Saturday, January 03, 2004

Birds of a Feather
Members and former members of the part-time St. Louis Regional Sports Authority, including engineer James Becker and former Riverfront Times general counsel Andrew Leonard, received free tickets to the agency's luxury suite for Rams games as recently as the 2001-2002 season. A story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by Mark Shilinkmann and Terry Ganey reported the ticket-give-aways on Jan. 17, 2002.

During the building of the football stadium in the 1990s, Ray Hartmann, then-publisher of the RFT, railed against public subsidies provided to build the facility. At the time, Leonard represented the newspaper in legal matters.

In the 2001-2002 season, Leonard and friends shared the luxury suite w ith Becker. Back in the mid 90s, Becker still owned a landfill in Valley Park. The dump had been overfilled and out of compliance with state regs for years, according to the Missouri Department of Resources. Dioxin was suspected of being dumped in the lan dfill in the 1970s. In 1997, as a part of the Times Beach Superfund cleanup, the EPA hauled PBC-contaminated soil to the dump. By then, Becker had sold the landfill, but his son still managed the dump.

Here's the background I reported on the elder Bec ker fo r the RFT in the summer of 1997:

In 1991, when West County community activist Angela Dillmon started checking out local candidates, she found Becker had contributed heavily to Democrats on the County Council, particularly, the campaign of County Executive Buzz Westfall. By Dillmon’s tally, Becker and individuals and companies connected to him gave Westfall tens of thousands of dollars. “It was serious money,” says Dillmon.
It wasn’t the first time Becker had become involved in local politics. In 1974, he pled the Fifth Amendment 58 times in the perjury trial of then-St. Louis Building Commissioner Kenneth O. Brown. Brown was charged with lying to a grand jury about a $1,500 check he had received from Becker. The prosecution alleged the money w as paid to Brown for steering work to Becker’s consulting engineering firm.
Later, from 1984 to 1987, the late St. Louis County highway director Richard F. Daykin got the County Council to give more than $800,000 in no bid contracts to James B. Becker C onsulting Engineers, according to press accounts.

That's the great thing about football. It's something that brings the players together.

Street Talk
What do you think about the rumor that Attorney General John Ashcroft will flee Washington this year and run for Misouri governor?

Blog It
When I pitched the story of how the St. Louis Post-Dispatch inaccurately reported the circustances the death of FBI informant Jesse Stoneking several months ago, editor Ed Bishop of the St. Louis Journalism Review said it wasn't media related and he wasn't interested.

Stupid, Deceptive White Man
When August Busch III, aka Three Sticks, acted as beer drummer in the commercial a few years back at O'Connell's Pub, at Shaw and Kingshighway, the cameraman, under threat of death or dismemberment, didn't pan down the bar. O'Connell's serves Shlafly's on tap.

Give em Hell, Jack
excerpted from the War of the Classes by Jack London, first publish in 1912

When I was a youngster I was looked upon as a weird sort of
creature, because, forsooth, I was a socialist. Reporters from
l ocal papers interviewed me, and the interviews, when published,
were pathological studies of a strange and abnormal specimen of man.
At that time (nine or ten years ago), because I made a stand in my
native town for municipal ownership of public utilitie s, I w as
branded a "red-shirt," a "dynamiter," and an "anarchist"; and really
decent fellows, who liked me very well, drew the line at my
appearing in public with their sisters.

But the times changed. There came a day when I heard, in my native
town, a Republ ican mayor publicly proclaim that "municipal ownership
was a fixed American policy." And in that day I found myself
picking up in the world. No longer did the pathologist study me,
while the really decent fellows did not mind in the least the
p r opinquit y of myself and their sisters in the public eye. My
political and sociological ideas were ascribed to the vagaries of
youth, and good-natured elderly men patronized me and told me that I
would grow up some day and become an unusually intellige nt member of
the community. Also they told me that my views were biassed by my
empty pockets, and that some day, when I had gathered to me a few
dollars, my views would be wholly different,--in short, that my
views would be their views.

And then came th e d ay when my socialism grew respectable,--still a
vagary of youth, it was held, but romantically respectable.
Romance, to the bourgeois mind, was respectable because it was not
dangerous. As a "red-shirt," with bombs in all his pockets, I was
dangerous. A s a yout h with nothing more menacing than a few
philosophical ideas, Germanic in their origin, I was an interesting
and pleasing personality.

