History of GOP donor omitted from Post article

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A March 28 Denver Post article offered up a misleading tidbit that I should have pointed out earlier–before it spread across the country.

I’m not referring to the headline of the Post article, which was bad enough. It read “Markey a Polarizing Force in the 4th Congressional District.” The article wasn’t about whether Markey was “polarizing.” It was about her vote on health care, so a headline related to health care would have been more meaningful.

But more serious is something the story left out.

Discussing the responses to Markey’s vote for the federal health care bill, The Post reported:

Fred Vierra of Cherry Hills Village lives outside the 4th Congressional District but sent Republican congressional candidate Cory Gardner [who’s opposing Markey] a $1,000 donation.

“You can thank Betsy Markey’s health care vote for this check,” he wrote last week in a note to the campaign.

From reading this, you could easily think Vierra’s $1,000 donation is money Gardner wouldn’t have gotten if Markey had opposed the health care bill.

But you need to spend five minutes on the Federal Election Commission website to discover that Vierra is a well-known Colorado GOP donor, who regularly gives to candidates outside of his district of residence and outside of our state.

In fact, Vierra gave $2,000 to Marilyn Musgrave in 2005 and again in 2006. Before the health care bill was twinkle in Obama’s eye, Vierra gave $1,000 or more to Sam Brownback of Kansas, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, John Thune of South Dakota, former Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, former Montana Senator Conrad Burns, and others, all Republicans. He gave $55,000 to John McCain in 2008. In Colorado, in addition to Musgrave, he’s given big money to Republicans Wayne Allard, Mike Coffman, Rick O’Donnell, Jane Norton, Bob Schaffer, Tom Tancredo, and others. The list goes on and on. It’s pretty amazing, really. Type “Fred Vierra” on this page of the FEC website.

Especially because The Post included the contextual detail that Vierra “lives outside” of Markey’s Distrct, The Post should have informed us of Vierra’s status as a national Republican donor living in Colorado.

A phrase like “Vierra, who gave over $400,000 to Republican candidates across the country since 1998…” would have done the trick. Or even something like, “Vierra, a well-known Republican donor in Colorado ….”

Of course, it’s possible that Vierra wouldn’t have coughed up $1,000 for Gardner if Markey had opposed the health care bill.

But still, Vierra’s history of donating should have been mentioned, to give us a full picture of what’s going on here-and to let us decide what to make of it.

Not only us, but news outlets as well. Here’s what I mean:

After The Post ran the article with the anecdote about Vierra’s $1,000 check, a Post reader, Ann Westmeyer, sent Gardner a clipping of The Post’s article, a $25 check , and a note that read, “Again, you can thank Betsy Markey’s healthcare vote for this check,” according to a story on The Post’s political blog, The Spot.  

Westmeyer’s note stated that she also lived “outside the district,” according to The Spot, which unfortunately quoted its own story about Vierra’s $1,000 check, again omitting the information that Vierra is a major Republican donor statewide and nationally.

And guess what happened next? This two-part story, about Vierra’s check and The Post’s article that inspired another donation to Gardner, was picked up by the Washington Post today in an article headlined “In Colorado, health-care debate reverberates in congressional race.”

The Washington Post recounted The Denver Post’s story, reporting:

After the health-care bill passed, a voter from outside the district sent the Republican’s [Gardner’s] campaign a contribution with a note: “Please thank Betsy Markey for this check.” When The Denver Post wrote about it, another voter sent a copy of the article along with a donation to Gardner’s campaign with a note: “Again, you can thank Betsy Markey’s health-care vote for this check.”

That’s how the news media feed on themselves to build a narrative (Angry voters donating to unseat a congresswoman.). Unfortunately, in this case, a piece of the foundation of the narrative is partially rotten, because it lacks critical context.

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  1. DavidThi808 says:

    Especially considering how almost by definition a donor passed on to them is a major party contributor. Finding their donation history is key context.

  2. RedGreen says:

    Now that’s some incisive media criticism. Nice job, Jason.

  3. Middle of the Road says:

    Well done. The entire part of the story that The Post overlooked is the story.

  4. Gilpin Guy says:

    It is the intrepid Lynn Bartels collecting another paycheck by keeping alive the conservative narrative that ordinary folks were so outraged by the health care vote that they are spontaneously donated to help defeat the deaf Democrats.

    You have to wonder if she got instructions to manipulate her sentences to omit the clarification or if she thought it up on her own.  Does it really matter?  Get ready to see a bunch of these conservative friendly narratives out of Ms. Bartels as the campaigns heat up.  Credibility zip.  Paycheck awesome.

    • RedGreen says:

      But this article had to go through how many editors to make it into the paper? Every reporter has a blind spot or rushes things now and then — it’s the job of the editors to avoid problems like Jason found.

      • parsingreality says:

        I’ve been convinced of that for years.

        Who needs expensive, demanding editors when every “reporter” can use spell check?

        I was anti-Bartels years ago for just this kind of “reporting.”  Finally, some others are starting to see that she is biased and incompetent.  

