Political Tittle-tattle: News and Entertainment from Hawaii's Political Arena

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”Spat Over Media On Japan Trip Reaching Ridiculous, Hypocritical”


There is a tremendous amount of jealously in the Hawaii media. But rather than using those feelings to gain a competitive edge, most reporters and editors turn instead to tearing down those who do succeed in the Hawaii journalism profession.

That is why when Gov. Linda Lingle recently made a 30-minute appearance on KITV to discuss the state’s budget troubles, and promoted that appearance through all the media, she only fed that jealousy. Then when KITV was the only Hawaii-based major media outlet on the governor’s trip to Japan — a trip sponsored by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau — all hell broke loose, and the media reporting on media frenzy began.

The ”’Honolulu Star-Bulletin”’ reported it was invited on the trip and declined because it would not accept state sponsorship (and also would not sponsor a reporter to go). KHON’s Fox News made the same report Tuesday night saying its management had declined the trip.

But, as reported last week in Hawaii Reporter, both these media outlets have in the past accepted government funds for their trips to cover stories. In fact, nearly all of the major media outlets have been guilty of accepting sponsored trips, which makes debate over KITV’s acceptance of the trip to Japan all the more silly and hypocritical.

Only last year, KHON, KITV, KGMB and KHNL along with the ”’Honolulu Star-Bulletin”’ and ”’MidWeek”’ and some of Hawaii’s military papers, sent a convoy of reporters and cameramen to Fort Polk, Louisiana, at the expense of the U.S. Army. The Army public relations personnel wanted Hawaii media to report on Hawaii’s 25th Infantry in training as they prepared to go to a “peace keeping mission” in Bosnia. They also wanted Hawaii reporters to understand the difficult conditions Hawaii’s military live and train under. And of course, they wanted and expected great coverage in Hawaii for the U.S. Army.

I was on that trip representing ”’MidWeek”’ because Bob Jones, who’d been invited, changed his mind about going at the last minute, but the military had already bought his ticket and wouldn’t stand for ”’MidWeek”’ wasting the ticket. Thus I filled in as a free-lance writer for ”’MidWeek”’ at its editor’s request.

While on that trip, the coordinator told me the U.S. Army had made a substantial investment in bringing all of the reporters and cameramen from Honolulu to Fort Polk via commercial airlines, and that she’d better get great coverage in return, which she ultimately did. In fact, the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Division got more than a week of headline coverage and no negative publicity (not that there were any negative stories).

All reporters were prepped by the Army public relations officers before each meeting during the trip and were told which topics they could cover, which questions they could ask, and what was off limits. No reporter broke the rules, except me, when I asked one of the generals from Hawaii how his career and personal life had changed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America. I was quickly silenced, admonished and told in front of everyone that I was not supposed to ask that question, something I obviously did not realize or understand. After all, I thought a general should be able to answer that question or he should not be a general.

The media trip was so successful for the military that phase 2 was planned while phase 1 was still in progress — the U.S. Army was scheduling a trip for these same reporters and cameramen to Bosnia. The plan was to allow the 25th Infantry division to go to Bosnia and get settled into their new job, and then bring the media over at the U.S. Army’s expense to get the rest of the story. National media also received the same treatment.

The only major Hawaii media not to accept the trip was ”’The Honolulu Advertiser,”’ citing its policy not to accept sponsored trips. The paper’s management also declined to send a reporter and camera person at the company’s expense.

This wasn’t the only media trip sponsored by its promoter. Other major media outlets here have accepted sponsored trips in exchange for favorable publicity, such as KGMB television, which sent its reporter and cameraman on a sponsored trip with the Maui County visitors’ bureau.

Sure, major media outlets should not accept trips sponsored by the organizations they are going to cover in exchange for positive coverage, but they do frequently, both locally and nationally, and to pretend otherwise is just another case of hypocrisy and false reporting.

”Governor Has Different Perspective on Media Spat”

Rather than address allegations by Democrats that she arranged the KITV media trip to further her own publicity, Gov. Linda Lingle turned her focus on the owners of the major media outlets in Hawaii.

She says though Hawaii’s major media receive millions of dollars in advertising, money that leaves the state, its owners don’t reinvest back into Hawaii by paying for its reporters to go on such trips to report back news that would benefit everyone in the state.

She also was surprised the media didn’t see her first trip out of the country, the promotion of Hawaii after the war and SARS, the attempt to bring more visitors, business and military to Hawaii, and the accompaniment by three of the state’s tourism officials, as news.

”Money Talks, Even to ‘Unbiased’ Media”

Hawaii’s major media outlet publishers and managers may be snubbing their noses at KITV for accepting a state-funded trip to Japan, but in doing so, they are opening themselves up to a whole new area of criticism.

Hawaii’s media and their coverage of events are influenced every day by money. Their owners invested in the media and their owners’ interests come first.

Advertisers also have influence over the news — the bigger the advertiser, the bigger the influence.

