In a Monday article the Sentinel asked, “Who Is Paying for the Kansas News Service to Slander Kobach?” What inspired the article was a piece of reporting so gratuitously defamatory that it should never have appeared anywhere, let alone on the website of KCUR, a publicly funded Missouri radio station.
Even more troubling, three major Kansas heath organizations–the Kansas Health Institute, the Kansas Health Foundation, and the REACH Foundation–are helping to fund the left wing, Missouri-based “news service” responsible for the smear.
After the Sentinel article was published, three well connected sources contacted the Sentinel independently. In the process, they helped expose a Byzantine plot to misdirect health dollars never intended to fund a liberal propaganda machine.
At the center of the story is Jim McLean, the managing director of the Kansas News Service responsible for the Kobach article. One of our sources identified McLean as a “Sebelius operative.” To check the validity of that accusation, the Sentinel reviewed McLean’s LinkedIn page. His bio, however, gives no sense that he ever worked for the administration of Democratic governor Kathleen Sebelius or any other Democrat.
The page lists McLean working for the Topeka Capital-Journal from May 1996 to February 2004 with his next job being with the KHI (Kansas Health Institute) News Service where he began working in December 2005. Again according to LinkedIn, McLean became executive editor of the KHI News Service in 2013 and worked in that capacity “5 years” to the “Present.”
McLean’s bio on the KPR website affirms this same sequence: Topeka Capital-Journal straight to KHI News Service. “The position he now occupies,” claims the KPR bio, “was created as part of a strategic initiative to solidify the editorial and operational independence of the KHI News Service.” (italics added)
The March 2003 edition of the KDOT newsletter adds a wrinkle, a big one. As the newsletter explains, Sebelius’s Transportation Secretary Deb Miller had just appointed McLean Director of the Division of Public Affairs. “I am truly excited about working with [Miller] and the great folks at KDOT to keep the CTP’s commitment to the people of Kansas,” said McLean at the time. Even more specifically, an October 2004 New York Times article describes McLean “as a communications assistant to Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.”
Rather than mention the Sebelius connection, McLean leaves a lengthy hole in both the KPR bio and the LinkedIn bio. Nor does either bio mention the fact that from 1990 to 1995 McLean was the communications director for Democratic Congressman Jim Slattery. All that one can glean from either biography is that McLean is a career journalist with no hint of any partisan bias.
McLean’s articles betray that bias as well as his ties to Sebelius. In February 2015, three months after the election, he wrote a gratuitous slam for KCUR headlined, “Sebelius Calls Brownback Re-election ‘A Low Point’ For Kansas.” At the end of the article, McLean cites his affiliation with KHI.
In an equally inflammatory September 2017 article in the Hays Post–“Sebelius: Trump Administration Still Sabotaging Affordable Care Act”–McLean lists himself as managing director of the Kansas News Service. This article appears to be based on a one-on-one conversation with the ex-governor.
Sebelius’s answers are relatively restrained. Then McClean drops in this revealing exchange, “Asked if she would go so far as to say that Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration were actively sabotaging the law, Sebelius said: ‘Oh, there’s no question.’” McLean gets his headline. This is pure propaganda, courtesy of the taxpayer and three Kansas health organizations, most consciously the Kansas Health Institute.
The Kansas Health Institute describes itself as “a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization based in Topeka.” (italics added) It was founded in 1995 with a multiyear grant from the Kansas Health Foundation, which was launched more than three decades ago with a mission “to improve the health of all Kansans.” The REACH Foundation was created with the proceeds of the HCA purchase of Health Midwest in 2003. Its stated mission is indigent care.
According to its website, the KHI News Service began in 2006 to provide “thorough and objective coverage of issues, people and events that affect health policy in Kansas.” In that McLean started with the KHI News Service in December 2005, he had to have been instrumental in its launch.
Claims the KHI, “We . . . recruited highly respected Kansas journalists to staff it because of our belief that good journalism is critical to an informed citizenry, a robust public debate and ultimately good public policy.” Based on his history and on the kind of editorial direction McLean has provided in the years since, McLean has shown little interest in “objective coverage.”
This story took another twist in January 2017 when KHI News Service “became part of KCUR Public Media” and formed the Kansas New Service. As reported by High Plains Public Radio, “KHI News Service journalists will become employees of KCUR and the KHI News Service will cease operation.” Curiously, despite the apparent termination of KHI News Service in January 2017, McLean continues to list himself as its executive editor.
One has to wonder whether the people who fund the Kansas Health Institute, let alone the Kansas Health Foundation and the REACH Foundation, even knew that their Kansas dollars were headed to Missouri.
One has to wonder too whether funders know just how relentlessly left leaning KCUR has become over the years or that their donor dollars would be used routinely for slanted news articles that have nothing to do with health care.
Propagandists succeed by being subtle. McLean got careless with the Kobach article. He allowed a reporter to recycle unfounded racial smears from 14 years ago and pass them off as news. That transgression caught the attention of several well placed Kansans who finally said, “enough.”