Category Archives: St. Louis

Former P-D editorial writer’s Facebook challenge to Rep. Wagner on Obamacare @STLinquiry

by Eddie Roth

As I sit down to write this piece mid-February, top news organizations are reporting a potential watershed in the years-long march by Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature national healthcare program, also known as Obamacare.

Except this time, things are different. The GOP controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. Votes no longer are theater offered to placate the political base. Rather, the votes likely will result in grave consequences to millions of people, including hundreds of thousands in the St. Louis community who depend on Obamacare for access to healthcare.

Repeal efforts now sit menacingly off-shore, like a tropical storm steadily gaining hurricane strength. Its precise path remains uncertain. It may move out to sea. But should it make landfall at full strength, it may devastate the lives of many.

At least that’s how Obamacare repeal should be covered as news. Such coverage should reflect the impending crisis of a potentially deadly storm. It should be the lead daily news story. Reporters should press responsible local officials and community leaders for details and constant updates on contingency plans – focusing attention on those who have the greatest capacity and responsibility to protect the public.

That’s how I have been trying to cover it at my modest social media page on Facebook – “The Office of Special Inquiries and Reports | @STLinquiry,” a page devoted to “timely, independent, non-partisan investigation and analysis of St. Louis questions & controversies.”

Repeal not inevitable

Repeal of Obamacare and resulting hardship are not inevitable.

Enrollment is measured in the tens of millions and has driven down numbers of the uninsured to historic lows. The program’s advent has coincided with one of the nation’s longest sustained periods of job growth. The rate of healthcare costs, meanwhile, has slowed to an extent that actuaries calculate significant savings to entitlement programs.

But not everything about Obamacare has worked out well. Participation of private health insurers has been uneven, market to market. Premiums have risen and become unaffordable to some people who earn too much to be eligible for subsidies.

Political opponents of the Affordable Care Act have seized on these shortcomings and, rather than work to correct them, have done all within their power to undermine the program and poison its reputation in the minds of the public. Many now claim Congress must act to “repeal and replace” because the program is in a “death spiral.”

Still, in the early weeks of the new Congress, practical action to repeal Obamacare has not matched the bloody-shirt political brio. The Obamacare killers have been slow to get out of the gate. Repeal and replace strategies of Congressional Republican leaders have been met with resistance and worry among some of within the Republican caucus who understandably think eliminating Obamacare could cause a major political backlash as millions of Americans lose access to health care.

Impact of repeal on St. Louis residents

Should repeal come, it likely will come suddenly. It will be hustled through with a series of late night votes shrouded in an opaque cloud of alternate facts.  Thus, news organizations should sound an alarm. Conventional news gathering approaches provide many opportunities to do so. I have marshaled data describing the scope of risk to this community, such as by noting, county-by-county, congressional district-by-congressional district, where for the more than 100,000 St. Louisans enrolled in Obamacare reside.

I have explained how sudden loss of health insurance at that scale would look (It is about the same number of people as are employed at BJC (24k), Boeing (15k), Washington University (14.5k), Scott AFB (13.k), Enterprise (6.8k), Express Scripts (6.4k), Monsanto (5.4k), Wells Fargo (5.3k), Edward Jones (5.2k), AB-InBev (4k), and then some, combined).

I have written and linked to information about potential long-term damage to the well being of hundreds of thousands of other St. Louisans who have health insurance but who suffer from or are at risk of chronic disease, and whose access to healthcare, even under high-quality employer provided insurance, depends on Obamacare protections that prohibit insurers from excluding coverage for pre-exisiting conditions and lifetime caps on coverage amounts.

I have tried to define the economic stakes to a community whose local economy has such a high concentration of healthcare related business enterprises, starting with world class hospitals and medical research.  I also have tried to introduce my “small but influential” readership to key local players – people this community will be counting on to help avert disaster.

My focus has been on U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner. I have coined my Obamacare coverage as the #TheAnnWagnerProject. Ms. Wagner is the most influential House member representing the St. Louis region. She is a part of Republican House leadership. Under my #stormwatch metaphor, she’s the equivalent of the St. Louis region’s director of Emergency Management with direct responsibility for protecting the community from potentially disastrous effects of Obamacare repeal.

