The Real Reason To Hate The Media

By Lee White

I saw that bumper sticker the other day — the one that reads, “I DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!” That thing has been around since the Reagan Administration. The first time I saw it, I was a young reporter doing afternoon traffic reports in Wichita. There it was on a dumpy little clunker driven by an older woman near Central and Ridge. The recent encounter made me swear time travel was possible.

After watching bits and pieces of ABC’s Election Night coverage, it is understandable why Republicans believe the media is biased toward Democrats. The commentators seemed positively incredulous at the notion that anyone had voted for Donald Trump — let alone that he was beating Hillary Clinton. She was clearly smarter, better organized, better qualified and all the cool people were voting for her. Except some of them didn’t. A lot of them didn’t. The media came face to face with the reality that their grip on the nation’s collective psyche is slipping away and they weren’t taking it well.

The media probably are biased toward liberals, but they are also biased toward incumbent politicians and the bureaucrats they hire or appoint. Reporters love the status quo and one needn’t venture far from Butler County to prove that assertion. Never in my 51 years have I encountered so many journalists so positively enamored with “the way things are” than I have in the Wichita metropolitan area.

All reporters, to some extent, are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertisers feed them money. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of car dealers. Public officials feed them information. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of, well, anything.

Reporters have become so afraid that politicians and especially cops will cut off easy access to routine stories and sound bites that they won’t risk running any coverage that might embarrass sources even if the public good demands otherwise.

Time and again during the nearly six months this blog has been in existence, I’ve broken stories that needed to be told. Examples:

  • The whistleblower lawsuit against Flinthills services and the retaliation I faced as a result of reporting on it,
  • A dispute between the Augusta Department of Public Safety director and Rose Hill officials,
  • The fact that the EMS director lives almost as far away from Butler County as I do,
  •  The real reason an Augusta cop left the department and the fact that he continued to work for the chief’s private business long after,
  • Turnover in the EMS and sheriff’s departments, and
  • Questionable donations to Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign.

The only story the mainstream media covered at all was turnover at the sheriff’s department and only after it became the central issue in the campaign. Even when there was little left for reporters to do but make a few phone calls and use this blog as political “cover” for running a story, they wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Granted, I started this blog as a way to help a friend, Walker Andrews, get elected sheriff. I’ve never lied about that or tried to hide it. I also involve myself in stories and offer opinions in ways mainstream journalists wouldn’t. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not and that I never really wanted to be in the first place.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the mainstream media being “liberal,” “conservative,” or refusing to do stories because they don’t want to offend a source or an advertiser. But, for the love of God, don’t pretend to be an unbiased source of information or an occupier of the moral high ground.

You’re not on my side. You don’t have my back. And the only thing anyone should expect more of is the same. And don’t think I’m picking on TV stations. It’s just that most newspapers don’t have catchy slogans. What some papers do have that broadcast outlets usually don’t is people who are capable of investigative reporting and in-depth writing. Unfortunately, they also have editors and publishers who won’t allow those people to use their skills to hold the powerful accountable.

If traditional media are going to abandon their, uh, watchdog role — and sources and advertisers are going to utilize the stick and carrot to make sure they do — something will fill the void. People, corporations, and even government agencies will tell their own stories via social media. Rogue reporters will start blogs. Special interest group “think tanks” such as the Kansas Policy Institute will similarly circumvent the media. Before you know it, there is no more “bubble headed bleach blonde who comes on at five.”

Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme. I mean, how relevant could she be in an age when news breaks at the speed of light on cyber platforms that didn’t even exist until the second Bush Administration? By the time five o’clock rolls around, everybody already knows what’s going to be in tomorrow’s newspaper if the presses even run the next day. And the news comes on at 4 p.m. because the stations that carried Oprah have never found a suitable syndicated replacement.

So hate the lamestream media if you will, but do so for the right reason. Loathe them not for the information they bring you but for that which they do not.

Better still, instead of hating the media — even if the media you hate is me — BECOME the media. Develop a following. Learn how to dig up facts. Write or speak or photograph or shoot video of what you believe isn’t getting enough coverage. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Sounds trite, but be the change you want to see in the world.

That’s what we’re doing with Watchdog. I thank you for being part of our growing audience.

