Colorado Public Radio is Saving Political Journalism

According to Corey Hutchins of Colorado College and the Colorado Independent, there is a new political journalist on the scene whose calls to Sen. Cory Gardner will soon go unreturned:

Colorado media outlets haven’t had a regular presence in Washington D.C. since Mark Matthews left the Denver Post last summer. Both the Post and the long-deceased Rocky Mountain News used to employ Beltway-based reporters who covered Colorado political and policy angles; with increasing cutbacks in newsrooms, that luxury has slowly dissolved over time.

Colorado Public Radio (CPR) has made a number of new hires to beef up its reporting on Colorado politics recently, perhaps most notably the move of Bente Birkeland from KUNC radio last fall. The increase in coverage of political and policy news is a welcome change in a state where the trend in recent years had been for news outlets to continually cut back on political reporting.

So, let us welcome Caitlyn Kim to the ranks of Colorado political journalists. May Sen. Gardner’s voicemail treat you well.

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The First Amendment and the Right to be an Idiot

Like the Bible, gluten, and “Game of Thrones,” the First Amendment is often invoked but not always understood.

On Wednesday, Rep. Lori Saine (R-Firestone) demonstrated a common First Amendment misperception with a ridiculous rant on the House floor:

 

During a debate about expanding a program to provide driver’s licenses for immigrants (SB19-139), several Colorado Democrats took umbrage with repeated Republican usage of the term “illegals” to describe undocumented immigrants. At one point during the discussion, Rep. Adrienne Benavidez (D-Adams County) asked House members to “use the terms that are in the bill” rather than invoke inflammatory labels. This did not sit well with Rep. Saine, who stomped to the microphone to exclaim:

Thank you, Chair, and thank you Representative Benavidez. I really appreciate you very much on a lot of your work down here, but, um…[pause]…I feel that you are impugning us. We are not children. Not lawfully present also means illegal. Let’s not play around with that. Not lawfully present equals illegal.

So, telling us we can’t use certain words at this well is an abridgment of the First Amendment. [Pols emphasis]

And with that, Saine huffed off. State Rep. Leslie Herod (D-Denver) immediately responded with this:

The term “illegal” is very offensive to people. It’s like calling someone “colored” or “the N word.” [Pols emphasis] That is how it feels to people…it is extremely offensive. So now that we know, maybe we could stick to the merits of the bill and temper our language just a bit because of how it makes people feel. That’s all I’m asking. I wouldn’t expect anybody to call me words that I would tell you are offensive, and now that you know, maybe we can try to change our language to be respectful of people who are truly offended when this term is used to describe them.

We’d love to tell you that this exchange put an end to using the term “illegals,” but you know that it won’t. What the discussion did illuminate, however, was an oft-forgotten point: The First Amendment does not protect you from making a complete fool of yourself.

Representative Saine is certainly not the first politician to misunderstand the First Amendment. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin loved to assert that she had a First Amendment right to not be criticized. Palin was, and is, incorrect. The First Amendment does not prohibit people from saying mean things to Palin or to California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes — or to anyone else, for that matter (we’re also looking at you, Sen. Ted Cruz).

The First Amendment grants all Americans the right to speak freely and assemble peaceably. The First Amendment also establishes freedom of the press and the right to petition the government so that your grievances may be redressed. The First Amendment even protects your right to shoot a gun at a specific page in a newspaper (so long as you are taking the appropriate safety precautions).

State Rep. Lori Saine and State Sen. Vicki Marble

The First Amendment is not a license to say anything, anytime, to anyone. You cannot yell “fire!” in a crowded theater in order to cause panic and then hide behind a “free speech” defense. You also cannot libel or defame someone with knowingly-false information (although if that person is a “public figure,” you’re probably fine from a legal perspective).

The First Amendment also does not override guidelines that are clearly stated by private organizations. You can tell us to “f*** off” in the comment section below; we probably won’t remove the comment in part because it just makes you look like a dumbass. On the other hand, we might remove certain disparaging remarks and known falsehoods made by readers if they violate our Terms of Service and because we’re not interested in providing an open forum for irresponsible assholes of any political affiliation.