For example, when I worked at ”’Pacific Business News”’ in the good old real news days, both of Hawaii’s major banks pulled their advertising (full page ads) for four months because of an article I’d written on Gov. Benjamin Cayetano’s Economic Revitalization Task Force (ERTF).

The bank presidents, both on the task force, were lobbying the governor for a 50 percent decrease in their corporate taxes. These banks — First Hawaiian Bank and Bank of Hawaii — also held the majority of the state taxpayer funds. So pulling their ads over an article critical of the ERTF came as no surprise as it was in their best interest to stay friendly with Cayetano.

Other advertisers pulled ads or threatened to pull ads for various stories, not only at ”’Pacific Business News,”’ but also at other media I worked for. And I was not the only reporter to create such controversy — those reporters who in the early days went after Bishop Estate before it was all right to do so, caused quite a stir which resulted in a loss of advertising dollars or threats of a loss.

Fortunately at the time, I had a publisher who supported real news over advertising dollars. But he is a dying breed.

Most publishers today believe money comes first in the form of big friends in big business, and the quality of news comes far behind that.

The trade of good publicity and money can also come another way. Publishers or ambitious editors seeking advertising or sponsorship lean or “suggest” to other editors or reporters that they generate stories that will help further their relationship with that company.

”Democrats Use HVCB’s Sponsorship of KITV’s Trip Against Republican Governor”

Hawaii Democrats, seeing the media mania over KITV’s acceptance of the trip to Japan, are feeding the frenzy in hopes of tarnishing the governor’s image and discrediting the notable accomplishments she, and those with her, made on the trip.

Democrats in the Legislature even convened a series of special hearings (with more to come this week) on the $4,100 expenditure by the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau for KITV’s trip, money KITV says it plans to refund.

Democrats want to make it appear as if the governor told the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to pay for KITV’s trip in an effort to gain publicity for herself and her re-election campaign in 2006. They are attempting to make the public believe the governor paid for KITV media to go on the Japan trip to discredit the governor’s earlier appearance on KITV and the station’s coverage on the trip.

”New Hit Woman in the Senate Takes Her Role Seriously”

Senate Vice President Donna Kim, well known for holding grudges against those who dare to cross her, interrogated the governor’s communication team and new tourism chair for more than one hour about KITV’s trip to Japan during a hearing she called Monday. She already held a hearing last Friday about the subject and may question tourism leaders again in a third hearing scheduled this Friday beginning at 9 a.m.

What grudge could she possibly have against the governor? Political insiders say Kim is still mad the governor did not appoint her candidate to the Hawaii Tourism Authority, a point she made when she led the charge against the confirmation of two of Gov. Linda Lingle’s candidates for the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. They also believe Kim is upset she did not go to Japan, even though no Senate or House members have gone on previous trips such as this.

During Monday’s hearing, Kim tried to pull another one of her patented moves using anonymous emails or faxes to discredit someone she is going after. This unsigned letter was from “someone in Japan” with broken English who criticized the governor, claiming her trip was worthless, that there was virtually no press coverage and that the Hawaii beauty queens and Konishki were simply entertainers who had little effect on the goodwill trip.

But uncharacteristically, after shoving the anonymous letter to the governor’s senior communication director Lenny Klompus for a 10-second review before she quizzed him on it, Kim did not follow up on it further.

Maybe that is because this tactic of using “anonymous” emails backfired on her before during the confirmation hearings of the governor’s U.H. Board of Regent nominees. Kim took a tremendous amount of criticism for citing emails she first said were anonymous.

At Monday’s hearing, Kim also continued to take messages from the back of the room where Senate President Robert Bunda sat and silently cheered her on. His presence at several similar hearings in recent months, where Kim is the ringmaster, have led several political operatives to question which of the two is really in charge of the Senate.

These questions follow on the heels of Kim rapidly becoming the recognized hit woman in the Senate. She manipulated the confirmation process of the governor’s candidates for the U.H. Board of Regents so two of five were ousted.

She is the acknowledged architect in the Senate of the recent special session where six of the governor’s vetoes were overridden. Many of the Senators did not want a special session, but Kim insisted and they stuck by her.

And now Kim is the one heading the charge against the governor over her trip to Japan.

But while Kim, Bunda and others are playing their political games, most people on the outside looking in are questioning their motives and their credibility.

Those observing the political shenanigans realize Kim is spending three days to “investigate” a $4,100 expenditure, which seems ridiculous and petty when most legislators spend far more on their own state-paid trips and for decorations in their offices and snacks for their offices. It also seems silly when compared to the overall expenditure on the trip of $236,000.

A better question for Kim and other legislators to ask in three months or so is did the trip pay off and was the investment of $236,000 worth it in terms of a return?

”Democrats on a Tirade Show Ignorance of Media’s Role”

Sen. Vice President Donna Kim wasn’t the only Democrat legislator on a tirade this past Monday at the hearing at the Capitol.

Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, who tried to ask the governor’s communication team coherent questions but failed, repeated over and over as he slurred, “someone is lying here.”

Sen. Willie Espero, D-Ewa, showed his naivet