I regularly email Ms. Wagner’s press secretary. I request information on her plans for “repeal and replace” legislation. I seek comment from Ms. Wagner on steps she plans to take to ensure the St. Louis region is protected.  So far I have received no reply, not even an acknowledgement.

But as part of my coverage, I also have reviewed Ms. Wagner’s Federal Election Commission campaign contribution disclosures. I have sought to identify contributors well known in the community and with reputations for thoughtful moderation in civic matters. I have written to a number of Ms. Wagner’s campaign contributors, inviting their comment on the community stakes involved in Obamacare repeal and what community consultation they would like to see from Congressional leaders such as Ms. Wagner.

Dr. Danforth’s response

One of Ms. Wagner’s most significant campaign contributors, Former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth, accepted the invitation.   Danforth graduated from Harvard Medical School, received his medical training at Barnes Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital and, since 1967, has been a professor of internal medicine at Washington University Medical School. He has served as Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs and president of Washington University Medical Center. From 1971 to 1995, he was Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

In a letter to me, Dr. Danforth wrote:

“You asked for thoughts on national health insurance that might be helpful in talking with Congresswoman Ann Wagner. My reply is probably different from others you might receive.”

“To start with, insurance for health care is very complicated. Health care is complicated with steadily advancing technologies, changing diseases, aging population, evolving private coverage, varying rates of employment, new diseases, new therapies and better prevention.”

“An objective look would conclude that financing health care in the United States has been improved by Obamacare; expenditures have risen slower than expected. Nevertheless, it is clearly imperfect, but to improve it will be hard and complex with possibilities for many mistakes. To throw Obamacare away rather than to learn from it and try to improve it would show very bad judgment, probably cause major decline in insured Americans and add to the burdens, likely including costs of disease.”

“The problem is that there is no tested alternative plan, perhaps no alternative plan at all. To try to write a new plan is risky and likely to be worse. A politicized Congress is the wrong place to try to devise alternatives. Congress could better decide the amount of money it is willing to spend on the health of the American people and then charge a panel of experts of various persuasions to develop the best improvements they can. The plan could allow states to experiment. The panel should also recommend a time to review it. One should not be thrown off by complaints; there are bound to be some. Complaints should be taken seriously, analyzed and used to help in future improvements.”

“Humans learn to improve complex systems by having people argue, debate, compromise and never stop trying to adjust it and make it better. No person or group can do it once and for all. What are necessary are imagination, trust, trial and error and patience. That is the way humans develop their best arrangements.”

“I hope these thoughts are helpful.”

Impact of local news coverage

Local news coverage can have an impact on impending Obamacare repeal, but only if it focuses sharply on local effects and if it pointedly brings accountability to local leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not following St. Louis needs or sentiment regarding access to health care. Neither is House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But both would be interested in what U.S. Rep. Wagner has to say. Wagner’s party cannot ignore her if she puts loyalty to this community ahead of loyalty to her party on access to healthcare. Wagner’s campaign contributors, in turn, bear a special responsibility for the leadership she exercises – or fails to exercise. They are fair game for news coverage in an impending crisis. That’s because repeal of Obamacare is life-and-death matter for this community. Urgent and sustained local news coverage of local people of influence may determine whether ordinary St. Louis voices – those who stand to lose the most – are heard in Washington.

St. Louis Media History Foundation Hall of Fame event is Saturday

ST. LOUIS, March 15, 2017 — The St. Louis Media History Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches and compiles artifacts and memorabilia related to the St. Louis area’s rich media history, will hold its 2017 Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremonies on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the St. Louis City Center Hotel downtown, 400 South 14th Street, near Scottrade Center.

The dinner and ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar and free indoor and outdoor hotel parking for attendees.

Tickets for the dinner entrees — Grilled Salmon with a Citrus Orange Gastrique, Sautéed Chicken Picatta in a White Wine Caper Sauce, or a vegetarian Eggplant Stack — will be $55 for individuals or $550 for a table of 10.

Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite, or at the door. Discounted hotel rooms for guests also are available through the St. Louis City Center Hotel. Rooms must be reserved by March 31.

