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We still remember Hoech telling us that Kraske knew all about the story. Normally, that might give us pause, because it can be tough to get something into our weekly pages before the daily Star can. But we told Hoech we were confident that the Star wouldn't touch the story with a 10-foot-pole. You see, we'd noticed that the Star seemed squeamish about stories taking minorities to task for things the paper wouldn't think twice of reporting about white folks in this town. Even if there were clear evidence that a candidate and reporter had entered into an unholy relationship, the fact that both were black was enough to keep the Star from writing something about it, we speculated.
Well, our hunch was correct. Kraske didn't write about it. Neither did Star reporter Dan Margolies, whom Hoech says he also contacted when it became clear Kraske wasn't going to publish anything. Hoech says Margolies e-mailed him expressing his frustration that editors weren't letting Star reporters write the story.
(We only later realized, by the way, that Helling had ended up beating us to the punch. Normally we keep an eye on the hard-charging Channel 5, but we missed Helling's excellent October 20 story on Wesson. Our Backwash piece showed up on October 28, and we were blissfully unaware that we were in second place.)
Despite numerous other questions about his ethics during the campaign, however, Cleaver won the November election and was sworn into office in January.
But Hoech wasn't finished pushing the story. In January, payola for journalists became a national issue; it was revealed, for example, that President Bush's Department of Education had paid conservative columnist Armstrong Williams $241,000 to speak glowingly of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Hoech contacted Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz and pointed out that a similar situation was happening in Kansas City -- but between a liberal politician and a liberal columnist.
Kurtz led his February 14 Post column noting that "pundit payola" wasn't "limited to inside the Beltway." He also mentioned that the Pitch had written about the Wesson-Cleaver controversy last fall.
Now, the Strip may be the sirloin of local media, and Helling packs his own wallop, but there's nothing like the glaring spotlight of a national organization such as The Washington Post to make folks jump to attention.
The same day Kurtz's column appeared, Cleaver announced that he would stop paying Wesson and would no longer use him as a consultant.
And the next day, February 15, the Star finally printed its first story about a scandal it had known about for more than four months.
One staffer at the Star laughed when we mentioned that his paper had taken so long to do the piece. "Every day is Groundhog Day down here as far as people of color are concerned. The paper is terrified to see its own shadow and offend minority readers."
That's what we figured. But we wondered if Star editors had another reason to keep a lid on the story last fall. Had they been trying to protect Cleaver's candidacy? The Star had endorsed the former mayor in both the primary and general elections.
We e-mailed Kraske last week, asking him if he wanted to talk about things, and at first, he seemed interested. But soon, we received an e-mail from his boss, managing editor Steve Shirk.
Shirk explained why the Star had decided not to write about the Wesson-Cleaver affair last year: "We decided the payment, made with private campaign funds, was primarily an ethical issue for the Call." He also wrote that "the Call has always been an advocate for Cleaver's candidacy and thus Wesson's conflict seemed to have little bearing on the campaign." The Star had finally written something on February 15, Shirk added, "because the practice was continuing."