri General Assembly did or didn’t do in the last few days of this year’s session, which ended this afternoon.

As I see it, here are some of the positives that came out of the session…

:: A big, fat state budget of $49 billion, up from $40.9 billion this year, due primarily to billions dollars in federal Covid relief funding. Two key items in the budget are $2.5 billion to pay for expanded eligibility to the Medicaid program and $925 million to increase payments to providers serving people with developmental disabilities, nursing home patients and people needing assistance to remain in their homes through the Medicaid program.

:: Retention of the “6-2” congressional map, which leaves intact U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s 5th District. A group of ultra-conservative senators sought unsuccessfully to unravel the cohesive 5th District and stretch it eastward like a piece of bubblegum to dilute the Democratic vote and, ideally, turn it Republican, resulting in a “7-1” Republican-dominated map.

Emanuel Cleaver

:: The state, instead of the Kansas City and St. Louis public school districts, will pick up the cost of funding Missouri’s public charter schools at the same level as traditional public schools. Under an earlier version of the bill, approved by the House in March, millions of dollars in funds would have been stripped away from the Kansas City and St. Louis public school districts in order to make up for a formula disparity where charter schools are currently paid less per student. According to the fiscal note attached to the original House bill, KCPSD would have lost more than $8 million to public charter schools, and the St. Louis district would have been shorted about $18 million. Ultimately, the legislature decided the state should make up the difference – which, again, goes back to that big, fat budget.

:: Some of the best things to emerge from the session were things that didn’t get approved. For example, left on the cutting-room floor were bills that would have legalized sports wagering, diluted the open records law, and made it significantly harder to amend the state constitution through the initiative petition process…Legalized sports betting may help Kansas lure the Chiefs to Kansas, and as I wrote several days, ago, let ’em go. They’ve always had absentee owners and have never been as committed to Jackson County and Kansas City, MO, as the Royals.


There were, of course, some negatives, including big changes in voting practices.

:: Beginning Jan. 1, 2024, Missouri voters will be required to present a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot. That is not the case currently, and Republicans have been trying to enact a photo ID requirement for 15 years.

:: Local election authorities will no longer be able to use touchscreen voting machines. We’ll be leapfrogging back to the all-paper-ballot system, where we try to darken those little holes with little pencils that are down to the nub by Election Day afternoon…This is ludicrous. Touchscreen voting is easier, more reliable and probably less costly in the long run. Republicans want to do away with it because some fear the touchscreen machines are connected to the internet and the Chinese are getting in there and manipulating votes…In actuality, the Chinese are sleeping while we’re voting, and they don’t care who we vote for.

Enough of this!

:: The only good thing to come out of the voting bill is that it provides for a two-week, pre-Election-Day window when people can vote absentee without an excuse…Hallelujah! I can finally stop lying down to those workers down at Union Station.

:: Finally, the General Assembly approved two bills aimed at requiring the city to spend more money on law enforcement. One bill would would raise the minimum percentage of Kansas City’s general-fund revenue that must be spent on police from 20 percent to 25 percent. (We’re talking tens of millions of dollars that could otherwise go to street resurfacing, bridge repair, park amenities and other quality-of-life-and-city basics.) The other bill provides for a statewide vote to amend the constitution to allow the legislature to increase the percentage from 20 percent.

The KCPD-spending bills were intended, more than anything, as a poke in the eye to Mayor Quinton Lucas, who along with a Council super-majority, last year had the audacity to try to reallocate $42 million from the police budget to establish a Community Services and Prevention Fund. Unfortunately, the Council’s surprise move didn’t work out. The Board of Police Commissioners sued, and a Jackson County Circuit Court judge ruled the council had overstepped its authority to redirect police funding after it had approved the budget.

…I love Kansas City. It’s just that residing in Missouri is a prerequisite. C’est la vie.

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Just like last year, I learned belatedly that a Kansas City journalist had won a Pulitzer prize.

Last year, after I had posted my Pulitzer story, my friend Dan Margolies at KCUR informed me that a colleague of his, Chris Haxel, had been one of four NPR correspondents who shared the prize for Audio Reporting. Haxel had contributed a podcast to the Guns & America national reporting project.

I worked that into the post an hour or so after publication.

