Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How The Indianapolis Star Failed The Community On the Pacers Deal

I'm not one of those who thinks blogs will replace newspapers. As a "blogger" I see myself first and foremost as a commentator. Occasionally I do original reporting but for the most part, I leave that to the professionals. I think newspapers will continue to play an important role in the 21st Century.

The performance, and failures, of the Indianapolis Star in covering the Pacers bailout story though should be examined. This is not a knock against the reporters. Francesco Jarosz who did much of the reporting did a fine job. As a writer though at the end of the day you're limited by what your editors will allow you to investigate and say. There are many fine writers at the Star. Unfortunately they often type with editor's handcuffs that limit their reporting.

Let me examine the failures in the Star's reporting on the Pacers deal.

  • The Star never once mentioned in its reporting that it had invested in the Conseco Fieldhouse. Basic journalism ethics requires the newspaper to have pointed the newspapers conflict of interest.
  • The Star never once demanded that the Pacers open their books to prove they were losing money. Instead the Star simply took the word of the Pacer officials that the team was losing money.
  • With only a few exceptions the Star failed to report that the 1999 Conseco Fieldhouse contract did not allow the Simons to pick up and move the team. Under the contract, it is clear that the Early Termination provision could only be exercised if: 1) the Pacers were losing money; 2) the team was being sold; and 3) the team was being relocated outside of Indianapolis. Instead, the Star simply treated it as a fact the Simons could pick up and move the team.
  • In the end, the Star simply accepted the word of CIB officials that the penalty provision in the 1999 contract was only about $20 million. There was no attempt by the Star's editors to look into what the penalty provision actually said. Yours truly has analyzed the contract and sketched out in extraordinary detail on this blog how the penalty provisions worked. Nobody ever challenged my legal analysis, which analysis produced a penalty of $148 million in 2010. I'm fine with the Star not accepting my word, my question is why didn't the Star hire a law school contracts professor to give them an analysis of how the contractual provision works and what penalties were involved? I hate to be cynical but I think the Star's editors didn't want to hear the truth. If the penalty was north of $100 million, which it clearly is, they would have had to question why the City was even negotiating with the Pacers.
  • The Star's editors simply accepted it as a given that spending tens of millions more to subsidize the Pacers and were will to swallow hook line and sinker the Hunden insider study commissioned by the CIB, which contradicted virtually every academic study that's ever been done on the wisdom of local communities investing in professional sports. Again, why did the Star accept as fact the figures reported in the "homer" Hunden report rather than the views of unbiased academics?

Again, I don't fault the reporters. I know they're itching for the opportunity to do more hard hitting, better investigative reporting. Ultimately though their hands are tied by the Star's editors who appear to have an agenda that they intend to promote not only on the editorial page, but also on the news stories which appear in the paper.


Cato said...

The Star is propaganda for the power elite. They're all on the same team. They're into opinion manufacturing. The quicker you realize this, the better you'll be able to see how Indy truly functions.

Downtown Indy said...

He who controls the media, controls the world. (Or at least the City).

Diana Vice said...

Superintendent Jim Mervilde doesn't like the Indy Star much either.


Jon said...

The Star ignored Bob Grand's conflict on the CIB (managing partner in the firm that represents the Pacers), they are ignoring current CIB conflicts (Lantrop), they omitted or misrepresented the Pacer's penalty for moving the team, they choose to ignore the perks afforded to the Simpons; free parking garage, land for their office building and free Circle Center rent.

The Star may as well be paid lobbyists for the Simons.