Kansas must reimburse more $3 million in funds legislators swept from fee funds to balance the budget in 2009, and the local coverage would leave the distracted reader to assume it’s somehow the result of wrongdoing by former House Speaker Mike O’Neal. The truth is the exact opposite, but readers have to dig deep to figure that out thanks to subtle media bias.

In the Topeka Capital-Journal, for example, the headline shouts, “Lawsuit in Kansas challenging sweeps of fee-funded agencies draws to a close,” next to a cantankerous photo of O’Neal, a Republican who represented Hutchinson in the House from 1985 to 2013.

Reporters at the Lawrence Journal-World and the Topeka Capital-Journal might want to wear bags on their heads over their recent coverage of a 2009 lawsuit against the state. The coverage is riddled with subtle media bias.

Back in 2009, lawmakers faced a budget shortfall of more than $600 million. To balance the books, lawmakers–with the help of former-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius–swept money from several funds like the Bank Commissioner Fee Fund and the Real Estate Fee Fund. Lawmakers moved the money to the general fund, using collected fees for things other than their original intended purpose.

The way the Lawrence Journal-World describes the 2009 state budget crisis is striking. The reporter, Peter Hancock, writes lawmakers “illegally swept out of fee funds in order to balance the state’s budget during the height of the Great Recession in 2009.” When writing about more recent state budget shortfalls, faltering segments of the Kansas economy like gas and aerospace never warrant a mention. Sebelius is given a pass on the previous budget crises under her watch. Her name isn’t mentioned in Hancock’s story until paragraph three; typically Brownback’s photo and name are in the headline in stories about recent budget shortfalls. The Cap-J doesn’t mention Sebelius at all.

O’Neal, an attorney, opposed using fee funds to balance Kansas’ budget in 2009, and when the measure passed, he sued on behalf of several organizations that pay licensing fees. The Lawrence Journal-World calls the suit “controversial,” and said O’Neal “defended” his actions.

When was the last time mainstream media asked school districts to “defend” their use of taxpayer funding to sue taxpayers for more money? (For the record, Schools for Fair Funding membership schools have taken $7.3 million from classrooms and diverted it to attorneys.)

After more than seven years, O’Neal won the case for his clients against using fee funds for general operations in the state budget. The state must reimburse funds up to $3 million and pay O’Neal’s attorney fees.

“The final approval of this significant settlement, plus acknowledgement of wrongdoing with respect to the 2009 sweeps, is gratifying,” O’Neal said in a press release.

The blatant media bias displayed in local coverage of the lawsuit is appalling.




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