  • John Beck – Senior Vice President of Emmis Communications, who oversees all four Emmis radio stations in St. Louis: KSHE, KIHT, KPNT, and KFTK. He’s been general manager of KSHE since 1984.
  • Jim Brady – Pioneering news director at KTVI-TV. He later held the same position at KMOX Radio before becoming executive secretary of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners.
  • Dennis Clancy, Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, John McHenry, and Tom “Pappa” Ray – Jazz/blues producers for listener-supported KDHX when the station began broadcasting in 1987.
  • Peggy Cohill – Executive producer of “The Charlie Brennan Show” on KMOX Radio, and a program producer at that station for more than 40 years.
  • Jack Dorsey — @jack is a computer programmer and internet entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, and founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company.
  • Bob Dotson – Emmy-winning correspondent for NBC News, where he spent 40 years, including 25 with “The Today Show.” He’s a six-time recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for news writing.
  • Mary Edwards – Senior producer of KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air” call-in program and its live broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony. She has been with the station since 1974, and has been responsible for helping to shape KWMU’s innovative programming.
  • David Erich – Public relations executive for several St. Louis-area companies, including Pepsi and United Van Lines. He was the first ad executive for Six Flags when it opened in 1971.
  • Dan Forrestal – Longtime public relations executive with Monsanto who helped guide the company’s communications strategy as it maneuvered from a chemical company into one of the world’s leading agricultural companies. He also mentored many communications practitioners throughout his career.
  • Don Francois – Pioneering TV engineer who helped launch KACY-TV, one of the first UHF stations in St. Louis. He later helped other local stations transition from black-and-white to color broadcasts.
  • Margaret Wolf Freivogel – Award-winning St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor. She also was founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a non-profit digital news startup that merged with KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio in 2013.
  • Roy Harris – A Post-Dispatch reporter from 1926 to 1967, Harris won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for investigating election fraud in Illinois. He also helped the newspaper win three other Pulitzer Prizes in 1937, 1941, and 1948.
  • Rick Hummel – Longtime St. Louis Cardinals beat writer for the Post-Dispatch, Hummel – nicknamed “The Commish” — is a former president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, a J.G Taylor Spink Award recipient in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
  • Sid Savan – A major figure in St. Louis advertising, Savan also was a longtime instructor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His Savan Advertising also helped many ad execs get their start.
  • Clarissa Start – Gardening columnist for the Post-Dispatch from 1938 to 1972. Her column was serialized in Ladies Home Journal. After retirement, she wrote her column for another 30 years.
  • Jack Thorwegen – Co-founder in 1985 of the Zipatoni marketing firm, known for its creative work. His Proof Agency, founded in 2014, helps craft brewers and distillers compete against larger rivals.

The St. Louis Media Hall of Fame has recognized St. Louisans who have made a major contribution, in their work here or elsewhere, to their respective media in four different fields: Radio, Print, Television, and Advertising/Public Relations.

The Foundation also maintains an exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 3524 Russell Avenue, in South St. Louis. Admission is free. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

The Foundation accepts tax deductible contributions to develop and expand its St. Louis media history collection, its website, local archives and repositories, oral histories, and the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. For more information, visit the foundation’s Facebook page or www.stlmediahistory.com.

‘Truth did not die,’ Garrett tells GJR audience

compiled for GJR

What is new … right now … is after years of Americans wondering if journalism matters … we have a renewed fascination and curiosity about what journalism is, what it does and what are the ethical and professional obligations upon which it stands.

The audience … hasn’t been this curious, this attentive in years. What will government do? What are the checks and balances? What are the institutional levels of power? How will the elegant system of co-equal branches of government the founders bequeathed us function amid the unpredictability of a Trump presidency? The stakes feel high and real and vivid. And they are.

Time magazine asked this week if truth is dead? It asked if god was dead in 1966…. God was no deader then than he or she is now. Neither is truth. Did truth die when John Adams signed the alien and sedition act? Did it die during the 19th century when politicians large and small bought newspapers, reporters and editorials like so many trinkets? Did it die during teapot dome or when robber barons tried to turn government into a clearinghouse for greed and corruption? Did it die during the cold war, during Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-contra, Bill Clinton’s impeachment or Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?

Truth did not die… because the search for it did not perish. Truth may have been delayed… but it was not denied. The question is not whether truth is dead … but will the search for it ever die. I say on behalf of journalism and the first amendment … never … not ever.

Michael A. Wolff – Freedom Fighter

by William H. Freivogel

Mike Wolff has helped save men on death row, preserve the St. Louis school desegregation program, end capital punishment for juveniles, protect the vote of poor people, establish jury trials in discrimination cases, preserve jury verdicts in personal injury suits and foster efforts to rid St. Louis’ municipal courts of longstanding injustices.

