There’s smoke pouring out of the eyes, ears, nose and throat of Westport businessman Bill Nigro…
Lots of it. All Nigro wants is fair treament from Kansas City’s news media on the effects of smoking bans. But he hasn’t been getting it, so he’s hot. Smoking mad, you might say.
A recent story on the KC Star Web site was headlined, "Smoking bans not affecting bar business, report says." The story went on to tout a study paid for by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City that looked at tax revenues from bars and restaurants before and after Kansas City’s smoking ban went into effect in June 2008.
The story was rejiggered that same day and ran online and the front page of the next day’s paper under the more accurate headline, "Restaurant air is far cleaner since Kansas imposed smoking ban, study says."
"I called up Alan Bavely who wrote the story that they had proof the smoking ban didn’t affect bar sales," Nigro says. "It was on the front page and was a really long story but and all I got was like two sentences at the very end about making people go outside like animals to smoke. And that now people were outside left drunk and unattended."
The main points Nigro made at the Health Care Foundation’s presser for the study were left on the newspaper’s cutting room floor.
"I talked for 20 minutes at that meeting and cited a number of the places that were affected by the smoking ban and the people who were put out of work," Nigro says. "Because they said, their studies showed it didn’t affect businesses. And I gave at least three or four examples of places where the smoking ban had hurt their sales. And I went into detail.
"At Dave’s Stagecoach Inn when the smoking ban hit, the owners couldn’t take a paycheck for six months while their two daughters were still in college," Nigro continues. "Who was around to help them? I talked about Jayhawkers in Kansas. Before the Kansas City Missouri smoking ban, the bar was up for sale. Then when the KCMO ban hit, Jaywalkers had four record sales months in a row. Then when the smoking ban hit in KCK. their sales dropped and now they’re for sale again."
The bottom line on the Star’s coverage of the examples cited: "Not one word of what I said made it into the story," Nigro says. "Because that reporter from the KC Star was writing a one-sided story. He didn’t want to tell the truth because the Star is a biased newspaper."
Nigro says he called Bavely’s editor, Jesse Barker, to complain about the story. He asked Barker why the paper didn’t bother to do its homework better. Why didn’t they call any of the bars and restaurants to get their takes?
"And he told me he’d consider having another reporter write something," Nigro says. "So I told him I could have at least 30 bars call and tell him that the smoking ban had hurt them. He told me to get the list together and they’d do their own research. But after I hung up, I started calling bars and giving them Barker’s name to call. And after he’d gotten four or five calls from bars, he called me back said, call off the dogs, and he agreed to give the story to Mike Hendricks. So Hendricks is writing a 500 word column Wednesday about the truth, while the lies got a far bigger story on the front page. Unbelievable. And the Kansas City Star is feeding people all that stuff."
Is Nigro optimistic about Hendrick’s column tomorrow?
"Not really," he says. "I think he’ll protect the Star, too. Either that or it’ll get edited by his bosses. I just feel the Star has consistently mislead Kansas City since the smoking debate started. Not about the health issues but about the fact that it wouldn’t hurt business. But if they really cared about people’s health and there’s no financial penalty to businesses, how come the casinos all got a pass on the smoking ban? And the private clubs in Kansas that got a pass on the ban, too. Why isn’t the Star going after them? I’ll tell you why, because the casinos spend too much advertising money and the Star really doesn’t care much about Kansas."