Opinion

Audio Astra: Right-wing extremism, Medicaid holdouts, Confederate monuments, new media

July 9, 2021 3:33 am

Supporters of President Donald Trump riot Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election. (Alex Kent/Tennessee Lookout)

Audio Astra reviews recent audio reporting on Kansas news, including podcasts and radio stories. Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association and teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the University of Kansas.

This week’s listening is brief in duration but packed with consequence. Listeners can blaze through all of the excerpts below in less than an hour. The topics are heavy, though: right-wing extremism, medical crises and Confederate monuments — plus, a podcast that I missed.

The Kansas Reflector podcast this week provides the most vivid storytelling from this podcast series since we started Audio Astra. Credit to this week’s guest Dawn Buehler, the riverkeeper for the Kansas River, who describes the waterway with details you haven’t noticed while whizzing over the river on whatever bridge you frequent. Camping on sandbars. Floating through the Flint Hills. Extracting brittle garbage from the riverbanks. Staring up at elegant bridges from the seat of your kayak. This episode provides inspired visuals throughout.

Right-Wing Extremism Has Been Taking Root in Rural Kansas For Decades
Kansas News Service, July 5, 2021

To hear this podcast is to want more of Jim McLean’s writing on the topic.

In this compact reporting, McLean recaps the depressing history of right-wing extremism in Kansas, its links to the 1995 bombing on the Oklahoma City federal building, its connections to the January attack on the U.S. Capitol and the plotted bombing of an apartment building in Garden City. McLean reminds us that the Oklahoma City plot was hatched in Kansas and was inspired by the “Turner Diaries.”

This kind of reporting, rich on historical context, showcases McLean’s institutional memory and also suggests that more audio reporting could be done on the topic. In this 5-minute segment, decades of incidents fly past us as listeners. We barely grasp the time and place of a historical incident before being whipping forward to another. So much more depth could be provided in another longer form.

12 Holdout States Haven’t Expanded Medicaid, Leaving 2 Million People in Limbo
NPR, July 1, 2021

The “2 million people in limbo” mentioned in the headline becomes a real person in the audio report: a woman working at McDonald’s who cannot enroll in government-sponsored health care because … wait for it … she makes too little money. While she is not a Kansas resident, her story packs punch because Kansas is one of the states yet to expand Medicaid. And so, Americans like her delay needed medical procedures — in her case, a gall bladder surgery.

As correspondent Selena Simmons-Duffin says, the options for expanding governments-sponsored health care to more people “are all very complicated logistically and politically.” Through the minutiae, Simmons-Duffin reports on the options, including the prospect of counties or municipalities creating their own exchanges. All of this — the many individual medical crises, the endless lobbying in statehouses, the $16 billion in federal incentives to reluctant states — can be credited to Republican intransigence. NPR has helpfully provided coverage of underserved people caught in a policy quagmire and left without a health care option they can afford.

Karen Cox, “No Common Ground: Confederate Monuments and the Ongoing Fight for Racial Justice”
Kansas Public Radio’s “Conversations,” July 1, 2021

In this interview, historian Karen Cox reminds us of the true intentions of the groups — most notably the United Daughters of the Confederacy — that lobbied for, designed and paid for Confederate statues that taint the landscapes of so many Southern cities. This debate connects to our region through the revised plaque that re-frames the biography of Andrew Jackson on his statue in Kansas City.

In the interview, Cox’s pointed word choices describe a familiar debate in a fresh way, while shredding the arguments of many Americans who would leave Confederate monuments standing as is. She says the statues aren’t “history” as proponents argue, but instead they are “memorials” to white supremacists. Her historical research backs up her rhetoric here as she quotes from the speeches that were used to dedicate the statues at the time and their shockingly frank white supremacist language.

In describing the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s recent statements on statues they helped to establish, Cox says the group is showing “historical amnesia.” The group, Cox says, denies their original motivations in creating the monuments. This kind of historical fact-checking by Cox and others can hopefully buttress efforts to remove the monuments, efforts that Cox points out have a history of their own.

Awkward Dudes – Da Bob – The Fey – Kaylie McLaughlin
Streetwise, June 18, 2021

I overlooked this podcast when it was published a few weeks ago, but it’s worth a listen for its connection to Kansas. Brock Wilbur, the editor of The Pitch KC, interviews Kaylie McLaughlin during the final 10 minutes about her new publication, The Olathe Reporter. A recent graduate of Kansas State, McLaughlin will bring reporting to what she calls a “news desert” in Olathe. Emerging hyper-local journalism projects like this are sprouting up to cover communities without a news outlet or to compete with existing legacy media. Given McLaughlin’s experience with podcasting in college, the Olathe Reporter may soon have a podcast that I can recap here. Let’s hope so.

As you listen, don’t skip past the reading of Liz Cook’s story from The Pitch KC about the ’Da Bomb, a Kansas City hot sauce that has been a viral sensation thanks to celebrities like Kansan Paul Rudd. The audio story romps through a tour of the production facility and encounters with the taste testers employed to suffer the famously blistering hot sauce.

What did we miss? Email [email protected] to let us know of a Kansas-based audio program that would be interesting to Audio Astra readers.

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Eric Thomas
Eric Thomas

Eric Thomas directs the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, a nonprofit that supports student journalism throughout the state. He also teaches visual journalism and photojournalism at the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. He lives in Leawood with his wife and two children.

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