This year, it took me nearly a full day to find out that a Kansas City reporter had won a Pulitzer this year.

I found out by reading The Beacon’s morning, emailed newsletter.

The local winner was a young woman named Madison Hopkins, who for the last seven months has worked as health care accountability reporter for The Beacon, which made its debut two years ago.

Madison, who, I believe, is in her late 20s, did not win for work she has done for The Beacon but for a series she worked on at her previous employer, the Better Government Association in Chicago.

Madison and 28-year-old Cecila Reyes of the Chicago Tribune collaborated on an examination of Chicago’s long history of failed building- and fire-safety code enforcement, which gave unscrupulous landlords the opportunity to commit serious violations that resulted in dozens of unnecessary deaths.

Madison Hopkins and her former colleagues at the Better Government Association celebrated Monday’s announcement of her (and their) Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.

This was not, of course, the first Pulitzer for the Trib, but it was for the 99-year-old BGA, a non-partisan, nonprofit news organization that works for transparency, efficiency and accountability in government in Chicago and across Illinois.

Hopkins’ and Reyes’ series, which ran in April 2021, followed more than a year of reporting and uncovered 61 deaths from fires in buildings that, the BGA said, “the city knew had fire safety issues, sometimes for years.”

Cecilia Reyes

The investigation highlighted the city’s failure to follow up on complaints about hazards and how the city put landlords’ interests ahead of tenants’ safety.

Most of the 61 people who died were Black.

This Pulitzer was for local reporting, a very prestigious category. It was in the local category that The Kansas City Star and Times won the 1982 Pulitzer for their overall coverage of the Hyatt Regency disaster.


Hopkins’ award says a lot not only about her but also about Kelsey Ryan, who founded The Beacon, a non-profit, online news outlet focused, according to its website, “on in-depth journalism in the public interest.”

Ryan was hired by The Star in 2017 and a year and a half later was summarily laid off. Her reaction? After getting a 7 a.m. phone call apprising her of the news, she “had a good cry” and immediately set about determining what she would do next.

Kelsey Ryan

It only took her a few hours…

By 3 p.m., my work email was downloaded and my resume updated. And by 5 p.m., I realized I really didn’t want to ever work for another McClatchy paper. Or Gannett. Or GateHouse. Or (insert name of struggling newspaper company here). That in some ways, going to another newspaper was the easy route, to grab a lifeboat and hope it won’t sink itself in the next year or two. To bury my head in the sand, pretending more layoffs wouldn’t happen. Instead, I decided I would build a new ship.

She christened and launched that ship less than two year later. It’s done well enough that she was able to expand last year to Wichita, where she worked for The Eagle before working at The Star. (The Eagle is also a McClatchy paper.)

When Kelsey hired Madison last fall, I don’t know if she had any idea Madison would be in the hunt for a Pulitzer several months later. But, in any event, the hiring is a testament to Kelsey’s managerial instincts and experience. Kelsey now has a Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter on her staff, which should help raise The Beacon’s profile and readership.

…A final note: I find it ironic that where The Star’s Pulitzer-Prize winner, Melinda Henneberger, is looking at KC in the rear view mirror, on her way to The Sacramento Bee, Madison Hopkins is barely out of the car and still probably finding her way around town.

Let’s hope she stays a while and makes a big contribution to local journalism.

You can see some of her stories for The Beacon here.

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After three straight years in the “finalist” role, Melinda Henneberger finally got over the top today and won a Pulitzer Prize for her resolute, journalistic campaign to hold former Kansas City, KS, detective Roger Golubski to account for his own resolute campaign to besmirch the badge.

Congratulations to The Star and Melinda!

Henneberger, who announced recently she was leaving The Star to write a regular column for McClatchy’s flagship paper The Sacramento Bee, was quoted on The Star’s website as saying she was overwhelmed.

I really don’t know what to say except that this is extremely humbling and, as I may have mentioned a few hundred times before, that it’s past time for the FBI to show up with some handcuffs. If this brings some measure of justice to Roger Golubski’s victims at long last, then that will be the best award.

The line about the FBI and handcuffs couldn’t be more appropriate. He is very credibly alleged to have raped and extorted sexual favors from Black women, sometimes pressuring them into fabricating evidence in cases he was handling.

