How do I put this respectfully?

When people dissemble, they generally are reverting – sometimes involuntarity– to a Darwinian survival mode.

Especially in a big business or financial deal, they do what they need to do to get out of a tight spot.

But a very intentional message embedded in a transparent lie is, “You’re so stupid, we can tell you anything.”

The problem with a Louisville media that it is so incurious and so math- and finance-challenged is that you really can tell them anything.

Take the Kentucky Kingdom project.

The attractive stenographers who call themselves TV reporters just repeated in their standups whatever was in Ed Hart’s news release.

“We’re going from asking the state for a $50 million debt issue to getting a $20 million bank loan.”

Really? Hey, great! When will it open?

The Speed Art Museum officials did essentially the same thing when they announced the $18 million donation from the Brown families.

That $18 million took the Speed board to slightly more than $50 million raised for a bold expansion and renovation of the old museum.

Really? Hey, great! When will it open?

The problem is, Speed Museum officials announced in October of 2011 they had raised $42.5 million of the $50 million. (The total projected value of the project over a decade was first announced as $79 million.) So, that $18 million gift should have – by my accounting – taken the Speed expansion fund drive to more like $63 million.

The media – including Insider Louisville – never asked the big questions. Such as, “Who’s idea is this?” If it was Charles Venable’s ego exercise, do you still asked your donors to build a $50 million project after he leaves?

Speed board members clearly were in a no-win situation. Insiders told us fundraising stopped when Venable left.

But when we queried Speed officials, the answer came back, “No, that’s not true.”

Except it was true because we can do elementary school math on a timeline.

The Speed board announces they’ve raised $42.5 million in October 2011. In August, 2012, Charles Venable leaves to go to a museum that is, at best, a lateral move.

In September 2012, the pledges stopped.

In May, 2013, Speed officials announce they really have raised the money this time, no kidding, with the $18 million Brown gift.

It is to the credit of the board they didn’t just give up.

But what are the opportunity costs of moving forward? What other efforts could the Browns’ $18 million – likely to be the largest philanthropic gift this year in a city this small – have benefited?

Museums are entertainment centers for the One Percent. God knows, I love them. We drove to Chicago back in February to see the Picasso show. I took my daughters to the Speed at least once a month when it was open.

But I’ve never heard anyone – even in Louisville’s art community – say, “Gee, if the Speed Museum only rivaled the Museum of Modern Art. Then we could all die happy.”

My point in all this is not what the Speed should or shouldn’t do. It’s the incredible lack of public conversation about important issues.

I call it the Museum Plaza Syndrome.

“We’re going to build a a $490 million, 62-floor skyscraper not in Dubai, but in Louisville, Kentucky. It will have Class-A office space, condos, art galleries and other stuff.”

Really? Hey, great! When will it open?

It’s perceived as bad manners in this town to ask questions beyond what the people on the podium are announcing, or sending out in a news release.

More and more, executives at corporations and at community institutions simply don’t answer questions. Neither do most government officials.

When was the last time you saw Metro Mayor Greg Fischer or Gov. Steve Beshear sit down with a real journalist for a no-holds barred interview? Especially about finances?

The last time I can remember was WFPL reporter Phillip Bailey’s interview with Fischer in which he repeatedly asked Fischer about issues related to his diverting money donated for his inauguration to pay off campaign debt. A big issue. And it was the last time as far as I can find that any reporter really pressed the mayor to answer difficult questions in detail.

The obedient media themselves are complicit in this Kabuki dance.

A few months back, arena financing critic Denis Frankenberger told me how a local TV reporter interviewed him at length about KFC Yum! Center finances. The reporter was startled by Frankenburger’s data and promised to blow the lid off the arena bond financing fiasco.

The reporter called Frankenberger back a few hours later to tell him, “My producers are killing the story. They’re worried U of L will retaliate and cut off our access to sports.”

Here at IL, we asked city CFO Steve Rowland for an interview after Fischer appointed Rowland to the Louisville Arena Authority, and Rowland initially agreed.

We wanted to know what city officials know about the chances we can keep financing the KFC Yum! Center debt. We thought we all have the right to know, because Louisville taxpayers are covering the $9.8 million hole.

But Rowland and Fisher spokesman Chris Poynter cancelled the interview saying it would be a year before Rowland felt comfortable enough with Arena Authority details to comment.

There are all sorts of societal changes feeding the “no questions” syndrome. More and more, people prefer email exchanges, texting or tweets to actually talking on their cells, and especially in person.

This distance between reporter and sources is not a good thing for an open society.

Because it’s not the first question that gets to the truth. It’s the second and third questions.

Questions we rarely get to ask these days.

And that’s how taxpayers end up with constant MSD rate increases, arenas they can’t afford, $30 billion in unfunded state public employee pension fund obligations and $200 million holes in the Jefferson County Public Schools budget.