Former Grand Rapids City Commissioner Rick Tormala has a talk show every Tuesday from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon on WPRR, which is broadcast on 1680 AM and 95.3 FM. You can also stream his show live through the internet at www.publicrealityradio.org. Rick's tag line is "Not right, not left----in fact he is no where in between." Check him out.
I know the folks over at Media Mouse, River City's progressive local media critic, are earnest in their endeavors (which is one reason why we provide a link to their website). But the trouble with the leftist take on society is that your Big Idea about how the world is supposed to work trumps the facts instead of letting the facts inform your ideas about what really drives things. If this penchant for rationalism doesn't lead to an out-and-out detachment from reality, it can manifest a certain cluelessness.
Last week, Democratic Party presidential candidate Barack Obama announced that he will not be participating in the public financing system for his campaign. Instead, Obama will be able to raise an unlimited amount of money. However, much of the discussion on his decision has missed larger issues--why does it cost so much money to run for president and why do media corporations profit so much from elections?
The larger issue is the very thing that Obama ditched, the public financing system for presidential campaigns. Why is it that the bedrock freedom of political speech is confounded, constrained, and controlled by campaign financing restrictions that leave many a candidate no choice but to run for office on the public dole under the dictates of federal election commissars? Why is it that the so-called progressives who decry entrenched power and extoll the voice of the people are enamored with the bureaucratic bean-counting of the size and frequency of campaign contributions that favors incumbents and the super-rich at the expense of dark horses and ordinary citizens in political races? That is the fundamental issue.
The larger issue certainly is not: "Why does it cost so much money to run for president?" It doesn't. Americans spend a pittance on the publication of campaign speech compared to the advertising dollars that we pour into pushing mundane products like laundry detergent, fast-food burgers, and the latest amazing gadget for only $19.95 plus shipping and handling. For presidential candidates to spend what amounts to at most only a few bucks per voter every four years to get their messages out to the public is hardly a scandal. Indeed, stack that up to what pornographers spend to ply their putrid wares (which so-called progressives are so quick to defend under the free speech banner), and one wonders about the bad wiring in the heads of those who link arms with the flesh peddlars while sanctimoniously denouncing the few dollars spent on getting political speech on the air, on the internet, and in print.
Nor is the larger issue: "Why do media corporations profit so much from elections?" Is this really a head-scratcher for our progressive friends? The answer is obvious. The [shudder] "media corporations" own soapboxes that candidates want to rent to get their message out to the readers, viewers, and listeners of those companies. Meanwhile, all the other businesses and organizations that still need to advertise in the ordinary course of business don't go away. So demand goes up while the supply of space and minutes available for advertising remains about the same. Hence, the price for advertising laundry detergent and campaign slogans goes up. Nothing sinister. Economics 101.
If the leftists think the solution is to force the evil media corporations to hold their prices, just who do you think is going to get the limited supply of advertising available? Those customers of the media corporations placing ads day in and day out, or the fellow that comes along once every four years to get ink or air for a couple of months ahead of the election? Now if those leftist wheels are really turning, no doubt the solution to this is to force media corporations to ration ads to candidates -- and steamroll over the freedom of the press in the process.
All of which is to demonstrate that if our progressive friends put the facts first rather than their pet ideas, they might not wring their hands over things that are a problem only because they do not fit into the tidy world of their Big Idea.
In today's edition of the Grand Rapids Press, our newspaper of record broke the following big story on Page 3:
"If you can evenly divide the year by 4, it's a leap year. We have leap years because the earth's rotation doesn't keep up with the calendar. We lose a quarter of a day every year, so we add an extra day to the calendar every 4 years to make up for it. Otherwise, eventually, summer would fall in winter."
I'll let you, dear readers, add the punchline to the joke that the Press has become.
I was reading a Grand Rapids Press article about Monday's city school board meeting at which the members approved by a 5-2 vote, with Superintendent Bernard Taylor's backing, the use of The Literary Experience as a textbook in City High's Honors English class. As readers of L.A.W. are well aware, this textbook contains the Suzan-Lori Parks play "Topdog/Underdog" and provoked controversy because of excessive foul language and graphic depictions of sex. Reporter Rick Wilson repeatedly wrote that it was the play's "profanity" that raised hackles.
Also I noted that in the lead editorial a few days earlier, the Grand Rapids Press was quite high on having City High students read Parks's play: "College-bound seniors -- the ones who would be using the book -- are generally mature enough to handle an edgy work with profanity and sexual content. In fact, they should be encouraged to read the unassigned stories in any textbook they have." [Our emphasis.] Others supporting the use of The Literary Experience have also repeatedly spoken about the play's profanity and the need to expose high schoolers to it.
Well, OK. But is it too much to ask all those who are ardent in their commitment to this "foul language as literature" education project to get a clue about their subject? As far as I know, Parks's play contains no profanities. It does have more than a hundred uses over a run of 70 pages of variations of "s---" and "f---", neither of which are profanities. The former is either a vulgarity or obscenity depending upon its usage, and the latter is almost always an obscenity (although arguably the indiscriminate use of "f---" over the past few decades has so reduced its force that some usage of it is now merely vulgar).