Words are not just a bunch of letters and sounds, no matter how much Sen. Cory Gardner wishes otherwise. On the other hand, as politicians such as Rep. Saine and State Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Broomfield) have long demonstrated, words don’t necessarily have to form coherent sentences. Democrats on Wednesday weren’t telling Republican lawmakers that they didn’t have the legal authority to use the term “illegals”; they were merely asking that Republicans make an effort to be less offensive to a specific group of people.

So rest assured, Rep. Saine, that you have every legal right to knowingly use offensive terms in a public forum. Just know that those words say more about you than they do others.

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The Colorado Springs Gazette is Very Silly

Last September, we took note in this space of a rather absurd editorial from the Colorado Springs Gazette which lambasted Colorado media outlets for not doing more to run with a story that very clearly was not a story unless you were a Republican political operative desperate for something to use to attack Democrat Jared Polis. The Springs Gazette editorial also took particular pains to bash 9News reporter/anchor Kyle Clark as a “liberal political activist” on account of the fact that Clark refused to report more on obviously-misleading claims against Polis; you’ll see why this is again relevant in a moment.

On Monday, the Gazette took another step toward firmly establishing itself as the Weekly World News of Colorado media outlets when it appropriated a landmark editorial from the Denver Post and applied it to State Sen. Pete Lee (D-Colorado Springs). About one month ago, the Post ran a stunning editorial retracting its 2014 endorsement of Republican Cory Gardner for U.S. Senate after Gardner’s indefensible flip-flop in support of President Trump’s “emergency declaration” for wall-building money. The Gazette took that idea from the Post and used it to form a poorly-worded retraction of its own endorsement of Lee last October. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The Gazette is apoplectic about Lee’s votes on a whole host of issues, from National Popular Vote legislation to Senate Bill 181, which it breathlessly proclaims will shuttle in the end of times in Colorado:

The measure threatens hundreds of thousands of good jobs and will almost certainly cause a long-term statewide recession.

“Almost certainly cause a long-term statewide recession.” That’s a bit much.

The Gazette also joins conservative Republicans who have completely lost their minds over a bill about sex education in Colorado:

Lee voted for a comprehensive statewide sex education bill that removes local control from decisions about sex education curricula. According to Lee, localities should hobble oil and gas production but have no say over their children’s education.

Um, yeah…that’s not what the sex ed bill does, but that was a neat segue!

The Gazette is predictably irritated about the passage of so-called “red flag” legislation, which generated this paragraph about how the newspaper can prove it is nevertheless not supportive of a recall election for Lee because another lawmaker read its editorial this one time:

One of our editorials against the bill reminded readers how District 11 voters recalled former Senate President John Morse for supporting unpopular gun laws. Lee responded by deliberately misrepresenting our editorial in a speech on the Senate floor. Though we have publicly — in writing — opposed recalls built on mere policy conflicts, Lee falsely accused us of “threatening” him with a recall. The written record shows we did no such thing. State Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, proved Lee’s misrepresentation by reading our editorial into the record.

The Gazette is here attempting to defend its March 19 editorial opposing the “red flag” legislation, which included this ominous language:

Today, Democratic Sen. Pete Lee represents District 11. The Gazette’s editorial board endorsed him, respecting his wisdom. We suspect he will use that wisdom to oppose Senate Bill 1177, avoiding a recall, [Pols emphasis] protecting his political future, and keeping District 11 a Democratic seat.

You really don’t need to read between the lines here.

In its un-endorsement of Lee on Monday, the Gazette also made sure to inexplicably attack media partner 9News once again. In discussing Lee’s initial support for House Bill 1030, the newspaper writes:

Democrat-friendly Channel 9 news anchor Kyle Clark texted confusion and surprise.

Even faux Democrat journalist Kyle Clark was baffled; that’s how you know it’s bad!

Let’s wrap this up and get to the Gazette’s conclusion, which is of course gramatically incorrect.

We cannot take it any more. The Gazette takes endorsements seriously, spending countless hours assessing the qualities of candidates, trying to make useful and informed recommendations. A large and growing body of evidence tells us we were wrong about Pete Lee.

“We cannot take it anymore.” One word, not two. The correct way to write this would be as follows:

We cannot take the Gazette editorial board seriously anymore. And neither should you.

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Colorado Still Misses the Rocky Mountain News

Today is the 10th anniversary of the final edition of the Rocky Mountain News. At the time of its demise, the News featured what we believed at the time to be the finest political newsroom in the state.

