Tuesday, March 16, 2010

KMOX Fails to Identify Conservative Activist

As I was doing research for my earlier post on John Burns and James O'Keefe's gulag hoax , I noticed another interesting story that relates to some previous writing. It turns out Kevin Kileen, the KMOX reporter involved in some questionable journalism practices, also covered the Wash U gulag. At the end of his article, he wrote a couple paragraphs purportedly gauging student opinion of the event:
But some students accused the demonstrators of trying to slam the Obama Administration as it pushes for nationalized health care.

Others felt the message was edgy , but worthy of consideration. "I mean it's out there and it's really out of the box," said graduate student Katlin Hartsell, "But I think it's good that it really gets people thinking about what the actual implications of what socialism and communism mean."
Killeen makes it sound as if Hartsell is just a random student evaluating the event. But she's not. According to her blog, she's a member of YAL, the student group that put the event on. The right-wing think tank Show Me Institute's intern Christine Harbin wrote that she, Hartsell, and another intern went to the event to "talk with students about Liberty." Hartsell herself wrote the following:
I was at the event in my capacity as an intern for the Show-Me Institute
But if Hartsell was at the event specifically to spread the gospel for a right-wing think tank, shouldn't Killeen identify her as doing so? And is this really a fair way to gauge student opinion on campus? The reality is that the display was very poorly received on campus, so Killeen's presenting it as "some people thought this and others thought not-this," is both inaccurate and based on inadequate journalistic practices.


  1. I take offense, first, at being called a "conservative activist." I am a libertarian, not a conservative. (It's consistency: I believe in minimal government intrusion in any part of life, fiscal or social.) I'd request you stop referring to me as "right-wing," thank you.

    I was there, not as a member of YAL, but to help cover it for our blog. ("Spreading the gospel" or whatever you call it, was only a fringe benefit and not the first intention.) I am still a student at Wash U. I don't know why you have some personal conviction to "out me." Stop wasting your time. I'm a student who has a passion for libertarian ideas. I'm lucky to get paid (a very modest amount) to do something I enjoy. Why must I "disclose" that every single time I talk to someone? Your argument is absurd, and hypocritical. I've noticed that you do not identify yourself as a student and leftist who blogs for St. Louis Activist Hub and (fill in whatever job you have) in every single comment you make... I'm referring to your multitude of StudLife comments, if that's not immediately obvious.

    And it is not disingenuous to give my own opinion. I didn't attribute it to anyone else. There were some people on campus who thought as I do (even if those "some people" were only me-- it wasn't, there were a few people I didn't know who came up and said they liked the demonstration-- but I wasn't talking about anyone else, just my own perception of the event.)

  2. Caitlin, I'm not sure why you interpret this post as trying to "out" you, since your identity and employment is not a secret. I was actually criticizing the reporter Killeen for not identifying your institutional affiliations, but I suppose that if you failed to say your affiliation with YAL and SMI then the mistake should be attributed to you rather than Killeen.

    Regarding the term, "conservative," fair enough. I'll keep that in mind for future posts. But I stand by the term "right-wing" just as you seem to be wiling to label me a "leftist' without asking me.

    Your claim that you were there *only* as a journalist is contradicted by both what you and Christine wrote. Christine said that the three of you went to the display to "talk to students about liberty." You wrote on your blog, "Josh, Chrissy and I did more to engage the crowds and explain the purpose than anyone else." If you weren't there to spread the libertarian gospel, then you and Christine should try to be more accurate in how you describe your roles.

    Finally, you don't seem to understand the notion of a conflict of interest. It's not a question of whether you "really believe" something, or whether you've searched your heart and found, with great relief, that being paid by a company that supports a particular political position has had absolutely no effect on your values. A conflict of interest is a description of a set of facts about the world that are independent from your own opinion of why you believe what you do. A mayor who awards a contract exclusively to family members does not get off the hook by saying, "don't worry, I really believe they are the best people for the job." As a *paid* intern for the Show Me Institute and a member of YAL, you should have been identified as such in the KMOX report. Either you or Kileen made a mistake that prevented the audience from being fully informed.

