Sunday, November 8, 2009

Columnist Dan Carpenter Analyzes Media Role in Referenda Elections, Ignores Star's Failures to Address the Issues and Speak Out for Fair Elections

Dan Carpenter's column appears today with a discussion of the referendum process. Dan and I have been on the same side of a lot of issues. He's written favorably with regard to our legal challenges over the RCA Dome action and the Pan Am $6 million giveaway. Today though he drops the ball. Here is a paragraph from that column.

Rare is the voter who could assess that warning one way or the other; which raises a problem with the direct democracy process. People will not be informed in many cases, particularly on something as abstruse as a school budget. The official explanations always will be suspect. The media, except in high-profile cases such as Wishard, won't get that deep into the issues. Remonstrators will fill their blogs with bombast and bogeymen.
By "media" Carpenter is, of course, referring to his own Indianapolis Star. The suggestion that the Star got "deep into the issues" regarding the Wishard referendum is a laughable contention. The Star did little other than act as a cheerleader for a "yes" vote, penning an incredible five editorials in favor of the referendum, While Star reporter Dan Lee started to ask probing questions regarding the project and the role of Health & Hospital, those questions suddenly stopped in favor of puff pieces written by Lee and other Star reporters. This was yet another example of the Star's role as watchdog being usurped by television reporters. Reporter Norman Cox of WRTV did a couple of brilliant lengthy pieces where he asked the difficult questions the Star steadfastly refused to address in its news coverage.

Contrary to Carpenter's slam about the blogs, it was the blogs, particularly Advance Indiana, which raised legitimate issues about the Wishard referendum that the Star insisted on overlooking. Although the Star criticized those blogs for raising those issues and Carpenter suggests they were filled with "bombast" and "bogeymen," the Star never once refuted any of the facts that Advance Indiana's publisher Gary Welsh and others raised. The Star's response was simply to ignore, ignore, ignore and, of course, to engage in yet more cheerleading.

Today on the editorial page is a notice of how the state's newspapers, including the Indianapolis Star, have joined together to fight for "major ethics reform in the General Assembly." Yet this is the same Indianapolis Star which flat-out refused to criticize public officials use of of public, i.e. taxpayer resources, to support a "yes" vote on the various referenda this past election. This is the same newspaper that looked the other way as the Wishard PAC produced a questionable campaign finance report which showed a receipt of only three indviduals contribitutions ($125 total) and over $1 million from two non-profit corporations. The Star also failed to give more than passing criticism to the Wishard folks writing a referendum question that failed to inform the voters they were building a new hospital or how much they would be borrowing in bonds backed by the taxpayers.

In the Wishard debate, the Star made it clear time and time again, that the "ends" (the passage of the referendum) were so important that they were going to overlook any dishonest means used by Wishard supporters to achieve those ends. The Star repeatedly had opportunities during the Wishard referendum to speak out for good government and fair elections. Instead the Star took a pass. Now it wants to be taken seriously as a fighter for ethics reforms. I am sorry but ethics are not "situational, " something that can be ignored when the cause is "good." We need to insist on honest government and fair elections, across the board, on every occasion, even when doing so hurts a cause we may want. That's a message that unfortunately the Star's editors and columnists like Dan Carpenter and Matthew Tully do not seem to understand.


Jon said...

When Dan referred to the language in the referendum; "You can disparage the turnout and you can make an issue of ballot wording and campaign tactics.." you get a sense of just how biased the dialogue was in favor of the Wishard referendum.
To gloss over the fact that nowhere in the referendum it states a hospital is being built or taxes will be raised is okay because the end justifies the means.
As if the referendum isn't galling enough Dan goes on to "preach' the same old same old bilge about where would we be without LOS and the Pacers and the no Wishard lie.
Yeah, all of that seems fair and non-biased.

Guest said...

So what. There isn't one person with clout that could fight them on this false referendum debacle, that will do it. There are plenty of people that stood up to fight against this sham but none of them could force the gov. to do the right thing and word it correctly-I guess it takes lawyers to fight it but darn they might not get invited to the next in crowd coctail party.

Jon said...

Re:Guest, the fact that there wasn't any support from the 4th Estate, the mayor's office, the City Council etc. to level the playing field and discuss impartially the issues is and should be an indictment about the politics of the City of Indianapolis.
When the truth is inconvenient, when facts make us uncomfortable we just ignore them. When we can't ignore them we deflect them, when we can't deflect them we impugn them.

Had Enough Indy? said...

I am befuddled about why Carpenter and/or Tully did not parse their endorsement of the referendum to say it had their enthusiastic backing, but there were flaws in the public process of full disclosure that ought not be repeated. Both are intellectually capable of seeing the flaws and expressing a multifaceted opinion.

I guess we are left with that old saw - you can fool some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Hopefully anyway.

Paul K. Ogden said...

HEI said:

"I am befuddled about why Carpenter and/or Tully did not parse their endorsement of the referendum to say it had their enthusiastic backing, but there were flaws in the public process of full disclosure that ought not be repeated."

So too am I. They could have come out for the referendum but have been critical of the flaws and tactics. But they adamently and steadfastly refused to do that. They were bound and determined not to recognize anything negative about the Wishard tactics. Frankly, I don't think there is any tactics that the Wishard folks could have employed that Tully, Cartpenter and the Star editors would have criticized. They would have just ignored them...because what the heck, it was for a "good cause."

Unfortunately I don't think our friends over at the Star have any idea how they hurt their own credibility with this single-minded campaign to get the Wishard referendum passed, even if it meant ignoring tactics which were less than honest.

Paul K. Ogden said...

I would add that the Star even praised the Wishard people, including Gutwein, for their openness regarding the project. Unbelievable.

guy77money said...

Hmmm I suspect Wishard will do some major advertising with the Star over the next couple of years. You can't bite the hand that feeds you considering the state newspapers are in nonadays. I wonder how many people would have voted for Wishard if there would have a paragraph in the question stating your property taxes would go up if they (when) need more money? What a sham! Just a thought, maybe the reason they pushed this referendum as quickly as they did is they knew Congress might pass the health care bill which would cause their nursing home money to dry up.

Nick said...

Interesting how the keen reporting at the Star appeared to miss the Wishard press release that contradicted there statements of space shortages by stating they were "reducing the total space by nearly one third from 1.7 million square feet to 1.2 million square feet" and eliminating 53 existing hospital beds by building a new $750 million hospital.

A new hospital is great, but paying $123 million MORE for 161 LESS hospital beds compared to the new Cook County Hospital (John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital)is not great.