October 22, 2014

Distortions, exaggerations and outright lies

Claudette Johns
Guest Columnist
Phony journalism has become a serious threat to democracy. We all know that regardless of our political leanings. Those on the left attack Fox News as a mouthpiece for the GOP, those on the right accuse MSNBC of being the Democrat’s mouthpiece. Some radio talk show hosts spew hate and twist the truth in ways that astound real journalists. So far, this seems to have been limited to the broadcast media but now we see it seeping into our newspapers – the last place left these days where we can go for unbiased reporting.
The latest of these is phony reporting in the form of paid tabloid inserts into Kansas newspapers. Under the name “Kansas Liberty News,” political operatives use ads filled with exaggerations, distortions, and outright lies to con voters into thinking they are just reading the news. And they hide behind laws that allow them to keep their donors in secret unlike political action committees and candidates that must report such information to the Ethics Commission.
Let’s take a moment to pick apart a few assertions in one of these tabloids.
Kansas Liberty editor Larry Halloran tells us that “your employees (54 school districts and their teachers) are using your hard earned tax dollars (intended for the education of our children) to sue you…” It’s almost astounding that Mr. Halloran would start with such a distortion.
None of your employees are suing you or the legislature. Teachers and other school employees have no part in the lawsuit over school finance. The teacher union is not a party; the school administrator association is not a party.  There are 54 elected school boards who are suing the state. Regardless of where you might come down on the appropriateness of such an action, it is not school employees who made the decision. The decision was made by locally elected officials accountable to you, the voters. Those who made the decision can always be voted out of office or congratulated for this action.  School board members are accountable to the citizens of the district.
Halloran then takes on the state employee retirement system known as KPERS. He starts with language that can best be described as exaggerations and distortions in his attempt to make you believe that KPERS is some kind of golden parachute. Halloran calls KPERS benefits “lucrative and grossly exorbitant.” The truth is that the average KPERS benefit is $1,100 per month. Lucrative? Grossly exorbitant? Hardly.
It is true that your benefit is based on your income – the more you earn, the more you contribute, and the more you contribute, the higher your benefit. The KPERS benefit is very poor for many, sufficient for some, and very good for a few. Those few might include well-paid heads of state agencies, a few school superintendents, and high level judges. But remember, the average benefit is $1,100 per month.
Perhaps most ridiculous of all in these tabloids is his clear threat that teachers unions are going to lead massive strikes for 30 percent pay raises. Halloran ignores the fact that in Kansas teacher strikes are illegal.  As for raises, in light of legislative reductions in school funding in Kansas over the last few years, teacher salary increases have been miniscule. Over the three year period from 2008-09 to 2011-12, the average teacher salary in Kansas increased by 0.9 percent!
Many Kansas teachers have gone without increases at all. Teachers in Wichita for example, went without a raise for four years. And yet those teachers get up and go to work every day, determined to meet the needs of their students even though class sizes have gone up, school supply budgets have been devastated, and support services for instruction have been dropped.
There is so much more we could say about the Kansas Liberty tabloids. In this world where truth has apparently become relative in the quest for political power and where secretive organizations can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars spreading fear through distortions, exaggerations, and outright lies, we must stand up for the truth and for what is right.
The best use of the Kansas Liberty tabloid insert is as a liner for one’s birdcage. That being done, one can get back to reading real journalism in the local paper.
Claudette Johns is the Kansas National Educators Association Executive Director .

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