30 July 2006

Unlimited Terms of Endearment, Part VII, Objective Journalism (concluded)

part ii. Martin Luther King in Oklahoma

In the previous column, we learned about the Phillips Foundation's program to promote "objective journalism" through the handing out of fellowships, carrying stipends of up to $50,000 for one year. From their FAQ (included with the application filed as an exhibit with their 990 tax return):
During the course of the one-year fellowship, the journalism project will be delivered in four quarterly installments with the potential to be published sequentially in a periodical or all together as a book.
This is lovely. Tom Phillips' Regnery Publishing or Human Events or even The American Spectator may or may not have right of first refusal on the piece that's been approved and written. There is no indication as to WHERE the completed fellowship piece will be published "in a periodical or all together as a book." But one might hazard a guess.

Still, given the Regnery Press' books-in-print listings, the following approved Fellows and topics aren't beyond their sphere of interest (from their 2005 press release):
  • Rachel DiCarlo: "The Great Train Snobbery: Why Liberal Ideologues are Wrong About Rail Transit, Highways, SUVs, and the Suburbs."

  • Jeffrey Jackson: "Equal Opportunity for Men: Why a Men's Movement is Forming."

  • Anna Parachkevova: "Democracy in the Birthplace of Communism."

  • Judith Person: "Murder Capital: An Examination of D.C.'s Criminal Record."

  • David Sanders: "The Reluctant Convert: Why Arkansas Has Not Joined the South's Republican Realignment."

  • Katherine Mangu-Ward: "How 25 Environmentalists Set Out to Save the Planet - and Wound Up Making Everyone's Lives Just a Little Bit Worse."

  • Cara Hughes Marcano: "A Path Out of Purgatory - How a Few State Programs are Building on the Reagan Legacy of Helping the Mentally Ill Transition from Silent Suffering to Independent Lives in Today's America."

  • Heather Wilhelm: "Unholy Alliance? Government, Religion, and Ideology in America.
You might recognize that last name. That's Heather Wilhelm, U.S. Term Limits and Americans for Limited Government's "Director of Communications," Editor (of the USTL newsletter) and/or "spokesperson" according to the narrrative you're perusing.

Human Events Magazine published an edited version of the Phillips Foundation's press release in their May 23, 2005 issue, noting:
Winning the $7,500 Alumni Fund fellowship was Heather Wilhelm, 27, a freelance writer in Illinois and director of communications for Americans for Limited Government.
It wasn't one of the $50,000 or $25,000 prizes, but the five trustees of the Phillips Foundation agreed to fund her (objective) journalism project. She has the official Robert Novak/Regnery seal of approval, in other words. She might be the next Ann Coulter or Michelle Malkin. They started writing books for Regnery, after all.

The Foundation's Fellows Profile Page adds this:
Heather Wilhelm
Special Alumni Fund Fellow

Project: “Unholy Alliance? Government, Religion, and Ideology in America.” Heather is director of communications for Americans for Limited Government and a freelance writer. She previously held positions as corporate communications consultant at ABC Television and assistant editor at Wine Spectator. She does freelance writing for Doublethink magazine and National Review Online. She earned an M.A. in social sciences from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in English and political science from Northwestern University.
Still, between fulfilling the requirements of her Fellowship, pursuing her freelance career as a "working journalist" and acting as spokesperson for all the Howie Rich & Friends initiative battles, time must have been short for Ms. Wilhelm, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago -- to which Regnery Publishing has had a long connection since its founding in the 1950s.

She found a way to combine two of those tasks in a piece she wrote for the National Review Online in January of 2006. As you will quickly see, it fairly reeks of "objective journalism."
January 17, 2006, 9:26 a.m.
Unholy Land Grab
In the spirit of Kelo.

By Heather Wilhelm

For seven years, Reverend Roosevelt Gildon has preached the gospel at the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. His congregation, around 50 strong, is like a small family. The elderly members, and those without cars, often walk to Sunday services.