Who knows how many people were wrongfully charged because Golubski let his sexual appetite and crookedness corrupt his commitment to public service?

Police chief after police chief in KCK averted their eyes at what had to be well known among officers — that Golubski was the worst type of cop.

One of his partners was Terry Zeigler, a former chief. In a court deposition, a woman said Golubski raped her in her home and told her Zeigler was waiting outside in a patrol car. The Star could never get Zeigler to comment.

Golubski retired from the KCK department in 2010 but then worked for the Edwardsville Police Department for six years before retiring completely in 2016.

Henneberger, in a 2019 Star photo.


The New York Times won four Pulitzers, including one for an investigation into deadly police traffic stops around the country.

The Washington Post won in the public service category for its examination of what led up to, and what transpired during and after, the Jan. 6 siege of the U.S. Capitol.

The feature writing award went to Jennifer Senior of The Atlantic for an account of one family’s reckoning with loss in the 20 years since 9/11.

You can read about all the winners here.


On another police-related matter, Patty, Brooks and I were sitting in the kitchen last night when, about 9:15, we began hearing many sirens, seemingly close by. We live a block from Meyer Circle, so our presumption, when we hear nearby sirens, is always that there was a wreck at the circle.

Patty and Brooks decided to walk down toward the circle to see what was going on. I stayed behind.

When they returned, they reported that a major wreck had, indeed, taken place; that one car was overturned; and that our across-the-street neighbor had told them at least one person had died.

Sure enough, The Star reported today that “one person was killed after being partly ejected through the sunroof of an SUV in a rollover crash on Ward Parkway in Kansas City Sunday evening.”

The victim was as 42-year-old Cory Walter. None of the news outlets was reporting where Walter lived, but whitepages.com shows a Cory Walter, in his 40s, living in Grain Valley.

Walter was one of two occupants of a black Chevrolet Equinox that was westbound in the north leg of the circle and failed to yield to a stop sign in the circle. The Equinox pulled right in front of a southbound, gray Toyota Camry, and the impact overturned the Equinox.

This is the crash site, looking east. The Equinox did not stop for the stop sing in the circle, and the southbound car (like the one coming from left to right) T-boned it.

There was a strange twist to the case: The second occupant of the Equinox (police had not determined who was driving) climbed out of the SUV and ran away.

Fortunately, neither of two people in the Camry was injured.

After reading and thinking about this, I sent an email to Mayor Quinton Lucas’ chief of staff, asking her to pass on to him a suggestion…which is, that he encourage the Police Department to launch an all-out campaign on speeding and reckless driving.

As I said in my email, with all the ridiculously scary driving we see every day, I can’t think of a better service to public safety. I believe a sustained barrage of citations would help rein in the frightening situation on our streets and highways.

And don’t tell me it wouldn’t make any difference. When traffic laws are being enforced, word gets around, and speeders notice when reckless compatriots are pulled over and blue lights flashing.

Detritus from the crash.

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I lost $100 on the Derby, but I don’t care. It was the best and most exciting Derby in a decade or more.

Our 34-year-old daughter Brooks, a bid Derby fan, summed it up in a text she sent me and Patty minutes after the race: “Crazy!! Great Derby. So great to have something unexpected happen!!!”

Yes, this Derby — with 80-1 longshot Rich Strike, barreling through on the rail to prevail in the last few strides — was worth every one of those exclamation points.

Watching the race on TV, I thought the horse I had bet on, Zandon, one of the betting favorites, was going to win. He was engaged in a stretch battle with another betting favorite, Epicenter, and I was focused on those two. It was a bit discombobulating, then, to see Rich Strike, wearing saddle cloth No. 21, whoosh by both of them on the inside, where it’s usually difficult to gain ground.

Rich Strike, who had been purchased earlier in his racing career for a measly $30,000, paid $163.20 on a $2 bet.

It was the second biggest winning payoff in Derby history, behind only Donerail who paid $184.90 in 1913.

Joe Drape, a Kansas City native who has been turf writer for The New York Times for many years, had a compelling description of Rich Strike’s trip around the track.

(Jockey Sonny) Leon guided Rich Strike almost 90 degrees out of the gate, going from the 20th path to the inside. Then, they rode the rail like a couple of hobos.