Complaint Filed Against Sheriff

By Lee White

UPDATE: The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission has ruled on February 22, 2017, that there was insufficient evidence of probable cause that Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet intentionally violated campaign finance statutes alleged in this complaint. The actual complaint drafted by the attorney for the commission did not name the contributors, only the sheriff; however, the information contained in this blog post and the links within it was forwarded to commission staff. 

For additional documentation of the allegations presented here, please click on the links, which are underlined and in blue. 

I have filed a complaint with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission (KGEC) alleging in-kind contributions to Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign from an El Dorado business exceeded legal limits and that at least one of the contributions was either falsely or incorrectly reported on the Herzet campaign’s October 31 Receipts and Expenditures Report.

The KGEC considers such complaints confidential until it determines whether probable cause exists to launch an investigation. The complaint was filed by certified U.S. mail and by e-mail and arrived in Topeka on Monday. I chose to withhold publication of the complaint until after the polls closed. State law gives anyone legal standing to make complaints to the KGEC.

Herzet’s October 31 report showed $3,500 of in-kind contributions from members of the Owens family and at least one employee of Graphic Concepts, Inc., an El Dorado business that makes and sells promotional items. Articles of incorporation filed with the Kansas Secretary of State in 2001 show Sally R. and Lonnie K. Owens as directors of the corporation. The articles state the purpose of the corporation is, “Production of visual advertising products and any other business which corporations may carry out under the law of the State of Kansas.”

The KGEC Handbook for Candidates and Treasurers defines in-kind contributions as, “a contribution of value to a candidate, candidate committee, party committee, political committee or any representative of them without charge or at a charge of less than fair market value to the recipient.” In this instance, in-kind contributions appear to have taken the form of merchandise from Graphic Concepts advertising the Herzet campaign.

The handbook indicates that state law limits individuals and corporations to a total of $500 of any combination of cash and in-kind contributions to county candidates during primary and general election cycles. An individual or corporation could legally contribute $500 before the primary election and another $500 after the primary.

Graphic Concepts, as a corporate entity, was not listed as a contributor to Herzet’s campaign for either the primary or general election cycles, but it was named as recipient of an expenditure of $771.83 for campaign mailers on Schedule C of this report filed on July 25. Sally Owens, who is listed on the company’s latest annual report as president, treasurer, and secretary, her husband, Lonnie, and others who appear either to be family members or employees are listed as contributors in the October 31 report (photo below). Contributor Keri Mefford, in particular, lists her workplace as Graphic Concepts on her Facebook profile.

herzetscheduleb

In the complaint, I allege that it appears as if the Owenses funneled contributions of company merchandise through family members and employees in an effort to circumvent contribution limits. The allegation is similar to this one that resulted in fines for a Nevada liquor distributor for giving employees cash to contribute to Sen. Bob Dole’s presidential campaign. The difference in this case is that merchandise — not cash — may have been given to employees to contribute to the Herzet campaign. Corporate, employee, and family bank statements and other financial documents would prove key in determining whether a violation occurred should the KGEC launch an investigation.

There is also a discrepancy concerning the timing of a contribution. The October 31 report indicates Spencer Owens contributed a “truck wrap” to Herzet’s campaign on September 15. Herzet’s campaign Facebook page featured identical photos of a truck wrap, one posted on September 20 and another on June 9 — more than three months before the contribution date indicated on the report. The wrap itself urges people to “VOTE AUGUST 2nd.” In my opinion, this gives one pause to consider not only whether the October 31 report was accurate but whether it was truthful — and not only the part about the truck wrap.

The Owenses have been longtime supporters of Herzet. The company’s Facebook page as recently as Election Night prominently featured this photo of Herzet standing in front of a parade float. The October 31 report indicates Ben Helferich contributed “parade items” on October 1. It is doubtful, therefore, that Herzet was unaware of the contributions the Owenses and their employees were making to his campaign and the timing of such contributions. This is also not Herzet’s first experience as a political candidate. Neither is it Bob Hirschfeld’s first time as his campaign treasurer.

I urge the KGEC to undertake a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding these in-kind contributions to Herzet’s campaign. Anything less would essentially gut the campaign contribution limits all contributors and candidates in Kansas are supposed to abide by. Whatever the KGEC decides to do about this matter will not happen in secret.

Facebook messages have been sent to the Herzet campaign and to Graphic Concepts. I will publish whatever responses I get in full.

Calling Out The PAC

November 2, 2016

WOW what a mess the Butler County Sheriff race has turned into. After my comments during the primary in this race I had vowed to keep my mouth shut, but I guess not.