"Rosey," as his friends call him, figured he'd go on preaching in the tidy steel structure for years to come. That was, until the government told him they were taking his church away.

Since the Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision last summer, eminent domain has entered a new frontier. It's not just grandma's house we have to worry about. Now it's God's house, too. "I guess saving souls isn't as important," says Reverend Gildon, his voice wry, "as raking in money for politicians to spend." The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist - along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school - and replace them with a new "super center," rumored to include a Home Depot. It's the kind of stuff that makes tax collectors salivate. It's also the kind of project that brakes for no one, especially post-Kelo. "I had no idea this could happen in America," says Reverend Gildon, after spending Monday morning marching in the Sand Springs Martin Luther King Day parade.

This unholy takeover goes back to Sand Springs's controversial "Vision 2025" project, which emerged in 2003. The plan includes, according to its website, the "largest set of public redevelopment projects in the history of Tulsa County." The money earmarked for Sand Springs was supposedly meant to focus on redeveloping an abandoned industrial area for big box retailers and other stores. One problem: Centennial Baptist Church isn't abandoned, and unlike some of the other buildings in its neighborhood, it is in pristine condition. More importantly, the church doesn't want to sell - and they have good reasons. "After I heard the news, we started looking to see if we could move," Gildon said. "I just don't think we can afford it. It's too expensive. And if we can't move, and they take our building, what happens to the church? If we leave, who is going to minister to the black community in Sand Springs?"

Reverend Gildon is a practical man. He's not a firebrand, and he's not looking for a fight. He just loves God and loves his church, and wants to continue serving his community. Unfortunately, local officials would rather have an extra parking lot for a new Bed Bath & Beyond.

It makes sense on one level. Churches don't generate any tax revenue for the government to spend. They don't "stimulate" the economy. They often, much to their peril, occupy prime, envied real estate. With the supercharged powers granted by Kelo, be very, very afraid.

What's most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that there's already plenty of room for development, even if the pesky church sticks around. Many community residents were happy to sell their property. Two other churches in the area decided to move to Tulsa. Other structures in the area were dilapidated and ready for the deal. The way things are now, Centennial Baptist Church could easily live side-by-side with new stores, houses, or businesses. Yet Centennial remains in the crosshairs - even though two nearby national chains, a taxpaying McDonald's and a taxpaying O'Reilly's muffler shop, have been left alone.

In December, Reverend Gildon joined up with Americans for Limited Government and our partner group, Oklahomans in Action, to gather signatures for the "Protect Our Homes" initiative, which will go on the ballot in November 2006. Protect Our Homes is a measure designed to stop eminent-domain abuse. Right now, Americans for Limited Government is working with citizens in Michigan, Montana, Missouri, and several other states to do the same.

"I hope that my story makes people more aware," said Reverend Gildon, "and that maybe it stops other people's homes and churches from being taken against their will." Meanwhile, he awaits his next meeting with the planning board, where they will tell him how much his church is worth. If things don't change, it promises to be an offer he can't refuse.

- Heather Wilhelm is a Phillips Foundation fellow and serves as the director of communications for Americans for Limited Government.
Well, that's objective journalism all right (although you might need a hankie to dry your eyes after reading it). It's so great that Howie Rich and his friends are standing up for these poor church-going, God-fearing Oklahomans.

And, ESPECIALLY these BLACK Oklahomans. I mean, "Martin Luther King Day" and all.

Focus on the Family's CitizenLink Action Center picked up the report, as:
January 19, 2006
Oklahoma Church Losing Property to Eminent Domain
There's only one problem with this "objective journalism": it's a lie.

Now, one blogger quickly noted that it was a "hoax," posting this at:

January 21, 2006
Blogosphere Spreads Eminent Domain Hoax

This past week, National Review Online posted a story about an alleged case of the misuse of eminent domain. Heather Wilhelm, the story's author, wrote the following:
For seven years, Reverend Roosevelt Gildon has preached the gospel at the Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. His congregation, around 50 strong, is like a small family. The elderly members, and those without cars, often walk to Sunday services.