Leon and his colt were unhurried as they followed 17 other horses chasing a wicked early pace into the far turn.

“Nobody knows my horse like I know my horse.” Leon said.

Leon started guiding his horse through the pack, zigzagging like someone late for work on a busy Manhattan sidewalk. Ahead of them, Epicenter and Zandon looked each other in the eye for what was going to be duel to the wire in the middle of the track.

“I had to wait until the stretch and that’s what I did,” Leon said, “and then the rail opened up.”

In the final strides, Drape wrote, “Leon and Rich Strike flashed past like a bottle rocket.”


Patty and I watched at a Derby party on the rooftop of the Crossroads Hotel. We were with good friends, Leigh and Lorraine Elmore, with whom we go way back. In fact, the night I brazenly first approached Patty in the back room of the New Stanley Bar in Westport, she was sitting with Lorraine. Not just sitting, but smoking and drinking. (She gave up the smoking several years later.)

Now, here are several photos I took atop the Crossroads Hotel.

It was a little difficult to see the TVs because of the glare, but not bad enough that I didn’t see Rich Strike go by my horse, Zandon.
A rooftop view looking north, toward Downtown.
Patty, looking like a winner.
Lorraine, wearing a hat she decorated with artificial flowers and butterfly.
Patty and the blogger.
Fashionable party goers.

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It’s Derby Day, and even though I’m 500 miles away, I’m a bundle of pent-up energy…as usual.

For decades, I’ve awakened on Derby Day with eyes wide open and blood running a little faster.

Despite all the problems horse racing has had — sickening, terminal injuries and cheating trainers — and despite my beefing about how Churchill Downs has ruined the event for average people by raising prices to stratospheric levels, it’s still an amazing event.

As Kentucky-born writer Irvin S. Cobb (1876 – 1944) wrote many years ago, “Until you go to Kentucky and with your own eyes behold the Derby, you ain’t never been nowhere and you ain’t seen nothin’!”

Mainly because of the prohibitive prices of Derby lodging and tickets, Patty and I didn’t go to Louisville for Derby Week. Instead, we’re going to a Derby party in the Crossroads District — a party that’s a benefit for the Kansas City Museum. (I intend to post some photos later.)

I’m glad we’re here, too. While it’s picture-perfect, Derby weather in Kansas City, in Louisville it’s 60 degrees and cloudy. I’ve been to Derbies in rain, snow and sun, and, needless to say, it’s much more fun on a perfect spring day.

We got our bets down through Louisville friends, who have the online-betting app. Missouri, as most of you know, does not have legalized sports betting, and its residents cannot sign up for any of the betting apps.

I’m betting $100 to win on Zandon, who is coming from the No. 10 post position, right in the middle of the 20-horse field. (I also placed a $20-to-win bet on Zandon for my longtime barber and good friend, Cecil.)

Patty bet $10 to win on Smile Happy, No. 5.

I expect Zandon to be either the favorite or the second favorite, along with Epicenter, who will be coming “out of the 3 hole,” as they say in racing.

(If you’re wondering where the name Zandon came from, his owner, Jeff Drown, named him after a hunting guide in Colorado.

Interestingly, the trainers of both Zandon (Chad Brown) and Epicenter (Steve Asmussen) have never won a Derby, even though they are two of the top trainers in the country. Asmussen has had 13 starters in the Derby and Brown six.

Chad Brown

Indicative, in part, of why horse racing has fallen out of favor is the fact that both trainers have had their problems with allegations of dishonesty or unfairness.

In 2014, state and federal regulators investigated Asmussen over accusations by the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that some of his horses were subjected to various forms of cruelty, including having been administered drugs for non-therapeutic purposes and having a jockey use an electrical device to shock horses into running faster.

No charges came from the investigation.

Steve Asmussen

Brown, back in 2019, was ordered to pay $1.62 million in back wages, civil penalties and damages for underpaying 150 employees. Brown and his racing company admitted in federal court to violating federal labor and immigration laws by failing to pay required hourly and overtime pay to horse groomers and stable hands working at the Saratoga Race Course and Belmont Park in New York State.

Brown also has at least one violation of improper medication on his record.

