The Kansas City Star fired its opening shots across the bow of the USS Jeff Colyer. In a story that fails to meet almost every measure of journalistic integrity, a Star reporter wrote about a J.D. Power study that ranked KanCare dead last among states’ managed Medicaid programs. The Star is now backtracking, but only after much of the damage was done.
Dr. Jeff Colyer currently serves as Kansas’ Lieutenant Governor. However, he is set to be launched into state’s top executive role when the U.S. Senate confirms Gov. Sam Brownback as the Trump administration’s at-large ambassador for religious liberty.
A photo of Colyer speaking to a national convention of lieutenant governors accompanies the story entitled “KanCare last in customer satisfaction, J.D. Power reports.” Colyer recently announced he intends to run for Governor in 2018.
Colyer, an Aug. 16 story notes, is the point person for the KanCare program. What the story doesn’t mention, however, is that the actual JD Power is proprietary information. J.D. Power is a market research company, and users must pay to read its customer satisfaction survey including methodology.
Access to the full J.D. Power report costs $25,000. State officials haven’t seen the the full report. It now appears the Star didn’t see the report either. The story was based on a press release and nothing more.
Of 400,000 KanCare participants, J.D. Power ranked Kansas last based on surveys from only 10 KanCare participants. The story notes that state officials questioned the sample size. The J.D. Power press release said the market research company surveyed 2,145 people, or an average of about 58 people per state.
The Star didn’t take that criticism seriously, because the story ran anyway. With nary a peek at the actual study or its methodology, the Star reported the “survey is another data point in the debate about the quality of a program that has been controversial since Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration contracted with three insurance companies to administer all of the state’s Medicaid services starting in 2013.”
If readers ever needed proof that publications and reporters protect one another, they need look no further than Governing Magazine. The magazine, which targets state and local officials, republished the Star’s poorly researched story and refused to retract it when given additional information about the tiny sample size.
“I do believe this story meets our editorial standards,” Zach Patton, the executive editor, wrote in an email to Kansas officials. “It seems the original Star story does accurately portray what’s in the J.D. Power survey. The methodology of that survey isn’t something we can really evaluate. Since we aggregated this through a reputable news service, and because it’s been up on our site now for several days, I don’t think it warrants a retraction at this time. That said, we’ll keep an eye on the Star. If they ultimately determine the story should be retracted, we’ll make our own decision at that time accordingly.”
The Star wrote a follow-up story blaming J.D. Power for the Star’s poor coverage. A spokesperson for the company told the Star that Delaware, Kansas, Mississippi, Utah, and Virginia should not have been included in the rankings due to small sample size. J.D. Power ranked Utah’s program first.
“They should not have been included in the original version of the press release. We have re-issued a corrected press release and we apologize for any confusion this error may have caused,” the company said in a release to the Star.
When can readers, Colyer, and the state of Kansas expect apologies from the Star and Governing Magazine for publishing a smear story based on a press release? It appears the answer may be “never.” The second Star story about J.D. Power launches into the same tired tropes, calling the KanCare program “controversial.”