Controversy is the stuff local media and political consultants thrive on. There’s nobody in the news biz I know or have worked with who doesn’t yearn to cover a good dustup. Print reporters didn’t get in the news game to make big bucks. Nor did they sign on so they could cover road closings, mundane City Hall happenings and other arguably mundane fare.
Any reporter worth his or her salt will dive headfirst into an unfolding controversy. The ones they know they won’t get them in trouble with the publisher, editor or news director anyway. Or piss off the heavy hitters they need to keep on the good side of to effectively cover their news beats.
Now let’s talk about a so-called huge controversy over the mere proposal and study of whether to go with a single terminal (instead of three) at Kansas City International Airport.
Starting with a front page story in today’s Star that dialed practically every loaded word imaginable into a lengthy diatribe attempting to turn the tale into a controversy of magnum proportions.
“Political turbulence rattles plans for a new KCI,” the headline decries.
“Today they are stunned,” the story begins.
My dictionary defines “stunned” as, “to deprive of consciousness or strength by or as if by a blow, fall, etc.”
Okay, let’s dial it back to the secondary definitions.
“To astonish; astound; amaze” or “to shock; overwhelm.”
Even those hardly describe the measured reactions I’ve read or heard by James and airport officials.
Clearly the Star was swinging for the fences with as dramatic a word as they could halfway reasonably conjure.
Which is bogus.
The reporters could easily have substituted the word “surprised” and been far more accurate, if less sexy.
But make no mistake, this front pager was designed to be sexy.
News of the study “might have stirred up gale force winds.”
Gale force? Please.
We finally learn that the “gale force” came in the form of a week-old, “small group launched petition.”
A petition that “shocked” some “political observers.”
Look, rather than waste your time recounting every loaded word Horsley and Helling dialed into their yarn to ramp up the sizzle, let’s cut to the chase on the “political observers” part of the deal.
The usual suspects. Each of whom has plenty to gain by seeing this matter swell into a “gale force” controversy.
Wanna know why?
Because guess who’s likely to be out there raking in big bucks to get the controversial single terminal plan approved? Or defeated. The bigger the controversy the bigger the fees will likely be to fund the studies and/or campaigns for and against the issue.
To that end, these political consultants are more than happy to feed Horsley and Helling sexy sounding, unsubstantiated quotes to help bring matters to a boiling point.
It’s a game and well could be a very profitable game down the road for whomever gets hired to campaign for and against the new terminal.
Now check out what the consultants had to say:
“There’s widespread discussion everywhere I go,” Glorioso is quoted.
Well, it is in the news, why wouldn’t it be discussed.
Roe tells the Star that 67 percent of the voters he surveyed last August were opposed the single terminal. And more than 50 percent of the people Gray surveyed about a broader range of city issues said they were opposed to it when asked “one quick question.”
“One quick question?”
Here’s the problem with Roe and Gray’s so-called surveys…
While they contribute mightily to the Star‘s effort to make its story “stunning,” they’re weak as a kitten when it comes to actual substance.
Gray “would not provide specifics” for his “one quick question” survey, Helling and Horsley report.
Why not? Wouldn’t that be critical to reader’s understanding and abilitiy to weigh the significance of the survey?
And Roe “would not provide the precise language of the question” he asked in his survey, the reporters say.
Forgive me for being naive, but these aren’t the sort of polls that would appear to be wildly confidential in nature. Why not provide exactly how they were conducted – prove that they were conducted – show the sampling size, how the questions were posed and to whom?
If nothing else, we’ve learned in recent years that how a question is posed and to whom can be vital to weighing the results.
So hey, congrats to my former co-workers Dave and Lynn for getting a front page Sunday story. I doubt either is worried about getting laid off, but everybody likes to knock one out of the park every now and again.
The bottom line: Mission accomplished.
The consultants laid the groundwork for future paychecks and the Star reporters for followup stories about a raging controversy.
Unfortunately, coverage such as today’s empowers and inspires small groups to play out otherwise lightly regarded hands, while setting the stage for – wait for it – self-fulfilling prophecies.