"Rosey," as his friends call him, figured he'd go on preaching in the tidy steel structure for years to come. That was, until the government told him they were taking his church away.

. . . The town of Sand Springs, Oklahoma, has plans to take Centennial Baptist - along with two other churches, several businesses, dozens of small homes, and a school - and replace them with a new "super center," rumored to include a Home Depot.

. . . What's most egregious about this application of eminent domain is that there's already plenty of room for development, even if the pesky church sticks around.
This story was featured at Right Wing News under the title "Kelo Vs. Churches".

There is a problem with the NRO story - it makes a false claim. The city of Sand Springs isn't trying to use eminent domain to seize church property.

Here is the beginning of a story published by the Tulsa World:
SAND SPRINGS -- A church that lies in the path of Sand Springs' proposed Keystone Corridor redevelopment project is being cited nationally as an example of government flexing its power of eminent domain to take property for private commercial use.
But there's a problem with the National Review Online's assertions, city officials said: The city hasn't filed any condemnation action against Centennial Baptist Church, nor does it intend to.

"There's no eminent domain action going on against any properties there," City Manager Loy Calhoun said. "No actions, no intents -- nothing like that's been done in the area."

According to the city manager, "no specific businesses have been selected to build in the vacated area." Furthermore, National Review Online didn't contact the Sand Springs government prior to posting its story. Thus, the city wasn't given a chance to refute the eminent domain claim made in the story.

If you want more information about this story, then you can contact Tulsa World reporter Louise Red Corn at 1-918-581-8480 or at louise.redcorn@tulsaworld.com.

[Note: the TULSA WORLD Story is available for purchase CLICK HERE from High Beam.com HW]

Folks, this story pertains to a larger plan involving all communities within Tulsa County, which is where I live.

Let me fill you in on a little detail about my little corner of the world.

Sand Springs is a bedroom community of Tulsa, the buckle of the Bible Belt. If the city of Sand Springs were to try to seize church property through eminent domain, the resulting uproar would be so great, that any elected public official involved would be voted out of office.

There is already a movement in Oklahoma to restrict the use of eminent domain. This issue will most likely be a hot topic during the 2006 session of the state legislature, which begins February 6th and ends May 26th.

Oklahoma lawmakers don't need a hoax to prompt them to protect the property rights of Oklahoma residents.
Well, thank you "Dodo_David."

But the news story was picked up by the crack journalists at KTUL 8 TV in Tulsa, the ABC affiliate:

It begins breathlessly:

Wednesday January 18, 2006 5:29pm
Reporter: Nicole Burgin
Sand Springs - Imagine losing your home, your home of worship or your business. It's happening to residents in one Green Country community, all in the name of urban renewal. It has renewed debate about eminent domain and people being forced from their land. NewsChannel 8's Nicole Burgin takes a look at why residents are opposed to what's happening....
The story ends with:
Since it's voluntary right now, negotiations between the property owners and the city will continue. Sand Springs hopes to have all 165 pieces of property bought by the summer.

The City of Tulsa says it has not filed any more condemnations since a Supreme Court ruling expanding eminent domain ....
Protect Our Homes Oklahoma (the ALG-funded group that Heather Wilhelm promotes in her NRO piece) breathlessly quotes the New York TIMES on the controversy:

"With bulldozers churning up the earth at the front door, the small Centennial Baptist Church in this struggling industrial hub west of Tulsa seems about to fall to the wrecker." - The New York Times
Well, if the New York TIMES says it's so, then it must be true, of course. Except, that eminent domain was never used, and no one has ever said that it was even contemplated. This did not stop the crack reporters of KTUL and the NY TIMES from getting it all wrong, however.

Ralph Blumenthal of the New York TIMES wrote, in part: "The Sand Springs Leader stepped up coverage of Mr. Gildon, and a local radio host, Dillon Dodge, broadcast a program on the dispute. 'Hannity and Colmes,' the talk show on the Fox News Channel, plans a program from Sand Springs on Wednesday, Ms. Wilhelm said." (You can pay for the story at the NY TIMES, or find it at: http://www.bizzyblog.com/?p=1326 )

As a spokesperson, Heather Wilhelm had more than done her job.