Few St. Louisans have made such important contributions to the public good over the past 30 years. As a legal services lawyer, civil liberties lawyer, special counsel to Gov. Mel Carnahan, Missouri Supreme Court judge and chief justice and retiring dean of the Saint Louis University Law school, Wolff has always been on the side of equality, freedom and good government.

This is why the Gateway Journalism Review is awarding Wolff the Freedom Fighter award at its First Amendment celebration on March 23.

Not only has Wolff accomplished more than just about any community leader, he always seems to be having more fun than anyone in the room. A big man, Wolff has a ready smile and a repertoire of wry, funny stories on the tip of the tongue. He’s not averse to chuckling at his own stories.

While on the Supreme Court, Wolff was that rare judge who was willing to explain a court decision to a reporter. Even rarer, he wrote like a journalist in a simple, common sense way that people could understand.

When Wolff was chief justice, AT&T Mobility tried to avoid having to pay tens of millions in taxes due on telephones. The company claimed cell phones were actually two-way radios instead of phones.

Wolff interrupted the technical arguments by holding up a cell phone in front of the lawyers and asking rhetorically if anyone doubted it was a phone.

In a 2011 adoption case, Wolff criticized the majority of the court for delaying the reunion of a boy and his immigrant mother whose parental rights had been unfairly terminated by a lower court. Wolff wrote that the mother and boy should be reunited “not in 90 more days or 900 more days, but now.”

Referring to the biblical story of Solomon, Wolff added, “At least Solomon had the option to decree that the child be cut in half. All we lesser judges have is the law, and it is our duty to make sure that the law is obeyed.”

In 2009, when the state Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Missouri’s school funding formula, Wolff lamented that $6,342 went to educate each Festus student, but $16,647 each Clayton student.

“What makes the children of one school district deserving of only about one-third of the education money available for the schools of the children in the highest-spending district?”

he asked.

It’s not surprising that Wolff writes like a reporter. After graduating from Dartmouth, he worked his way through the University of Minnesota law school as a reporter and copy editor on the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Eddie Roth, a lawyer turned journalist turned public official, puts it this way: “Mike’s record of judicial leadership has his old reporter’s fingerprints all over it. He plied small ‘p’ politics from the bench the way journalists work from newsrooms; not by throwing his weight around, but by throwing well-reported, incisively expressed ideas around. He used fourth estate methods to advance third branch ideals.

“And by forging consensus through carefully constructed, durable foundations of law and fact, Mike Wolff has created platforms on which many have been empowered and inspired to participate in fights to win and preserve freedom.”

After a stint in legal services in St. Paul, Denver and as director in Rapid City, S.D., Wolff joined the Saint Louis University Law School faculty in 1975. He also served as general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.

Wolff was the lone Democrat to challenge Republican Attorney General William Webster in 1988.  Terry Ganey, the retired Post-Dispatch reporter who disclosed Webster’s Second Injury Fund scandal, recalls the race: “Webster, an incumbent, was considered unbeatable. Wolff at that time raised the issue of the Second Injury Fund being a problem. He was way ahead in making that an issue.”

Wolff lost in 1988 and lost the Democratic primary four years later to Jay Nixon. But the abuses of the Second Injury Fund helped bring down the Webster in the 1992 race for governor against Mel Carnahan. Wolff became Carnahan’s counsel.

One of Wolff’s leading accomplishments was to help craft legislation, supported by the governor, business leaders and a bi-partisan group of legislators, that made possible a negotiated settlement of the St. Louis desegregation case. The legislation extended the life of the novel program, which continues to exist, and directed state money to school districts with large percentages of poor children. The legislation finessed resistance from Nixon, who had waged an all-out legal campaign to end the transfer program.

As counsel Wolff reviewed the pleas of death row inmates. After Carnahan named Wolff to the state Supreme Court, Wolff was a leader of the court’s close scrutiny of capital cases.

Wolff joined the opinion of his friend, the late Richard Teitelman, in freeing Joseph Amrine from death row after the three key witnesses recanted their testimony. Wolff also took of heat of writing the decision giving Kenneth Baumruk a new trial in 2002. Baumruk had been convicted in the same courthouse where he had killed his wife and shot four others.

