A woman is suing, because she believes she was wrongly terminated from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach isn’t a defendant in the case, but a reader must read further than the headline and first paragraph in a Kansas City Star article to find that key information.
The story is headlined, “Trial to begin for woman who says Kobach’s office fired her for not attending church.” Kobach didn’t fire the employee, and he is barely a player in the lawsuit, but readers won’t know that unless they wade far into the Star’s sordid tale.
Courtney Canfield’s suit alleges she was fired from the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office because she didn’t attend church enough. Canfield isn’t mentioned until the second paragraph, Kobach, who isn’t listed as a defendant, is listed in the headline and the first sentence.
In paragraph three, the Star provides the important facts of the story: “The lawsuit blames Kobach’s chief deputy, Eric Rucker, for the firing, and Kobach himself is not a defendant.”
About three-quarters of the way through the story, the readers learn that Kobach is unlikely to appear at the trial, he had very limited interaction with Canfield when she was an employee, and that he wasn’t even notified when she was hired for an entry-level job in the Secretary of State’s Office. He provided pre-trial testimony, which the Star quotes near the very end of the story.
““I have no knowledge of whether any of my employees attend church, nor would I seek to obtain such knowledge,” Kobach’s testimony reads.
Those details appear near the bottom of the story. Near the top, the Star reporter details Kobach’s “national reputation for championing tough voter identification laws,” his assistance to other states on illegal immigration issues, and his vice chairmanship of President Trump’s commission on election fraud. Only after all of those details are inserted into a story about which Kobach isn’t really involved, the Star describes some of the suit’s allegations. (Perhaps the writer was attempting to reach a higher word count, but adding so much extraneous information?)
Canfield worked in the Secretary of State’s Office for nine months, and only learned of her firing through her grandmother via a Republican Party volunteer. Her attorney calls the handling of Canfield’s firing “odd.”
“Religion is very, very important in the office under Secretary of State Kobach,” Gary Laughlin, Canfield’s attorney, tells the Star. “The overall tenor in the office was very religious.”
Near the end of the Star’s tale, Rucker’s attorney, David Cooper, explains the reasons the Star potentially chose to run a story strongly linking Kobach to a “garden variety” lawsuit that has little to do with Kobach himself.
“It’s not a complex or unusual case of this variety,” he said. “The uniqueness of it is: It is the office of somebody who gets some national attention.”
The story notes that the presiding judge in the case is former Democratic Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ husband.
Star readers can be pardoned for wondering why the story doesn’t include a more detailed description of Sebelius’ political history. She has about as much to do with the lawsuit as Kobach, but the Star only devotes a sentence to her.