Still, Brown seems to me to be more above board than Asmussen, and I think he’s got a great chance to get his first Derby victory today.

Four weeks ago, Zandon won a Derby prep race, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, KY, after coming from last place.

With the customary 20 horses in the Derby field, it’s difficult for “closers” to get around or through the pack to get to the wire first. In early races at Churchill Downs today, however, at least two winners have come from well off the pace, which seems to bode well for Zandon.

About 6 p.m. today, Kansas City time, I’m looking for Zandon to be charging down the lane.

Whoo-hoo! It’s Derby Day.

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I really don’t want to write any more about Rick Smith. He was arguably the worst police chief we’ve had in the last 50 years. But I can’t help myself.

I said in an April 21 post that he would leave office with a handsome payout, and yesterday I found out just what it entailed. It was just short of $275,000.

Here are the details, sent by a Kansas City p.i.o. officer shortly after I requested it.

This package is not as outrageous as the one Smith’s predecessor, Darryl Forte, got — $500,000 — but it’s still way too much.

Of course, this isn’t Smith’s fault; he just took advantage of the liberal policies approved by the tone-deaf, Republican-dominated Board of Police Commissioners. And it shows, again, why we need — but won’t get anytime soon — local control over KCPD.

That Smith can do the damage he did to this once-admirable department and this community and still step aside with more than a quarter of million dollars is a damn shame.

The only way it could have been worse was if it wasn’t a matter of public record…And look out for what’s going on in Jefferson City because the Republican-dominated General Assembly is doing everything it can to dilute the Sunshine Law. In a year or two, those legislators and whoever the next Republican governor is could pretty well have that law gutted.


If you’ll recall, I took a swipe at Kansas PBS a couple of weeks ago for putting out a ridiculous, promotional plug for a “Week in Review” segment Nick Haines was doing on Smith.

The e-mailed promo said Smith “swings by the Kansas City PBS studios” and “tells all to Nick Haines.”

Anybody who’s watched Smith lead the department the last five years knows there’s never been a “tells all” moment for Smith. He never says anything in interviews. In fact, he gave very few, preferring to “speak” through his blog.

In keeping with form, he didn’t say anything in the interview with Haines, despite Haines’ best effort to get him to be specific. Let me give you a couple of examples from the interview, which aired Friday, April 29.


Haines: What do you look back on today as your biggest accomplishment?

Smith: Oh, man, there’s a lot, a lot of accomplishments.

Haines: Name one.

Smith: One I think the department’s in a pretty good spot. We’ve had our challenges but we’re doing some things that are great — social workers; technology; the foundation that supports us; the officers restructuring things to make officers be able to do the work that they need to be able to do; trying to take some impact off of our district officers so that they can do the job that they need to do; shift some duties around. I mean all of that, in the whole, makes an impact. The community ties and the neighborhood support we have out there for our officers when they go out and do the work…all of that. It’s one big situation rather than one little piece here and there, in my opinion.

Haines: Do you have any regrets?

Smith: I don’t think I have any regrets.

Haines: Is there anything you would have done differently?

Smith: Of course. There’s all kinds of things you do differently…And I don’t know that I have any one answer to that about, hey, I should have talked to this person or done that, but, you know, overall, were my actions, you know, honorable for the department? I think so. I think I always tried to do it with integrity. Do I wish some things would have panned out? I said May of 2020 would have been a lot different if we didn’t have Covid because this department would have been having meetings and things like that. And there was restrictions and even more challenges getting back to what we normally do. 


And now, before we bid a final and not-so-fond farewell to Rick Smith, here’s my assessment of his term as chief…

When he took the oath of office, he undoubtedly promised to protect and serve the citizens of Kansas City and the city itself. But from Day One, the city and its residents were down the pecking order, well behind “the department.” (Look again at those two answers above.)

For Smith, the job was all about protecting the department — protecting it when it was in the right and protecting it when it was wrong.

And it was all about protecting each and every officer — every good officer and every bad officer, and there are plenty of both.

The city and many of its citizens suffered greatly under Rick Smith, and, as a result, the department that he loves so much went downhill.

He fell flat. Bam. Right on his face, right in the mud.

Now, let’s turn the page and hope for a better chief in a system that still sucks.

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