Taking a closer look at the New York Times’ Missouri story

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Jesse Hall at the University of Missouri [Zachary Reger]
UPDATE (7/11/17): School administration has replied to the New York Times’ story. In an official statement, university leaders denote specific material omitted from the Times’ report, which, had it been included, may have provided much-needed context.

UPDATE (7/10/17): MU Student Body President Nathan Willett has addressed the New York Times’ story in a guest commentary for the Kansas City Star. Willett says the report paints “an unreasonably and inaccurately bleak image” of the university.


Sunday night, the New York Times released an interesting piece cataloging the recent decline in enrollment at the University of Missouri, linking it to a series of racially motivated protests that occurred on the campus in fall 2015.

The result is a decent article, but I can’t help but think the Times is oversimplifying the issue to fit a preordained narrative. (For transparency’s sake, it should be noted that I just recently graduated from MU’s journalism program, myself.) That’s the difficulty a national outlet faces when covering a local story, especially one as controversial as this.

Regardless, the Times is correct in noting the financial trouble MU now faces, and that this strain was brought about in large part from a decline in student enrollment following the tumultuous protests.

But lower enrollment could have multiple (and concurrent) causes, including:

1. A decrease in statewide high school graduation totals (link)
2. Cuts to higher education funding from the state legislature (link)
3. A perceptual deficit, stemming from years of enrollment growth followed by backsliding (link)
4. Losing sports teams (seriously: link)

The public — and journalists, too — should be careful in implying direct causation from a mere surface-level correlation when many variables ought to be considered in tandem. Context is key.

What is the Missouri Plan?

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City [Zachary Reger]
Missouri’s most notable claim-to-fame in modern legal philosophy is often overlooked.

The state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of merit-based judicial selection — the “Missouri Plan,” as it’s often called — marked a seismic shift in the process of court appointment, one that swept the nation in a grand revision of how we populate many of our appellate and high courts.

By forgoing popular alternatives of direct election and nomination-confirmation of state judges, Missouri ushered in a new “nonpartisan” era of judicial selection.

After the Plan’s initial adoption in the mid-1900s, dozens of states followed, creating merit-based systems of their own. Newly democratic nations across Europe and South America drew inspiration from the Plan in writing their own constitutions, as did even a few established democracies during historic reformation votes.

And Missouri started it all.

What follows is a brief overview of the philosophy and origins of the Missouri Plan, a lightly edited excerpt taken from my undergraduate thesis work at the University of Missouri.

Continue reading “What is the Missouri Plan?”

Is ‘this Trump thing’ sustainable?

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CC BY-SA 2.0 Gage Skidmore

A piece in the Washington Post explores a freshman Kentucky congressman’s recent recess in his heavily Trump-supporting home district.

Read until the end. It’s worth your time.

Republicans went nuclear — now what?

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1946 nuclear test at Bikini Atoll [Public Domain]
After a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, Congressional Republicans have exercised the “nuclear option,” dismantling the requirement of a 60-vote cloture movement before voting on Supreme Court nominees. Gorsuch can be confirmed with a mere 51 supporting senators, an up-or-down vote scheduled for Friday.

So what now?

Two law professors write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that we should “stop worrying and learn to love the nuclear option.”

On the other hand, an opposing law professor writes a piece for U.S. News arguing that to kill the filibuster is to “kill trust in the court.”

When all is said and done, at least one thing is certain — it will have been an excellent day for C-SPAN ratings.

Journalists barred from White House briefing

  • The New York Times
  • The Los Angeles Times
  • BuzzFeed News
  • Politico
  • CNN

All reputable outlets.

All blocked from covering an off-camera White House press briefing on Friday.

The Washington Times and Breitbart News, both conservative-leaning, were still allowed in.

The Associated Press and Time magazine, however, chose not to attend, citing concerns about the Trump administration’s decision to block the five outlets.

Read coverage of the issue from The New York Times, The Associated Press and NBC News.

What is ‘fake news’?

Setting aside the metaphysical quandary, a potential lawsuit in Colorado could, if nothing else, set a new legal definition of the term “fake news.”

If filed, the suit would pit the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, a local newspaper, against state Sen. Ray Scott.

Scott, a Republican, referred to an opinion column in the Sentinel as “fake news” in separate posts on Facebook and Twitter earlier this month. In defense, the paper’s publisher is considering a defamation suit, although he has yet to pursue any concrete legal action.

The story has earned national attention, perhaps due to the current political climate—the Trump administration has made it a point to assail the national news media, describing such outlets as “the enemy of the American people.

 

REPORT: Gay Republican ponders party’s push for religious liberty legislation

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City (Zachary Reger)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information for this story was gathered from interviews conducted throughout the Missouri General Assembly’s 2016 legislative session, which ran from January to mid-May.


JEFFERSON CITY — Zachary Wyatt-Gomez, 31, a former Missouri representative and openly gay Republican, is an ideological harbinger—a man whose own life story mirrors the morphing philosophy of his seemingly fractured party.

But Wyatt’s experience also highlights a growing divide within the GOP, an uneasy coalition straining to establish some form of consensus between its business-minded and socially conservative wings.

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Zachary Wyatt-Gomez

It’s a divide that served as tinder for this spring’s religious liberty showdown in the Missouri General Assembly.

Senate Joint Resolution 39, a Republican-sponsored religious liberty constitutional amendment, was first presented as a way to protect the socially conservative beliefs and practices of ordinary citizens from overbearing government oversight.

Opponents argued the resolution would legalize discrimination.

Specifically, SJR 39 would have allowed some wedding-related businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples based on a “sincere religious belief.”

After passing the state Senate, the resolution was defeated in a House committee on April 27.

SJR 39 needed a simple majority to pass the committee and continue its journey to the House floor. The vote was 6-6.

Continue reading “REPORT: Gay Republican ponders party’s push for religious liberty legislation”