The most important death penalty decision led to the U.S. Supreme Court to end the execution of juveniles.

It’s not often that a state supreme court leads the U.S. Supreme Court into a new interpretation of the Constitution. But that’s what happened after the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Christopher Simmons could not be executed for murdering Shirley Crook because he was under 18 when he committed the crime. The U.S Supreme agreed that evolving standards of decency no longer permitted executing teens because their brains are not fully developed.

In another notable decision, Wolff was part of the majority that ruled photo ID requirements violated the promise of equality in the Missouri Constitution. That decision has blocked stringent photo ID laws for the past decade.

In other important decisions, Wolff established the right to a jury trial in employment discrimination cases, rejected caps on damage awards as deprivations of the right to trial by jury and upheld the right to collective bargaining for public employees. While on the court he also chaired the Sentencing Advisory Commission and was active in national efforts aimed at more rational, less arbitrary criminal sentencing.

After the court, Wolff became dean of Saint Louis University Law School, righting the ship after a tumultuous period during which the Rev. Lawrence Biondi forced out one dean and appointed an interim dean who did nothing to quiet things down.

The law school became a hotbed of reform of the municipal courts after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. This was a tricky situation because notable alums were on different sides of the municipal court issue. Thomas Harvey, head of ArchCity defenders, led the reform effort, while other graduates were in prominent municipal court judgeships.

Faculty also got heavily involved in the reform, including Professors John Ammann and Brendan Roediger. Wolff saw it as his job as dean to make sure Ammann and Roediger could fully represent their clients, whose lives had been damaged in the muni court shuffle of being locked up for failing to pay traffic fines.

Nor was Wolff afraid to criticize his old colleagues for moving too slowly to bring an end to the unjust practices in the municipal courts. Last summer, Wolff expressed his impatience with the slow response from the presiding judge of the St. Louis County Circuit Court and from the state Supreme Court. That was before the Supreme Court acted at the end of the year to required important changes.

Wolff’s wife, Dr. Patricia Wolff, has long run the Meds & Food for Kids foundation that feeds a miracle peanut butter supplement to malnourished children in Haiti, saving hundreds of thousands of children.

It’s hard to think of another St. Louis couple that has contributed so much to the public good.

Three veteran journalists depart PD

photo by Terry Ganey

by Terry Ganey

There was a poignant departure ceremony earlier this week on the fifth floor of the building at 900 N. Tucker Blvd, the headquarters of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Newsroom colleagues shared stories about three veteran reporters – Tim O’Neil, Jim Gallagher and Tim Bryant – who were among six journalists taking advantage of a recent buyout offer. Together these three have accumulated some 89 years of experience just at the Post-Dispatch.

The event was similar to others taking place since 2005, as financial pressures have forced owner Lee Enterprises to trim staff. This loss seemed especially painful after all the cuts that had taken place. These three had spent all of their time in the journalistic trenches, and it would be hard to find anyone more conscientious, humble and hardworking.

“This is a great group who have been serving the people of St. Louis for many years,” said one editor. “It has been a privilege to work with them.” In an era when the man occupying the White House rages against journalists being “enemies of the American people,” consider the careers of O’Neil, Gallagher and Bryant.

Columnist Joe Holleman said he had learned much from O’Neil during the years they had worked together. “His word is iron,” Holleman said. “Every word of an O’Neil story works for a living.” Holleman recounted an anecdote about how, after a former mayor of St. Louis claimed another city official had earned a Purple Heart, O’Neil uncovered the records to show the claim was a fraud.

O’Neil gave up a piece of his body collecting the news. Last Nov. 9, while covering a hearing in St. Louis County, Robert E. Jones, the lawyer for Sunset Hills, slammed a door to a conference room after O’Neil had opened it to make an inquiry. Jones slammed the door to keep O’Neil out, slicing off part of the journalist’s finger. A lawsuit is pending.

Business Editor Roland Klose recounted how Gallagher could take a complicated subject and make it understandable for readers. And he related how readily Gallagher would accept an assignment, no matter what the topic. “Do you have something for me?” was Gallagher’s greeting to his editor, Klose said. The headline over Gallagher’s last business column for the newspaper fittingly read: “A geezer’s guide to Social Security.”