In brief, if it is such a good idea to teach the kiddies swear words, then teach them! That means understanding the difference between a profanity, an obscenity, and a vulgarity. A profanity is sacrilegious. It takes God's name in vain, which the utterance of neither "s---" nor "f---" do. So the dispute over Parks's play has nothing to do with profanities. Indeed, in light of the secularist dogma that predominates public education these days, any grievance against genuine profanity in the classroom would likely bring down the wrath of the ACLU as a violation against the separation of church and state. Yes, I exaggerate, but you get my point: Few today work up much of a fuss over real profanity.
So the dispute lies with the obscenities and vulgarities in Parks's play. An obscenity is a depraved or disgusting reference to the body or bodily functions, most often sexual or scatological. Therefore, "f---" is clearly an obscenity, and "s---" often is. Therefore, Park's play is obscene not profane on account on the usage of those words, not to mention the graphic depictions of sex. Finally, a vulgarity is a crude or crass expression that lacks an obscene connotation but remains impolite, mild examples of which are the words "ass" and "crap".
One way to remember the differences is that these days a vulgarity will probably get you in trouble only with your grandmother, an obscenity with the FCC, and a profanity with the Almighty. Now you know how to swear, folks.
Last week we noted that the local media has been AWOL in its coverage of the Grand Rapids mayoral race. Since then reporter Jim Harger wrote an article about the Neighborhood Business Alliance's candidate forum that ran in the Friday evening edition of the Grand Rapids Press. Harger gave prominent coverage to the snarky remarks challengers Rick Tormala and Jim Rinck made about incumbent George Heartwell's dubious record as mayor. Admittedly they were funny, keeping in mind how tepid local politics are, but there was a lot more to report from that forum than was covered in the Press. Stayed tuned, because we will fill that gap.
Yesterday evening the four Grand Rapids mayoral candidates appeared at the Wealthy Street Theater for a 90-minute question-and-answer session hosted by the Neighborhood Business Alliance. It was an informative presentation of the candidates' views, and we'll have our commentary on it in an upcoming article. However, don't expect much from the local media if you want to know what the candidates are promising.
The mayoral race is a dead zone in local media coverage. We've noted that previously regarding last week's public call-in to quiz the candidates. The t.v. news reportage was, if not non-existent, abysmal, and though the Grand Rapids Press did cover the call-in, you learned nothing much about the candidates' views from their story. So far, the N.B.A.'s Q&A with the candidates isn't getting any better notice from the local media.
Last night, your Executive Director and Editor checked out Fox17 News instead of WOOD TV8 to see what the t.v. news would have to say about the Q&A. We figured that with an hour-long local news show, Fox would have the time to report on a mayoral debate seeing that the primary election is only a week and a half away. As it happened, Fox had time to plug as news the Fox conglomerate's entertainment products, including the premiere of The Simpsons Movie and the late-breaking flash that the new season of the t.v. show 24 will be set in D.C. rather than L.A.
(* Yes, we at LAW know that so long as the City Commission is supine before the apparatchiks of the city staff, no mayor actually runs G.R. Perhaps challenging the regime of City Manager Kurt Kimball would make a good campaign issue for the local media to raise ... oh, that's right, that would mean the local media would have to actually cover the campaign.)
Not if you are relying upon the local media to find out.
Last night the four candidates in the race for mayor of Grand Rapids -- incumbent George Heartwell, grocery clerk Jackie Miller, GR school board member James Rinck, and City Commissioner Rick Tormala -- participated in a discussion in which the public could call in questions. It was televised on the GRTV cable channel. Unfortunately, your Editor and Executive Director had to attend a meeting at Davenport College during the broadcast, so we didn't get to watch the candidates in action.
No problem. We thought we would tune into the 11 o'clock news on TV8. Sure, enough the anchor informed us that the call-in forum took place -- and that was it! Absolutely no coverage as to what transpired. Nothing about the questions asked, nor the answers given by the candidates. Pitiful coverage.
A few of our regular readers noticed we did not have any entries recently regarding the tragic shooting of Grand Rapids Police Officer Robert (Bob) Kozminski.
Since you asked, we’ll address it.
We decided to leave this issue to the main media outlets to cover. We couldn’t help but notice the high level of exposure this incident received in the G.R. Press, on local radio stations and of course, on t.v. stations 3, 4, 8, 13 and so on. Grief was expressed in normal ways; anger that domestic violence took another tragic turn, sadness over the loss of an honored police officer – the first in many, many years, words of condolences for a precious life lost, flowers of honor at police headquarters, photographs of the officer, interviews with those who knew and loved him and words of support and admiration for the life this officer lived. All appropriate and expected outpourings of loss over the unexpected and heartbreaking death of a well respected public official, boyfriend, son and co-worker.
But, as the days went on, expressions of grief started to reach a crescendo we did not expect. Flags were flown at half staff at many buildings. Signs all around town had words of comfort for the fallen and for fellow officers. Television stations and radio broadcasts couldn’t seem to discuss any other topic. Interviews were being done constantly with friends, family, church members, etc. City buses were advised they needed to pull over for a moment of silence before resuming their route. Roads were closed off for the long procession of city and private cars involved in the open funeral ceremony. The funeral was even broadcast on t.v. for anyone to view.
We chose to stay on the sidelines as the media frenzy ensued.
