Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

As you’ve probably noticed, I no longer write much about The Kansas City Star.

The main reason is there isn’t a lot to say. The paper’s website is mostly a wasteland — mainly sports and restaurant comings and goings — and the investigative work it undertakes often doesn’t relate to the Kansas City area.

(For example, the paper has been on a tear the last year or so regarding abusive operators of outstate boarding schools. While that’s important and certainly newsworthy, it has limited appeal to core readers; I never hear anyone talking about those stories.)

Today, though, while reading the “e” edition — the electronic version of the printed paper — I noticed that The Star recently suffered a major loss: The name of Colleen McCain Nelson, who since 2016 had been The Star’s vice president and editorial page paper, was missing from the masthead.

A Google search turned up that she resigned last month to become executive editor of The Sacramento Bee and to oversee McClatchy’s five other California papers, as well.

I am pretty sure The Star did not play the story of Nelson’s departure prominently. I’m an online subscriber, and I check the website several times a day and did not see the story there — although it’s possible I missed it.

Checking the search bar on the website, I found that reporter Kevin Hardy had a Jan. 7 story about her resignation. The story quoted Star president and editor Mike Fannin as saying…

We’re thrilled about Colleen’s well-earned promotion but sad to lose the best editorial page editor in the country. She has built a world-class team in Kansas City, reinvigorated our opinion journalism and set a very high bar for her successor.


Let me put this more explicitly: During her four years at The Star, Nelson was the most pivotal and important employee at the paper. The Star could carry on more easily without Fannin than without Nelson. At a time when many newspapers were thinning out their opinion pages, Nelson was rebuilding and fortifying The Star’s opinion pages.

I have been particularly impressed during the last year, when Nelson turned The Star toward endorsing local control of the police department and called for Chief Rick Smith to resign or be fired. She saw clearly how poor the police department relations are with the African American community and how ludicrous it is for the biggest police department in a Democratic county to be run by do-nothing political appointees of a Republican governor in a Republican state.

So what happens with the opinion pages now?

It’s a good question, and Fannin didn’t address it in the Jan. 7 story. He said nothing about choosing a successor for Nelson, which leads me to believe that her successor will be promoted from within. I seriously doubt that the hedge fund that owns McClatchy — Chatham Asset Management out of New Jersey — will give the green light to hiring an experienced, highly paid editorial page editor. Chatham will be looking to reduce payroll and to direct the savings into return on investment.

If a successor is chosen from within, the options are somewhat limited.

With Nelson gone, the editorial board now consists of Fannin, who writes no editorials; Derek Donovan, who mostly handles letters to the editor; Toriano Porter, who writes almost exclusively about racial issues; Michael Ryan, the token conservative board member; Dave Helling, a versatile journalist with a strong reporting background; and Melinda Henneberger, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist who is married to a Star mid-level editor named Bill Turque.

Clearly, Helling and Henneberger would be the top two internal candidates. However, both are nearing retirement age. Helling is about 65, and Henneberger is about 63. Would either want to take on that much responsibility at this stage of their careers? On the other hand, one of them could take the job with the intent of maintaining, in the short term, the well-oiled operation Nelson put together.

However this goes, though, I think The Star’s editorial-page operation has seen its best days and that we will see a gradual decline from here…And I say that hoping the decline is gradual rather than precipitous.

For Nelson, on the other hand, the view is up. She’s only 46 and should have many great years ahead of her. It would not surprise me if she wound up working for the opinion section of either The Washington Post or The New York Times.

The Star and Kansas City were lucky to have her the last four years. I met her only once and never got to know her, but I will miss her strong and inspired leadership at The Star.

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The king is dead. Long live the king — whoever the next king of conservative, talk radio may be.

Oh, yes, there will be one. And we Democrats will be hanging on the edge of our chairs to see who will succeed Rush Limbaugh, a Missouri native (Boot Heel, fittingly enough), who died today at age 70 from complications of lung cancer.

Now, I’m sorry for his family and friends, but I’m sure not going to miss his ridiculous, ditto-head ruminations.

Got to hand it to the guy, though, he went down full tilt, throwing haymakers even while succumbing to a larger force than his grating personality.