Through all this experience I noted one thing. It was not I that
changed, but the community. In fact, my soci alistic v iews grew
solider and more pronounced. I repeat, it was the community that
changed, and to my chagrin I discovered that the community changed
to such purpose that it was not above stealing my thunder. The
community branded me a "red-shir t" bec ause I sto od for municipal
ownership; a little later it applauded its mayor when he proclaimed
municipal ownership to be a fixed American policy. He stole my
thunder, and the community applauded the theft. And today the
community is able to come around and give me points on municipal

What happened to me has been in no wise different from what has
happened to the socialist movement as a whole in the United States.
In the bourgeois mind socialism has changed from a terrible disease
to a youthful vagary, and later on had its thunder stolen by the two
old parties,--socialism, like a meek and thrifty workingman, being
exploited became respectable.

Only dangerous things are abhorrent. The thing that is not
dangerous is always respectable. And so with soc ialism in the
United States. For several years it has been very respectable,--a
sweet and beautiful Utopian dream, in the bourgeois mind, yet a
dream, only a dream. During this period, which has just ended,
socialism was tolerated bec au se it was impossi ble and non-menacing.
Much of its thunder had been stolen, and the workingmen had been
made happy with full dinner-pails. There was nothing to fear. The
kind old world spun on, coupons were clipped, and larger profits
than ever were ex tract ed from the toilers. Coupon-clipping and
profit-extracting would continue to the end of time. These were
functions divine in origin and held by divine right. The
newspapers, the preachers, and the college presidents said so, and
what they say, of cours e, is so--to the bourgeois mind.

Then came the presidential election of 1904. Like a bolt out of a
clear sky was the socialist vote of 435,000,--an increase of nearly
400 per cent in four years, the largest third-party vote, with one
exceptio n, s ince th e Civil War. Socialism had shown that it was a
very live and growing revolutionary force, and all its old menace
revived. I am afraid that neither it nor I are any longer
respectable. The capitalist press of the country confirms me in my
o pinio n, and h erewith I giv e a few post-election utterances of the
capitalist press:-

"The Democratic party of the constitution is dead. The Social-
Democratic party of continental Europe, preaching discontent and
class hatred, assailing law, propert y, and personal rights, and
i nsinuating confiscation and plunder, is here."--Chicago Chronicle.

"That over forty thousand votes should have been cast in this city
to make such a person as Eugene V. Debs the President of the United
States is about the worst ki nd of adv ertising that C hicago could
receive."--Chicago Inter-Ocean.

"We cannot blink the fact that socialism is making rapid growth in
this country, where, of all others, there would seem to be less
inspiration for it."--Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

"Upon t he hands o f the Republican party an awful responsibility was
placed last Tuesday. . . It knows that reforms--great, far-sweeping
reforms--are necessary, and it has the power to make them. God help
our civilization if it does not! . . . It must r epress the trusts o r
stand before the world responsible for our system of government
being changed into a social republic. The arbitrary cutting down of
wages must cease, or socialism will seize another lever to lift
itself into power."--The Chicago New World.

"Scarcely a ny phase of the election is more sinisterly interesting
than the increase in the socialist vote. Before election we said
that we could not afford to give aid and comfort to the socialists
in any manner. . . It (socialism) must be fou ght in a ll its phases,
in its every m anifestation."--San Francisco Argonaut. [read more]>

Friday, January 02, 2004

Pimping and Publishing, What's the Dif?
Dennis W. Sonnenschein will have plenty of time to reflect on his business career over the next year. Yesterday, the St. Louis area message parlor owner reported to federal prison to begin serving a one-year sentence for "misprision of a felony," a charge similar to obstruction of justice.

In November, St. Louis Post-Dispatch staffer Michael Shaw reported that Sonnenschein was sentenced to a year in jail in federal court in East St. Louis. The court also ordered Sonnenscheing to pay a $250,000 fine and give $1 million to Eastside charities. Sonnenschein must also hand over five parcels of property in Brooklyn, Ill., where the now-defunct Free Spirit Massage Parlor was located. Sonnenschein, who headed the A to Z Development Corp., admitted to the court that businesses located on his property were engaged in prostitution. The current owners of the sex businesses operating on his property were not charged. Although the property was listed in his estranged wife's name, Linda Sonnenscbein wasn't charged, either.

Sonnenschein, 59, has been engaged in the flesh trade since the 1970s, when he operated mobile message parlors from the backs of vans in St. Louis County. Sonnenschein's latest bust appears to have been part of a larger federal investigation into prostitution on the Eastside.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Clark indicated that the owners of Free Spirit advertised in Missouri publications from 1994 until 2000, the Post reported. Sonnenschein was indicted because the ads drew customers and prostitutes across state lines, which is a federal crime. The Riverfront Times publishes ads for the Eastside strip clubs and massage parlors every week. The time period investig a ted by federal prosecutors, 1994-2000, spanned the ownership change at the RFT. Hartmann Publishing, owned by Ray Hartmann, sold the newspaper to the New Times, a Phoenix-based chain, in late 1998.