  3. Your research must not have been very extensive, because you make some considerable factual errors in your post.

    First, I am not an intern at the Show-Me Institute, nor have I ever been one in the past. If you spent any time on our website at all, you would know that.


    Also, the Show-Me Institute not right-wing. It is a nonpartisan 501(c)3 organization. This information is also clearly available on our website.
    If you spent additional time researching the organization, you would know this too. Furthermore, John Payne wrote an op-ed about legalizing K-2, which is not a right-wing stance. Also, next week, we are hosting an event about eliminating the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, which is not a right-wing stance either.


  4. Because I am a libertarian, I chose to work at a libertarian think-tank. Not the other way around, no matter how hard you try to spin it. I wrote plenty of articles (for the student newspaper, even!) before I even knew about Show-Me, establishing my political views without being paid. I am lucky that I can be paid (even if it is modest) to continue doing what I enjoy. Perhaps you don't believe that a person can come to this political viewpoint without being paid, but I assure you, it is not difficult. (It's actually nice to have a logically consistent and economically valid political ideology!) Do you really have nothing better to do then harp on the fact that I'm an intern both in Studlife comments and on your blog? Really?

    You should read some of Show-Me's scholarly work, it's all online. You have made a number of erroneous statements about the pieces (about the Metrolink and earnings tax, just to name two recent examples.) If you are going to disagree, at least do the minimal amount of research to back up what you have to say. (If you had even done a basic fact-check, you would know that Christine is not an intern.)

    I am STILL a student at Wash. U. and I have been since 2006. That was what I was asked. I was not involved in the actual gulag event, I just came to observe (and when people tried to argue with us, we took the opportunity to debate, though that was not the purpose by any means). Why can't you get over the fact that I get an intern's stipend? I'm also on Wash U's track and field team. Should I also mention that every time I comment on anything? Full disclosure, after all.

    If you are going to say these things, you should practice what you preach, as far as "full disclosure," whether that be on Studlife boards, blog comments or phone calls to organizations.

    Really though, you should try to make arguments based on substance, because I doubt many people find an intern's pay a compelling sway for a person's already well-established political views.

  5. Christine,

    "First, I am not an intern at the Show-Me Institute, nor have I ever been one in the past."

    Wow, that's quite a display of intellectual condescension for such a trivial point! OK, so you are staff rather than an intern. That doesn't change anything about the substance of my post. Sorry if it hurt your ego.

    "Also, the Show-Me Institute not right-wing."

    I realize why you would want to spin it that way, but I just don't think many people buy it. I'm glad that SMI is sane enough to realize that discriminating against the LGBT community is a bad thing. But the reality is that if you look at the *priorities* of the SMI, the things you really devote big money and time to are privatizing the education system and fighting taxes. If you start funding a ballot initiative to end discrimination against the LGBT community in Missouri, then I might start to take your claim seriously.

  6. Caitlin, at this point, I'm just not sure what it would take for you to understand the concept of a conflict of interest. I'm not questioning your character. I'm not saying you're a bad person. I'm saying that if you are receiving money from an organization that advocates for a particular position, or if you are at an event as a member of the group that put on that event, then you should make these facts available.

    You were at the event as an intern for the Show Me Institute and, as stated on both your and Christine's blog posts, you were there in part to convey the message of the gulag. Thus, the representation of you as a random student passing by in the KMOX report is not accurate.

    And I'm actually quite familiar with the Show Me Institute's positions. Of course no group is going to say they're against *all taxes.* But the reality is that the Show Me Institute invests their time and resources in eliminating taxes and privatizing education. Why don't you fight to create a different funding revenue *before* trying to eliminate the earnings tax? I don't see any ballot initiatives about that. So until I see the SMI actually fighting to create different revenue systems, I'll stand by my claim that you're primarily trying to eliminate taxes.