During the primary there were at least some issues that should have affected the citizens of Butler County but in the general election it seems that nobody seems to want to challenge the policies of the incumbent, Sheriff Herzet. In fact, all of the challenges are coming from faceless individuals using Political Action Committees as a shield.

I will say that the biggest issue in the primary, employee retention, has been placed squarely where it belongs, with the Butler County Commission. My research proved that the biggest issue is pay. Research also showed that on July 13, 2016 Sheriff Herzet and his staff AGAIN asked the commissioners to consider a pay increase for deputies, and at that time discussed a very well researched and factual presentation they had prepared. The hard facts seemed to fall on deaf ears and the budget process moved forward without action on this critical situation. If this is an issue for you call your county commissioner, not the sheriff.

I received a postcard from the Citizens for a Better Butler County, which if my calculations are correct cost this faceless group $6500.00, urging me to write in a candidate for sheriff. The card instructed me to take the card with me when I vote. Last time I looked it was illegal to have campaign materials in a polling place. I’m not sure that encouraging citizens to violate the rules promotes a better county.

I found the information on the card unusual given all of the issues this group railed on in the primary.

First, I have to agree that there were good folks running in the primary, but would have to disagree that if Holton and Cox hadn’t run all of these people would have voted for Andrews. Finishing second in a primary doesn’t count for anything unless there is a runoff.

Second I found it humorous that they borrowed a line from my post prior to the primary when I said:

We are at a point in our society where this election is crucial. The sheriff has always been the first line of defense for the public, but we have reached the point where he may also be the last line of defense, depending on what the federal government does or doesn’t do.

In no way was this intended to mean that our current officers were not capable of defending our rights.

Third, I find the statement that Sheriff Herzet retiring humorous and the assertion that Undersheriff Wilhite would automatically succeed him misleading.

  1. I have asked the sheriff pointblank if he intends to retire early, and his answer satisfied me. He can’t retire early because at the end of his term he will still not be eligible for Medicare and he won’t be able to draw his full social security for 3 years after the end of this term. Having been covered by the KEPRS pension plan at one point in my life I know that people can’t retire on KEPRS only. The man has publically stated he isn’t going to retire early so drop it.

By statute if the sheriff leaves office early, the county clerk automatically assumes the office until the central committee of the party holding the office meets, this meeting by statute must be held within 21 days of the party chairperson being notified of the vacancy, and nominates a person who’s name is then submitted to the governor for approval and appointment. This meeting has to be open to all interested members of that party wishing to place their name into nomination. So, although Undersheriff Wilhite would probably be tasked by the county clerk to manage the department in the interim, he is not guaranteed the nomination. In fact I would be surprised if he would even be interested in it.

Fourth, what does making write-in history have to do with the issues we face daily in our lives? We should make history by supporting law and order and our law enforcement agencies. We should be calling our commissioner and telling him we are tired of the low wages they make. Instead of spitting and calling them every name in the book we should be thanking them every time we see them.

Last, an incumbent running against Political Action Committees that don’t have a public face is wrong. Candidates should speak on the issues and not rely on PAC communications that publish campaign literature with no attention to issues.

 Mike Hayes

Towanda, KS

 

Reports Reveal Contributions, Spending In Sheriff Race

By Lee White

Campaign finance reports covering the period from July 22 to October 27 shed light on who is backing Sheriff Kelly Herzet and his write-in opponent, Walker Andrews. Click the links below to view reports from the Herzet and Andrews campaigns, as well as the Citizens for a Better Butler County Political Action Committee, which has spent heavily in support of Andrews.

Andrews Report

Herzet Report

Citizens for a Better Butler County PAC Report

Perhaps the most burning question of late: Who paid to mail these postcards supporting Andrews to Butler County voters? The answer is Jeff Haenggi, trustee of Pleasant Township, whose occupation on the receipts and expenditures form is listed as “security.” Haenggi contributed $5,442.46 to Citizens for a Better Butler County. The PAC reported spending $5,542.46 to mail 22,239 postcards.

Herzet reported receiving cash contributions totaling $1,000 from Charlie and Ben Giles, of Wichita, whose occupations were listed as self-employed certified public accountants. The sheriff also received a total of $2,500 in in-kind contributions from the family of Sally and Lonnie Owens, who own Graphic Concepts, Inc. in El Dorado. They provided shirts, banners, yard signs, and a truck wrap. Two other in-kind contributors — Ben Helferich, who listed the same El Dorado address as Alexis Owens, and Keri Mefford, of El Dorado — provided $500 each of parade items and banners, respectively.

