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Recent Missouri editorials

November 21, 2017

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 18

During protests, police must allow journalists to do their jobs

The St. Louis Police Department has agreed to abide by tighter procedures to protect journalists from arrest while performing their jobs at scenes of protests. The procedures are better than the subjective and haphazard approach that led to the arrest of a Post-Dispatch reporter, among others, after the Sept. 15 verdict acquitting former Officer Jason Shockley of murder.

A special order from Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole states that police officers “will be reminded of the important role served by the press” and that officers should “do nothing that would interfere with any journalist’s ability to gather information and report it to the public, where a journalist has done nothing to violate the law.” Each officer will receive a monthly reminder about this order and will be required to acknowledge it.

That’s a big, positive step toward ensuring the public stays informed and journalists are not penalized simply for doing their jobs.

The order was prompted by mistreatment of working journalists during recent protests, particularly downtown on the night of Sept. 17 when officers executed a technique called “kittling” to corral protesters and facilitate their arrest. Caught inside the kettle were residents, bystanders and Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk, whose credentials were in clear view of arresting officers.

O’Toole issued his order shortly after U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled Wednesday that the police had violated the constitutional rights of protesters and bystanders. Perry issued a set of procedures and restrictions that St. Louis police must abide by going forward. Her ruling made clear that some officers had attempted to deliver punishment on the streets against anyone caught in their corral, aggressively pepper-spraying restrained detainees and refusing to accept explanations from nonprotesters.

Neither her rebuke nor O’Toole’s directives should have been necessary, especially in the wake of negative national attention following the 2014 police-involved shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

At the same time, we’re not blind to the difficult job police have distinguishing violent protesters from nonviolent ones during protests when rock-throwing and vandalism are occurring.

A big challenge ahead for police is distinguishing who, within shifting crowds of onlookers and protesters, are journalists covering events as neutral observers and who might be protest sympathizers posing as reporters. Just because someone has a video camera or smartphone in video mode in the middle of a protest doesn’t automatically make him a journalist.

At the same time, people attempting to document what’s happening tend not to be the ones engaged in violence. We hope officers will err on the side of caution in the interest of keeping the public informed.

If police abide by O’Toole’s and Perry’s orders, they should not fear media coverage. They’ll be abiding by the law and honoring the Constitution instead of punishing people for exercising their First Amendment rights.


The Kansas City Star, Nov. 16

You can’t criticize dark money on the right and excuse it on the left

Dark money continues to pour into Missouri politics and government, to the public’s detriment.

This week, St. Louis public radio reported secret non-profit groups have given more than $500,000 to the committee working to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot.

Raise Up Missouri, the committee organizing the minimum wage petition drive, took $250,000 from the Sixteen Thirty Fund on Oct. 27. It took $142,500 from the Fairness Project. The National Employment Law Project kicked in $145,000 in mid-October.

NELP is a 501(c)(3) charity, prohibited from direct involvement in candidate elections. The Fairness Project and the Sixteen Thirty Fund are non-profit social welfare organizations, which are allowed a limited involvement in politics.

None of the groups is required to reveal its donors. That means we can’t know precisely who is behind the effort to put the minimum wage hike on Missouri’s ballot.

We support a higher minimum wage in Missouri. We support legislation allowing cities to set a higher minimum wage than rural areas of the state. And we support the right of any group to gather petitions.

But we cannot support the use of secret dark money contributions to further the interests of Raise Up Missouri, or any other group.

The treasurer of Raise Up told the St. Louis reporter that dark money is certain to come into the campaign from businesses opposed to the higher wage. He said he can’t be asked to campaign “with one hand behind your back.”

That argument is common, and wrong. The way to end dark money in politics isn’t to seek more dark money than your opponents. It’s to insist on sunlight, and full disclosure of individual donors to your effort.

This will be especially important in the year to come. Secret outside donations will undoubtedly clog the Missouri Senate race and the Kansas race for governor. If right-to-work ends up on the ballot, or Medicaid expansion, secret cash will escalate.

We believe Missourians and Kansans deserve to know who is trying to buy the government. That’s true whether the donations support an issue or candidate we’ve endorsed, or oppose them.

Several Missouri lawmakers have talked about legislation making donations to non-profits more transparent. We think the legislatures in both states such discuss that kind of openness when they reconvene in January.

And we think all sides should denounce the growing influence of dark money contributions, and advertising buys, in both states. Campaigns, like government, should be conducted in the sunshine.


Jefferson City News Tribune, Nov. 18

Now’s a good time to take that nostalgic Amtrak trip

With gas prices on the upswing and the holidays approaching, it may be a good time to consider taking an Amtrak train ride.

More people apparently are thinking the same thing lately. A trend of increased ridership is continuing.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials said from July through October there was a nearly 5 percent increase in Amtrak riders getting on the twice-daily trains at the Jefferson City station — 13,334 last year compared to 13,949 this year.

That reverses a trend over the past few years. That previous dip was blamed on low gas prices and work to improve the tracks for a high-speed rail service to Chicago.

That $2 billion project is almost finished.

Despite that huge investment, Amtrak’s future isn’t assured. Federal and state governments have pumped many more billions into the transportation mode over the years, and many say enough is enough. The payoff to taxpayers has been minimal at best critics say — even though no mode of public transportation breaks even.

Early this year, Gov. Eric Greitens cut $500,000 of the state’s funding for Amtrak. In July, President Donald Trump proposed $630 million in Amtrak cuts. Amtrak gets about $1.4 billion a year from the federal government.

Meanwhile, Amtrak — while not coming close to breaking even, much less making a profit — has been doing what it can to boost ridership, including offering various incentives.

For October, on-time performance was 82 percent. Close to half of the delays were due to Union Pacific train interference. The most current rider satisfaction numbers, taken in August, showed 88 percent of riders were “very satisfied” with their experience on the River Runner trains.

So consider taking your family to St. Louis, Kansas City or some of the stops in between. It’s a less stressful, more scenic way to get there. It’s a nostalgic piece of Americana that might not be around if you wait too long.

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