Our distance did not mean we did not feel similar sadness over such a tragic and unexpected loss of life – especially by a trusted public servant. Our sympathy also goes out to the officer’s family and his fellow officers – those left behind. I’m sure his loss will be a vacancy that will take many, many years to fill. As for Kozminski himself, he was on the job doing his sworn duty to protect the citizens of this city and lost his life in the line of duty. He seemed to be a top officer and a quality human being. We thank him for his service and his ultimate sacrifice. May he rest in peace and have perpetual light shine upon him always.
We have no way of knowing if Officer Kozminski would have wanted such a public display of grief and loss on radio, t.v. and news print. We’ll have no answer to that question in our lifetime. We chose not to shine the media spotlight on him that way. On the other hand, we hope he wouldn’t mind that each one of us says a private prayer on his behalf in our own quiet way.
It’s at times like this, it’s important to remember the “everyday” people who are out there making a difference. Doctors, nurses, ambulance workers, police, firefighters, security personnel, all branches of our military – Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard and Coast Guard and more. Thank them now for their service, not after it’s too late. Each one of these groups, along with everyday average citizens like you and I, make a difference in keeping our communities safe, healthy, clean and beautiful. We just do it in our own ways. Most of us don’t loose our lives in the pursuit of these things. For those that do, we share with you our eternal thanks.
At The Local Area Watch, we may be quiet in our appreciation and remembrance of this honorable local officer, but it is there nonetheless. Our outpouring is simply more reserved and private than that of the general media. I'm sure many of you agree.
Bridget Dupont-Tingley Editor The Local Area Watch
In today's editorial section, the Grand Rapids Press took us to task for any giggling over last month's mysterious disappearance of 15 million gallons of partially treated sewage from a retention pond in Sand Lake. Some of the local and national media have been yucking it up, but "It's no laughing matter", thundered the Press. After all, the consequences of this wastewater seeping into the groundwater and nearby wells "could be costly to people's health and the environment".
Well, yes. More than likely, according to engineers from Kent County's Public Works Department, the pond's liner sprung a leak and the wastewater flowed into a sinkhole. This water contains human waste from Sand Lake village and is retained in the pond for treatment with bacteria before being released into the environment. So it's not anything you should drink or come into contact with, but then treatment was well underway and the material is biodegradable. Furthermore, the local wells are being monitored, and so far there's been no sign of contamination.
Nevertheless, the Press has taken a dour view of the accident and has no patience for anyone having a chuckle or two over the missing waste: We need to keep an eye on the government to make sure that defective retention pond isn't part of a bigger problem. Probably so, but the Press hasn't always had such a stern take on environmental contamination and suspicion of the government's response to it. When the Boardwalk developers a few years back excavated 27,000 cubic yards of severely contaminated soil from the old Berkey & Gay factory site and dumped it into the old water tanks of the defunct water filtration plant up the street (now Clearwater Plaza), the Press wasn't bothered by it all. The reporter on the story said there was no story because the government had given the developers a pass on the dumping. In fact, to the extent that the Press covered the story at all it denigrated those who filed the complaint against the Boardwalk developers -- that is, yours truly, the Local Area Watch.
So why is 15 million gallons (about 74,000 cubic yards) of partially treated wastewater accidentally released into a sinkhole a very serious matter that merits keeping a close eye on the government's response, but the government's lack of a response to 27,000 cubic yards of raw solid hazardous waste with toxic concentrations of lead, mercury, and arsenic deliberately dumped out in the open next to a residential neighborhood rates a blind eye from River City's watchdog of record?
The difference, folks, is that no power players are involved in the Sand Lake fiasco. However, the Boardwalk project gang includes some of the biggest bigwigs in G.R. who cut corners in a rush to make illicit financial deals on the eve of Old Kent Bank's acquisition by Fifth Third Bancorp. (That story and its web of corruption is well-detailed in the "Toxic Towers", "Logie's Landfill", "Hall of Shame", "Fifth Third", and "The Fixer" series of articles we have run and so we won't cover it here again.) Just note that a free press is a boon to society only when the watchdog bites. But then that requires teeth, something the "happy fun" news Grand Rapids Press lacks.
Mayor George Heartwell wants Grand Rapids taxpayers to buy him a new car, and on yesterday's editorial page, the Grand Rapids Press opined that we should be happy to do so. In fact, the Press dismissed political opposition to Heartwell's request as "puffing", "pontificating", and "political theater". After all, what's twenty grand for a new Ford Escape Hybrid when $5.7 million has to be cut from the city government budget to pay for out-of-control employee and retiree health care benefits?
For starters, it's twenty grand that doesn't have to be cut from services the government provides to city residents, businesses, and taxpayers. There's no question that the lack of political will to cut deeply into the bloated bills for the city's payroll, benefit packages, and pensions approaches the scandalous. That should be the #1 issue in balancing the budget. However, that doesn't mean ignoring the small stuff in the meantime, like a new car for the mayor. Why shouldn't a first principle of budget-balancing be that city officials, staffers, and employees take all the hits before the rest of us do?
According to the Press, what must come first is giving the mayor of Grand Rapids a "respectable ride". After all, visiting dignitaries shouldn't be carted around in just any ol' set of wheels. Well, perhaps not, but then I'm not sure a Ford Escape Hybrid piloted by the mayor is going to impress anyone, especially when he needs to pull off the road to run the extension cord into a local citizen's home to recharge the battery. (OK, I know that's not how gas-electric hybrids work.) If the Press's point is that the second-largest city in Michigan needs a fancy car to transport out-of-town guests to and from city government functions, fine. Let the city government spend forty or fifty grand for a plush ride every five or six years that any city official can use for the appropriate occasion. Meanwhile, let the mayor use whatever other vehicles are available in the city's garage for routine business and commuting.
