Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Cleaver Brings "Pundit Payola" to KC

The issue of 'pundit payola' has finally hit Kansas City and put the town on the map!!!!

The issue first came up in Monday's KC Star via an AP report. The issue centers on none other than Kansas City golden boy Emanual Cleaver.

Will Cleaver's practice of hiring one of The Kansas City Call's reporters as a 'consultant' during his 2004 campaign come back to haunt him? Not if Steve Kraske and the Kansas City Star can help.

Cleaver doesn't apologize for bankrolling Eric Wesson, a writer and columnist with The Call (KC's African-American newspaper). Then again, the guy never has had to apologize in a town where his media apologists speak for him. The Star’s Steve Kraske (the article’s author) is no different.

Wesson said his work with Cleaver through his firm "One Goal Consultants" (a company he owns) was separate from his work at The Call. However, Editor & Publisher reported today that Wesson's editorials last fall did in fact praise Cleaver while criticizing his opponents (Democrat Jamie Metzl and Republican Jeanne Patterson). Readers of Wesson's work with The Call were unaware that he was being paid by Cleaver's campaign.

Kraske and the Star were hoping to NEVER have to address the situation. But when the Washington Post reported on the arrangement this week, the Star was forced to do something with the story.

The funny thing about Kraske's piece this morning, is that by the article's end, the reader walks away with the sense that it was just Wesson, not Cleaver and Co., who was responsible for blurring ethical boundaries. Whereas, the Wash. Post, Editor & Publisher, as well as the Pitch's reporting of the arrangement last fall, all place equal blame for the covert agreement on Cleaver's shoulders.

Would this have to do anything with the fact that Kraske worked for 2+ years at KCUR (their shows ran back-to-back on Friday afternoons)?

Kraske and the Star have never addressed the fact that he (their primary reporter of local politics) was allowed to cover Cleaver's 5th District race last fall. My contact with the Star's reader's rep. last year centered on this conflict of interest between the two radio superstars. Derek Donovan (surprise, surprise) said he did not perceive any problems with the arrangement.

The story has spread like wildfire out west in S.F., Seattle, and across the Midwest. The only question now is whether Cleaver will be as bulletproof in D.C. as he was in K.C.

According to Wesson, none of this was a conflict of interest for The Call. After all, it's an advocacy newspaper.

The Call should come forth with any other financial agreements it's workers have undertaken in the past with local politicians or policy campaigns. In a KCTV5 story last fall, The Call said it was disappointed with the story being investigated, rather than being taken back by Wesson's acceptance of money from the Cleaver campaign.

This afternoon on Russ Johnson's talk show on News Radio 980 KMBZ, Johnson spoke about Wesson's checkered past which included: "a criminal record for robbery, carjacking and other assorted crimes. He served 10 years in prison."


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