But Sonnenschein's trail extends further into the past. In September 1983, Post staffer Ronald Lawrence reported that one of Sonnenschein's business associates was Fernando "Nando" Bartolotta, a made member of the St. Louis mafia family, then under the leadership of the late Matthew Trupiano. Less than two years later, on April 10, 1985, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported on the federal trial of Bartolotta in East St. Louis. Federal prosecutors had charged Bartolotta and another Missouri resident with conspiring to commit interstate transportation of stolen property. Testifiying against Bartolotta was FBI informant Jesse Stoneking, who the defense claimed had intimidated and entrapped the St. Louis organized crime figure. Bartolotta's defense attorney was reported in the Gl obe as Andrew Leonard. An attorney of the same name -- Andrew Leonard -- was the longtime general counsel for Hartmann Publishing, the original owner of the RFT.

Stoneking, the informant who testified against Bartolotta and dozens of other St. Louis mobsters in the 1980s, died of an apparent sucide in Arizona a year ago.

For more on Stoneking's death, scroll down.

Today's entry from the St. Louis edition of the Devil's Dictionary
Victoria's Secret She doesn't wear underwear.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

Surprise, Surprise!
When an Informant Dies in the Desert, Does Anybody at the Post Ask Why?
Almost a year ago, on Saturday Jan. 25, 2003, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story on the death of Jesse Stoneking, St. Loui s' most notorious federal informant.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Stoneking served as the top lieutenant of Art Berne, the mob boss who represented the interests of the Chicago Outfit in Southern Illinois. Stoneking had gained the confidence of his partners in organized crime by whacking an errant mobster and through a litany of other heinous acts. Eventually, however, he had a falling out with his Eastside pals. After he flipped, and began working as a snitch for the FBI in St. Louis, Stoneking's testimony led to the convictions of dozens of organized crime associates, including Berne and St. Louis mafia don Matthew Trupiano. The mafia put out a $100,000 contract on his life. He spent the next two decades on the lam, hiding out in Southern Illinois and Arizona.

The story that chronicled his death last January is plauged with errors. Since then, there has been no effort to follow up. Nobody at the Post-Dispatch found Stoneking's death important enough to request police and medical reports from t he Arizona authorities.

Twenty years had passed since Stoneking had made headlines in St. Louis. Memories of his criminal career and subsequent work as a FBI informant had waned. Ronald Lawrence, the last reporter to cover the organized crime beat for t he Post, retired more t han a decade ago. Stoneking's apparent suicide, on the outskirts of Surprise, Ariz., last winter has been deemed nothing more than an interesting footnote on a bygone era; the closing of the book; an epilogu e of no partic ular consequence. But questions surrounding Stoneking's death remain.

Readers of the Post were led to believe that a depressed Stoneking drove out into the desolate desert alone and shot himself in the head. That version is completely false. According to the Surprise, Ariz. Police Department report, two witnesses were present at the time of his death: a police officer and a close friend. Other discrepancies between the Post story and the police and medical examiner's reports include the following:

*Stoneking did not own the car in which he allegedly shot himself. Michael Laurella, Stoneking's friend, owned the vehicle.
*The Maricopa County medical examiner's report does not indicate that powder residue was found on Stoneking's hands as reported by the Post. In fact, the medical examiner reports: "No powder tattooing is identified."
*Stoneking did not live alone, as reported by the Post. He shared a mobile home near Wickenburg, Ariz. with Laurella.
*The Post story speculated that S toneking killed himself because he had colon cancer. The medical examiner's office did not perform an autopsy on Stoneking so there is no way to confirm his health at the time of his death.
*The gun that killed Stoneking belonged to Laurella.

Here is what is known about the circumstances surrounding Stoneking's death, based on official records:

On Jan. 19, 2003, at 9:45 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, Surprise police officer Peck advised the police dispatcher by radio tha t he was on the scene of an apparent suicide on Loop 303, north of Bell Road. But Peck wasn't the first to arrive. Maricopa County deputy J. Sprong was already at the scene by the time he got there.

Sprong had been dispatched to check out large rocks in the road. Sprong gave this accou nt in his report: "Upon arrival I saw a dark colored sedan with the hazard lights turned on. I also saw a newer model Toyota SUV also parked on the west side of the 303, approximately 300 yards north of the sedan."

A tow truck driver told Sprong that the driver of the SUV had a flat tire because it hit a rock in the highway. The driver of the SUV gave Sprong the same story and indicated that the vehicle Stoneking was driving had done the same.

Sprong reports that he then left the scene to remove the obstacles in the roadway. On his return, the SUV and tow vehicle had departed but the 1995 Ford Crown Victoria, driven by Stoneking, was still parked on the shoulder of 303.

