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Column: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Media

The following terms have the potential to be triggering and distressful. Many of the terms refer to and describe discrimination, violence, and systemic oppression. Please use discretion when reading through the following, and if you are triggered in the process, please remember to take breaks, debrief, and take the necessary steps to feel safe. – Washington University in St. Louis “Content Warning” disclaimer (via Washington University Diversity Dictionary, August 2023)

During the last few legislative sessions, Rep. Jim Murphy (R-St. Louis County) – not to be confused with Jim Benedict Arnold Murphy – has introduced a media literacy bill. For whatever reason, probably because the issue is reasonable and doesn’t excite Facebook warriors (copyright Scott Faughn), the legislation dies a quiet death. So let’s explore the media landscape amongst ourselves, in the company of friends, in this safe space.

Like the weather, Missouri conservatives and libertarians complain about the mainstream media, but never do anything about it. We will not passive-aggressively cope and seethe – together, we’ll observe, orient, decide and act.

We’ll start easy, then I’ll get a little rougher. You’ll like it.

Front of the jersey vs. back of the jersey In July 2023, Jason Rosenbaum marked 17 years in Missouri political reporting. For objectivity and professionalism, Rosenbaum might be the most respected member of Missouri’s political journalism corps. (Maybe Dave Drebes can do a Hallway Index poll to confirm.)

How can Rosenbaum work for a progressive content provider and still be fair to conservatives? It’s one of the great wonders of modern journalism, like how George Floyd’s death seemed to turn “black” into a proper noun. (It’s not.)

The truth is that even liberal outlets can churn out insightful content if the creator has the chops.

When you sort through Missouri prog blogs every day like I do, you learn to spot the cleanest shirt in the dirty laundry pile. That’s Rudi Keller’s state budget coverage at the Missouri Independent. My favorite Keller (Gregg) calls the Independent a “dark money liberal sh*trag.” But no matter what you think of the Independent – which is a “nonpartisan news organization” the way Ahmaud Arbery was a “jogger” – nobody explains the state budget in plain language like Rudi Keller. (Easter egg: You’ll notice that when I link to a series of state budget articles, Rudi is always at the top of the pile. Nullus.) The same principle explains why Austin Huguelet can cover St. Louis City politics for the Post-Dispatch without seeming to take sides.

A little later we’ll explore why it’s important for conservatives and libertarians to study progressive news sources. For now, remember that the name on the back of the jersey (reporter) is more important than the name on the front of the jersey (outlet.)

Cherish the diversity drag

No, not the type of drag in which Type 2 diabetes candidates dress up in mommy’s clothes because daddy wasn’t around. I’m talking about the penalty that progressives pay by prioritizing DIE (diversity, inclusion and equity) over performance.

As Rush Limbaugh taught us, liberals fetishize symbolism over substance. In the case of Missouri media, it’s to their own detriment. (Aside: last year’s Missouri Press Association awards crew labeled El Rushbo a “hate monger,” which helps explain their award winners.)

I’m a sucker for the YouTube clips in which high school football teams let the special needs kid run the ball once at the end of the season. But imagine if that same team forced the kid to run a play the first series of every drive.

Take the Missouri Independent’s diversity column. It’s written by a seasoned citizen called Janice Ellis, a prolific author with a multifaced catalogue – you can buy her latest book, Using My Word Power, here – and her columns for the Independent are diverse indeed. The Independent has published 25 of her columns in the past 12 months, and one (1) was exclusively focused on Missouri issues. Specifically, her complaints about Missouri Republican lawmakers. I’m just a simple hoodlum from Spanish Lake, but my Hazelwood School District math tells me that’s a 4% Missouri By Volume (MBV) rating. Even Bud Light has a 4.2% ABV!

In fairness, at least two other columns from Ellis mentioned Missouri legislation in passing, and one piece mentioned Missouri’s minimum wage. So that’s something.

Thankfully, 96% of Ellis’ columns were about broader national topics we can all embrace: the importance of civic engagement, the history of black struggle, the therapeutic benefits of community gardens. I grew up reading my grandma’s issues of Arthritis Today and AARP The Magazine, so I have a soft spot for breezy, low-intensity nostalgia.

The Independent syndicates its progressive content to dozens of outlets across Missouri. Can you imagine if its diversity slot was occupied by a strong voice on Missouri issues? Let’s not give them any ideas! (The Wash U. trigger warning stopped them at the outset, anyway.)

As with former St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, Ellis would have to quit on her own. Who would the Independent even find to replace her, anyway? Content creators who tick three DIE boxes can’t be easy to find. It’s not like there’s a bunch of disabled Asian transformers roaming the countryside, clamoring to write about Missouri politics.