His last broadcast was Feb. 2, just 15 days before he died.

If it was me — if I was lucky enough to have several months notice, like Rush did — I’d be preparing for a happy death, not taking every last opportunity to skewer enemies, perceived or real.

But not Rush. Just to show you how much he was “in form” while not far from his deathbed, here are two excerpts from his last broadcast and, as a bonus, his last social media post.


The ruler of Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, is graciously and generously allowing restaurants to resume indoor dining. She took credit for the state’s COVID numbers dropping, due to the “targeted and temporary pause” that she ordered in November. The governor thanked all those who made “incredible sacrifices and did their part.” She said she knows the pandemic has hurt restaurant owners, workers, and their families. Governor Whitmer, the pandemic hurt those who got the coronavirus. What hurt restaurant owners, workers, and their families was the tyrannical response to the pandemic from Democrat governors like you.

Fifteen days before leaving this mortal coil, and what was on Rush’s mind? The “tyranny”of a governor trying to protect the 10 million residents of her state.


Then, there was this, in response to a caller named Darlene, from Colorado, who wanted to talk about former President Trump’s second impeachment….

They (Democrats) don’t have the votes to convict him. So he’s gonna be acquitted. But that’s not why they’re doing this. They’re not doing this to actually convict him. They’re doing this to continue the smear…

They’re looking at this as an opportunity to shape public opinion even more against Trump. They have an opportunity here to continue to impugn, to criticize, to make up whatever they want about the guy. They’ve got the mainstream media in their back pocket to amplify whatever they say. So this is just an ongoing effort…

Fifteen days before the Grim Reaper came knocking, and what was Rush preoccupied with? Why, the evil Democrats allegedly trying to “impugn” a former president with neither morals nor character.


And, finally, in his last social media post (also on Feb. 2) he lit into President Joe Biden, saying…

Biden canceled “a major foreign policy speech,” folks, over two inches of snow. I kid you not.

Fifteen days before “lights out,” and Rush was swinging so wildly that he went after Biden for delaying a speech that would be given two days later.


Now, I’m assuming Rush is in heaven, because God is not mean and God harbors no resentment. But I suspect that, for the first time in his life, Rush, tonight, is feeling humble.

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I don’t want to tell you what the temperature is today down here in Clearwater, or yesterday in Naples.

You have to trust me when I say we are not gloating about missing the coldest spell in Kansas City in many years. We feel a bit guilty. That we missed the frigid front was just dumb luck.

When we left a week ago Friday, it was normally cold, not ridiculously so. It took us three days to get to Naples, and the temperature didn’t hit 70 until we got well south of Gainesville, where we spent the second night. But when we got to Naples, our destination for the first week of our winter sojourn, it was close to 80. It stayed that way, during the daytime, much of the week.

Yesterday was moving day. We departed in the early afternoon, drove through some rain and got to Clearwater about 5 p.m.

Today it’s cloudy and muggy. Patty and our good Kansas City friend Julie, who with her husband Jim, owns a house in Clearwater, have gone to the beach. Jim, a retired contractor, is working on their house. And me? I’m writing this winter letter to my readers, friends and relatives back home.

Tomorrow, I play golf…I played twice in Naples with our Louisville friends, Bill and Denise. To show you the difference between Naples and Clearwater, it cost $120 to play 18 holes in Naples, and it will cost about $55 to play at the Clearwater Country Club, which isn’t really a country club in the true sense because it’s open to the public.

Anyway, I know that some nice hot-weather photos will help tide you over to the weekend, when it’s due to get bearable again back home. So away we go…

Here’s the house we stayed in while in Naples. It’s owned by a Louisville physician, who rents it out to friends for part of the year. Our friends Bill and Denise have rented it for three weeks each of the last several winters. It looks rather small from the front, it’s got a large addition on the back. Altogether, it has four bedrooms and four baths.

For the most part, Naples has become a retreat for people of phenomenal wealth. Every day we saw or heard numerous big, private jets flying overhead on their way out of Naples. Homes like this are the exception. Modest houses are being bought, scraped and replaced with enormous new ones all the time.