Discussing Bryant, Klose said he could extract stories about development from the walled-off world of real estate. He said Bryant was once locked out of a meeting of developers, but he was still able to unearth what had transpired in the meeting by making telephone calls and resorting to old fashioned “shoe leather.”

The buyout offer was made to journalists 55 and older with 10 years of experience. Also departing the paper in the buyout were veteran City Editor Pat Gauen, reporter Steve Giegerich and sportswriter Dan O’Neill.

Gilbert Bailon, editor-in-chief, said there was no getting around the fact shrinking resources will have an impact at the newspaper. But he said the staff remained committed to covering news important to the people of St. Louis.

In an era of “fake news” and declining circulation, the Post-Dispatch has published a house ad that seeks subscribers. It reads: “TRUTH…FREEDOM OF THE PRESS…Delivering stories that uncover truths and fight for progress. Help us protect that liberty.”

 

Greitens plays hide-and-seek with press

by Terry Ganey

Lock on Greitens press office door (photo by Terry Ganey)

JEFFERSON CITY, MO. — There’s a game of hide and seek underway in Missouri’s state capital.

The new governor, Republican Eric Greitens, is doing the hiding. The state capital press corps is doing the seeking.

So far, Greitens is winning.

A former Navy SEAL with no experience in government and no penchant for answering questions, Greitens has yet to hold a full-blown news conference since he was sworn into office Jan. 9. Sometimes when pursuing reporters have posed questions, he has ducked into an elevator. During an appearance calling out the National Guard for an ice storm, Greitens deflected questions that sought information about other issues.

Following the recent signing of a “right to work” bill, perhaps one of the most controversial pieces of legislation in modern memory, Greitens bolted out the back door of his office rather than field questions about it. When Greitens held a joint appearance with other state officials to discuss a troubling issue at a foster home, reporters were put on advance notice: “Questions unrelated to this situation will not be answered at this press conference.”

“It’s like covering a brick wall,” said Phill Brooks, a veteran state capital reporter who works for KMOX radio in St. Louis. “You can’t ask questions of this governor. You’re shut off if you try to ask questions. Many of the announcements of state government are getting done through Facebook. I feel like we’re covering the executive branch of state government with a brick wall in the way.”

Kurt Erickson, the statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has resorted to filing Open Records requests to extract routine information out of the Greitens administration. Erickson posted on Twitter recently that “no longer can a reporter freely enter Eric Greitens’ press office to talk with his spokesman.” The posting was accompanied by a photo of a lock on the door to room 218 in the state capital.

For years capital reporters have entered that door where a receptionist could field a request to see the governor’s press aid. In Greitens’ case, that’s Parker Briden.

In response to Erickson’s post, Briden tweeted, “That’s not the ‘press office,’ it’s a full suite of offices. Go through the main entrance and they’ll buzz me.”

The “main entrance” Briden referenced is the reception room where everyone wanting to see the governor or his staff shows up to seek an audience. A reporter for the Gateway Journalism Review went to the reception room recently and requested to see Briden.

The receptionist buzzed him on a telephone, and when there was no answer, the receptionist suggested sending Briden an email. The GJR reporter emailed Briden asking for an interview for information about press access to the governor. There was no response. State capital reporters say they have a hard time getting Briden to respond to written and telephone inquiries.

As public officials reach out to constituents through their own means of communication such as social media, the journalistic organizations supplying straight news to the public have been shunted aside. The Republicans controlling the General Assembly have moved the press offices to a roost in the Capitol building. The Senate has limited journalists’ access by ousting reporters from a table on the floor of the chamber and moving them to a nosebleed section of the public gallery.

If reporters had a chance to question Greitens, they’d ask him about the millions of dollars in undisclosed campaign contributions he received, about the unidentified donors to his inauguration parties, and about his tax returns that he never made public. They’d also ask him about policy decisions to cut state funds for the elderly, disabled and higher education.

Greitens’ behavior has not gone unnoticed. For example, Bill Miller Sr., the veteran editor at the Washington Missourian, recently wrote in an editorial: “Gov. Eric Greitens has gotten off to a terrible start in setting an example to lawmakers, and to all Missourians, in regard to transparency. Why is he hiding the donors who have been backing him? There is no question that he apparently believes it will harm his political career.”

Miller went on to say Greitens apparently has his eyes on the White House. Which brings up the question: Can Greitens play hide and seek for four years?