What doesn't make sense is having the taxpayers pony up to buy a car suited only to the personal peculiarities of our top city official. The taxpayers should only be asked to pay for what serves the public's interest, not the mayor's fancy.
Starting in the early 1980's a group of Amway distributors spread the falsehood that competitor Procter & Gamble Co. donated part of its profits to satanic cults. As evidence they claimed that the Fortune 500 company's man-in-the-moon logo was a symbol of satanism. These distributors began circulating their tales of P&G's links to satanism to customers via voice mail in 1995. P&G responded by filing suit against the Amway Corporation and the rumor-mongering distributors under a federal law that prohibits false advertising. The case was heard at the U.S. district court in Salt Lake City, Utah. Amway was eventually dismissed from the suit, but twelve years later a jury awarded P&G a judgment of $19.25 million against the distributors.
The Grand Rapids Press buried the climax of this long-running story on E4 of the business section, the very last page of yesterday's newspaper. While the projects that Amway's owners are pitching get puff pieces on the front page, for instance the expansion of the Van Andel Institute, the bad news doesn't seem to make it there. If nothing else, sticking the story on the back page certainly helped to keep under wraps the Press's lack of scrutiny of Amway's ludicrous response to the adverse court decision. A miffed flack from the company's public relations department denounced P&G for "destroying" the lives of these now-former distributors. However, the flack didn't actually say that these ex-distributors hadn't done what the jury said they had, nor was any explanation forthcoming as to why they are now ex-distributors. Granted, you'd expect Amway's mouthpiece to make self-serving statements. It just that you'd also expect a reporter to question them.
But then you're looking at this from the perspective of the man in the street. You need to consider the matter from Amway's angle. Burying an unfavorable story without any critical reporting is just the kind of favor you'd expect from the daily rag when the publisher is a friend of the company's owners.
Phyllis Jennings of Families United for Justice is no friend of Spectrum Health Corporation after her father died under suspicious circumstances in one of the facilities managed by the local health care behemoth. As regular readers will recall, the Kent County medical examiner, who just happens to run a business on the side with Spectrum as his biggest customer, fumbled the autopsy of Jennings’s father to declare he could find no fault with Spectrum. They will also recall how Spectrum has actively worked to squelch the coverage of this story in the mainstream media.
Even so, the scandal of a medical examiner in the pay of an organization he is responsible for investigating has gotten enough attention that some members of the Kent County Board of Commissioners are seriously considering the need for a full-time public official to run the medical examiner’s office instead of a moonlighter. So, even if Jennings may never get justice for her father, her fight (along with that of the Sallie family) may soon bring about for us a long overdue restructuring of the medical examiner’s office. For this we all owe her a debt of gratitude.
However, the Grand Rapids Press appears to disagree. Jennings asked the Press to run a memorial obituary for her father on the second anniversary of his death at Spectrum-run Kent County Community Hospital. The Press refused unless Jennings deleted from the memorial her family’s promise to her late father to “never give up our fight for the truth and for justice”. There is, of course, nothing indecent, improper, or even controversial about such a statement to a departed loved one, but it looks like publisher Danny Gaydou’s Press insists upon sticking it to the Jennings family any way it can. The fact that Gaydou is also chairman of Spectrum Health is no doubt merely a coincidence.
I suppose it's part and parcel of the campaign season. Here are some of the odder things the media has decided to report as Election Day draws near.
Bush orders the lowering of gasoline prices to boost confidence in the Republicans before the election. No doubt, if one man has the power to dictate the price of gasoline, that's a blockbuster of a story. And if that man is the president of the United States who has been sticking it to consumers with sky-high gasoline prices to enrich his backers in the oil industry and then cuts them ahead of an election to favor his party, that's nothing short of scandalous. Of course, the real scandal is the media reporting this nonsense circulating among Democrats as anything but a loony conspiracy theory. The reason gasoline prices have fallen in the two months ahead of the election is the same reason they usually fall in September and October every year. The summer driving season is over, demand has dropped, and so prices have gone down.
A yellow dog Democrat denounces Dick DeVos for lying about a high school memory. Apparently to bolster his credentials as a leader in his race for governor, Dick Jr. reminisced on his website that his high school football coach picked him to start as quarterback in a game back in '71 and gave him a pep talk lauding young Dick's leadership skills. His old coach then went public to say it was all a lie. OK, maybe there's a story in that, except ... Who really cares about a pep talk ahead of a forgotten football game thirty-five years ago? Plus the fact that the coach is now a Democratic party activist who might have had a political motivation to not remember starting Dick and giving him a pep talk. So one wonders why the media bothered to report the dust-up at all. Maybe as an excuse to later report that Dick's coach admitting that he did start him as quarterback and probably did give him a pep tallk? In short, there was no story in the first place.