To give you an idea of what’s been going on, this house stands next to the one in the previous picture. Both are on 11th Avenue South, several blocks from the beach, in an older area of Naples.

Many streets are lined with large palm trees, the seminal sign you have found your way to the Sunshine State.

The beach

This is the Naples pier. At one time, Naples was accessible only by water. (The big breakthrough was completion of a railroad line in December 1926.) In the 1880s, a 600-foot-long pier was built as a lifeline to the outside world. It was washed away by a hurricane in 1912, rebuilt and then burned by a carelessly dropped cigarette in 1922. It was repaired and lengthened to 1,000 feet in 1924 but was wrecked again by storms in 1926 and in 1960. After Hurricane Donna in 1960, two local philanthropists donated the money to rebuild the pier, and it reopened in 1961. It has a concession stand at the halfway point, and visitors can fish free of charge…No license needed.

A father and daughter (presumably) frolicked in the water just before sunset.

One day, we made it to the Everglades. While we didn’t go to Everglades National Park, we went to the nearby Big Cypress Nature Preserve, which basically is 729,000 acres of swamp.

A park ranger told us, “If you want to see what it’s like to be out in the swamp, this is it.”

Then there are these guys. This alligator was about 10 feet long…At least it looked that way to me. When I sent this photo to daughter Brooks she was concerned that I had edged close to the gator to get the photo. Not to worry…I shot it from the boardwalk above the waterway.

Before we left the swamp (thank God for the boardwalk), the park ranger took our photo. From left, me, Patty, Bill and Denise.

And that brings us to today, and our new place — an Airbnb on Union Street in Clearwater. It’s got two bedrooms and one bath. Everything works, and there are four bikes in the garage. Another bonus: It’s a block from a convenience store named Munchies. We’ve already been there three times. Tally-ho!

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From experience, I know a lot of people are already  frustrated about the scant information that has come out about Britt Reid and the curious and shocking wreck he was involved in that critically injured a 5-year-old girl.

The police have said the investigation is going to take weeks. Well, don’t be surprised if it takes months.

I’ll bet a lot of people are thinking that Reid will be getting preferential treatment and that police will drag out the investigation in an attempt to let the case get stale in the minds of the public.

If I hadn’t followed another horrific case three years ago, I would think the same thing. But mainly because of that earlier case, I believe the police investigation into the Reid case genuinely will take a long time. There are many factors involved, including toxicology tests, exactly how the crash occurred and witness accounts. While the public is eager to know things like Reid’s blood alcohol content and if he was on the phone when the wreck happened, the police will be painstakingly assembling all the facts and preparing a case file. Once that is done, they will present it to the Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office.

Don’t expect information to be leaked in dribs and drabs. If the police department let information come out piecemeal, it would probably damage the case. What we should all want here is for the police to do a thorough job and submit a complete and coherent file to Jean Peters Baker. And I can assure you of this: If Baker gets a complete and coherent file, she will play this case absolutely straight. Neither Britt Reid nor Andy Reid will be getting a break from this fearless prosecutor.

The key to this case will be the police investigation. If it’s done right, I believe justice will be served. If the police screw it up, justice won’t be served.

Now, let me take you back to the case that serves as a guideline for how long it takes to conduct a thorough investigation of a case involving alcohol, drugs and serious injury or death.

Many of you will remember the case of the guy who, on Sept. 23, 2017, hurtled down the 23rd Street ramp from I-435 at a speed of 90 miles an hour.

The man, who was driving a 2015 Dodge Ram pickup, had been frustrated by the relatively slow pace of traffic on northbound I-435 after a Chiefs’ game. Finally unburdened of traffic in front, he roared down that ramp and slammed into an SUV traveling on 23rd Street. The SUV then plowed into two other vehicles, before the Dodge Ram pickup ended up against a rock wall all the way across the intersection. After the crash, the driver walked around his truck, kicking at it and never looking back at the havoc he had wreaked or bothering to check on the occupants of the other vehicles.

I started writing about that case not long after the crash occurred. I could not understand why the man’s identity didn’t become public and why it was taking the police so long to conduct the investigation. But, as with Britt Reid, drinking and/or drugs were involved, and it’s just a fact of life that the results of toxicology tests don’t come quickly.

