Thursday, May 30, 2013

Larry Conners Claims KMOV is Keeping the White Man Down

So first Larry Conners claimed that President Obama was "jetting around" too much and "going on all these vacations."  Now Conners says in a complaint that he, Larry Conners, was discriminated against for being a white male:
Since his firing, his attorneys have filed a formal discrimination complaint with the Missouri Human Rights Commission alleging that his bosses terminated him in retaliation for a dispute he had with the station in 2010 regarding his salary. In that legal battle, Conners writes in the complaint, he had alleged that KMOV was unfairly paying him less than his co-prime anchor, Vickie Newton, "an African-American female; I claimed that I received less compensation than Newtown because of my race and gender."

Update: Shockingly, a judge did not agree with Conners' claim that he was being discriminated against for being a middle-aged white guy (see update of the post):
"The arbitration process was confidential and private and we honored that," Pimentel says. "But in light of Mr. Conners' election not to, we believe it's appropriate to point out that after a full two days of arbitration, the arbiter found no merit whatsoever to Larry's claims and ruled in favor of KMOV on all counts."
Double hmmm.

Update #2: For clarity, I should note that Conners' current complaint is that KMOV discriminated against him because of age and "retaliation."  But in his complaint, he noted that he previously had formally complained about race and gender discrimination at KMOV (basically he thought he should get paid more), while conveniently forgetting to mention that the arbiter found his claim meritless. As in: without any merit.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Important Facts About the Larry Conners Fiasco (Mostly) Ignored By the Media

So, if you recall, back in September Larry Conners did a silly interview for KMOV where he asked President Obama if he takes too many vacation days. The interview was ridiculous because (1) it showed that Conners was completely out of touch with issues that actually matter and (2) Conners conveniently left out the fact that Obama had taken about 1/3 as many vacation days as Bush and 1/2 as many as Reagan at similar points in their presidencies.

More recently, Conners was fired after using his KMOV Facebook page to absurdly suggest, without a shred of evidence, that he was targeted by the IRS for his "tough interview" with Obama.  In his original post, Conners conveniently left out the fact that his tax issues with the IRS predated the interview, and later claimed he meant to say that the IRS cancelled his repayment plan after the interview.  He never updated his Facebook or Twitter accounts with the truth, though he did record a statement for KMOV.

Unfortunately, media reports during the Larry Conners Sympathy Tour have been leaving out a couple key facts that are telling about the amount of "integrity" of his actions.  First, Conners did not only use his KMOV facebook account to "ask questions" about the interview. He also used his KMOV "News 4" Twitter account to push the story to right-wing bloggers.  Here's how he described himself on Twitter before deleting his old account:
And here's a screenshot of him tweeting the story to right-wing bloggers (at the bottom of the tweet:):
You might recall the Daily Caller from their amazing display of "journalistic integrity" while reporting a completely invented story about a Democratic Senator visiting underage prostitutes in Haiti.  Instapundit is right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds, and Red Alert is a blog for "young conservatives." (Conners also tweeted the story to and to one of their former employees. Yes, I have screen shots)

This completely undermines Conner's claim that he was innocently "asking questions."  He did not tweet the story to neutral or liberal outlets.  He was clearly trolling for publicity from far right wing blogs, and was happy to throw them red meat he knew would be used to claim that the President was targeting him.  This is not responsible journalism.

Now, to be fair to Conners, he has targeted his tweets at right wing blogs before, probably because he doesn't really put that much effort into pretending to be unbiased.  But given that he's done it before, and KMOV knows that he's done it before, he might very well be right that KMOV encourages him to engage in this type of trolling.  I don't really care to defend KMOV and wouldn't be surprised at all if they told him in the past to try to target right-wing blogs; however, I do think it's important not to pretend that Conners was engaging in responsible journalism. He was pushing a story he knew would be used to attack President Obama (while, by the way, further eroding people's trust in the government).

Second, and even more importantly, Conners could not even answer a question from Charles Jaco about what reason the IRS gave for canceling the payment plan.  You can watch the interview here (the relevant bit starts at 2:12):

Transcript of the relevant portion:
Jaco: Did they tell you why they cancelled the monthly plan?
Conners: I was paying everything on time and continued to do so...
Jaco: And they didn't tell you anything...?
Conners: I leave that to my tax attorney. I don't know what any of the background is, other than the fact that it was pulled from us....Charles, since 1980 I haven't even done my taxes. I leave that to folks who are a lot smarter than me.
In other words, Conners can't even answer when asked what reason the IRS gave for canceling his plan, because he hasn't done his taxes in 30 years! Conners was willing to suggest that the IRS was "hammering" him for political reasons without even being engaged enough to know what the IRS's stated reason was! This is the height of journalistic irresponsibility.  It's the equivalent of a journalist saying on air, "I got a parking ticket the other day.  I didn't actually look at it to see what it was for, but I'm positive it's retaliation from the Mayor!"

Finally, also in the Jaco interview, Conners says that KMOV "supposedly" sent him social media guidelines but he doesn't remember looking at them.  Hmmm, I wonder whose responsibility that is?

Obviously, journalists have a reason to be sympathetic to one of their own and to protect themselves from bosses who probably don't know much about journalism, even if "their own" in this case is a guy like Larry Conners who was perfectly willing to cross picket lines while fellow news employees were striking (especially ironic now that Conners is now citing collective bargaining).  However, given that this story has important implications for what it means to do quality journalism, they need to take care to report all of the relevant facts, even those that clearly undermine his claims. Conners engaged in epically irresponsible "journalism," and whether or not he deserved to be fired, no one should pretend for a second that he was acting with journalistic integrity.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Tea Partiers Who Likely Violated 501(c)(4) Rules Are, Of Course, Leading the Complaints About the IRS

Bill Hennessy, founder of the St. Louis Tea Party, was recently on Larry Kudlow's CNBC show complaining about the IRS targeting the tea party for additional scrutiny:

Similarly, Missouri GOP Chair Ed Martin is in the Post-Dispatch talking about how the IRS "corruption" will galvanize the tea party.