A prominent supporter of Michigan's Proposal Two consorts with racists. At least twice now the Grand Rapids Press has run dubious stories about Ward Connerly's alleged ties to white supremacist groups in his campaign for passage of Proposal Two, the ballot initiative to end racial and gender preferences in public jobs, college admissions, and contracting. Connerly is the founder of a national movement to enact "color-blind" laws in each of the states, and the Press has taken the fact that some bigots use Connerly's campaign as cover for their own despicable agenda to insinuate that Connerly and his movement endorse the bigots. Meanwhile, the Press has failed to report on the bullying tactics of the anti-Prop Two group "By Any Means Necessary" to stop Michiganders from even getting an opportunity to vote for or against Connerly's proposal and then, failing at that, to silence debate on it.
As it happens these strange tales I have pointed out largely come from left side of the political spectrum to tar the agenda and the candidates of the right. There are strange tales that work in the opposite direction too. So this isn't so much a left-right issue as the failure of the media to pass critical judgments as to what facts, and the conclusions drawn from them, merit the public's attention in the run-up to an election. I suspect the mainstream media's turn away from a hard news ethic to infotainment, as exemplified by the "happy fun news" front page typical of the Grand Rapids Press these days, has a lot to do with the loss of this essential faculty to keep foolishness out of the news.
This morning the Detroit Free Press, no friend of the right, ran a puff piece on Dick DeVos, the Republican candidate for governor. The article waxed what a regular guy Dick is, despite his status as a scion of the Amway empire. The article also promoted his competency as it detailed his career. Well, maybe "detailed" isn't the right word, because the Free Press was a little skimpy on some of the facts.
For instance, the article mentioned that DeVos was vice president of Amway's international subsidiary from 1984 to 1989. What it didn't mention was what happened during DeVos's watch -- namely, the Canadian tax scam that threatened to put his father, Amway founder Rich DeVos and partner Jay Van Andel, in the federal slammer. In the end, it was determined that Amway was not scamming the Canadians on taxes, but instead was inflating profits it reported to lenders. (Not incidentally, those inflated profits also served as proxies for the valuations of Amway-Asia and Amway-Pacific when the elder DeVos and Van Andel took those companies public on the Tokyo stock exchange, that later went bust when the truth was learned.) Like a lot of top managers involved with this fiasco, Dick exited Amway.
Moreover, the prosecutor on the Canadian tax fraud case was then-U.S. Attorney John Smietanka, whose run in 1998 as the Republican candidate for Michigan attorney general against Jennifer Granholm the DeVoses sabotaged. In fact, Dick's wife Betsy wielded the longest of the long knives against Smietanka. Of course, Granholm's victory against Smietanka was her stepping to the governor's office. So, in an odd way, Dick and his family are responsible for both sides of this year's match-up in the governor's race.
Oh well. Who actually needs news in the newspaper, right?
Last week the Grand Rapids Press ran an editorial opposing Proposal 2, the November referendum to end race- and sex-based preferences in college admissions, state jobs, and government contracts. Yesterday it ran a story announcing that a white supremacist group, the Michigan chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens, supports Proposal 2. Below the headline "Photo shows Proposal 2's extremist ties, say critics", the Press displayed a photograph of the CCC's chairman, John Raterink, shaking the hand of Ward Connerly, the leader of a state-by-state anti-racial preference campaign that put Proposal 2 on the ballot.
Whatever ones thinks of Proposal 2, the article is a cheap shot against it and the founder of the movement behind it that hardly amounts to news. The basis for the story is nothing more than the waving of the bloody shirt by a local opponent of Proposal 2 who found the photograph of Raterink and Connerly on the CCC's website. As it turns out, Connerly was shaking hands of supporters of Proposal 2 at a public event, one of whom was Raterink who asked to have his picture taken with Connerly. Connerly states that he didn't know who Raterink was or his association with the CCC at the time the photograph was taken. Anyone familiar with politics knows these sort of embarrassing photos pop up all the time, because politicians shake hands with everyone.
It hardly amounts to "extremist ties", as the Press declared, between the campaign to pass Proposal 2 and some pathetic bigots who happen to support it. Moreover, absent from the Press has been coverage of the radical group "By Any Means Necessary" that has used racial intimidation, state agencies, and the courts to try to deny Michiganders even the opportunity to vote for or against Proposal 2. Having failed to stop Proposal 2 from getting on the ballot, the group has resorted to hooliganism at debates on the measure to silence its proponents.
That's actually news. It's serious when a group like "By Any Means Necessary" employs brown-shirt tactics to derail an election. As loathsome as Raterink and his crew of racists are, at least none of them are trying to monkey-wrench the democratic process. Yet, there's no similar story in the Press about how opponents to Proposal 2 have "extremist ties". It appears that the Press is not able to contain its opposition to Proposal 2 to the editorial page and has let it spill into the news section by acts of both commission and omission.
I find it interesting how a group can dump into the news media its propoganda in the form of a scientific-sounding "study" or "paper", which the media then uncritically regurgitates to the public as fact. That happened yesterday on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press.
Under the headline "Report puts violent deaths in Iraq at 600,000", the Press recycled a short article from the Los Angeles Times that a "team of researchers" published an estimate that 601,027 Iraqis have died violent deaths since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Setting aside how the number 601,027 seems rather precise for an estimate, the article makes no mention of the methodology of these researchers. Nor does it state the estimates of this figure from other sources. Moreover, the article does not report the relationship of the researchers with anti-war organizations.
