Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Columnist Tully Takes Swipe at Wishard Critics and Alternative Media, Ignores the Indianapolis Star's Failures to Act as Citizen Watchdog

Indianapolis Star columnist Matthew Tully pens a column this morning taking a swipe at the critics of the Wishard referendum and the alternative media that opposed it. He fails, however, to consider how his own newspaper completely failed the readers during this campaign and that the alternative media was merely filling a role the Star refused to perform:

Let's examine:

  • The Star's editors wrote an unprecedented five editorials in support of a "yes" vote on the Wishard measure. Four were Sunday editorials and one was an Election Day editorial. (It was pointed out to me that the Star used to refuse to run campaign stuff in the several days leading up to the election out of fairness. Guess that policy no longer is in place.) In addition, the Star's investigative reports looking into the details of the project were non-existent. The only one who began to do so was reporter Daniel Lee, but his detailed questioning of the project was suddenly dropped. The Star had become nothing more than a cheerleader for the project from virtually Day One.
  • In those five editorials, not once did the Indianapolis Star complain about Health & Hospital subjecting voters and campaign workers to an unnecessary election. This referendum could have been held in May. It was held in November 2009 for a simple reason: because low turnout helped the supporters. Meanwhile putting on the special election will cost taxpayers, indirectly, over $1 million.
  • The Health & Hospital folks wrote a referendum question that did not mention the project or how much was being borrowed. Did the Star's editors believe voters had the right to this information? Apparently not, because not a single word was uttered in criticism of this deliberate attempt to keep information from voters going to the polls. It's funny that the Star opines about fair elections when it comes to redistricting reform, but apparently it is okay to withhold information from voters during a referendum election when it is for a "good cause."
  • It was apparent that the Star's editors did not even take time to try to understand the Wishard funding mechanism.. In the last two editorials, the Star mentioned that the "revenue bonds" to be issued by H&H, unlike general obligation bonds, had to be backed by property taxes. The Star has it exactly backwards. H&H will be floating general obligation bonds, not revenue bonds. G.O. bonds are the ones that have to be backed by property taxes, not revenue bonds.
  • A quality investigative newspaper would have been asking questions about two 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations contributing more than a million dollars to the Wishard PAC, while only getting three individual contributions of $125. Obviously those individual contributions had to be going someplace. It isn't rocket science to make the conclusion that those individual contributions may well have been funneled through the non-profits prior to going to Wishard. This hides the list of campaign contributors as well as possibly makes campaign contributions tax deductible, a situation the IRS might be very interested in. Did the Star ever, on behalf of the public's right to know, question the practice? Nope.
  • Public, i.e taxpayer resources were repeatedly used to promote "yes" vote on referenda throughout the county. The Mayor used the city's email system to promote a "yes" vote on the Wishard referendum. The IUPUI Chancellor used the public university's email and the website. Schools were sending home information with children in favor of the measures. Did the Star ever once criticize these abuses of taxpayer resources in favor of a certain election outcome? No. Not once.
  • Obviously Tully takes a swipe at blogger Gary Welsh of Advance Indiana. While Tully might complain about Gary's rhetoric which at times can be a little harsh, Welsh repeatedly brought solid, detailed facts to the debate, facts that the Star repeatedly ignored. Interestingly, while the Star's editors never addressed or even acknowledged those facts Welsh and others raised, that did not stop them from summarily dismissing them as inadequate.

I usually enjoy reading Tully's column. I don't mind that he's often on the other side. Tully's job is not to be "right" all the time, but to stir up debate and discussion on the topics of the day. To that he generally does a fine job. But his criticism this morning of the Wishard referendum critics and alternative media overlooks the spectacular failure of the Indianapolis Star this election to do its job as the city's watchdog. For a newspaper that prides itself on supporting good government reform, and fair elections, it is surprisingly how easily those lofty objectives were simply cast aside during this referendum election. I'm sorry, but I don't agree with the Star that the ends, the passage of the referendum, justify the inappropriate and (I'm sorry the Star doesn't like the word) dishonest means used to get there.

The Star failed to live up to its public trust this election and simply became a cheerleader for a particular outcome. It is a shame that Matthew Tully does not see that.


Downtown Indy said...

I see the remaining IndyStar staff as being mainly concerned about staying employed. Gannett is hanging on by a thread. Just last week a 17% drop in the Star's circulation was disclosed.

This makes me see their reporting as not so much about digging out the facts and informing readers but rather about staying employed by keeping management happy.

Gary R. Welsh said...

Paul, Think about it. Voters in Franklin and Perry Townships voted against new projects and funding for their own schools while voting easily to approve a new Wishard Hospital that very few of their residents use. Why? They believed they were getting something for nothing with Wishard. They understood they were voting to raise their property taxes if they approved the school referendum questions. They believed the Wishard Hospital would cost them nothing. Unfortunately, they've been hoodwinked.

Downtown Indy said...

A LOT of people were buying the 'Oh no, Wishard will close!' nonsense. You can see that even today where people are posting their 'happy Wishard won' notes.

Quite honestly, I think fear of having 'poor people' showing up in suburban emergency rooms swayed their votes, too. Nevermind the fact some do already and will in droves if the federal healthcare stuff gets signed into law.

Paul K. Ogden said...

DI said,

"Quite honestly, I think fear of having 'poor people' showing up in suburban emergency rooms swayed their votes, too."

Absolutely I think there is actually a segegationist mentality to having a separate hospital for the poor. Of course, the whole argument was a fraud. Wishard was never gooing to close. This was all about floating bonds backed by taxpayers.

guido said...

The fraud is the people using 911 as a family doctor. The same people over and over going to the ER 4 or 5 times a month. This goes on month after month. Thats at about 700 bucks a pop. Bye bye marion county

M Theory said...

Maybe if the Indy Star didn't work in direct opposition to the best interests of Indy's citizens (most of the time) I would subscribe.

Heck, maybe a lot more people would subscribe too.

Instead, I return their return postage prepaid envelope with their subscription invites torn to shreds.

Downtown Indy said...

Listen to the EMT talk groups on a scanner radio. Every night there are multiple 'backpain' and 'headache' calls (among others) and they end up going to Wishard. Now, granted, some of these may well be emergencies, but the EMT routinely passes vitals over the radio en route and they invariably are unremarkable and sound entirely non-urgent.

Jon said...

Now that the dirty deed is done, in today's Star there is an article about Wishard. Gutwein said, "Health and Hospital is working in lining up the taxpayer backed bonds".
So what happened to the spin, no increase in taxes Matt?