What do St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and U.S. President Donald Trump have in common? The same thing their first directors of Communication, Koran Addo and Sean Spicer, have in common. They all inherited from their predecessor a media list that included The St. Louis American – and then eliminated St. Louis’ award-winning black newspaper from that media list and access to public information.
Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, assembled what must have been the first media list that included local minority media in White House history. When Obama was in power, black-owned newspapers received his office’s news at the same time as CNN and The New York Times. Trump has never used the list. The St. Louis American has never received any public information from the Trump White House.
Krewson’s predecessor, Mayor Francis G. Slay, included The American on his media list, even though the newspaper fiercely opposed his handling of Fire Chief Sherman George and fire department promotions in 2007 and battled frequently with Slay throughout his long reign. Yet the paper continued to receive public information from the mayor’s office during his entire tenure.
When Krewson was sworn in as mayor on April 17, 2017 and appointed Koran Addo – a Post-Dispatch reporter who had covered the mayoral race that she won – as director of Communications, they inherited a media list that included The American. Then the city’s foremost black newspaper disappeared from Krewson’s media list on or just after December 28, 2017.
(Addo recently accepted a communications position in Chicago. His last day is October 7.)
This mayor, to be blunt, does not produce much news of substance or interest to our readers, which explains why the absence of information coming from Krewson’s office was not noticed immediately. An editor at The American only thought to look into the matter on September 23 of this year when Jason Rosenbaum, a reporter at St. Louis Public Radio, posted on Twitter a list of Krewson’s appointees to the Board of Freeholders that will consider a possible city/county merger.
That was genuinely important news. Where did Rosenbaum get it? From a press release, he said. However, no one at The St. Louis American had received it. Why not?
A search of staff emails revealed that the last media release that Krewson had sent to The American via Addo was sent on December 28, 2017. It was the tenth release that Addo had sent that month. That’s not a very brisk pace for a director of Communications for a mid-sized American city, but it’s a lot more than zero, which is the number of media releases that Krewson and Addo have sent in the 21 subsequent months.
On Monday, September 30, an editor at The American emailed Krewson and Addo to ask them when and why the newspaper removed was from the mayor’s media list. They did not reply. The editor, Chris King, took to Twitter to put Krewson and Addo on public notice. They still did not reply. Ironically at that same time, the newspaper staff, excluded from the mayor’s public information, learned that for the fifth time in seven years, The American had been awarded as the state’s best large weekly newspaper by the Missouri Press Association.
At 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday, October 2, the editor forwarded to Krewson the last media release that The American had received from them on December 28, 2017 with the following questions.
“This is the last media advisory that Rebecca Rivas or I have any record of receiving from Koran Addo regarding the mayor's office. At what time after this date did you remove The St. Louis American from your media distribution list, and why did you make that decision?
“Further, are you aware that The St. Louis American is a black-owned news organization with a majority-black readership? I think you are. Did the minority status of the newspaper's ownership and readership figure into your calculation to remove the newspaper from your media list? If so, how?”
Finally, the Krewson administration has touted its strides in researching “metrics” for “racial equity” in the city and city government. We asked how does the decision to exclude the region's principal black newspaper and its readers from public information comport with Krewson’s alleged concern for racial equity?
They did not reply.
An hour and a half later, at 12:10 p.m., Stephen J. Conway, Krewson’s chief of staff, emailed the editor: “I will make sure that you are on the Media Advisory list. Should I use this email address?”
The editor responded with a list of newspaper staff to add to the list and then wrote separately to Conway, Krewson, and Addo: “I appreciate the confirmation that our news staff and our readers were excluded from the public information released by this administration sometime after December 28, 2017. If you dispute that Conway's message confirms that our news staff and our readers were excluded from the public information released by this administration sometime after December 28, 2017, please dispute it.”
They did not reply.
In the absence of an answer, The American did some sleuth work. On the last day that Krewson and Addo included The American and its readers in their distribution of public information, they announced that Krewson and Director of Public Safety Jimmie Edwards had appointed John Hayden as police commissioner. St. Louis American reporter Rebecca Rivas accepted their invite to the press conference.
At that press conference, Rivas challenged Hayden for standing silently by then-Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole on June 21 when O’Toole told the media that a black off-duty police officer named Officer Milton Green was shot during an “exchange of gunfire.” In fact, Green was shot by a white city cop when he approached a crime scene near his home in an effort to help out.
“The Ethical Society alleges that O’Toole lied in his statement to the public in attempt to cover up the situation,” Rivas reported after the press conference. “At the news conference announcing that Hayden had been selected as chief of police, Hayden acknowledged he had been aware that the black cop had been shot by a white cop when O’Toole had made his statement that night – ultimately acknowledging that it was indeed a false statement. Police sources said that Hayden later confronted O’Toole about his decision to make a false public statement. But at today’s press conference, Hayden said that he did not confront O’Toole.”
That was the last press conference to which Krewson and Addo would invite the city’s leading black weekly for nearly two years.
Since Krewson’s office has remained silent on her motive for excluding the newspaper and its readers, perhaps Krewson’s comments to Rivas on April 26, 2017, a little more than a week after she was sworn in, may provide a clue.
During that meeting, Rivas pointed out that she had asked for an interview on March 9, shortly after Krewson’s narrow primary victory over Tishaura O. Jones, whom The American endorsed. Krewson’s campaign spokesperson responded that he would check with Krewson and respond by March 13, but never responded.
Krewson openly admitted that she had ignored the newspaper because of its endorsement of her opponent. “That would have been right after the primary,” Krewson said. “Well, you were strongly on one side so …”
Rivas responded, “Our newspaper serves a certain population of this city, and I think it is important for your voice to be included in the paper in order to reach this population. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Krewson paused. Addo said, “Yes, we’re here for you, Rebecca.”
“This isn’t about me or anyone at the paper,” Rivas said. “It’s about the community.”
Krewson responded, “We are all big kids here.”