If the diversity opinion slot ever opens up, the Independent should fill it with Kim Gardner herself. We conservatives like to clown on Gardner but put some respect on her name. She served as a state representative for two terms. She has a law degree from Saint Louis University. She even had the chutzpah to take nursing classes during her workdays, showing she has bigger balls than most of the Missouri Senate Republican Caucus. As a bonus, you know she’s got scores to settle with magical pals who turned their back when the going got tough. I’d read every word of a Kim Gardner column.

Until then, to paraphrase Michael Scott quoting Wayne Gretzky: Liberals will keep missing 100% of the shots they don’t take.

Progressives’ admirable dedication to diversity helps all Missourians in less obvious ways, too.

Take the aforementioned Jason Rosenbaum. He’s spent nearly ten (10!) years at St. Louis Public Radio (STLPR) in the same role (reporter) he had when the St. Louis Beacon merged with STLPR in December 2013. In 2021, the station gave the general manager job to an Asian female from a San Francisco radio station (naturally.) In 2022, the station awarded the “St. Louis on the Air” host slot to another Asian female and this year handed the news director slot to a black female. The latter quit in July 2023 after five months on the job. (For a deep dive on STLPR, read Jack Grone’s “A Reckoning At St. Louis Public Radio” from August 2020.)

Rosenbaum founded the Politically Speaking podcast – “the longest-running episodic podcast about Missouri politics” – with the legendary Jo Mannies. Since Mannies’ semi-retirement Rosenbaum has quarterbacked the operation with the assistance of various interchangeable seatwarmers. He deserves to take pride in his stellar reputation. But a reporter can’t convert professional praise into direct deposit, and apparently it means nothing to St. Louis Public Radio’s human resources department either.

Maybe Rosenbaum wasn’t even interested in the St. Louis on the Air host slot or the news director position. But as troglodytes say, that’s a “mute [sic] point.” The fact that Rosenbaum hit his station’s diversity ceiling is good for all Missourians. The state is better off having him where he is, providing fair and comprehensive coverage on every major political issue of the day. Thank God that state-affiliated media isn’t a meritocracy, or Rosenbaum might be hosting noonday episodes on ankle bracelets making immigrants’ hair fall out or the institutional racism of public toilets.

Read the therapists’ notes

Progressive activists naturally open up to their advocate allies in the mainstream Missouri media. If you have the stomach to sift through sob stories you’ll glean golden nuggets.

Two examples from the St. Louis area:

Transforming decepti-cons: It’s been a hard couple of years for health reporters. As predicted, they’ve transitioned from COVID count histrionics to “long COVID” snipe hunts to the crisis du jour, protecting “gender affirming care.” The best of the bunch is the Post-Dispatch’s Michele Munz. From her Twitter, she seems like an angelic grandmotherly type whose belief in health advocacy journalism is sincere. It’s no wonder story subjects open their hearts and mouths to her.

In April, Munz did some old-school nonbinary-on-the-street interviews, some real comfortable orthotic shoe-leather journalism. Munz reported that a 25-year-old woman “has identified as more masculine but would sometimes act female when (she) did not feel safe.” Talk about female privilege!

In the same piece, Munz also reported that a Maplewood non-binary wants to turn her autistic 16-year-old daughter into a boy despite the father’s objections. Both passages were removed from after I highlighted them on my website that morning, and Munz didn’t respond to my tweets asking why those trans voices were suddenly silenced.

In Munz’s defense, her hands are probably tied (no Greitens.) I imagine Lee Enterprises’ lawyers at Lane & Waterman LLP (big fans!) put MeeMaw Munz in her place with the quickness once they realized the story would likely be used in court. Instead of acknowledging the removal, the attorneys probably figured it was safer for the paper to just memory hole (copyright Matt Frederick, formerly of Twitter) the whole thing.

Takeaway: When you see another “transgender heroes threaten to leave Missouri” headline, don’t just chuckle and keep scrolling. The stories from actual journalists like Munz, and less talented content creators, give us raw insight into why transformers and their enablers make the political and financial decisions they do. What prompts them to threaten to leave Missouri, besides the social contagion and allure of media praise? How many thousands of GoFundMe dollars can they realistically raise from social simpanzees before they “reassess” their move and keep the cash? And of the tiny minority of transformers/stage moms that follow through on their threats to leave Missouri, what exactly helped them take that final step to leave our state?

I don’t expect we’ll ever hear Munz’s explanation for why the trans voices in her April piece were silenced, but my door is always open. So what would an angel say? The devil wants to know.

Wine me, dine me, Highway 109 me OR: The Rockwood School District blueprint: If you simply ignored mainstream liberal media coverage, you would have missed an inspirational blueprint for dismantling school DIE programs. In a matter of months, DIE cheerleaders at the Rockwood School District in west St. Louis County threw in the towel. Of course, it took a long runway for parents to get diversity champions to cut and run. Look deeper.