CBS’s Major Garrett to speak at GJR Celebration

Thursday, March 23, 2017 will be the Sixth Annual First Amendment Celebration in support of The Gateway Journalism Review (GJR) successor of the St. Louis Journalism Review (SJR).  The speaker will be Major Garrett, chief White House correspondent for CBS. Garrett also covered Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. Garrett graduated from the University of Missouri in 1984 with degrees in journalism and political science.

The GJR celebration will be held at the Edward Jones HQ, Manchester and Ballas Roads from 6 pm to 9:30 pm. Invitations will be mailed to past attendees and supporters of GJR. Tickets for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres are $100.  Payment can be mailed to GJR/SJR, 8380 Olive Blvd, St. Louis, MO 63132.  Contributions will strengthen the ability of GJR to continue excellent coverage of local, regional and national issues important to journalism and our democracy.

For information contact Dan Sullivan at  <39djsullivan@gmail.com> or 314-313-0858.

Media and courts failed on Ferguson

The Ferguson story of racial inequality in St. Louis and the nation was largely ignored by the media and judicial system before Michael Brown was killed in 2014. And the Missouri Supreme Court has done little to impose reform since then.

That was the consensus of lawyers, journalists and community activists who came together Sept. 14 to talk about social media and the Pulitzer Prize tradition. The panel at Saint Louis University Law School was part of the two-day Millstone lecture series focusing on the social justice tradition of the Pulitzer Prizes during the prizes’ 100th anniversary. The lecture series honors the late James C. Millstone, a senior news editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and mentor of a generation of reporters before his death in 1992.

Kevin Horrigan, the Post-Dispatch’s deputy editorial editor and a Pulitzer finalist for his work on Ferguson, said he regretted how late the media were to the story.

“One of my big regrets is that we as a newspaper didn’t become continually and consistently engaged in the Ferguson story before Ferguson happened…. This problem is not new, it’s decades old. It is a fundamental and tragic missed opportunity for the Post-Dispatch…. We got pieces of it along the way. Jeremy (Kohler) wrote some terrific stories about cops floating from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We’ve written about fire districts. We wrote editorials about restrictive covenants. But we never engaged on a persistent, crusading aspect of this story until post-Ferguson. And that’s not really in the Pulitzer tradition. The Pulitzer Tradition was to crusade against injustices. We missed it, we let it go…. And the sad fact is that we are less likely because of economic forces to be able to do the sort of loud, persistent and relentless reporting on this story that it deserves.”

Kohler, an investigative reporter at the Post-Dispatch, pointed out that he and others had written stories of police and court corruption in the years before the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. There were stories about the mishandling of rape cases and police who moved from municipality to municipality. But he agreed ArchCity Defenders was first to the story of the municipal court injustices that wrecked peoples lives.

Thomas Harvey, director of ArchCity, said the Ferguson story writ large was a “story that its been ongoing in America since its inception. It is a story we have largely sought to ignore. It is a story that that any reporter, any person, any lawyer, any law student could have just walked out to a court or a shelter or a jail and heard about any day…. And that is a story of the way the legal system systematically deprives mostly African-American…of their civil rights, creates and exacerbates poverty…. We see the results of these intentional acts right here in our back yard and we have failed to do anything about it.”

It’s a story about “folks that were stopped by one of the 67 police departments in the region, went to one of our 81 courts in the region…….were told that if they didn’t come back with the money they owed they would be arrested and jailed….They are arrested, they are jailed, they are told that to buy their freedom they’ve got to come up with the money that everyone knows they don’t have or they can’t get out. And then they call their family members and their friends and they say can you give me money….so i can get out of this cage and get back to my children.”

Families “scrape together every penny they had and try to get their loved one out of jail…then they were told at that moment that they were wanted in another town so instead of being free they were moved from one cage to another cage….. Five people in those jails have hanged themselves….”

Hand in the cookie jar

The journalists and lawyers on the panel agreed that the Missouri Supreme Court had failed to make meaningful reforms.

Horrigan said, “since the death of Michael Brown…there has been no major permanent change in St. Louis municipal courts. There have been some cosmetic changes. But the state Supreme Court has not done what it logically and morally ought to do which is to dissolve all 81 municipal courts and put them under the auspices of the county circuit court. And why is that – because there are entrenched interests, the traffic bar, the municipal court bar.”