Via @CharlesApple on Twitter

Coloradans were well-served by having two major daily newspapers with extensive coverage of politics and government. These days, unfortunately, hedge fund giants like Alden Global Capital are more interested in consuming profits than producing news. As Westword reports today, journalists at the Boulder Daily Camera learned on Tuesday of a new round of staff cuts — a particularly jarring announcement that was delivered on the same day as the funeral of longtime former Editor Kevin Kaufman.

We need more working journalists in Colorado, not less. Here’s to hoping this trend reverses itself in the very near future.

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This is an Actual Newspaper or Something

UPDATE: Kyle Clark is appropriately bewildered by all of this.

—–

Take a look at the sentence below. We’re not going to provide any context quite yet, because it’s instructive just to read these words as they are written:

Liberal political activist Kyle Clark, a 9 News Denver anchor, rules against Republicans and Hughes more like a wannabe judge than a journalist.

Now, humor us for a moment. Don’t keep reading beyond this paragraph; instead, re-read that sentence and make a guess about where it appeared today. Breitbart News? The Washington Free Beacon? Whichever right-wing political blog that still exists in Colorado? Perhaps a Republican campaign’s Facebook page or Twitter account? Tom Tancredo?

Okay, if you’re done guessing or just want us to get on with it already, we’ll tell where you can find this sentence. It is from a new editorial signed by the actual editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette.

The Colorado Springs Gazette, which generally pretends to be an actual newspaper most of the time, wrote an editorial in which it called a Colorado media colleague a “liberal political activist.” The Gazette didn’t say that 9News anchor/reporter Kyle Clark was unbalanced in his storytelling or failed to understand some nuance of the story. No, they just hit fast-forward and used “liberal political activist” as a title for Clark, merely because he didn’t fall for the spin coming from the right:

The point of the Gazette’s childish partisan editorial is to express rage, sadness, confusion, and general manufactured angst over the fact that a Republican attempt to smear Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis failed to work because virtually every other media outlet in the state looked at the facts of the case and came to the rather obvious conclusion that Polis was actually the victim in this 20-year-old tale.

The Gazette editorial board can write whatever it wants, of course, and it would have been perfectly within its wheelhouse to question aspects of the story involving Polis. But instead, the Gazette goes full “liberal conspiracy theory.” Here’s the last paragraph of the editorial:

Contemporary society has no higher cause than protecting women from violence of any type. Women are rightly given every reasonable benefit of the doubt. Unless that is, a woman blames a powerful Colorado Democrat. That man gets a media pass.

If you didn’t know anything about this story, you might assume from this conclusion that the woman in question, Patricia Hughes, had recently accused Polis of wrongdoing. She didn’t. She couldn’t. She’s been dead since 2014.

As Michael Roberts writes for Westword, there’s no mystery that needs to be solved here, regardless:

But the report, accessible below [link], as well as other documents in the public record, reveal that the only person charged with a crime in the incident was the female employee, the late Patricia Hughes, whom Polis held for Boulder Police Department officers (he had called them) because she’d stolen documents either before or after she resigned in response to accusations that she’d used his credit card for her own financial benefit. She later pleaded guilty to theft, and the judge in her case mandated that she undergo mental health treatment.

Unfortunately, it shouldn’t come as as surprise that the Colorado Springs Gazette would so willingly reflect such a radical partisan bent in its pages. The Gazette’s fawning over Republican gubernatorial candidate Walker Stapleton throughout 2018 has been cringeworthy in itself.

What the Gazette is trying to do here is not journalism. Not even a little bit. And that’s a damn shame.

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The Blueprint for State Net Neutrality Laws

In late 2017, the Republican-controlled Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to murder “Net Neutrality” in a 3-2 party-line vote. Efforts have been ongoing to get Congress to override the FCC’s decision, but the lack of movement in Washington D.C. means that it probably falls to individual states to prevent Internet service providers from creating “slow and fast lanes,” throttling speeds, and blocking or restricting access to individual websites at will (read this for more on why Net Neutrality is so important).