Finally, there is no attempt in the article to make this estimate comprehensible to the reader. For example, 601,027 violent deaths since March 2003 means 470 Iraqis have been killed EVERY single day. That is not a level of carnage that news media, even as lazy and sloppy as I think most in the business are, would have missed. Yet the Press passes along the figure as front-page news because some professor says it's so. This is not news and does not belong in the newspaper.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This week we will publish an article on the failure to the Kent County Board of Commissioners to act upon Dr. Cohle's conflict of interest between his public duties as Chief Medical Examiner of Kent County and his private business relationship with Spectrum Health Corporation. To fully understand the breach of public trust that has occurred, we thought it would be helpful to our readers to re-publish the previous articles on this issue. This is the second article in the series.
You may recall the story we posted at the beginning of the year about the mysterious fates of Phyllis Jennings's father and Kristi Sallie's mother at Spectrum Health facilities. Despite plain evidence to the contrary, such as unusual wounds and bruises on the body of the father Edwin Jennings, Spectrum's in-house pathologists declared that in neither case was there anything suspect in their deaths. (We then also learned of a third unusual death fitting the same profile that was whitewashed by Spectrum officials.) The Kent County Medical Examiner Stephen Cohle poohed-poohed the complaints of the Jennings and Sallie families and closed the matter with a report, that a professional if not a layman would immediately recognize as scandalously vague and incomplete.
Come to find out, Cohle was highly unlikely to ever critically examine the work of Spectrum's pathologists, because they are contractors provided to Spectrum Health by Laboratory Pathologists P.C., a medical services firm he owns! In other words, despite the duties of his public office Cohle was not about to bite the hand that feeds him. Meanwhile, taxpayers are paying good money to have the fox watch the henhouse, and the Kent County Board of Commissioners has been despicable in its refusal to take effective action to rid the public of this gross conflict of interest. And justice continues to be denied the Jennings and Sallie families.
On top of all this, the Jennings family was shocked to discover that Spectrum Health removed Edwin's brain and arranged to have it delivered to the Transplantation Society. However, Edwin was not an organ donor. Moreover, neither Cohle's pathologists working for Spectrum nor Cohle as the medical examiner mentioned in their official reports that Edwin's brain had been removed from his body. The Jennings only learned of this horror when they had Edwin's body exhumed four months after his burial for an independent, professional autopsy. Afterwards, Spectrum Health without explanation returned Edwin's brain in a vat of formaldehyde.
As it happens there is a booming market in the U.S. for human body parts and tissues. Unscrupulous funeral homes, hospitals, and medical labs remove pricey parts of the deceased, who are then soon buried, which pretty much eliminates the evidence of the crime. Once again, your medical examiner Stephen Cohle has no interest in pursuing this matter. In light of the direct conflict of interest with his company, Laboratory Pathologists, which was involved in the disappearance of Edwin's brain -- his inaction is unacceptable.
Although the local media has not done a good job of covering this important story, Detroit's ABC affiliate WXYZ TV7 did. After recently airing the story of Edwin's stolen brain on the evening newscast, reporter Ray Sayah posted the story on WXYZ's website on May 7, 2006. According to Sayah, Spectrum Health then leaned on WXYZ to delete the story and the station capitulated. You now can no longer find the story about Edwin Jennings on its website. WXYZ is an aggressive news organization, so it makes one wonder what kind of threat Spectrum could have made that intimidated the station. Whatever it was, it worked.
So, remember, folks. Spectrum Health protects itself, not the health of you and your loved ones. For Stephen Cohle, the Kent County medical examiner, taking care of his private business affairs trumps his public duty to you. Your elected officials, in particular the Kent County Board of Commissioners, simply don't give a damn about that conflict of interest. And the media in Michigan, if not already in the bag for Spectrum (like Grand Rapids Press publisher Danny Gaydou) have feet of clay when comes to the big hospital on the hill. Therefore, never forget you're on your own.
Our readers send us many interesting things. The other day, in response to our recent criticism of the Grand Rapids Press's uncritical reporting about the National Academy of Sciences report on "global warming", one reader faxed us a clip from the Wall Street Journal titled "Hockey Stick Hockum". (Log-in required to access link.) The commentary confirmed what we had to say in our article and our ensuing responses to readers (here and here) about the mendacity behind global warming.
Of particular interest in the Journal's commentary was the Wegman Report commissioned by the House Energy Committee. (Note how the Press splashed a big story on Page Three about the NAS report commissioned by the House Science Committee that fanned the flames of global warming hysteria but had nothing to print about Wegman Report that critically reviewed the scientists and their claims in support of catatrosphic climate change. Bias or incompetence? Your pick.) In addition to dismantling the severely flawed statistical methodologies used to fashion out of nothing an unprecedented and alarming increase in temperature over the past century (i.e., climatologist Michael Mann's notorious "hockey stick" graph that has now become the holy grail for global warming Cassandras), the Wegman Report also analyzes the behavior of the scientists involved in climate research.
As I noted in a response to a reader, the ordinary layman need not and should not simply accept the statements of a scientist as authoritative because he has a PhD after his name. That scientist is also a human being subject to the same perversities that all of us are which can impair a dispassionate judgment of the facts. Indeed, the Wegman Report finds that the climate research establishment is "a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis [i.e., catastrophic global warming]" and that "this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility". In short, among too many climatologists, ego has trumphed professional integrity.
