Roundup of Oklahoma editorials

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Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Journal Record, Oct. 27, 2014

Monumental consequences

Last week, a man drove a vehicle into the Ten Commandments monument at the state Capitol, splitting the stone in half and knocking it off its pedestal.

The Secret Service said the man who did it then walked to the federal building downtown and made threats against President Barack Obama. Within hours, snark was spreading online. And Gov. Mary Fallin quickly released a statement.

"It is absolutely appalling that someone would vandalize anything at the Oklahoma State Capitol — the People's Building — much less a monument of such significance," she wrote.

It would, indeed, be appalling if someone decided to destroy state property to make a political point. When a controversial piece of public art is damaged, it's natural to think that it could have been a statement. But it sounds like something else was going on this time.

Authorities said the suspect said Satan told him to do it. His mother told a TV station that her son has had what she called breakdowns since a work accident a few years ago. So it seems that this was not a politically motivated act of violent protest. It wasn't even pranksters looking for something prominent to vandalize, with no concern for how it affects others. It was apparently an action undertaken by a man suffering from mental illness.

Fortunately, law enforcement officials seemed to recognize what they were facing. The suspect was sent to a mental health facility.

Sadly, he could end up in the prison system. There, he will likely be left with minimal treatment, and the state will end up with a large bill.

Terri White, commissioner for the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, said incarcerating someone with mental illness costs the state $19,000 per year. Treating that person early costs just $2,805 per year.

Our legislative and executive leaders must find a way to make mental health services more widely available in general, as well as within our jails and prisons. And our society must work to erase the stigma surrounding those with mental illnesses.

Not all people with mental illness will destroy public property. But leaving people without help causes grave damage to individuals and the wounds affect us all.


Tulsa World, Oct. 28, 2014

Petitions for school shelters and legalized marijuana fall short

Two high-profile initiative petitions have failed to muster the needed popular support to go to a vote of the people.

Proposals to fund storm shelters for public schools and legalize recreational use of marijuana in Oklahoma fell well short of the more than 155,000 signatures needed to be sent to the ballot.

About 58,000 people signed the storm shelter proposal, which would have been financed by $500 million in state general revenue bonds. Taxpayers would end up paying about $800 million in interest and principal over the likely course of the debt.

The plan was an understandable response to the massive May 20, 2013, Moore tornado that killed seven students at Plaza Towers Elementary School, but history shows the danger of tornadoes killing students in school buildings is very low. National Weather Service records of 149 tornadic storms in the Oklahoma City area between 1890 and 2012 only list school damage in six storms, and only one of those specifically reported fatalities —five students and a teacher killed in a 1930 storm.

Providing storm shelters at school sites is a local issue. Some school districts already have done so. Their local taxpayers shouldn't now have to pay for other schools to get shelters as well. The state shouldn't micromanage the building priorities of local school systems.

A lot of Oklahomans must agree with those arguments. This is the second time a shelter initiative petition has been attempted, and the second time it failed.

The marijuana petition also fell well short of the mark, and we're not surprised. We don't think Oklahomans are ready for legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Organizers of the storm shelter idea say they will now concentrate on trying to push the Oklahoma Legislature to do what they could not convince the voters to do through the initiative process. We suspect we haven't heard the last of the drive to legalize marijuana either.


The Oklahoman, Oct. 24, 2014

Officials at OU, OSU ably handle difficult challenges

First and foremost, Oklahoma's colleges and universities are centers of learning. But college life also is enriched by athletics and other nonacademic pursuits.

Allegations of wrongdoing or mismanagement in these peripheral programs should be taken seriously. Leaders of the state's two comprehensive universities have done just that.

The University of Oklahoma faced controversy over the alleged shortcomings of the marching band director. After students used full-page newspaper ads to voice their frustrations, OU President David Boren struck down participation agreements that had prevented band members from publicly criticizing the program. Boren also met with student band members. On Thursday, band director Justin Stolarik announced his immediate resignation.

The situation facing Oklahoma State University was far more serious, but was handled adeptly. Last year Sports Illustrated unveiled a five-part series on the OSU football program, accusing OSU of paying players, academic fraud, ignoring rampant drug use among star players and effectively pimping female students to athletes.

The university responded by welcoming an NCAA review. It also hired an outside consultant and former NCAA official to investigate. That process included review of roughly 50,000 emails and interviews with about 100 individuals. This week the NCAA and OSU announced their findings in a joint statement, declaring SI's allegations "fundamentally unfounded."

Although facing different problems of far different magnitude, officials at OSU and OU faced their challenges head-on and acquitted themselves well. The same can't be said for Sports Illustrated.

When the magazine's "expose" was unveiled, most people assumed SI would never put its credibility behind a story that was anything less than airtight and well-documented. Guess again.

The magazine's reporting started falling apart on day one. The NCAA's conclusions are just the final nail in the coffin. SI provided no documentation to support its claims — not one text message saved by a former player, not one financial statement, not one suspiciously well-written term paper. Nothing.

The magazine's sources consisted largely of players who were dismissed or left the OSU program, including some with subsequent criminal records. Many later recanted; others openly accused the magazine of taking comments wildly out of context (or worse). SI has yet to provide audio verifying the accuracy of any quotes.

ESPN looked into SI's allegations last year and "discovered, through university documents, multiple inaccuracies with SI's report." ESPN wasn't the only outlet finding such errors.

SI reported one player was overpaid for minor work at a booster's rental house; no such rental house existed. Another player claimed he was paid for committing to OSU; the player actually committed to OU out of high school. The magazine claimed one source had a degree from OSU; he didn't graduate. Several individuals accused of wrongdoing were conveniently dead.

To believe SI's reporting, you had to believe players were financially rewarded for 39-point losses; that academic fraud was rampant yet OSU still had a low Academic Progress Rate; that drug use was rampant and tolerated, yet somehow 90 percent of SI sources admitting drug use were either kicked out or "voluntarily" left; that dead people were disproportionately involved in shenanigans; and that the lack of any collaborating paper trail was no reason to doubt the claims of people with drug problems and criminal histories.

SI called its series "The Dirty Game." It appears the only "dirty game" was the largely fact-free, sensationalist, dubiously sourced, error-riddled "journalism" of Sports Illustrated.

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