Andrews received a total of $692.23 in in-kind Facebook advertising contributions from me and reimbursed me for $244.60 of that amount. The ads promoted Andrews’ campaign Facebook page during the primary election season. Andrews did not list any cash contributions for the reporting period.

A Teachable Moment

By Lee White

Today’s high school students and young adults have grown up with the Internet, yet it seems as if some of them haven’t a clue how it works. Specifically, they don’t seem to grasp two key concepts:

  1. What all but an expert hacker does in cyberspace is never truly done in secret.
  2. What anyone posts online has the potential to reach millions of others often with unintended and sometimes horrifying consequences.

I was reminded of this a couple of times the past week. Those who follow the Watchdog Facebook page have undoubtedly read about the two Augusta High School girls who posted a Snapchat photo showing their Halloween costumes, which included ripped T-shirts and fake blood. The photo contained the caption, “Rape victims.”

Someone copied the photo to Twitter and the thing went viral. By Tuesday, a couple of national zines — Mic and Teen Vogue — had picked up the story. I had seen the photo for the first time when one of my Butler County Facebook friends posted it on Halloween. I resisted sharing it until it became clear that the matter had become public.

One of the girls’ parents contacted Mic and explained that the teens were actually dressing as characters from the 2013 horror flick “The Purge.” The parent acknowledged that the girls made a serious error in judgment by captioning the photo the way they did. The controversy seemed to die down somewhat after that explanation, but not before the teens reportedly received threats and drew a whole bunch of unwanted attention to themselves, their school, and their town.

I’m glad the Internet and digital cameras weren’t around when I was their age. Just about everyone I know would say the same except for the ones who are revisionist historians. But the Internet is here to stay and the best advice I can give anyone is to understand and apply those two key concepts above when using it.

Every device we use to go online has its own unique identification number called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The number exists so that the other computers and servers we access can know where our requests are coming from and where to send the information. IP addresses also function as something of a digital fingerprint.

Go to Google and type in, “What is my IP address?” You will likely see a set of four numbers separated by periods. If you click on some of the links, you might even get a hint as to where you are located. Location information is not entirely accurate, as the owner and renters of this northwest Butler County farmhouse discovered. Their property was identified as the default location of many IP addresses and the poor folks were harassed endlessly and unintentionally by everyone from cops to bill collectors.

Especially in the case of smart phones and laptops with wireless access plans, the IP address location may appear in a different place from where the user is actually located. For example, my iPhone still has a Contra Costa County, California, area code and phone number. I kept the number because my dad, who has Alzheimer’s Disease, could remember it until earlier this year. On one search I did, the IP address location was in the Los Angeles area about 400 miles south of Contra Costa County. When I did the search, I was sitting at my desk here in Missouri. Bottom line: Never rely on IP address location searches.

For the average Internet user, IP address searches reveal the name of the individual’s service provider, contact information for the provider, and some basic — often inaccurate — location data. Law enforcement officers and attorneys, however, can find out who the IP address actually belongs to, where that person lives, and sometimes even a current or recent location based on cell phone signals. This is how they track down criminals or prove allegations in a civil case. Most of the time, they need a judge’s order to obtain the information. Sometimes they don’t.

The blog you’re reading logs IP addresses of those who send messages or leave comments, which I can see on the blog’s administration panel. The server logs of any website collect time-stamped IP address data.

As a supporter of free expression, I give people wide latitude in the sorts of comments they leave on the blog or on Facebook. Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet recently took to his campaign Facebook page to complain about supporters of his opponent, Walker Andrews, making profane comments, which he or his campaign staff deleted. I strongly condemn such behavior. Although profanity-laced tirades are probably legal, Herzet has every right to delete those comments. If they cross the line into criminal threats of violence, I hope he uses the courts to discover the identity of the individual(s) making them and prosecutes them to the fullest extent of the law.

Remember, the First Amendment protects us from government officials restricting our right to free speech. It does not stop private citizens from complaining in a lawful manner about what we do or say or exposing our “speech” to the world at large as happened in the case of the Augusta teens. As a frequent user of e-mail and social media, I must constantly remind myself to think before hitting “post” or “send.” Now is the perfect moment to remind young and old alike to do the same.