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TRIB TERMINATION: Did conflict of interest complaints cost columnist his job?

The left hand runs REDI and the Chamber; the right hand runs the Columbia Daily Tribune
By Ken Midkiff


COLUMBIA, 4/2/13 (Op Ed) -- [Ed. Note: Columbia Daily Tribune publisher Hank Waters has urged a NO vote Tuesday on a landmark City Charter amendment that would significantly restrict Blight and eminent domain in Columbia.
 
Is this another conflict of interest, another undisclosed bias? The Tribune terminated longtime columnist Ken Midkiff for publicly complaining about that very issue, he explains below.]

 
In 1993, I began writing a regular column for the Columbia Daily Tribune. In December 2012, Tribune managing editor Jim Robertson emailed that my column would no longer be published.
 
I asked if I could write a "farewell" piece and his reply was a single word: "NO."

After 19 years of faithful opining, I was terminated without so much as a "thank you" or the simple opportunity to tell my readers "goodbye."

What happened? Though I came out against REDI's Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) and the blight designation it required, even sparking a debate with Tribune owner and editor in chief Hank Waters III, I upset the apple cart when I asserted the Tribune was consistently wrong on the issue.
 
I made this charge on the Columbia Citizens Yahoo Listserv, in response to a Tribune article about REDI asking the Columbia City Council to repeal EEZ after nearly a year of public uproar.
 
I referred to Mayor McDavid, Councilman Dudley, and Councilman Kespohl as "Dancing Monkeys" who twirled to REDI’s tune. After all, they passed REDI's EEZ Blight Decree without so much as a single community consultation, and they did it illegally, via Resolution rather than Ordinance, as required by city law.

My statement was viewed as an insult that apparently struck a nerve at the Tribune. I was told I was "reckless."

If I was "reckless" with the truth, it was in stating the Tribune got it "consistently wrong." Upon review of Tribune EEZ coverage, I now state the Tribune got it DELIBERATELY wrong.
 
In one editorial, Hank castigated EEZ opponents as "a persistent band of conspiracy theorists."
 
In another editorial, Hank lamented REDI’s request to repeal the EEZ and Blight Decree over the public uproar.

But never, as far as I can tell, did the Tribune reveal Hank is married to Vicki Russell, Tribune publisher and now chairperson of the REDI Board of Directors. (Russell is also past chairperson of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and was vice-chair of REDI during the blight debate).
 
Likewise, the Tribune did NOT disclose it benefited from an earlier blight declaration that led to the condemnation of Sharp End – a predominately black business area. The Tribune Building and Waters Publishing Company are located on condemned Sharp End land.

These undisclosed conflicts of interest may also have affected news coverage. For instance, the Tribune reported in separate stories that "114 communities" and "120 communities" had EEZs. This is simply untrue. The Missouri Department of Economic Development does not report the number of communities with EEZs. It reports the total number of EEZs, now 124.
 
What's the difference? If 20 communities have six EEZ's each, that's 120 total EEZs -- not 120 communities with an EEZ. The Tribune's erroneous reporting made it appear as though a staggering number of Missouri cities and towns had EEZs. It also made it appear Columbia was woefully alone in opposing EEZ.
 
But with revelations that Rolla, St. James, Phelps County, Callaway County, and Fulton also opposed EEZ -- something the Tribune has not reported -- Columbia is hardly alone.
 
And neither are her citizens, who fought blight -- and won -- against overwhelming odds that included the newspaper publishing partnership of Hank Waters and Vicki Russell.


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