Their promotion of the issue by this pair is especially ironic considering that I documented, on multiple occasions, the St. Louis Tea Party publicly advocating their endorsement of Ed Martin in a Missouri Congressional race in violation of the rules governing 501(c)(4) organizations, which state that such organizations are not allowed to endorse candidates (see here, p. 7, first full paragraph) and communicate that endorsement to the public.

Back in the 2010 elections, the tea party paid for billboards featuring Martin and his Democratic opponent Russ Carnahan that prompted former Post-Dispatch reporter Jake Wagman to write:
But unless Carnahan supporters really do have their head down, it won't be hard to see through the intent of the billboard, which, if it sparks a legal challenge, could spell trouble for the Tea Party.  
As I noted at the time, there were other tea party actions that were not "straddling the line" (Wagman's phrase);  they were clearly endorsing Ed Martin in a manner intended to communicate with the general public.  First, the St. Louis Tea Party posted advertisements around the web that led directly to a web page that stated "Ed Martin Deserves To Serve Instead of Russ Carnahan." They've deleted the original post now, but you can see it at the Way Back machine.
Here's my screen shot of the ad at the conservative blog Reboot Congress:
Similarly, here's a screenshot of an advertisement that appeared on that states, "Paid for by the St. Louis Tea Party Coalition:"
Here's the ad appearing on Big Government:
The ad that time took people to a tea party "Get Out the Vote" page that featured a video of Bill Hennessy saying the following:
I'm going to ask you to take one hour, just one hour, Monday or Tuesday, to come to the St. Louis Tea Party Headquarters at 4512 Hampton Avenue in St. Louis Hills, just south of Hampton Village, and give one hour to phone calls or knocking on doors asking your friends and neighbors, your fellow citizens to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for Ed Martin and the tea party candidates across the ballot.
The tea party also put up yard signs and attended rallies with signs that read "Taxpayers for Ed Martin" but included "St. Louis Tea Party" decals.

It would have been very easy for them to simply use advertisements or signage that simply said, "Vote for the pro-liberty candidate (wink wink)."  But they didn't.  They deliberately flaunted 501(c)(4) rules by endorsing Ed Martin.  And now they have the audacity to go on national TV and complain about the IRS looking at tea party groups. 

One last irony from the Kulow video worth mentioning: another guest was an employee of Americans For Prosperity, the astroturf group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers.  This raises an issue that I think hasn't been discussed enough as part of the IRS "scandal." People say it would be wrong for the IRS to target particular groups just because of their political beliefs, and this, of course, is true.  But that isn't necessarily the only reason the IRS has for looking closely at the tea party groups.  As most people know, the tea party wasn't as "spontaneous" as they liked to portray, and they received a lot of help and coordination from big-money backed groups, including especially the Koch Brothers' Americans for  Prosperity.  So if there's evidence that a number of groups are coordinating with one another or being coordinated while applying for 501(c)(4) status, and that some of those groups are flaunting the rules, then that seems to me to provide a reason for carefully looking at the groups, entirely independently of their political beliefs.

Update: Several people are telling me that Wagman's claim that 501(c)(4)s "can't communicate their endorsement to the public at large" is based on a misreading. If that's true, then the tea party doesn't seem to be violating the post Citizen's United interpretation of 501(c)(4) rules, just operating in the murky actually-functioning-as-a-political-organization-designed-solely-to-win-elections-while-technically-following-the-law landscape that we already knew about.

Update #2: Think Progress gets to the heart of the matter.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Hazardous Conditions: New Report ranks Missouri 35th in nation on workplace safety

As the Missouri legislature winds down and high-profile tragedies in the U.S. and worldwide are still fresh in our minds, a new report shows Missouri has a long way to go on workplace safety. According to “Death on the Job: The Toll ofNeglect,” released by the AFL-CIO on Tuesday, Missouri ranks 35th in the nation in workplace safety.

Just one worker killed on the job is too many, but the report details 132 Missouri workers who went to work in 2011 and never made it back home. At a rate of 4.9 deaths per 100,000 workers, this puts Missouri behind 34 out of 50 states. Neighboring Arkansas and Kansas are among the worst states for workplace fatalities, along with North Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

Missouri AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Mike Louis said politics is a factor. “While too many people are dying on the job right here in Missouri, too many of our elected officials are trying to make it more difficult for Missourians to exercise their collective bargaining rights to ensure health and safety protections at work,” said Louis.

“Some of the most dangerous states in the country are so-called ‘right to work’ states – and that’s no coincidence. In states were fewer workers are able to have a voice on the job and to advocate for better working conditions, corporations cut corners and take risks that cause devastating consequences.”

Another issue cited in the report is underfunding of enforcement agencies. Due to a lack of staffing it would take the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) a whopping 111 years to inspect each workplace in Missouri – just once.

Louis said “Our elected leaders should find ways to make things better and reduce these tragic numbers, not push more dangerous legislation like ‘right to work’ and paycheck deception. Workplace safety needs to be a priority on the federal, state and local level.”

Across the country there’s much work to do. The report notes that in 2011, there were 4,693 workplace deaths due to traumatic injuries and more than 3.8 million workers across all industries, including state and local government, who experienced work-related illnesses and injuries.