Sprong reported: "I parked behind the vehicle to offer some assistance. As I approached the vehicle, I observed the passenger side door open and a man identified as Michael Laurella got out of the vehicle and shut the door. Michael stood there for a moment and then started to walk back towards my veh icle. I then heard a single gunshot from inside of the vehicle. At this point, I was directly behind the vehicle on the driver's side. I then shined my flashlight into the vehicle from the rear window and saw blood coming out of the right side of the driv er's ... head."

[Note that Sprong refers to Laurella as "Michael" in the above statements. The cops don't even refer to each other by their first names in any of these reports.]

Officer Peck, who filed the primary police report, then arrives on the s cene, after the alleged suicide occurred. Peck proceeds to pat Laurella down and then both officers approach the vehicle from opposite sides. The officers observe a black revolver under Stoneking's right hand. Sprong reaches in and removes the gun from Stoneking's hand. The vic is still breathing. The cops call the medics and Stoneking is airvaced by helicopter to the nearest hospital, where he is pronounced dead an hour later. In all the reports, Stoneking is identified as Jesse McBride, his alias. His criminal background and work for the FBI is not considered pertinent to the investigation.

Meanwhile, back at the crime scene, detective Vance of the Surprise police, who is in charge of the investigation, arrives an hour after the incident occurs. The body is already gone. The alleged suicide weapon has already been removed from the vehicle. Police vehicles have swapped places. Sprong, the county deputy who witnessed the alleged suicide, has left the scene on the orders of Surprise Police Sgt. Riherd, who shows up after officer Peck.

The following are excerpts from detective Vance's report:

"On 01-19-03, at approximately 22:15 hours, I received a telephone call from Sgt. Cuker advising that he was at the scene of a possible homicide or suicide. "

[Forty-five minutes after the incident, the police at the scene are still ruling Stoneking's death a possible homicide.]

"Sgt. Riherd further advised that a Maricopa County deputy had been at the scene and possibly observed the shooting but he had left prior to my arrival. I approached officer Welch, who advised that he was the primary reporting officer at the scene. Officer Welch advised that he had a .38-caliber handgun on the trunk of the blue Crown Victoria and a witness seated in the back of his patrol vehicle. ...

" ...The arm area of the front seat that divided the driver and passenger area was covered in blood and there was what appeared to be brain matter on the vertical area of the seat and arm rest. ...

" ... Laurella stated that he and h is friend ... shared a trailer in Wickenburg. Laurella indicated that McBride (Stoneking) had asked him to go for a drive at approximately 1930 hours. Laurella stated that he and McBride took his (Laurella's) blue Crown Victoria and visited a friend in W ickenburg for a short while, then traveled southeast on U.S. 60, towards Surprise."

[Surprise is a good distance from Wickenburg and in the opposite direction of their residence. There is no reason given in the reports why Stoneking and Laurella were tr aveling there on a Sunday night.]

" ... Laurella indicated that as they traveled south on Loop 303, they struck a rock in the roadway and had a blow out of the front, passenger side tire. ... They came to a stop just north of Bell Road. ... Laurella further stated that as they sat there, another vehicle came to a stop behind them with a flat tire and a third vehicle came to a stop in front of them with a flat tire. ... "

[According to Laurella's account, he and Stoneking are in between two other cars on the shoulder of the highway. Officer Peck's account only cites one other disabled vehicle and the tow truck.]

" ... Laurella indicated that the driver of the vehicle directly in front of them approached him, asked him what they had struck in the road way, then stated that he was going to have his son respond to the scene. ...

"Laurella stated that he and McBride (Stoneking) sat in their vehicle and watched as a flatbed tow truck responded and repaired the flat tire on the vehicle in front of them. La urella indicated tht the tow truck then moved to the vehicle behind them and repaired that flat. Laurella stated that McBride (Stoneking) informed him that they would fix their tire."

[Note that the tow truck is a flatbed type vehicle. While all this is going on, neither Stoneking or Laurella apparently got out of the car and attempted to fix the flat. What were they waiting for, if they had decided to fix it themselves? And why did they decline the assistance?]

" ... Laurella stated that afte r the tow truck left the scene, both the vehicle in the front and behind them also left the scene. Laurella stated that he and McBride (Stoneking) sat alone on the side of the road for a few minutes, when they observed the deputy pull in behind them and activate the overhead emergency lights on his vehicle.

"Laurella indicated that McBride (Stoneking) turned to him, asked him to hold his glasses, and then asked him to exit the vehicle and inform the deputy that they had help on the way. Laurella stated that he exited the vehicle, shut the passenger door, and began walking towards the patrol car. Laurella stated that he was ten or twelve feet behind his car and had just begun speaking with the deputy, who had exited his own vehicle, when he heard a singl e gunshot come from inside the blue Crown Victoria. ...