Kohler agreed. “The Supreme Court has not done anything to change. The judges themselves, the courts themselves, the police departments themselves have been shamed temporarily…but there is not structure in place to make that permanent.”

St. Louis is a “frustrating place” for reform, he said. “St. Louis is not the kind of place that likes to admit that it did something wrong. It doesn’t seem to get embarrassed by itself . St. Louis gets stuck with its hand in the cookie jar and it says this is always the way we get cookies.”

Tony Messenger, the Post-Dispatch columnist and former editorial editor who also was a Pulitzer finalist for his work on Ferguson, described the injustice of the Ferguson municipal court that he had witnessed the morning of the panel.   http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/tony-messenger/messenger-ferguson-judge-holds-naval-vet-s-reputation-in-her/article_5fd18b94-c99c-520f-9d17-79c710b3cfa7.html

Stephanie E. Karr, the former Ferguson city attorney who resigned under fire, was back in court serving as city attorney because no successor had been appointed. She insisted that Navy veteran Fred Watson plead guilty to a minor littering charge, claiming that his previous lawyer had agreed to the plea – even though there is no record of that plea agreement.

Watson’s case was highlighted in the Justice Department’s report of unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson. A police officer stopped Watson after he had finished playing basketball and insisted on an identification. When Watson refused, the officer arrested him and threw in other charges, such as the much-abused charge of failure to comply with a police order. Because of the arrest, Watson lost his security clearance and his job in cybersecurity at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Has anything changed?

Even though Messenger acknowledges that “a lot hasn’t changed,” his approach to his job has.

“One of the things I tell people is that what Ferguson did to me is that it changed the rest of my career…. A woman wrote me and told me that she is tired of me using the F-word – the F-word is Ferguson. Ferguson, the F-word is not going away…. This is the story I will write about for the rest of my career…. It is going to take us that long: It has been two years and the Supreme Court has done nothing. It’s been two years and we still have 81 municipal courts. It’s been two years and Stephanie Karr is still the prosecutor in Ferguson even though she says she resigned… We haven’t solved this in two years and we’re not going to solve it in four years or five years or 10 years. It’s going to take us 20 years.”

On the hopeful side, Messenger said that “government officials are using the lens of racial equity more than they ever have in this city’s history.”

There was evidence of change from one questioner in the audience – Marie Kenyon, director of the new Peace and Justice Commission for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The “Archdiocese hadn’t had a peace and justice commission for 20 years,” she said. “Cardinal Rigali said maybe we don’t need one of those….. It was only after the Ferguson uprising that Archbishop (Robert J.) Carlson said oh, maybe the church better looking into this too…. Now at the chancery, where I work, we’re finally talking about something other than pro-life.”

Nicole Hudson, leader of the Forward Through Ferguson group following up on the 189 calls for action of the Ferguson Commission, said she had seen activists come together in ways that hadn’t happened before Ferguson.

The goal, she said, was “a state of racial equity, which is a state where outcomes are no longer determined by race.” St. Louis is far from that, she added. Infant mortality among blacks has declined in recent years but it is now three times as great as for whites, up from twice as great a few decades ago.

Hudson and Harvey emphasized nothing would have changed without the “uprising in the streets.” But she added that many of the people of Ferguson are “emotionally spent.”

Twitter – the good and bad

Horrigan said “Twitter is as good as the person who tweets. Often it is a source rumor and innuendo and falsehood. The difference between mainstream journalism and social media is standards and my God, if we don’t abide by standards we’re really in trouble.”

Kohler agreed Twitter has its limitations because it is loaded with journalists and activists. He thinks Facebook is a better way to engage the community.

Harvey, though, credited Twitter with enabling him to “get direct access to journalists all of the country….something that couldn’t have happened before Twitter. So there are productive, important ways you get outside of the gatekeeping of decision-making about what is written about your community.”

Hudson said Twitter was “one of the places that keeps me accountable to the unvoiced…. It is really useful tool to stay accountable and keep my mind open.”

Messenger agreed that Twitter “helped drive the narrative of Ferguson,” but added, “It’s a good thing…..I connected with communities and sources I might not have connected with, specifically people of color. I found them on Twitter….I often used Twitter more than personal contact to get to know people and perspectives….

“There was an opportunity for journalists to connect with people that sometimes – to use the metaphor of the ivory tower and the editorial page – that we sometimes were not connecting to.”