Every conservative lawmaker who talks about critical race theory should study the Post-Dispatch pieces. (Check the Rockwood archives at And if I ran a right-wing education organization – say, one that shares a surname with a Baseball Hall of Famer – I’d have a team break down the Rockwood timeline in detail. I bet the victorious Rockwood parents would be happy to share their successes (read: toot their own horn) in return for some walking around money/consulting cash or even just a free meal at a decent restaurant. How can the Rockwood success story be replicated in every Missouri district, should the need arise? Map it out ASAP.

Don’t parrot their buzzwords

Humblebrag Alert: The most insightful moments in my 12 1/2 years as a corporate drone came sitting under the learning tree of a globally recognized leader in focus groups and message testing (whattup L!) I came to revere the power of well-designed focus groups in shaping consumer behavior and government policy.

With a relatively small investment (mid-six figures and upward), corporations and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can identify the overarching narratives, key messages and specific phrases that drive (or lure) a specific audience to a cultural or policy position. The sponsoring groups recoup the research investment many times over when global government policies move their way. (Gregg Keller makes a similar prescient point about the value of lobbyists.)

Example: you might have assumed biological pesticides present some risks, but hear me out: microbial coatings are actually safe AND friendly! (get around Bloomberg paywall here)

As you read this, Combestian analogs in the medical policy and public relations industries are reviewing focus group responses to transgender euphemisms. Which tests better: “chest feminization” or “top surgery?” “Erectile implant” or “phalloplasty?” Do “tucking,” “crotch contouring,” and “packing” score higher than “binding?” Each euphemism is likely tested against straightforward (and therefore unacceptable) terms like “double mastectomy” and “castration.”

Suppress your gag reflex and pay attention to the opposition’s dutiful stenographers in the mainstream media and progressive blog ecosystems. When you notice unfamiliar terms repeatedly popping up in news coverage, it means the industry’s subject matter experts (SMEs) and stakeholder voices have been successfully trained on the newest key messages and phrases.

Do you really think your local public radio reporter was sitting alone at her desk one day, brushing vending machine snack crumbs off her FUPA, and came up with “gender affirming care” on her own?

Reject the opposition’s approved buzzwords. For a suitable medical briefing, listen to a few Bob Onder interviews or even better, invite him to come speak to your local conservative group.

Plain factual language beats stilted circumlocution. To wit:

Progressive journalist/content creator, nasally: “EHHHHHH do you support forcing transgender athletes to compete on the sports teams that align with the gender identity on their birth certificate?”

You: “Boys shouldn’t compete in girls’ sports.”

Easy as cream pie.

Let’s be honest with each other. Pesticides are still pesticides, no matter how many times your ol’ pal Johnny Combine repeats the phrase “crop protection products.” And castration is still castration.

Reject and replace

If statistics were kept for such things, Missouri’s 2022 election cycle would have set a record for Republican candidates declining to speak to mainstream media reporters and/or fill out newspapers’ candidate surveys. I feel like it’s an

overreaction to cut off journalists – especially local reporters – before they’ve had a chance to screw you over.

But really, f*ck my feelings.

Republicans will continue icing out reporters, so let’s play the game that’s in front of us. If you’re not going to rely on traditional media to share a version of your vision, replace those platforms with direct-to-voter communication.

Your campaign consultants will suggest targeted social media advertisements, and they’re right. But to quote limpwrists after Trump’s election: Democracy dies in darkness.

So hold more public forums.

You fear that open forums might attract your detractors. And you’re right. That’s why you’re prioritizing in-person forums. Make the entitlement crowd waddle into the room (or roll in on their obesity scooters), wearing their face diapers (copyright Adam Bohn) and speak their question into a microphone. Livestream it on the web, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter Spaces.

The key is to make the program a shoot (i.e., entirely real and no scripted questions) and not a work (i.e., over-rehearsed and silencing the opposition.) Invite the local newspaper reporter – the one whose interview you declined – to moderate and hold the microphone. Make them say no.

Once a quarter, do an hour-long open-line segment on your favorite local radio stations. And maybe your least favorite ones, too.

Special note to the Missouri Republican congressional delegation: I don’t want to see a single news story next year about you taking an international flight to rub shoulders with a global economic cabal BEFORE you hold your first in-district public forum. Some of us are still rooting for you, at least until August 2024. Be better.

Eras Tour (de Force)

Dear Diary: In my D*ckhead Era, which many would say continues to this day but I would say peaked around 2007, I used to bang on about how Republican bigwigs needed to pay more respect to the grassroots. More specifically, how the

Republican establishment (e.g., the Blunt Administration and Missouri Republican Party) should pay more respect (i.e., attention) to young conservative voices (e.g., me.) To quote a songstress I decline to see in concert, those rants were really just my covert narcissism disguised as altruism.

