Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Indianapolis Star Breaches its Public Trust; Displays Hypocrisy on the Issue of Voters' Rights and Fair Elections

Today brings us Sunday editorial number four in favor of a "yes" vote on the Wishard referendum. I can't remember when the Indianapolis Star has ever run multiple editorials in favor of an election, much less four. These are also Sunday editorials. Sunday is the most read newspaper of the week.

Over the past week or so, the Star has editorialized in favor of redistricting reform so that the voters' rights to decide elections is protected. In another editorial, the Star opined against the Republicans apparent plan to redistrict before the 2011 election, using 2000 data. Both editorials were on the mark, in protection of voters' rights and that elections be fair.

With regard to the Wishard referendum, the Star's repeated silence on dishonest election and other tactics in favor of the referendum is deafening. Let's examine.

First, Health & Hospital's lobbyists at the legislature tried to bypass the referendum process altogether, having it decided by a petition process inistead. When Senate Finance Chairman Luke Kenley wouldn't go along, they went to option No. 2, having the election set in an off year when most voters would stay home and Wishard proponents would have the most advantage.

Have the Star's editors opined against this election tactic designed to bypass the majority of the electorate? Have the Star editors complained about the $1.2 million unnecessary cost to taxpayers to host this election? Nope, the Star has not said one word.

Health & Hospital's lobbyists got special language inserted into the budget bill so that they could avoid the normal referendum rules that require a description of the project and how much is being borrowed. H&H then proceeded to write a deliberately misleading referendum question that set forth in glowing terms what Wishard does as a hospital without mentioning what the referendum is at all about. Did the Star, on its editorial page, stand up for voters and decry the failure to provide relevant information in the question? Nope, the Star has not said one word against the tactic. Apparently the Star's editors believe misleading voters is perfectly okay if it is for a good cause.

The Wishard PAC's contribution report shows that just three indivdiuals gave, but two non-profit corporations gave more than $1 million dollars. It is obvious that more than three indivdiuals would have contributed to the Wishard cause. What they are doing is funnelling contributionis through the non-profits to hide the contributor list. This also makes political contributions tax-deductible - at least until the Internal Revenue Service finds out. Has the Star uttered one word of concern over the practice of hiding political contributors from public review? Nope, the Star has not even mentioned it, apparently because, what the heck, the dishonest reporting of political contributors is for a good cause.

Now the Star's editors tell us we should not be concerned that taxpayers will be hit with a property tax increase because the Wishard folks have promised us they will pay for it out of income and not property taxes. Taxpayers are apparently simply supposed to take it on faith that for the next 30 years, H&H won't resort to tapping into property tax revenue to pay for the bonds, even though there is absolutely nothing stopping the municipal corporation from doing so. We are apparently also supposed to believe that at no time during the next 30 years will the federal government crack down on the Medicaid nursing home "scam" used to generate the revenue it has received the past few years. Of course the feds have already been talking about doing exactly that.

In addition to the editorial, we have another article by reporter Dan Lee on the Wishard referendum. The article is a very biased piece in favor of a "yes" vote. It is disappointing to say the least. Dan Lee started out asking very tough, probing, and thoughtful questions regarding the referendum and Health & Hospital's income source. Then Lee's fine reporting suddenly stopped. It's almost as if Lee was reigned in by Star editors who did not want anything written that might negatively affect the outcome of the Wishard referendum. It is one thing for the Star to uses its editorial pages to promote an election result. It crosses the line of journalistic ethics to use the news pages to promote a political agenda. (The Star actually does it twice in Sunday's issue. Featured front page, above the fold is an article about Indianapolis being "behind" other cities in banning smoking in bars, an article that backs up earlier editorial positions by the Star.)

Despite the blogs, and alternative sources of information, I still see the Indianapolis Star as playing an important role in our community. That role, however, comes with a public trust, a promise to readers that the Star will approach issues honestly and fairly. The Star has repeatedly breached that public trust when it comes to its promotion of the Wishard referendum on its editoral and news pages. The Star's editors need to understand that the ends they prefer, a new hospital backed by taxpayers, do not justify their overlooking the dishonest means used to obtain that objective.

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