Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tony Botello's low level of indignation shines a light on some of the absurdity of Kansas City priorities

Tony Botello, when he isn’t testing the boundaries of libel law or propriety, is the king of juxtaposition. His forte is a sort of critical thinking I wish we could teach more often.

In education, unfortunately, we’ve settled on a safe sort of critical thinking to teach – problem solving. Now, I’m not against problem solving, but what we really should teach is the ability Tony has shown to put two things together and – heaven forbid – compare them critically – with the emphasis on critically. Teach kids to take a stand. To call bullshit. To say something is unfair, wrong, needs to be changed, doesn't make sense.

Tony’s work is strongest when he does this. He seems to just naturally see the world this way. That’s the real skill here – seeing the world through this lens. I’m not sure how you teach people to see this way – it may be that life has to teach you to see through things with this lens.

Journalists are supposed to have a bullshit alarm. They’re supposed to possess a really low level of indignation. Supposed to…

Tony struck the sacred with a recent post. He noted the fear some people might be feeling about their safety at the Plaza Art Fair, given the disruptions a few weeks ago by kids with text machines in their hands (and at least one idiot with a gun). Sounds reasonable, eh?

Then Tony did a little genuine critical thinking. Of course, increased police presence would reassure art lovers their annual love fest on the Country Club Plaza would be safe from those people. But what about the safety of, say, a family living east of Troost, enjoying the evening on their front porch? Extra police in their neighborhood?

I'm not sure from reading if these are Tony Botello's words or the words of one of his "awesome" tipsters or the words of the author of the photograph he displayed, but they are words with a lot of power:

"Oh my god will the lily white folk at the plaza art show be safe this weekend with the extra security?? Meanwhile the over/under on young black men being killed this weekend on the east side is 3, and where's that extra security?..."

Now, I’m not sure that argument really holds up. My guess is the East Side already has extra police. A good journalist would check this out. So, Tony only took the argument halfway… BUT AT LEAST HE GOT THE IDEA ON THE MOVE, which may be more than you can say for the gaggle of columnists at the rest of Kansas City media.

A good reporter did find out the numbers. Alan McArthur at the K C Reporter found that each person in the Central Patrol Division is protected by more than two officers for each officer protecting a person in the North Patrol division. In other words, the police department stations one officer for every 320 residents in the 17 miles covered by the Central Patrol while in the 85-mile North Patrol Division the department deploys one officer for every 688 residents, more than double the force.

The department stations one officer for every 564 Metro division residents and one officer for every 474 East division residents, but only one for every 701 residents in the South division and one to protect every 764 residents in the Shoal Creek division.

So, in fact, the department DOES deploy a larger force on the East Side than in other portions of the metropolitan area. But perhaps Tony's argument is that the east side force could use a "surge" of troops given the guns and death there.

Yesterday, Tony Botello’s bullshit alarm went off again, and he landed this nice barrage of punches:

"In Kansas City we don't like making excuses for students caught in a failed school system.

"We don't want to make excuses for people trapped in the desperate circumstances of the urban core.

"We (rightfully) vow that not even women dressed like "sluts" deserve to have their appearance used as an excuse to justify assault.

"We don't like excuses from politicos about increased spending or so many other infrastructure issues that they've pathologically ignored.

"There are some people who still want to make excuses for The Kansas City Chiefs and their pathetic losing streak."

Add something to Mr. Botello’s argument. The fate of the Kansas City Chiefs, or Kansas City Not-So-Royals, isn’t in any league with the serious issues to which he compares them. The fate of any city’s sports teams pales in comparison to education, rape, and crumbling bridges.

But take a look at the list of “most read” stories in the Kansas City Star at 11:08 a.m. Monday morning. Talk about screwy priorities:

· 1. Will Missouri follow Texas A&M out of Big 12

· 2. Cassel’s quarterback play…

· 3. Chiefs lose…

· 4. Two Johnson County residents injured…

· 5. Fatal shooting at car wash…

· 6. Chiefs cling…

· 7. Kicker Succop struggles…

· 8. Royal’s Mendoza…

· 9. Chiefs blitz…

· 10. Olathe drowning victim…

This calls into question the critical thinking skills of Star readers, as well. As teachers, we’ve got our critical thinking work cut out for us, eh?



  1. You been living under a rock? He's been sued for slander, you know that, right? He makes stuff up. His credibility is shot and he's been reduced to doing PR on his blog.

  2. Anon: I know all that. I did not say he was a saint and I did not say he gets the job done. What I said is that a person who can put two things together with that lens is valuable -- and rare. It is just missing so often from the conversation. It's a kind of thinking we need more of... but from a journalistic point of view it is just the beginning -- which I think I pointed out. You are right to call me out on this if you think I am comfortable with all the things Tony does on the platform. That wasn't my intention. Thanks. I'll be more clear about that in the future. BTW: I wish I were living under a rock. Unfortunately, not.

  3. Tony isn't being sued for slander. He's being sued for libel. Just about every major newspaper in American has at least one libel suit pending at any given moment. I think it was a good post John and you get the point across that not everything Tony does is perfect but some of it has value.

  4. Knee-jerk nay-saying is not critical thinking ...