It wasn’t until Dec. 1 that I even found out the driver’s name and city of residence — Terry A. Gray of Independence — and that was not because he had been charged but because he was named as defendant in two civil suits seeking damages as a result of the crash.

It was about the same time — more than two months after the crash — that the police department turned the case file over to Baker. Charges were finally filed on Jan. 4, 2018, almost three and a half months after the crash.

Gray was charged with two counts of causing death while driving under the influence and two counts of DWI resulting in serious personal injury. Bond was set at $75,000, but he was able to come up with $7,500, which enabled him to make bond through a bond company.

Then the damnedest thing happened: In early March, two months after being charged, Gray died. He was 51 years old, and it turned out he had cancer — which might have been a factor in his “fuck-the-world” attitude on Sept. 23.

In a March 7, 2018, post about Gray’s death, I wrote: “Sometimes cases don’t end conventionally or neatly. This is such a one.”


So, I would urge everyone to be patient regarding the Britt Reid case. The temptation will be to think the fix is in and the case is going to disappear into thin air. It won’t. The facts will come out. Britt Reid has had d.u.i.’s before, and he’s obviously got a drinking and prescription drug problem. KCPD and Jean Peters Baker know full well that the public is watching this case and that it’s going to be remembered as long as this Super Bowl is remembered.

Britt Reid is in serious trouble, and I believe KCPD and Jean Peters Baker will do the right thing. It’s just going to take time to hold Reid to account. I don’t think his father’s lofty status is going to help him this time, especially if little Ariel should die.

We’re all hoping that doesn’t happen. Near the top of every Kansas Citian’s wish list now is that Ariel will regain consciousness and, in time, make a full recovery.

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When I started writing this, the U.S. House of Representatives was voting on a resolution to strip Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments.

Never has an elected official been more deserving of such a significant punishment for what she has said and what she has suggested should befall members of the opposing party.

We’ve all witnessed her nuttiness — like endorsing the murder of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and asserting that “none of the school shootings were real.”

Now it’s time to pay the piper.

The star of today’s debate in the House was House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland. He held up a poster-board image of Greene wearing aviator-style sunglasses and holding an assault rifle pointed in the direction of Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

The caption on the image, which Greene posted on Facebook during her election campaign last fall, is “Squad’s Worst Nightmare.”  (The “squad” consists of the most progressive members of the Democratic majority.)

Not only did Hoyer display the poster board, he carried it from the Democratic side of the House chamber to the Republican side and held it aloft for them to see up close.

It was an extremely powerful minute, and it rendered the Republican allegations of a Democratic “power grab” anemic.

A few hours earlier, Greene took to the House floor and made an inauthentic and unrepentent attempt to mop up her mess.

Among other things, she said: “I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true, and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret.”

Allowed to believe things?

When someone uses the passive voice when trying to rationalize speech or action, it is never genuine.

But she couldn’t bring herself to apologize — an act which might have spared her the thrashing she was getting.

And like many conservative foot soldiers do these days, she blamed “the media.”

“Big media companies can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.”

Someone she’s not?

Hell, the things she has said are at the core of her being; they reflect utter hatred and a lack of concern for any fellow human beings.

As you know, even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky had to draw the line at Greene, saying she was a “cancer” on the Republican Party and was guilty of spreading “loony lies.”

At the same time, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California didn’t have the courage to denounce Greene and recommend his colleagues strip Greene of her committee memberships. Which prompted this assessment from Michelle Cottelle, a New York Times editorial board member…

Like Mr. McConnell, Mr. McCarthy is a political creature. He has few, if any, discernible values beyond his own ambitions. Unlike Mr. McConnell, Mr. McCarthy is weak and worries too much about being liked. He has neither the vision nor the stomach to play the long game.


And now, as I finish this post, the vote is in: 230-199. Two hundred nineteen Democrats were joined by 11 Republicans in voting to remove Greene from the committees she was on.

Now she’ll have much more time to post her rot on Facebook.

And Kevin McCarthy? This could be the death knell for his star turn as political leader.

Like many of you, I watch with disbelief and some delight as the Republican house continues to crumble.

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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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