"Laurella stated that, to his knowledge, McBride (Stoneking) did not own a weapon. Laurella indicated that he owned a .38-caliber revolver that he kept in a dresser in his room. Laurella stated that McBride (Stoneking) knew about his gun but he was not aware that McBride (Stoneking) had removed it from his dresser.

"Laurella also indicated that he had McBride's (Stoneking's) wallet in his pocket, as it was given to him by an officer. ...

[Why wo uld an officer give Stoneking's wallet to Laurella? If this is true, then either officer Peck, detuty Sprong or Sgt. Reiherd would have had to search Stoneking's person and/or the interior of the car before the crime scene investigator or the detective arrived. It doesn't sound like standard police procedure for a law enforcement officer to give Laurella, a witness and possible suspect, material evidence. This statement by Laurella casts doubt on his own veracity and that of the police at the scene.]

" ... Evidence technician Kevin Daly arrived on scene, surveyed the vehicle and did a gunpowder swab test of Laurella's hands. Laurella did not have any gunpowder residue on his hands. ... "

The Post story by reporter Paul Hampel didn't summarize any of these events because the police report wasn't released until more than three months later. By that time, the Post had forgotten about the case. Even though Arizona authorities ruled his death a suicide, the person named on the their report s -- Jesse McBride -- never existed. There is no evidence to indicate Stoneking had not continued to ply his craft as a law enforcement informant or conversely, to return to his criminal activities, or both. They sure seem to have a lot of flat tires out there in Arizona. Minus, the flat tire alibi, what are three vehicles and a flatbed tow truck doing out on the highway at night? Stoneking is known to have been a repo man. Maybe he was part of car theft ring, operating across state lines, a federal rap. Maybe he was still acting as an informant for the FBI, which acted like they didn't have a clue where Stoneking was at the time of his death. Because conventional journalism "wisdom" in St. Louis assumes that organized crime is now non-existent, questi ons arising from Stoneking's death never were raised. But most importantly, the Post didn't get the story straight. He didn't own the car. He didn't live alone. He didn't die alone. The gun in his hand belonged to Laurella. The Post acco unt isn't journalism so much as it is revisionist history. History that has pretty much disappeared. Multiple attempts to find the story on the Lexis-Nexis database were futile. I f you didn't read the story in the Saturday edition last Jan. 25, you probably never will. So what's really going on? Search me.

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The Post's Selective FEC Coverage
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today that the Federal Election Commission had cleared Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo) of campaign finance violation alleged by his Democratic rivals. The story was written by Washington bureau reporter Deirdre Shesgreen. The question that immediately rises is where was Shesgreen on Dec. 16, when the FEC imposed a $37,000 fine on Attorney General John Ashcroft? The Post is the only daily newspaper in the St. Louis area. By default, it is the region's newspaper of record. The public depends on comprehensive reporting by the Post. Anything less will only hasten the demise of this once great newspaper. 

Speak of the Devil
Readers of Media Mayhem may have seen irregular postings of definitions from the St. Louis edition of the Devil's Dictionary. This is a nod to the original tome by Ambrose Bierce. The Civil War veteran, short story writer and crusty San Francisco newspaperman disappeared in his old age, while covering the Mexican Revolution, circa 1915. The original Devil's Dictionary can be thumbed online. In honor of the New Year, here's one of Bierce's definitions worth rereading.

PAST, n.
That part of Eternity with some small fraction of which we have a slight and regrettable acquaintance. A moving line called the Present parts it from an imaginary period known as the Future. These two gra nd divisions of Eternity, of which the one is continually effacing the
other, are entirely unlike. The one is dark with sorrow and disappointment, the other bright with prosperity and joy. The Past is the region of sobs, the Future is the realm of song. I n the one crouches Memory, clad in sackcloth and ashes, mumbling penitential prayer; in the sunshine of the other Hope flies with a free wing, beckoning to temples of success and bowers of ease. Yet the Past is the Future of yesterday, the Future is the Past of to-morrow. They are one -- the knowledge and the dream.

So the Post Really Does Have a D.C. Bureau
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Attorney General John Ashcroft's decision to recuse himself from the investigation into the leaking of a CIA agent's name by somebody in the White House. It's good to see the Post not relying on wire service copy, but instead covering the story itself.

In fact, it made the front page. So what if photographs of an ice sculpture and a couple of Missouri mules got top billing. So w hat if scarey stories about Mad Cow disease and the FDA ban on some diet supplement upstaged Ashcroft's decision. So what if it just meant that the Post reporter just had to attend a press conference, rewrite the press release, and fill in the ho les. Seriously, that's lot of work, considering the Post rarely does this kind of nuts and bolts reporting on a regular basis.