Well, it's always heartening when the mainstream media catches up with us. Can we hope that the Press will do so, too? After all, it matters to you when a group has the ear of much of the government and is demanding that you pay more taxes and give more power to the bureaucrats to address what they say is a looming crisis. It's the job of the media to give you all the information you need to figure out if that crisis is real or just another boondoggle targeted at your wallet and your liberty. When it uncritically reports only half the story, like the Grand Rapids Press has regarding global warming, it has failed in its responsibility to the public.
On Thursday last week the Grand Rapids dutifully toted the official line on global warming. In a Page 3 article the Press reported the conclusion of the National Academy of Sciences that recent years have been the warmest in the last four centuries. Nowhere is reported the well-known fact that four hundred years ago our planet was in the grip of a cold spell known as "The Little Ice Age". Indeed, this is no esoteric climatological matter. The Little Ice Age has been fodder for a number of popular television documentaries including a two-hour special within the past year on the History Channel.
So, the conclusion of the NAS is no more news than the fact that June's temperatures have been the hottest in the past six months. After all, summer is always hotter than winter. Likewise, the Earth has been warming and cooling since the last ice age ten millennia ago in a six- to seven-century cycle. Following that pattern temperatures last peaked during the early 14th century, sometimes referred to as the Medieval Climate Optimum, then bottomed out three centuries later in the Little Ice Age, and have been rising since then. We may well be at the peak of the current warm spell, if you can call an average increase in temperature of less than one degree Celsius over the past hundred years a warm spell.
In fact, the real news is the scandal of the NAS flogging this crap as a significant scientific finding. The NAS was chartered by the U.S. Congress to advise government officials on scientific matters, which in effect means that it exists to tell politicians what they want to hear. So no surprise that the NAS presented no news as new news of global warming at the request of a New York congressman, Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, who rails against global warming as a major threat to us. Does anyone seriously think that the NAS is going to bite the hand that feeds it?
No, but what is stopping the Grand Rapids Press from informing the public of this conflict of interest? After all, the Press saw fit on the next day to expose in another Page 3 article the secret wartime measures our government has taken to monitor and track down the financial transactions of terrorist organizations. What sort of watchdog makes it a priority to compromise the safety of the public over a cozy arrangement to distort science and squander taxpayer dollars? If the media can't get something that simple right, what good is it?
Is it really too much to ask of the Grand Rapids Press to tell the full story? Last week, the local rag headlined the regional section with "By choice, GR schools a bigger draw". Reporter Dave Murray then opens the story with this:
"Grand Rapids slowly is becoming a destination district for students using the county's school choice plan. Educators say 84 suburban students are entering the city schools through the plan, up 23 from last year and by far the most ever accepted by the district."
Murray's "by far" is an indication of just how pathetic Grand Rapids public schools are in drawing new students from the 'burbs. But you wouldn't know this because he makes no mention whatsoever in his lengthy article that the GRPS will probably lose another 800 or more students to suburban districts come September. So now you have the other half of the story.
Believe it or not, more than two weeks later the Grand Rapids Press is still milking whatever it can out of this sad story. If anyone can show me the news value of the Page 3 article published in the Saturday edition of the Press, I'll buy Mike Lloyd lunch.
It seems that Grand Rapids Press editor Mike Lloyd and publisher Danny Gaydou have no shame. Everyday from the beginning of this month, they have exploited the story of the tragic mix-up of the identities of two young women involved in a fatal automobile accident in April. One woman died and the other survived, but the coroner mistakenly identified one as the other and only recently have their families sorted out the truth.
There is no question that such an extraordinary event is newsworthy. Because the family of the woman who died resides here, the Press properly made it a front page story when the news first broke on June 1st. And sure, a couple of things unresolved on June 1st merited a follow-up article or two in the regional section of the newspaper. Instead, Lloyd has milked the tragedy by reducing it to bathos with emotionally exploitive front-page top-of-the-fold stories every single day since then.
Shame on Lloyd, and shame on Gaydou for letting him do it. It long past the time that the Press spared the families of these two young women its morbid fascination calculated solely for the purpose of increasing circulation.
WOOD TV8 has been running an ad promoting a segment it is going to run on this evening's newscast. The segment's intrepid reporter is going to ferret who's to blame for rising gasoline prices. My first reaction was, "What nonsense!" After all, the law of supply and demand provides most of the explanation. There's no one to "blame" in that regard.
Then an article headlined "Ehlers lauded as green giant" in the Monday edition of the Grand Rapids Press caught my eye. River City's member of Congress, Vern Ehlers, was awarded the Helen & William Milliken Distinguished Service Award by the Michigan Environmental Council.* One of the reasons Ehlers got this distinction is his solid opposition to drilling for oil in that frozen wasteland otherwise known as the Arctic National Wildfire Refuge.
So we can blame Ehlers for helping to create the shortage in oil supply that has driven a barrel of crude to sky-high prices. Don't bet on the newsmen at WOOD TV8 figuring that out when it comes to pointing fingers.
* You might remember the Michigan Environmental Council. These fearless defenders of the environment stayed low in the weeds when we asked for their help in presenting to state officials the evidence of how the Berkey & Gay developers obstructed the MDEQ's investigation of illegal dumping at the old Monroe Avenue water filtration plant with false affidavits and phony soil tests. But let's not beat up on the MEC too much. All of the environmentalist groups that constantly beg for donations from you turned their back on the biggest dumping scandal in River City history because of the powerful players in involved.
