Media bias takes many forms, as demonstrated in a recent story that ran in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle. The headline – “‘A bitter pill to swallow’: Kansas lawmakers drop child welfare oversight plan” – tells you to think poorly of those who cavalierly voted against child welfare and the story allows a Medicaid expansion champion to theorize that her legislation was removed out of retaliation for her effort to force a vote on expansion.
Here’s how media and a legislator shaped that story to fit their agenda and tell you how to think.
Extra pay to legislators not disclosed
Rep. Susan Concannon implied to the Kansas City Star that a child welfare oversight committee plan contained within HB 2403 was stripped from the state budget, to retaliate for her vote against the budget.
Concannon, a Beloit Republican, was among a group of House Republicans and Democrats who originally voted against the budget proposal in order to to force a debate on Medicaid expansion in the Senate.
“Concannon said she was told the decision to drop the committee from the budget wasn’t targeted at her,” the Star reports. “But she noted that she had been the one trying to get it into the bill.”
She told the reporters, “I assume that’s why it was taken out.”
Or could it possibly be that Concannon’s bill had a price tag of nearly $55,000 per year in additional compensation and travel payments to legislators, and that the same work could be done by existing House and Senate committees without more pay to legislators? The Wichita Eagle and Kansas City Star story didn’t mention that tidbit and if they asked House leadership why Concannon’s bill wasn’t included in the conference report, it wasn’t mentioned in their story.
It wasn’t mentioned by the newspaper report, but Concannon’s bill was never voted on by the full House.
Rep. Concannon buried a Senate accountability provision and media covered it up
Concannon’s position is disingenuous, according to Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican.
“It’s one thing for someone to be upset that (the task force) is not a part of the budget, but it’s disingenuous to be concerned that it got cut when there were other opportunities for reform in regards to foster kids or kids need services from the state,” Baumgardner said.
Kansas’s Department of Children and Families has been plagued with reports of children sleeping in offices rather than with foster families, difficulties retaining and hiring staff, and losing kids in foster care. Concannon told the Star one solution is oversight through a legislative task force or committee.
Concannon, chair of the House Children and Seniors Committee, had the opportunity to forward a bill to increase transparency and accountability, according to Baumgardner. Senate bill 162 would have required DCF to notify the Governor and legislators any time a child went missing from foster care or was required to sleep in an office rather than in a home.
When Gov. Kelly took office, 70 kids were missing from foster care. As recently as two weeks ago, more than 90 kids were reported missing from the system, Baumgardner said. She also said there were roughly half a dozen kids incarcerated awaiting mental health evaluations as well.
“They had been waiting beyond what adults could be held awaiting evaluation.These are the types of things that would’ve had to be reported to the legislature,” she said. “It just seemed to me that if all legislators were aware of what’s happening in their districts or in their region, that’s more likely to bring about change more than anything else.”
The legislation sailed through the Senate, passing unanimously. It was referred to the House Committee on Children and Seniors, chaired by Rep. Susan Concannon. Concannon’s committee held a lengthy hearing on the topic, but Concannon didn’t put the legislation up for a vote.
“Concannon had an hour-and-a-half hearing and never pushed it out,” Baumgardner said. “Never did anything.”
Concannon did not return calls from The Sentinel for an interview.
The existence of Baumgardner’s bill and Concannon’s role in preventing a vote on it weren’t disclosed by the Eagle or the KC Star. They also failed to mention that Baumgarder’s bill wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything. Those are more examples of subtle media bias.
The budget lawmakers adopted increases funding to add social workers and to help retain existing staff. However, legislators are often reluctant to fund oversight committees or task forces, because there is a cost involved, Baumgardner said.
“Think about this transparency bill. There’s no cost to that,” she said. “It’s a push of a button to forward that to a mailing list of legislators.”
Media bias shapes news to fit an agenda
If the Eagle and KC Star intended to write about a lack of accountability in social service programs, they conveniently left out a lot of pertinent information. But they did a bang-up job of making a Medicaid expansion proponent look good while ignoring the efforts of a senator opposed to expansion who was also trying to help kids in foster care.
And just for the record, the Kansas City Star editorial board is spitting mad that Medicaid expansion failed again this year.
Sometimes media bias is obvious, but it’s often obscured by shaping stories to serve an agenda.