Censored in 2007, Part 2

Media Rants

By Tony Palmeri

From the February 2008 edition of The Scene

Last month I identified half of the top ten stories that were underreported, ignored, misrepresented, or censored by northeast Wisconsin corporate media in 2007. Now the top 5:

No. 5: Gannett Protects A Client. In November Green Bay based PMI Inc., managers of Oshkosh’s Leach Amphitheatre, announced their intention to leave at the end of the 2008 season. Soon after the announcement, Oshkosh common councilor Paul Esslinger at a council meeting opened up the possibility of ending PMI’s contract early. He claimed that in an informal conversation with Grand Opera House (GOH) Executive Director Joe Ferlo before the start of a GOH advisory board meeting (Esslinger sits on the board), Ferlo expressed some interest in managing the Leach facility for part of the 2008 year.

Esslinger’s suggestion earned rebuke from the Oshkosh Northwestern’s executive editor, who wondered whether the open meetings law had been violated because the suggestion came during the “council member statement” portion of the meeting. Editorially, the Northwestern opined, “PMI's responsibly-timed announcement gives the city of Oshkosh a year to find a replacement for the promoter gig at the three-season-old amphitheater park.”

Conveniently absent in the paper’s PMI reporting and editorializing is the fact that Gannett receives advertising revenue from them. Moreover, Gannett’s ethical standards state that “we will differentiate advertising from news,” yet the Northwestern often in its “Weekend” section presents front page “news” about PMI acts.

Oshkosh Citizens have not been happy with PMI. But we’re now stuck with one more year of mediocre management of the Leach in part because the corporate press chose to shut down any serious discussion of changing management for the 2008 season.

No. 4: Tax Cheat Sat On Oshkosh Redevelopment Authority. Last year I was bashed by the Oshkosh Northwestern for voting against former Oshkosh B’Gosh CEO David Omachinski’s appointment to the Oshkosh Redevelopment Authority (RA). From the paper’s perspective, the fact that Mr. Omachinski had presided over the outsourcing of B’Gosh jobs should not override the experience and credentials he would bring to the RA.

Given the paper’s passionate interest in RA membership, one couldn’t help but be blinded by a glaring omission in the reporting about former member Sheldon Lasky’s sentence to prison for tax evasion. Lasky, former CEO of Sadoff and Rudoy Industries, from 1999 through 2003 had almost $900,000 in personal expenses paid and deducted by the company without including the payments in his income.

The Northwestern report on Lasky’s sentence not only didn’t include the fact that he sat on the RA, but also failed to report that his performance there was (to put it mildly) below average. Minutes obtained from the city of Oshkosh website of 23 RA meetings held from 2004-2006 show that Mr. Lasky was “excused” from 12 of them. If the Northwestern truly cared about the quality of the RA, how on earth did Lasky’s absences never come to the attention of the editors and publisher?

No. 3: The Valley’s “Hospitable” Taxes. In June the nonpartisan Institute for Wisconsin’s Future released a report on "Hospitable Taxes: How Property Taxes Subsidize Wisconsin's 'Non-Profit' Hospital Industry." Let’s use Oshkosh hospitals as an example of the kind of tax malpractice not getting enough play in the corporate press.

The IWF report reveals that Mercy Medical Center is valued at $108,100,000. If paying property taxes, $837,775 would be owed to the city of Oshkosh and $572,930 to Winnebago County. The hospital's annual revenue is $108,553,678.

Aurora Medical Center is valued at $75,800,000. If paying property taxes, $587,450 would be owed to the city and $401,740 to the county. Aurora's annual revenue is $50,435,794.

Many nonprofits compensate cities and counties by making a “payment in lieu of taxes.” It’s time for the establishment press to take a stand and call for hospitals to do the same.

No. 2: Media Consolidation and Vanishing State Coverage. Establishment media coverage of the state legislature lacks depth. In 2007 FCC Commissioner Michael Copps explained why: media mergers result typically in one less reporter per beat. Nationwide there are now only 500 reporters, for all forms of media, covering state legislatures.

In February of 2007 commissioner Copps called for "meaningful public interest responsibilities on our broadcast media — like an honest-to-goodness licensing system that doesn't grant licenses automatically, but stops to judge if a license-holder is really doing its job to serve the common good."

Vanishing coverage of the state legislature makes it that much easier for well-connected lobbyists to rule Madison.

No. 1: Local Cost Of The Iraq War. The top censored story for the third year in a row. Establishment media continue to lament the shortage of monies for basic services in local communities, yet rarely make the link to the waste of life and financial resources in Iraq. As I write this column in mid January, almost $500 billion has been spent on the war, including a combined $320 million from Oshkosh, Appleton, and Green Bay. For the third year in a row I’ll close with this: “How much more blood and money will it take before mainstream media lead the effort to get us out of Iraq with the same gusto exerted to get us in?”

Tony Palmeri (www.tonypalmeri.com) is an associate professor of communication at UW Oshkosh and holds a seat on the Oshkosh Common Council.