Mr. Donovan, Pistols at Dawn?
by Jack Cashill
This past month I have found myself in a minor dust-up with The Kansas City Star that I was prepared to let drop until my normally prudent, apolitical, university professor wife told me it was time to bitch-slap these mothers. And when my wife talks, I listen.
My initial hesitance had nothing to do with fear of The Star but simply with what I considered the small potatoes nature of the squabble. To continue the food metaphor, I felt I had bigger fish to fry, specifically my work on the authorship of Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father.
The contretemps began on November 14 when I published an article in the American Thinker entitled “Newspapers Censor Their Way To Oblivion.”
The article’s lead sums up my thesis: “This campaign season The Kansas City Star passed on a parcel of the nation's most eye-popping stories. Incredibly, at least five of those stories flared up in the Star's home state, Missouri. As the reader might guess, all five stories reflected unfavorably on Democratic candidates.”
I cited five stories—Obama’s “St. Louis” gaffe, Biden’s “Stand up, Chuck” gaffe, the “Obama Truth Squad” scandal, the junior high Obama storm troopers scandal, and the Star’s pathetic ongoing coverage of ACORN. In each case, I specified where the story did not appear, specifically the Star’s “Start Smart--"10 hot topics," which it emails blasts every morning to me and many others.
For instance, in October 2008 hundreds of thousands of Americans watched a shocking video of Obama youth wearing military fatigues and chanting, “Yes I Can,” on public school time under the watchful eye of a public school teacher.
This video circled the Internet for four days without comment from The Star. A local AM radio station interviewed the principal on a Monday. I interviewed her that same morning. Here is what I wrote about the Star’s response on Tuesday:
“The Star did not report on the Obama Youth video until the following day and then under the comically gentle headline, ‘Schools tread a tightrope when teaching about election.’ Tightrope? This story did not make the "Start Smart" top ten either.”
My dictionary defines “censor” as “to suppress or control something,” which is quite how I used the world although I would round out the definition with “to diminish.”
Star reader rep Derek Donovan took exception. He titled his response article, “Stating lies forcefully does not make them true.”
Wrote Donovan, “The specific news stories cited as examples are absolute nonsense -- unless you can count the paper running them, including on Page A-1, as censorship.”
The page A-1 story he was referring to was that of the junior varsity storm troopers. Wrote Donovan, “Yep, again censored in The Star -- unless you count that Page A-1 story about the subject of political involvement in schoolrooms on Oct. 8.” To repeat, the Star covered the story late and then trivialized it when it did. One can imagine the paper’s response if a suburban school district had sponsored McCain Youth marching in military fatigues.
Donovan was equally dismissive about my take on the Obama “Truth Squad” story. Although he cited only one instance, he claimed the story had been in the paper “multiple times.” Donovan then added an altogether telling aside, “And the critics also forget that McCain had his own ‘truth squads’ out there (though they didn't include prosecutors and sheriffs in Missouri, which was one of the main knocks against the Obama team).”
“One of the main knocks?” No, that was “the” knock. A truth squad made up exclusively of prosecutors and sheriffs scares people. That was its intention. At the time, when I told my wife (who wisely goes by her maiden name) that I was prepared to tackle the “Truth Squad” story, she blanched and advised strongly against it, fearing legal retribution. That is why this story should have been one of the “ten hot topics” multiple times, but as I reported, it never did make the top ten, not once.
Of the five stories, my account of Obama’s undeniable gaffe on the opening night of the Denver convention has caused me the most trouble. As I reported, at the end of the Michelle's speech, Barack joined his wife and daughters over closed circuit TV. Said he unthinkingly, "I'm here with the Girardeau family here in St. Louis."
One problem--Obama was actually in Kansas City about three blocks from my house. The Star’s chief political reporter, Steve Kraske, was there in the house. I read Kraske’s article on line the next morning but learned about the gaffe only from listening to Rush Limbaugh later that day.
"You people don't understand this," Limbaugh told his national audience at the top of his show the next day. "This is a gaffe. Kansas City and St. Louis hate each other."
After diminishing the importance of Obama’s error, Donovan raved, “It wasn't just quoted in The Star's A-1 story -- the reporter even pointed out that Obama got the city wrong.” He said of my account, “The intellectual dishonesty here is breathtaking.”
Kraske then called me in high dudgeon. I know him halfway well. He and I appear regularly on a local Kansas City public television show (KCPT) called “Kansas City Week In Review.” Yes, of course, he reported the St. Louis gaffe, he told me. My falsehoods were now floating around the Internet, he continued, and had added credence given my frequent appearances with him on public television.
Kraske’s call took me by surprise. To that point I had fully ignored Donovan’s posting. I wrote off his failure to understand the impact of the word “lie” to ignorance, not malice. In a more honor-bound era, I would have had to shoot him. I don’t think he knew that.
Not having the article in front of me—The Star often pulls them quickly from general Internet circulation—I apologized to Kraske if I had gotten my facts wrong, but, as I told him, I know that I had nailed the other four stories, and I could have sworn I was right about the St. Louis gaffe. He was not appeased. If the Star has since leaned on KCPT to have me removed from the air, I would not be surprised.
After Kraske’s call, I searched my email and found my way to the article in question. Here is what I wrote to Kraske and Donovan.
Donovan promptly wrote me back: “I have nothing to apologize for, Jack.” He again quibbled about my use of the word “censor” and went on to concede that the Kraske article I quoted in full “was an early-evening version, which Steve amended for the final edition.”
No, this was the article that was email blasted to scores of thousands of people the morning after as the Star’s hottest story. It omitted the St. Louis gaffe, which would have been huge in these parts. The omission was intentional. I think “censorship” is an entirely appropriate word to describe the phenomenon.
Wearying of a fray with a guy whose likely future is on an unemployment line—the source of much anxiety chez le Star--I emailed Donovan a one-word response, “Basta.” I thought that was enough until my wife reminded me that my honor was at stake.
Pistols at dawn, Derek?
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