Could You At Least Try To Be Accurate?

We read a story today by political reporter Kurtis Lee of the Denver Post that left us with many more questions than answers. It’s not about an issue we spend much time on, but the claims made in this story seemed so outlandish that we found it necessary to ask more questions.

And yes, it’s pretty much as bad as we thought.

Today’s story concerns a national group, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, called Mayors Against Illegal Guns. At least 13 Colorado mayors have joined this organization, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan, Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy, and Northglenn Mayor Joyce Downing, among some 720 nationwide. Notably not on this list, however, is Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan. After the shooting at an Aurora movie theater this summer, obviously Hogan’s non-participation in this campaign is worth noting.

Mayor Hogan says that he has “ideological problems” with the group, and that gun control policy is a local issue, not a national one. This arguably ignores the facts around interstate trafficking in guns (see: Golyansky, Greg), but it’s within the realm of opinion–not a false statement per se.

The false statements come when Lee quotes Dave Kopel of the right-wing Independence Institute, and lets Kopel make several totally absurd claims about Mayors Against Illegal Guns without bothering to check any of them out. Kopel tells Lee that “Bloomberg’s group supports a lifetime ban on gun possession for anyone who has ever been arrested for a drug offense–even if that person was later found innocent. … The group likewise promotes a lifetime ban for anyone who has ever been ordered to receive counseling for any mental problem.” Lee says Kopel’s comments are based on “proposed legislation supported by Bloomberg in Washington.”

We sent a request to a staffer at Mayors Against Illegal Guns at New York City Hall for more information, and here’s what they had to say about Kopel’s accusations as uncritically reported by Kurtis Lee. If this is right, Lee’s story is so far off the mark it’s really quite irresponsible.

The most blatant error in his statement is regarding the drug abuser claim–the Fix Gun Checks bill DOES NOT support a lifetime ban for a drug arrest: (1) the fix gun checks bill extends the window that drug arrests makes a person prohibited from one to five years (not lifetime) and (2) the language of the bill is that an inference of drug abuse “may be drawn” from an arrest within the past five years–it does not require that the inference be drawn.

Current federal law prohibits “unlawful user” of any controlled substance and federal regulations allow an inference of unlawful use to be drawn if the person has “multiple arrests for such offenses within the past 5 years if the most recent arrest occurred within the past year.” 27 CFR 478.11. The original Senate fix gun checks bill modifies that definition to allow an inference of unlawful use for a drug arrest within the past five years.  The House version of the bill does not include this provision.

As for Kopel’s claims regarding psychological counseling and guns:

Regarding the mental health claim, the Fix Gun Checks bill does not promote a lifetime ban for “anyone who has ever been ordered to receive counseling for any mental problem.”  Instead, the bill classifies a person as prohibited if they are ordered by a court, board or other lawful authority, “in response to marked subnormal intelligence, mental illness or incompetency,” to receive counseling.

Current federal law prohibits anyone who has been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital or “adjudicated as a mental defective,” which includes people who have been found incompetent to stand trial.  27 CFR 478.11.  The Fix Gun Checks bill extends that definition to include anyone who has been ordered by a court or other lawful authority to receive mental health treatment “in response to marked subnormal intelligence, mental illness or incompetency.”  Also, it does not apply to anyone who voluntarily seeks mental health treatment.  

So what does this all mean, gentle reader?

It’s simple: if this is right, Kopel is lying, and the Denver Post, through negligence or complicity, is helping. The response we easily obtained from Bloomberg’s group appears nowhere in Lee’s story. In fact, there’s nothing whatsoever to give readers an indication Kopel may not be telling the truth–Lee actually validates Kopel’s nonsense by asserting it is “referring to proposed legislation supported by Bloomberg in Washington.” That’s just not true, folks.

Anyway, we assume Mayor Bloomberg knows how to ask for a correction. We just wanted to point out for our record how silly and one-sided Kurtis Lee’s “journalism” is in this case. And we’re obligated to note that this is not the first such incident with him.

3 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. Jones Smith says:

    His reporting is usually just ham-handed puff pieces, but one should blame this style of phony “fair-handed political reporting” on the Denver Post. Everything is about the optics of “balance,” not the craft of reporting.

    Bartels writes about the exact same way. Report one side’s spin, whether factual or not. Report the other side’s spin, whether factual or not. Give more space to whoever the reporter is decides is in good with them that particular day. Provide no context, fact-checking, or much that is genuinely informative.

    But the worst bit is letting someone lie about something without refutation, so that readers can’t determine whether a basic fact is even true or not.  

  2. RunningOnEmpty says:

    The Post’s chronic lack of fact-checking over the past several months is the reason I won’t be renewing my subscription.  A lot of it has been blamed on incompetent reporters, but it begs the question why they haven’t been replaced with someone competent or what the editors are doing when these stories reach their desk.  Or maybe the Post should stop pretending to be a newspaper and simply function as the PR department for several business and conservative interest groups?  

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