As Ars Technica reports today, California lawmakers have come up with a Net Neutrality proposal that is being touted as the “gold standard” for similar laws across the country:

The bill would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or throttling lawful traffic, and from requiring fees from websites or online services to deliver or prioritize their traffic to consumers. The bill also imposes limits on data cap exemptions (so-called “zero-rating”) and says that ISPs may not attempt to evade net neutrality protections by slowing down traffic at network interconnection points…

…”ISPs have tried hard to gut and kill this bill, pouring money and robocalls into California,” Electronic Frontier Foundation Policy Analyst Katharine Trendacosta wrote after the vote.

With Senate action pending, “California could pass a gold standard net neutrality bill, providing a template for states going forward,” Trendacosta continued. “California can prove that ISP money can’t defeat real people’s voices.”

If you’re still not convinced about the need to preserve Net Neutrality, just read this paragraph:

The bill recently gained support from groups representing firefighters, who are angry at Verizon for throttling Santa Clara County Fire’s “unlimited data” while it was fighting the state’s largest-ever wildfire. [Pols emphasis]

Colorado lawmakers can push for state-level Net Neutrality protections when the legislature reconvenes in January. They should start (and end) with this blueprint from California.

[Hat tip to “Pseudonymous” for the link.]

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Associated Press, CNN Blocked from EPA Meeting

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt

As CNN reports, you should absolutely be worried about the First Amendment under the Trump administration:

The Environmental Protection Agency blocked reporters from several news outlets from a national summit on Tuesday where Scott Pruitt, the agency’s chief, was speaking.

Journalists from CNN, the Associated Press and E&E News, a publication that covers energy and environment issues, were barred by the EPA from entering the event, which was focused on harmful chemicals in water. A handful of other reporters from other news organizations, however, were allowed inside the event for Pruitt’s opening remarks after having been previously invited by the agency the day before.

In a statement, Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said the agency barred reporters from attending due to space limitations inside the venue. He said the EPA was able to accommodate only 10 reporters and that it provided a livestream “for those we could not accommodate.”…

…A report published by The Hill, however, said a handful of seats in the press section remained vacant by the time Pruitt began speaking. Another reporter told Politico there were dozens of empty seats in the room, and a photo obtained by CNN also showed space for cameras.

This report from the Associated Press is particularly jarring:

Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building. [Pols emphasis]

Reporters for the AP, CNN, and E&E News were eventually allowed to cover the meeting after a backlash from multiple media outlets. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters later that the administration would “look into the matter.”

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“Daily Camera” Editor Fired for Speaking Out

Michael Roberts of Westword has more on a story that has been picked up nationally via the Associated Press:

Dave Krieger, a former staffer with the Rocky Mountain News, Denver Post and KOA radio, has been fired from his latest position as editorial-page editor of the Boulder Daily Camera after self-publishing an attack on Alden Global Capital, the so-called vulture hedge fund that also owns the Post, when his own paper wouldn’t publish it…

…Alden Global Capital has been the focus of local ire since the Post‘s March announcement that thirty newsroom employees would be laid off; the total corresponds to around one-third of the staff. Afterward, Chuck Plunkett, the Post‘s editorial-page editor, put together a package blasting Alden that actually saw print and caused a journalistic stir nationwide.

Note that the Post doesn’t have a publisher right now, following the resignation of Mac Tully earlier this year. Speculation is that Tully stepped down rather than participate in such a draconian round of layoffs — and there have also been reports that Alden executives initially wanted Plunkett’s scalp but backed down to avoid a bad-publicity bloodbath.

Here’s how Krieger announced the news via Twitter on Wednesday night:

We wrote earlier this month about a Denver Post editorial taking on the newspaper’s owners. Digital First Media really sucks.

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Associated Press Won’t Highlight Polling Numbers Anymore

New AP guidelines seek do de-emphasize the polling “horse race”

The Associated Press today issued new guidelines for how it covers polling data in political races. As Politico explains:

The updated guidelines appear in a new chapter in the AP Stylebook — which forms the backbone of the standards used not just by the AP, but by the majority of news organizations around the country…

…That means, according to the AP, de-emphasizing the horse-race aspects of election coverage and taking care to write about only high-quality polls…

The AP has long discouraged its journalists from predicating stories an entire story on a pre-election poll, but that’s now a bright-line rule, positioned right at the top of the new chapter: “Poll results that seek to preview the outcome of an election must never be the lead, headline or single subject of any story.” [Pols emphasis]

 

This new AP guideline is a significant change that could have a real impact on the coverage of political races throughout the country. Polling data has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, particularly as more and more Americans disconnect from telephone landlines and become harder for pollsters to reach.

