The Kansas City Star this weekend published a series of stories on the lack of transparency in Kansas government, but in typical fashion, it’s obvious the writers began with a premise and colored in their own lines. Their premise, as is the case with so many Star stories published since 2010, is Gov. Brownback is bad.
Even though the writers admit transparency was an issue long before Brownback took office, the Kansas City daily never showed an ounce of interest until conservatives earned the Governor’s office.
“Though the state’s obsession with secrecy goes back decades, Brownback’s seven years as governor have been marked by efforts to shield executive decisions from the public,” the story reads.
The opening salvo of the series begins with a story entitled, “One of the most secretive, dark states: What is Kansas trying to hide?”
The harrowing tale begins with the termination of a former Kansas Department of Transportation spokesperson. The Star doesn’t name the spokesperson, because the terminated employee “wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.”
Still, the Star directly quotes the spokesperson, so it takes about 10 seconds to Google and find out the unanimous source’s name. Did the Star leave the name on the cutting room floor to make the story seem more sinister?
Public relations jobs require making your boss look good–not that readers know for sure why the “unnamed” spokesperson was let go. The Star suggests she was fired for discussing “public business with Kansans.” It’s a suggestion impossible for the administration to refute, due to legal liabilities. Ask, on-the-record, why any employee anywhere was fired. Kansas open meetings law specifically exempts personnel matters from public view.
Whether accidental or intentional, the Star series continually overlooks bits and pieces of information to give the appearance of ever darkening storm clouds in Kansas. Though the story pays lip service to the “veil” obscuring transparency long before Brownback took office, the Star broadcasts its ultimate target with these words, “But in Gov. Brownback’s cash-strapped administration…”
Readers should wonder why the words “cash-strapped” were necessary. The Star doesn’t say, but if they’re going to mention the administration, it appears the writers feel obligated to throw in the extra, but irrelevant, descriptor.
Meanwhile, the series uses information from the Center for Public Integrity to drive home points without bothering to tell readers anything about the organization.
“It’s no wonder Kansas got a flunking grade in a 2015 study by the Center for Public Integrity that measured transparency and state accountability,” the Star reads. “Among its bad grades: F’s in public access to information, internal auditing and executive accountability.”
The Center for Public Integrity is funded by billionaire liberal activist George Soros. (It’s in stark contrast to the way the paper typically describes Americans for Prosperity. That organization is typically branded ‘Koch-funded’ in the pages of the Kansas City daily.)
And so it goes. The Star quotes former state Rep. John Rubin, a Shawnee Republican. Rubin advocated, often alone, for transparency long before the Star decided it mattered. In 2014, Rubin was one of the strongest advocates for legislation to open to the public probable cause affidavits, HB 2555.
The Star series complains that legislation can be introduced without a sponsor. Rubin’s open record bill is one of such proposal. According to the Kansas Legislature record, that legislation was introduced by the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice, but news media and Kansas Press Association didn’t have difficulty learning it was a Rubin proposal.
On that bill, Rubin received help from the majority of Republicans in the House. His opposition came from Democrats. Only 10 representatives voted against Rubin’s proposal. Seven of those were Democrats.
Yet the Star dug up a several Democrats who appear to care about transparency.
“We’ve had a real problem with this current administration,” Sen. Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said. “This is the least transparent administration I have seen,” Hensley says in most self-serving fashion. Hensley has served in the Kansas Legislature for 41 years. Of those 41 years, the Kansas Democrat has served under a conservative administration exactly one time–since Brownback’s election.
Most baffling, the Star’s writers don’t bother asking the Kansas Attorney General’s Office about the number of open records requests the state has received and how officials responded. The AG’s office is responsible for keeping those statistics. The office (along with local district attorneys) are also responsible for enforcing of Kansas’ open records laws.
Most people who have ever dealt with the state seeking records or information will agree the state has challenges in that regard. The Star’s timing, however, is transparent. Their interest in transparency appeared when it was most likely to damage conservatives and not a moment before.