Kansas conservative think tank launching its own news service
TOPEKA — In a move that some experts see as a growing trend in the news media, a conservative think tank in Kansas with close ties to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch has announced it is launching its own news service to combat what it sees as bias in traditional news outlets.
Dave Trabert, president of Kansas Policy Institute, announced the new organization called the Sentinel in a video posted on the institute’s website, starting with a barrage of attacks against traditional media outlets, alleging they withhold information about state government and the economy in order to sway public opinion.
“Well we’ve had enough and we’re going to do something about it,” Trabert says in the video. “It’s called the Sentinel and its primary purpose is to hold media and government accountable.”
To counter that alleged bias, the Sentinel has hired two of the most distinctly conservative writers in the region.
One is Jack Cashill, a blogger and author whose recent book is entitled “Scarlet Letters: The Ever Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism.” He has also written a book that espouses a conspiracy theory about the 1997 crash of TWA Flight 800.
The other reporter, Trabert said, will be Danedri Herbert, a former contributor to the Kansas City Star who also writes under the pseudonym Gidget Southway in a blog entitled insidekansasgop.com.
In a column she wrote in June, Herbert came “out of the closet,” as she put it, about her dual identity because, “liberal activists are accusing me of professional misconduct, and because Kansas City Star editors prefer their writers be on-the-record all of the time.”
“I write unabashedly from a Christian, center-right perspective,” she wrote.
Trabert said the Sentinel is organized as a separate, stand-alone nonprofit entity, although he and KPI’s vice president and policy director James Franko serve on its five-member board and the Sentinel contracts with KPI for fundraising.
In the video, Trabert argues that traditional media have reported about recent cuts in highway funding, “but the truth is that Kansas spent more money on highway projects in the last two years than ever before.”
Steve Swartz, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Transportation, was not immediately able to confirm that statement. But he said that during the last two and a half years, two of the biggest projects in the T-Works highway program were under construction, the South Lawrence Trafficway and the Johnson County Gateway project.
In the last four years, more than $1.3 billion has been swept out of the state highway fund to make up for revenue shortfalls in the general fund. Last month, KDOT announced that 24 smaller projects, estimated at $32 million, would not be let out for bid in December due to funding shortages.
Trabert also argues in the video that some lawmakers and others have said small businesses that benefit from Brownback’s tax cuts haven’t created any new jobs, “and media dutifully shares those claims, even though there wasn’t a shred of supporting evidence.”
“What we now know is that U.S. Census data shows that pass-through businesses created most of the new jobs,” Trabert says. “And again, media has that information but won’t report it.”
What many media outlets, including the Journal-World, have reported is that since Brownback’s tax cuts took effect in 2013, job growth in Kansas has lagged behind the national and regional average.
In November, the Kansas Department of Labor reported that Kansas had actually lost 5,700 private-sector jobs over the previous year.
“It’s an interesting notion to see this organization try to develop its own news when really, in my estimation, it’s no different than a public relations arm of their organization,” said University of Kansas journalism professor Scott Reinardy.
Pam Fine, who also teaches journalism at KU, said the advent of new media outlets that are tied to organizations with a partisan or ideological mission is part of a growing trend in the United States.
“The great thing about America is that anybody can claim to be a journalist or try to do journalism,” she said. “My concern is that the more people rely on sites that only represent their viewpoint, the more limited set of perspectives they’re going to get.”
Reinardy said he believes one reason for the growth in such alternative media is because the public has come to distrust traditional media, something he said is the result of years of criticism from politicians and others.
“This has been going on systematically for 25 years,” he said. “When there’s a problem, it’s the media’s fault. It’s always the media’s fault. And there are faults, don’t get me wrong. However, the media is under such bombardment right now. It’s always wrong.”
“The media has always done a terrible job of telling its story,” he said. “Like standing up and saying no, these are the things that we do, and this is how we do them. This isn’t haphazard like we’re out there with an agenda of some sort. I worked in newsrooms for 15 years. There’s no way that any newsroom I worked in was collaborating with another newsroom on some kind of media agenda. We’re barely trying to get the paper out every day.”