As a man lurches into old age, he questions whether he still has fire in the belly. Can I access that old spirit on behalf of young lions and lionesses? Maybe I have something left in the tank.

Let’s find out.

For starters: How many of you statewide candidates, state legislators, and consultants support Missouri’s conservative or libertarian news and opinion outlets?

How many of you support Austin Petersen’s Wake Up America show? You can be a Petersen’s Patriot for $17.76 a month. Higher and lower tiers are available.

“But we don’t have any campaign money!” you rationalize. Sure. I’ll play along. What you and your campaign do have is a social media following. How often do you use it to support our shared allies?

How many of you elected officials or candidates use your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to promote local conservative media outlets, organizations and voices? Eric Burlison does, consistently. Denny Hoskins does, consistently. Travis Fitzwater does, and even big-ups his 2022 election opponent. Will Scharf does, consistently. Even Vivek Malek – who has been in Missouri politics for all of about 10 minutes – does it. I’m sure I missed others. Blame it on the middle-aged brain, not the heart. What’s your excuse?

KCMO’s Pete Mundo brings together listeners and top-notch speakers for fun and fellowship at his Politics and a Pint events. He not only invented the concept, he even encouraged stations in other markets to copy the idea. If you live anywhere west of Jefferson City, why haven’t you made the drive to one of his events?

In June 2023, 93.9 The Eagle raised more than $125K for the Central Missouri Honor Flight (CMHF) via radiothon. Four months prior, the station’s annual radiothon to benefit Columbia’s Children’s Hospital raised a record $260K. Political candidates come on Wake Up Mid-Missouri to promote everything from (literal) queer book bans to their latest endorsement from the Missouri Plaster of Paris Association. I wonder how many of them will offer to sit their happy ass down for an hour and make some phone calls during the next radiothon? Probably none.

Cass Bowen Anderson is the youngest person in Missouri to have her own political talk show. Cass and Chandler Haynes do a bang-up job guest hosting Wake Up Springfield on KWTO, and in turn use their position to bring on fresh conservative voices that aren’t regulars on the GOP radio circuit. And you’re probably already hip to Elijah Haahr’s afternoon drive-time show, which attracts national conservative voices every week.

“But John,” the consultant growls through well-marbled chins, “we already support conservative radio stations by buying advertising!” Oh really? St. Louis Radio Hall of Famer Brad Hildebrand – whose Westplex 107.1 focuses on female listeners in ruby-red St. Charles County – smartened me up to the FCC public files database. There you can see which political candidates and groups purchase advertising on radio stations. Here’s KCMO AM and KCMO FM. Here’s 93.9 The Eagle and KWOS. And KWTO AM and KWTO FM. Looks like there’s a lot of room for candidate PACs to put their money where their mouth is.

Meanwhile – who supports and encourages college conservatives? In April 2023, the Mizzou College Republicans organized a banger of a forum entitled “Panel on Modern Republicanism” featuring statewide electeds and legislative leaders. How many of you Republican elected officials and party leaders used your resources – your campaign e-mail list, your social media accounts, $100 from your campaign account – to help then-President (now Executive Director) Trey Faucheux promote the event? “But I’m not booked!” you moan. Eat a bag of dicks. Not everything is about you.

The Mizzou CRs are in the early stages of planning their next major event, one with a statewide focus. Which GOP elected officials and candidates will promote the event and amplify the group’s message? Which high-powered GOP consultant group will dispatch one (1) of their team members to Columbia to help capture digital content for the CRs and participating candidates to use as they see fit?

None of you, because you’re short-sided and selfish. Prove me wrong. I’ll write about it.

tl;dr for the skimmers Quityerbitchin, Republicans. Regular readers of and my Twitter know I enjoy dunking on arrogant reporters as much as anyone – their persistent factual errors are my version of Van Halen’s brown M&Ms. But with each election cycle, we conservatives and libertarians need the mainstream media less and less.

We can still act in a positive, constructive way to counter their vitriol and conflict-baiting. Remember that fact this fall, when you’ll read stories lambasting parents and school board members who stand up to racism by fighting DIE mandates and race-shaming curriculum. Keep it in mind when you see coverage of a college student getting cancelled for out-of-context social media posts or a teacher harassed by alphabet groups for using an incorrect pronoun. Will you be a member of the Milquetoast Majority – the soft, passive “friends” that see someone get attacked and take no action to help? Or will you reach out to them – even if they’re strangers – and encourage them to keep fighting? Start today.

John Combest began publishing daily in October 2001 to centralize Missouri political news and decentralize truth. His first book, Stalking, Harassment, Internet Trolling: A Guide to Recovering and Rebuilding After Online Attacks is available in Kindle and paperback through Amazon.