This story has been building since last summer, developing coming every couple months. The Post now is placin g catch up and has to make the decision whether it wants to dedicate suffcient manpower, excuse me, womanpower that this story deserves. A reporter has to first get his or her feet wet to start understanding whose swimming on the surface and whose scuba d iving. Not to mention those who may already taken a deep six. Today's story is the first step. Wouldn't it be a kick to see the Post lead the pack for a change?

the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's name has been cast as an effort to discredit her husband Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who has alleged that Bush lied about Iraq seeking uranium from the African nation of Niger in his State of the Union address last January. Bush used the lie to convince Congress and the American people that it was necessary to go to war to stop Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. Other accounts say the White House leaked the name to intimidate Wilson for publicly criticizing Bush and the administration. The motivation of those who were behind the link is not a minor point.

Beyond the question of motivation, however, is what was Plame up to herself. What were her duties at the CIA? What kind of knowledge about U.S. foreign policy and covert actions does she possess. The press acts like this is somehow off limits, a matter of national security, which it cannot breach out of duty to God and country. NPR radio may still refuse to use her name in its reports, but the public already knows who she is. People inside the Beltway, including members of the press corps, obviously know more about this story than they are choosing to reveal. At this point, hiding the facts any further does nothing but cast more doubt on both the government and media.

Interestingly, the Washington Post reported on Oct. 3 that Plame listed her employer as Brewster Jennings & Associates on a Federal Election Commission form she filed in 1999. "The firm did exist, at least on paper," wrote Walter Pincus, the Washington Post's reporter who specializes in intelligence. It's worth noting that Pincus never met a spy he wouldn't fawn over. So if he knows anything more about Brewster Jennings, he's not going to report it, because he doesn't want to burn his sources. The Boston Globe f ound the address of the business in Boston and duly reported it. Other than that not much is known about Brewster Jennings. More than likely it was or is a CIA front company. The CIA is sometimes known for its spooky humor. Brewster Jennings was one of the founders of Socony -- Standard Oil Co. of New York -- now Mobil Oil. My guess is that the rift between the CIA's Plame and the Bush Bund has more to do with oil than uranium. Jenning's namesake, who runs Westwind Investment Corp. in Durango, Col., laughs off any connection to the current scandal to his great grandfather. Maybe some enterprising reporter, with time to kill, should check out Westwind. In 1993, there was another company using the same name out of Singapore.

Readers of Farmer's Almanac Linked to al Qaeda by FBI
The FBI warned local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States yesterday to be on the look out for almanac readers. Not to worry. Only literate Americans who maintain any i nterest in history, current events and geography have been targeted in the latest FBI counter-terrorism bulletin.

"Our almanac is about as far away as you can get from terrorism and about as close as you can get to what you would think of as Americana," Peter Geiger, editor of the Farmers' Almanac, told the Washington Post. "It takes people away from all the
hype and terrorism and scaring that's going on."

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Phil Gramm's American Dream
I remember covering an Eagle Forum meeting out at one of the airport hotels back in early '92. The right-wing Republican presidential candidates were all there, including Pat Buchanan and Sen. Phil Gramm of Tex as.

Buchanan gave his stump speech, railing about how imports were threatening American workers' jobs. After his fire brand speech, he drove away in a Mercedes.

But Phil Gramm left an even more memorable impression. I collared him in the hall and asked him more about the his policy positions. Among other things, he said he favored turning federal prisons into industrial parks, where the prisoners would work off their debt to society building durable goods. No air conditioning, no TVs, just an assembly line of prisoners working 24/7, producing the latest widget for the American consumer.

I went back to the newspaper office and told Safir Ahmed, my editor at the Riverfront Times, about my encounter with Gramm. He listened as I told him how Gr amm was essentially advocating the creation of concentration camps stocked with an endless supply of slave labor. Ahmed scratched his goatee and gazed penisively beyond me to some unchartered place in his mind. "That doesn't sound like a bad idea," he said..

Doggie Style
Your tax dollars at work: Laura Bush unleashed the latest video of Barney, the most trusted resident of the White House.

Keep Typing D.J.
The New York Times reports that Bronx resident Patrice Moore, 43, was rescued Monday after being buried alive by an avalanche of books, magazines and newspapers that fell on top of him in the 10-foot by 10-foot r oom where he slept. Rescuers had to haul out 50 garbage bags of printed matter before reaching Moore.

This story reminds me of D.J. Wilson's cubicle at the Riverfront Times. D.J. had a very unique filing system. He possessed a sixth sense. D.J. could put his finger on any document or newspaper even though the place looked like it was permanently ramsacked.