The "official blog of the Libertarian Party" posted a story on January 30 that included this laudatory reference to Ms. Wilhelm and her employer: (READ WHOLE ARTICLE HERE)
Heather Wilhelm from the National Review criticizes the Sand Springs redevelopment project, saying although it is designed to redevelop blighted industrial and residential areas, she points out that the church is in "pristine condition." Wilhelm says the real reason for the town to pressure the church to relocate is "churches don't generate any tax revenue for the government to spend." She wrote in her article that churches "often, much to their peril, occupy prime, envied real estate." Many local governments would rather have a tax revenue-generating Bed Bath and Beyond to "stimulate the economy" than a church.

Reverend Gildon in partnership with Americans for Limited Government are fighting back. This past December they began to gather signatures for the "Protect Our Homes" ballot initiative to stop eminent domain abuse. [misattributions: sic]
Now, the objective facts of this story are unassailable: the city of Sand Springs developed a plan for a redevelopment area that was approved by the city's voters.

Eminent domain was never used to the time of the NRO story to enforce this plan, and all property owners in what can charitably be called a somewhat downscale area have been contacted to sell their land voluntarily. The church is a steel barn, frankly. Look at the pictures for yourself and read the story at Tulsa Today.

In May, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that:
May 10, 2006

Muskogee - Muskogee landowners are breathing a sigh of relief after the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled economic development alone cannot be used as public purpose for the seizure of property by public entities....
To be entirely fair, the case is NOT entirely black and white:
Church not included in condemnation effort
By MANNY GAMALLO [TULSA] World Staff Writer

SAND SPRINGS - The Sand Springs Development Authority voted on Monday to begin eminent domain action against 14 properties in an area targeted for economic redevelopment.

No condemnation action was scheduled, however, against the Centennial Baptist Church, 123 W. Morrow Road, which has refused a city offer for its property, insisting it will not move ... Last week, the state Supreme Court ruled that governments can't use eminent domain to seize private property and grant easements to a private company in the name of economic development ... The high court ruling, though, left open the possibility that eminent domain can be used against blighted properties.
But the FACT remains that eminent domain was never threatened or used against the church in question. Without that FACTUAL basis, the entire NRO story becomes a particularly odious bit of propaganda, all the worse because it is a lie manufactured to advance Heather Wilhelm's employer's political agenda, and because the NRO uncritically published it, and the right wing media flogged it, not because it was true (it was demonstrably not, at least the NON-tear-jerking-oppressed-minority parts weren't true) but because they WANTED IT TO BE TRUE.

Is THAT "objective journalism"?

Alas, the Americans for Limited Government petition was struck down by that same Supreme Court, despite Heather Wilhelm's best spokesefforts:
Tuesday June 20, 2006

Oklahoma City (AP) - The Oklahoma Supreme Court today ruled an initiative petition proposing to restrict government use of eminent domain is unconstitutional ....
Still, a lie is a lie, and the Sand Creek, Oklahoma church was never threatened with eminent domain, except, perhaps, in their collective imagination. I had been under the impression that "objective journalism" relied on facts, but perhaps the Phillips Foundation has been reading a different dictionary. Or, worse, perhaps Heather Wilhelm has been two-timing the NRO and the Phillips Foundation.

The NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE has never issued a correction or a retraction, being the good "objective journalists" that they are. The NEW YORK TIMES has never corrected its story.

Still, as nearly as can be ascertained, Robert Novak and the Phillips Foundation have never asked for their money back from Heather Wilhelm.

Isn't it great that "Objective Journalism" is being so effectively promoted by the Phillips Foundation?

And, thanks to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, it's still safe to be an Okie from Muskogee, no matter what Ms. Wilhelm and the friends of Howie Rich might think.


Note: In a couple of days, I will be publishing a major story in this series, smoking guns and all. Stay tuned.


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