    • Gilpin Guy says:

      How did he come in contact with her?  Of all the outraged Tea Party activists in the state, she finds one Republican donor who donates serially to every conservative candidate he can find and she presents him as the face of the state with the implication that he is just another Joe out on the street who was suddenly galvanized to action because of the horrors of health care.  It would be interesting to know if Vierra and Bartels were already Facebook friends.

  5. Jason Salzman says:

    is a team effort–but less so nowadays with fewer editors and reporters around.

    It would be interesting to know if The Post’s blogs are edited at all with regularity. You’d have to guess not.

    I don’t see evidence that Lynn Bartels has a bias against Dems or Republicans, Gilpin Guy. She’s doing seventeen things at once, and she (and her editors) are bound to overlook something like this once in a while, assuming they’d think it’s an oversight, which they may not. I don’t think this was an intentional attack on Markey.

    • RedGreen says:

      No, but this article is what you’d expect if you asked the question, “How does Markey’s vote cause problems for her?” which is the question a reporter asks if you’re looking for conflict — or for news, to be frank. But this wasn’t a blog post, it was a reported and edited story that probably wasn’t just slapped together without a second thought. When the facts seem to line up too neatly with your question, it’s worth doing what Jason did and asking if there’s a reason for that.

  6. Half Glass Full says:

    … it will at least run a retraction or correction pointing out the flaws identified by this study.

    But it won’t. Because it doesn’t.

  7. jpsandscl says:

    If you’re not a reporter, you should be. We need more like you.

    • Sage Sam says:

      We did have lots of folks like Jason out there actually doing research.  Bottom line is that Colorado (and virtually ever other state) needs something like a ProPublica http://www.propublica.org/ doing in depth investigative journalism without a decided editorial slant.  

      However, while I may not view all of them of consequence and they are decidedly biased, I will continue to look forward to Jason’s posts on Pols as he is one of the few watchdogging the 4th Estate.

  8. Go Blue says:

    It’s too bad Bartels decided against adding any to her story.

    What did Gardner raise this quarter? How much came from his several trips to DC when he missed votes in Denver?  

  9. Danny the Red (hair) says:

    We need more like you

  10. parsingreality says:

    Oh, the days when the Rocky was allegedly far right and the Post far left.  (To hear the far left and far right describe them.)

    From what I’ve been reading here since the demise of the Rocky it sounds like the Post has gone far right.

    If I ever move back to CO, I doubt if I will subscribe.  

    • Go Blue says:

      Just to name a few of the opininators, tt’s not too hard to see why the paper is shifting hard to the right but one name stands above the rest – Singleton.

      After their disgraceful front page attack against Governor Ritter, the DP has continued its downward spiral to become more like the Politico. Their reports, Bartels and Fender, have stopped reporting and instead they indulge in rumors.

      • Middle of the Road says:

        Are we not supposed to like Politico? Why is that, exactly?

        • Go Blue says:

          Do you remember a former Denver Post reporter by the name of Chris Frates? He left the Post to work for the Politico.

          Politico publishes first — “verifies” facts later

          Early this afternoon, the Politico’s Chris Frates posted a breathless story about a “memo obtained by POLITICO” that had been “sent Thursday to Democratic staff” in Congress.

          Frates’ story — which coupled the memo with Republican allegations that “Democrats were playing a shell game” with the cost of health care reform and the so-call “doc fix” — said nothing about where he got the memo and in no way suggested that there were any doubts about its authenticity.

          Any reasonable reader would have assumed that since Frates simply wrote that the memo had been sent to “Democratic staff,” a Democrat had leaked it to Politico.

          As it turns out, that’s apparently not what happened.

          After TPM raised questions about the report, Frates’ story was removed and replaced with the following:

             An earlier post in this spot detailed what was purported by Republicans to be an internal Democratic memo regarding the upcoming health reform vote Sunday. Democratic leadership has challenged the authenticity of the memo. POLITICO has removed the memo and the details about it until we can absolutely verify the document’s origin.

          So only now, after its story has been challenged, is Politico acknowledging that its source for the memo was unnamed “Republicans.” That detail appeared nowhere in Frates’ original story.

          This is particularly significant since Politico also appears to be acknowledging that it posted the story without having “absolutely verif[ied] the document’s origin.”

          In other words, two days before one of the biggest votes in recent memory, Politico published this article based only on Republican sources — a fact it failed to disclose — and without confirming that it was accurate. Moreover, they apparently rushed it up just in time for Rush Limbaugh to talk about it on his radio show, which he did. At length.

          This has now become an issue not about whether the memo is real, but about the Politico itself.

          As the right-wing American Spectator’s Phil Klein wrote on Twitter, “Even were it to turn out to be real at this pt, they’ve just said that they dont verify stuff b4 posting.”

          Not much different than what the Post does. They do not investigate or report but rather simply copy and paste pre-packaged narratives written by republican operatives.  

  11. Gilpin Guy says:

    and accuse him of chasing gnats, this is one of those posts where you should acknowledge his abilities to look inside an article and find the inconsistencies.  Nice job Jason.

  12. It would be nice if someone at the Post could spend a couple of minutes researching to make sure the basic facts of an article aren’t false or, in this case, misleading.

    That really should be someone’s job.  Of course with the Post facing financial hard times (still), perhaps this isn’t in their budget right now – but they should expect lower readership with their lower quality reporting/editing.

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