I wonder what happened to that mess, after they fired him? The management must have rented a back hoe or some kind of baling machine. The re is no way he could have carted all that stuff out with him. When the RFT fires somebody, they don't give he or she any advance notice, but they expect you to leave the premises almost immediately.

Welcome to Bushville
The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the nation’s official
unemployment rate of 5.9 percent fails to include nearly 5 million
part-time workers who can’t find full-time work and 1.5 million people
who have given up looking for a job. If these figures were calculated
into the equation, the nation’s unemployment rate would jump to 9.7

I'd venture to say that 9.7 percent is a conservative estimate.

Journalism 201: How it Works or Doesn’t
Beyond the five Ws and the inverted pyramid, lie the real secrets of the Fourth Estate. Like the sausage factory, it’s not a place the squeamish should visit let alone reside. For those with strong enough stomachs, however, it may be worth dissecting part of the beast.

Consider the story of the Federal Election Commission’s fine against Attorney General John Ashcroft’s political action committee, which has been reported this week on the Media Mayhem blog. The FEC sanctioned the political organization of the top law enforcement officer in the United States on Dec. 16 for cooking its campaign-finance books, slapping the Ashcroft bunch with a $37,000 penalty.

Relying solely on a wire service story, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch relegated the news to a three-paragraph brief on the bottom half of page 6A the next day. The truncated account provided little, if any, context or detail by which Post readers could adequately understand the significance of the FEC’s ruling.

The abbreviated news item apparently fell prey to the wire service editor’s knife. He or she most likely gutted a graf or two so the story would fit within the number of column inches alotted the national news roundup for the day.

Under normal circumstances, the copy editor is a reporter’s best friend, helping to catch spelling, grammatical and factual errors. In that respect, they are the last lines of defense in protecting accuracy. Copy editors are the unsung heroes of journalism. Day in and day out, under deadline pressure, they are relied upon for not only for their command of the language, but a firm grasp on a broad spectrum of human knowledge.

I suspect the priorities of wire service editors at daily newspaper are slightly different. I "suspect" this because I don’t have any experience at a daily newspaper. I worked for an alternative weekly that never relied on wire service reports to fill the news hole, with exception of syndicated features such as News of the Weird. With that caveat, I would hazard a guess that a wire service editor’s duties mainly involve using his or her discretion in selecting the stories provided by the news services and then whittling them down to make them fit.

In this case, the name of the St. Louisan who filed the complaint against Ashcroft’s campaign was cut from the story. The most likely explanation for this is that the wire service editor didn’t recognize the name of Hedy Epstein, the primary complainant. Why is this a significant oversight? It is significant because efforts to reveal corruption within Attorney General Ashcroft’s political organization are being spearheaded by Epstein and other St. Louisans.

In fairness to the Post’s wire service editor, the newspaper had dropped the ball long before it reached his or her desk. Here’s why:

Investigative journalists at the local level are better positioned to cover Ashcroft’s wrongdoing than anybody at the Associated Press or Reuters in Washington, D.C. This is a Missouri story -- from start to finish. Many of the sources are right here in St. Louis. Ashcroft’s critics began questioning the financing of his failed 2000 senate re-election bid a long time ago. He lost the race to the late Gov. Mel Carnahan. But Carnahan had already died in a plane crash weeks before the election, so his wife was appointed by the acting governor to fill his seat until a special election could later be held. In the meantime, president-select George W. Bush nominated Ashcroft to be attorney general, and his pals in the U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment. Then 9/11 happened. And the Patriot Act.

With all the intervening events, the fact that Ashcroft, the choirboy, cheated on his campaign financing has been deemed a dead story by the mainstream press, including the Post. But that’s where they are dead wrong.

Early on, when Epstein and Common Cause, the organization she represents, first began to expose Ashcroft’s dirty deeds, they no doubt notified the media and were rebuffed. In the old days, when the Post chose to ignore a local story of this magnitude, the Riverfront Times would have jumped all over it. One thing you can say for former RFT owner Ray Hartmann -- he is no friend of Ashcroft’s. Moreover, back then the RFT had a staff capable of taking on a story such as this and the collective will to do so. In addition, unlike now, the RFT maintained numerous sources within the activist community that would have provided leads to flush out the details. The Post would have then been forced to turn it’s attention and ample resources to the issue. Sadly, this is no longer true.

The Post and the RFT are both failing to serve the interests of the citizens of St. Louis, Missouri and the nation. Hedy Epstein opened the door for the newspapers of this town to get to the bottom of the corruption within the current administration and nobody, thus far, has accepted the invitation.

Monday, December 29, 2003

Today's entry from the St. Louis edition of the Devil's Dictionary
free range stove in an alley in Dogtown.