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Denver Post Revolts Against Absentee Hedge Fund Owners

A remarkable act of desperate rebellion is unfolding at the state’s newspaper of record, as the Huffington Post reports:

In a move described as both extraordinary and brave, the editorial board of the Denver Post publicly skewered its hedge-fund owner in a searing article published Friday. The message was plain: Sell the paper before it’s too late.

The Post has endured multiple rounds of layoffs since 2010, when Alden Global Capital purchased the paper’s parent company, Media News Group (now Digital First Media), and adopted what’s been described as a “strip-mining” approach to management. According to the editorial, Alden has slashed the Post’s staff by almost two-thirds — and that’s despite the paper’s reported profitability. As of next week, only about 70 staffers will remain.

“Denver deserves a newspaper owner who supports its newsroom,” the board wrote. “If Alden isn’t willing to do good journalism here, it should sell the Post to owners who will.”

Otherwise, the journalists warned, the paper — which has been in circulation since 1892 and boasts nine Pulitzer Prizes — will be “rotting bones” in a few years, leaving “a major city in an important political region … without a newspaper.”

There’s plenty of discussion today about the unusual move by the Denver Post’s editorial staff to publicly attack the hedge fund owners of the paper, and some details like the choice of voices to defend the paper (see: Caldara, Jon) or the unsigned editorial’s disparagement of “both sides” of modern politics–we believe that an objective examination of media criticism on the left vs. right makes it clear that one side is actively undermining objectivity and critical thinking–have failed to resonate with audiences the paper definitely needs in their corner at this desperate hour.

We’ll humbly submit that is not Caldara’s fake news-devotee readership.

But that’s not what matters right now. The fact remains that the Denver Post supplies critical long-form reporting that no other outlet can or chooses to match in Colorado politics, and without not just the paper’s survival but a long-term commitment and re-investment the voters of Colorado will profoundly suffer. Everyone who works in Colorado politics has a grievance with the Post either editorially or journalistically, some of them going back a decade or more. Events like the paper’s endorsement of Cory Gardner for U.S. Senate in 2014 have left behind deep resentment backed not just by partisan spite, but an objective sense of betrayal of fundamental values held by the paper’s readers. But for every such editorial misstep you have a dozen or more sterling examples of journalism that have helped keep our state’s politics honest and transparent.

At the same time, recent examples of bad conduct by certain local media outlets remind us again how important a newsroom that adheres to strong ethical principles like the Post is. With all of this in mind, we are compelled to look past every flaw in the delivery of this weekend’s appeal from the staff of our state’s beleaguered newspaper of record for rescue from its careless owners, and add our voice to the chorus calling for the Voice of the Rocky Mountain Empire to be saved.

Just not by Phil Anschutz.

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Oh, Hey, Maybe We DO Actually Need Human Journalists

Take a look at this picture from Friday’s Denver Post and see how long it takes you to notice the problem. Go ahead, we’ll time you…

This image brought to you by Alden Global Capital.

This picture is from the front page of the “Life and Culture” section of Friday’s Denver Post as part of a feature story on Coors Field, which is the home of the Colorado Rockies and the location for today’s 2018 Rockies home opener. The problem, of course, is that this is not a photo of Coors Field at all. The half-page photo above is actually a shot of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. The Rockies do occasionally play baseball at Citizens Bank Park, but only for scheduled road games against the Phillies.

This gaffe has picked up national attention (from ESPN, the New York Daily News, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, just to name a few), both before and after the Denver Post tweeted out an apology this morning.

This is absolutely an embarrassing error for the Denver Post, but it is also a vivid example of what happens when an iconic local newspaper is taken over by a hedge fund like Alden Global Capital that seeks only to squeeze every last ounce of profit from the company before letting it wither and die. Just last month, Alden Global Capital mandated another massive round of cuts in the Denver Post newsroom, leaving an almost-skeleton crew of journalists to produce the daily paper.

With such a small staff left to run a major metropolitan newspaper, it’s no surprise that this kind of mistake might happen; it’s a wonder, in fact, that it doesn’t happen more often. As broadcaster Keith Olbermann suggested in a Tweet this morning: #NeverCutCopyEditors.

All Coloradans, including the people who work for the Denver Post, deserve better than this.

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