I guess it's not enough for the Grand Rapids Press to be insipid. It needs to be vile, too. In yesterday's sports section was the headline "Not So Tasty Lucky Charms". Below it was a photo of the trainer for the Costa Rican national soccer team helping one of the players in a stretching exercise. The photo was shot from an angle that put the trainer's face near the crotch of the player, hence the prurient headline that only a thirteen-year-old boy could think is clever.
... is not what the media around here usually reports. Indeed, it's amazing how the hundreds of people who are paid in River City to collect and report the facts about town can't seem to get anything but the simplest stories right.
A current example is the defense fund that blue nose Judy Rose claims to have at the ready to pay for the expenses the City of Grand Rapids will incur in federal court defending the new adult entertainment ordinance the City Commission passed last month. All of the local media, from the silly (Kevin Matthew's morning show on WLAV-FM) to the newspaper of record (the Grand Rapids Press), has parroted the city government's official line that the expenses the City Attorney's office will incur in defending the ordinance against a newly filed legal challenge in U.S. District Court by strip club owner Mark London will be covered by Rose's $100,000 defense fund.
With the notable exception of Anne Schieber of WOOD TV8 news, none of the media has reported the significant fact that Rose's fund has only a thousand bucks in it. (A fact, dear readers, you already knew because you read it here first.) The other $99,000 are a collection of promises from a group of unnamed backers of Rose's jihad against local strip joints. Rose says she has compiled a list of these secret pledges, which she supposedly showed to City Attorney Phil Balkema on the condition that he not divulge to anyone what he saw -- not even the Mayor or the City Commissioners, who blindly accepted Rose's assurances of financial support and so voted 6-1 to approve the new ordinance. Of course, by not demanding a copy of this alleged list, Balkema ensured that there would be no public record for residents and taxpayers to assess the reliability of Rose's pledges. (But then, you really didn't think the City Attorney works for you, did you?)
So the cupboard's bare, except for a pile of IOU's. However, the legal bills to the City of Grand Rapids will be real enough. For reasons unfathomable to me, the City has hired Tennessee lawyer Scott Bergthold to represent it in federal court. He is the character who represented the City in the Velvet Touch fiasco all of the way up to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and got the taxpayers of the City slapped with not only paying his bill but also the court's sanction to pay the legal bills of the Velvet Touch for a total of a quarter million dollars. Bergthold got the job again after he lobbied the City Commission hard to pass this new ordinance that he drafted. Genius actually. Bergthold invented a good-paying case for himself. Whether the City wins or loses, he'll be laughing all of the way to the bank with your tax dollars. Just another set of facts about this story that have eluded the local media.
Another under-reported fact are the actual terms of Rose's defense fund. Until recently there wasn't any enforceable agreement for Rose's group to pay for any legal expenses incurred by the City. All the City had was Rose's letters pestering Mayor Heartwell to run London's new strip club out of town if her group creates a defense fund and Heartwell's plea to Balkema to find some way to appease Rose. Now there exists a written commitment that Rose's group will ask its secret backers to make good their pledges to the defense fund when the City Attorney's office submits to it an invoice for "extraordinary" legal expenses in the London lawsuit. Extraordinary? I wonder what that means. It certainly doesn't mean every cost. Furthermore, the payment of those invoices from the City Attorney's office are not assured. That happens only if the alleged pledges are honored.
Meanwhile, the City Attorney's office has a bill from Bergthold to pay for a private dick who visited River City's sex emporiums. Apparently Mayor Heartwell and the City Commissioners needed to know what was going in those strip joints and dirty book stores. While on the taxpayers' dime, Bergthold's detective needed have his face rubbed in the breasts and buttocks of several strippers to find out for certain, which he dutifully reported in a lengthy report Bergthold submitted to our esteemed local solons. I wonder if Ms. Rose will consider that an extraordinary expense.
Whether she does or doesn't, don't expect to find out from the local media.
The Pig in the Python The dirty little secret behind the success and failure of every school reform that the education establishment, the public school bureaucrats, and the teachers unions will never reveal.
The Fool's Gold of a College Education Most kids who get a college degree today have nothing but an expensive credential that lands them a job that any high school graduate could have gotten a generation ago -- WITHOUT the heavy burden of paying back a student loan.
The Fixer A four-part series about the local attorney behind the demise of Autodie, Butterworth Hospital, Amway, and Old Kent. Warning: Strong accusations of corruption, greed, and skullduggery. Not for the feint of heart.
Poison The nasty nature of the 26,000 tons of poison that The Boardwalk's developers dug up and then dumped upon the rest of us.
No Honor Among Thieves: The Demise of Quixtar The re-branding of Amway as Quixtar put lipstick on the pig, but none of the crappy way of doing business changed. Now comes public scrutiny around the world to control its kingpins and clean up the dirty "tools" business.
Lost Cause A story of how River City lost its way to a secure economic future.
Living Wage Kills Jobs City pols support a Marxist policy that, like all Marxist policies, hurt the very people they say it will help.
Defenders Who Do Not Defend Excessive plea-bargaining, lack of preparation, shoddy to non-existent representation, conflicts of interests are rife among lawyers taking public defender cases on the taxpayer dime.