Saddam Does J.Lo
Superimposed on the familiar image a disshelved Saddam Hussein are this week's tabloid headlines from the cover of the Globe, available at a supermarket near you -- "Interagations Reveal: Saddam's Kinky Palace Sex Parties; His Sick Fantasies of J.Lo; Plus, He has Cancer."

A Thousand Pardons
I just pulled out a pile of newspapers from the recycling bin to check the accuracy of earlier posts. On Dec. 17, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a three-paragraph brief below the fold on page 6A summarizing th e fine imposed by the Federal Election Commission against one of Attorney General John Aschcroft's political action committees. The story ran in the U.S. Digest column and is attributed to "wire services." The wire service account that the Post printed failed to mention that St. Louisan Hedy Epstein, Media Mayhem's Citizen of the Year, and an individual named Nick Penniman, apparently the Post's retired publisher, filed the complaint. I assume the brief is not archived at the < em>Post's online version, Stltoday.com because it came from the wire rather than being locally generated. So the essence of MM's original report remains accurate. The Post itself did not report on the FEC decision, relying instead on a sketchy Associated PressorRueters bulletin.

I first saw a New York Timesstory online, which mentioned Epstein's involvement, either at Yahoo or Netzero. It is truly sad that St. Louis readers can't rely on the hometown newspaper for relevant news on an issue of local, as well as, national interest.

Publisher Penniman, I Presume?
The plot thickens: As reported yesterday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch failed to report the $37,000 fine imposed by the Federal Election Commission on one of Attorney General John Aschroft's political action committees. Besides Hedy Epstein, Media Mayhem's Citizen of the Year, the complainants included Nick Penniman, presumably the retired publisher of the Post. S'up with that?

A U.S. Attorney General from Missouri gets nailed for campaign finance violations, a former publisher of the Post exposes the wrongdoing and the Post ignores the story. This one is for the books. Somebody call the Columbia Journalism Review. Check out the FEC filing yourself by clicking the highlighted text to the left and then entering 5181 in the case # box.

Epstein filed the complaint on behalf of Common Cause, whereas Penniman is listed as representing the National Voting Rights Institute, whatever that is.

Will the real Nick Penniman stand up, please?

Asleep at the Wheel
In a letter to the editor, local activist Margaret P. Gilleo informed Riverfront Times readers that the Dec. 3 cover story on community radio station KDHX failed to report the schedule change that relegates the popular Pacifica Radio program, Democracy Now, to the 6 a.m. slot. If the time change wasn't bad enough, Gilleo writes, the station's delayed broadcasts means listeners hear yesterday's news.

Media Mayhem drew attention to the issue on Dec. 19, placing the onus at the top -- the dictatorial style of station manager Bev Hacker. But the problem was first reported by the St. Louis Indy Media web site in early November, which should have been enough time for even the slow-paced RFT to catch up.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Media Mayhem Names Hedy Epstein Citizen of the Year
Hedy Epstein, longtime St. Louis social activist, has been named Media Mayhem's Citizen of the Year. In one of her latest efforts, Epstein filed suit against Attorney General John Ashcroft's political action committees for illegally profitting from the sale of Republican donor lists. During his failed Senate re-election campaign three years ago, Ashcroft's Spirit of America PAC broke federal campaign finance laws by shuffling $ 1 10,000 in funds to the Ashcroft 2000 fund. On Dec. 16, the Federal Election Commission ruled in favor of the complaint filed by Epstein and others, fining the Ashcroft camp $37,000. Those involved in the suit believe that the FEC's findings barely scratch the surface of the GOP corruption. The Post failed to report the FEC decision.

Unlike the Post's "Citizen of the Year," Sam Fox, Epstein does not belong to the Republican Jewish Coalition. She could not be reached for comment because she is currently in Israel, risking her life to protest the construction of a new Iron Curtain by that nation.

Post Pegs Republican Bagman Sam Fox "Citizen of the Year"
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch named Harbour Group founder Sam Fox "Citizen of the Year" on Sunday. Fox is a generous and longtime philanthropist for all things Republican. S ince 2000, the Fox clan has contributed nearly a million dollars in soft money to GOP candidates and campaign funds, excluding other dough contributed through corporate political action committees or other fronts. For example, Fox himself donated a cool $ 200,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee on January 30, 2002. Since then, the Republicans have made unprecedented power grabs in states throughout the country, including Texas, Colorado and California. Don't believe it? Check out Fox's contributions yourself by doing a donor search at the Center for Responsive Politics web site, Open Secrets.

Rumor in My Own Time
Informed sources tell Media Mayhem was mentioned this week in the latest issue of the Arch Chronicle.

Today's entry from the Devil's Dictionary
infomercial highway Interstate 70 between St. Louis and Columbia, Mo.; the ubiquitous billboards along same route.

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