Sunday, June 20, 2010

Star Continues To Minimize Serious Issues

One of my pet peeves with the Indianapolis Star is how it often deals with some of the most serious political stories dismissively as mere items in its "Behind Closed Doors" column in its Sunday edition. When the Star was still a Pulliam-owned newspaper and had some crack, award-winning reporters working for it, it often published in-depth political stories and columns that would take days, weeks and months for good reporters to research. With its staff slashed under Gannett's ownership and all of its award-winning reporters long gone, serious investigative journalism has almost disappeared from the newspaper. The "Behind Closed Doors" column under Pulliam featured political gossip and humor items for our weekly entertainment. Today, it features items already covered by local political blogs days and weeks earlier that the Star plops in this catch-all column simply to cover its butt. Yeah, we covered that. Right. Today's column offers several examples of this lame coverage.

This blog and other blogs disclosed the fact that Mayor Greg Ballard's administration had awarded a no-bid contract to Hirons & Co., where his son Greg, Jr. is employed, to promote the Mayor's proposal to transfer the utilities to Citizens Energy and to raise a bunch of cash to fund street and highway projects ahead of next year's election. This blogger reported last year on Hiron's similar contractual role in promoting the Wishard Hospital referendum, Ballard's push for its passage and his son's employment there. After extensive coverage of the current no-bid contract on local blogs, the Star inserts an item today discussing it in "Behind Closed Doors." "The mayor and his staff says the pick had nothing to do with Ballard Jr.'s employment there, but at least one government ethicist says the pick could cause perception problems for the city." Perception problems? Huh? By comparison, Chicago news media pounced all over the disclosure that Mayor Richard Daley's son and nephew had invested in a business that was awarded a lucrative city sewer contract after the contract had already been awarded. The media coverage was so intense it brought Mayor Daley to tears at a press conference. The FBI, which has helped send a roomful of Daley cronies to prison already for public corruption, soon launched its own investigation of the contract.

In another item today, the column talks about political bickering between Republicans and Democrats over satellite voting and Marion Co. Clerk Beth White's failure to timely notify GOP Chairman Tom John of two vacancies that occurred when Homecroft town officials resigned their jobs. "White, who previously has been the subject of John's criticism, waited about three months to provide notice about the Homecroft clerk-treasurer's resignation and waited a few weeks to notify John of a Town Council member's resignation in the same town," the column reports. "State law requires notice within three days." White blamed her error on the hectic schedule she was working to put on this year's May primary and dismissed John's criticism of her as "politics." This blog exclusively reported on former City-County Councilor Patrice Abduallah's failure to reside in his council district, which prompted his quick resignation. We later learned that White knew Abduallah didn't live in his district at the time he filed for re-election because his statement of candidacy noted an address outside the district. Although she notified Abduallah of his residency problem, she still certified his candidacy and remained hush-hush about it until this blog disclosed it. The Star completely ignored her omission in its coverage of the story.

In a third item, which gives this week's column its headline, "Prosecutor hopefuls try to outdo each other in transparency", and which is strikingly similar to my blog headline earlier this week, "Prosecutor candidates competing to be the most ethical", the column again trivializes a serious issue. "The candidates for Marion County prosecutor traded barbs last week in competing bids to be seen as having the most transparent handling of campaign contributions," the column opens. Trivializing this issue does the public no good, particular with recent revelations of special treatment being offered to criminal defense attorneys and their clients who made substantial campaign contributions to the current prosecutor, Carl Brizzi. The IBJ, by comparison, reported on the role big campaign contributions played in the prosecutor's race four years ago and has run circles around the Star with its ground-breaking reporting on Brizzi's self-dealing and ethical lapses as prosecutor. The Star sat on damaging information it has known about Brizzi for years that only recently came to light, including his drunken escapade on a golf course cart during a political fundraiser.

I really get tired of hearing newspapers whine about their diminishing viability when they give their readers every reason to drop their subscriptions and look to alternative news sources for their information. The dramatic decline of the quality of the Star's reporting and editorial content during the twenty years I've lived here is profound. I seriously believe unchecked public corruption is as rampant as it is because our community lacks a serious watchdog looking out for the public's interest among the mainstream media. TV news stations often do a better job of reporting than the Star, but too often they do hit and run reporting and don't stay focused on their earlier ground-breaking reporting, allowing the story to die down without action after the passage of a short time.

9 comments:

Erich said...

At one point, the Des Moines Register had won as many Pulitzer Prizes as the New York Times.

The paper was purchased by Gannet in 1985 and since then has won two Pulitzer prizes, and one was for a photo of a local rescue, great photo but pure chance.

ProPublica is probably the best source of national investigative journalism. From what I can tell, it was NPR which first decided to question the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf, while the White House did nothing.

Advance Indiana said...

Erich, I think what qualifies for a Pulitzer Prize today has more to do with politics than substance, sort of like the Nobel Peace Prize.

Paul K. Ogden said...

AI,

I agree. Obama winning a Nobel Peace prize for what he promised to do is one of the strangest things I've ever seen.

Downtown Indy said...

Today the Star provided a lengthy report on how much prettier and well-organized it wll be starting next Sunday.

It's a matter of priorities.

dcrutch said...

The Pulitzer is now up there with the Nobels. Your time would be better spent at a compelling presentation of the daytime Emmys.

Think of the rich material here: Conflicts of interest abound in the "day jobs" of CIB and MSDWT board members, Ryan Vaughn in City-Council, and Pat Early & Bill Crawford in the state legislature. The Colts contract with the city is a choice topic, IPS graduation rates were recognized by USA Today as the worst of any major city, local libraries are threatened- partially at the cost of an unaffordable downtown branch debaucle, Simon's pseudo-blackmail of shopping center withdrawl without Pacers help, the shadow mandate that puts biological parenting ahead of protecting children in Indiana, zero coverage of the cost of local illegal immigration in food, housing, and medical care, and any coverage whatsoever of the shrinking working and middle class in Indiana that pay taxes or escalating fees to keep traditional benefits afloat ....

You can disagree with some of my choices or wording- substitute your own. There are plenty to choose from. The Star's ignorance of current events is admittedly hampered by poor economics, technological competition, educational decline, and sociological evolution. But, that doesn't excuse ALL their editorial decisions, which not only include what you do cover, but what you DON'T.

The police traditionally have 'To Serve and Protect' on their badge, car, or something. Shouldn't we expect a balanced practice of that from our last city newspaper?

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

Gary, Even the Star doesn't take itself too seriously as journalists.

When they ask you to buy a subscription, the item of value they pitch is the coupons! They never ask you to buy a subscription for the news.

If they don't think the news they print is worth buying, then why should we?

I prefer Groupon, Restaurant.com, and the Internet for my coupons. Therefore, I don't subscribe, for The Star offers nothing I need.

Marycatherine Barton said...

Oh yes, our city's only daily paper is engineered to keep the populace clueless. I just learned that the killer company that is behind Gannet, is Lockheed Martin.

Michael said...

The only thing keeping me from not renewing is that my carrier is absolutely wonderful. Never a missed day, and always puts the paper right where I can get it. I would just feel bad if I canceled. Maybe someday I will get a lousy carrier. I can always hope.

Stop Indiana said...

Let's remember Michael that children, are still innocent.