Reporters should be clear about who’s backing the baker who discriminated against a gay couple

June 27th, 2017

In wide coverage of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a Colorado case in which a bakery refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, reporters are almost universally failing to mention that the powerful legal organization backing the bakery has a long history of opposition to same-sex marriage, LGBT equality, abortion, and other rights that are under attack by the Christian right.

The organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has a stated mission to “to keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family,” as pointed out in an excellent Colorado Independent article yesterday.

But it’s actually more fair, in view of prevailing social norms and values, to label ADF as anti-LGBTQ organization that’s fundamentally opposed to the civil rights of gay people. That’s what the organization is about–and it should be described as such in the context of this case, especially because ADF is trying to present itself as defending the rights of the baker, Jack Phillips, to express himself as an artist and religious devotee.

“The government in Colorado is picking and choosing which messages they’ll support and which artistic messages they’ll protect,” Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Denver Post yesterday. An ADF legal counsel, writing in today’s Denver Post, ludicrously referred to Phillips’ bakery as an “art gallery of cakes.”

ADF has no demonstrable interest in protecting artists. In fact, ADF has been on a crusade against homosexuality since its founding by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and others in 1994. The organization’s anti-choice and anti-LGBT stances, including its efforts to overturn state laws banning discrimination against LGBT people, are widely documented, including the fact that ADF has backed efforts to criminalize homosexuality abroad. As illustrated here, ADF sits at the center of America’s network of Christian right groups.

In a 2015 handbook designed to help religious entities discriminate without facing legal repercussions, ADF equates bestiality and incest with being LGBTQ–or even with participating in adultery, and using pornography.

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female,” states the handbook. “These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. (Gen 1:26-27.) Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.”

The handbook continues: “We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. (1 Cor 6:18; 7:2-5; Heb 13:4.) We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Matt 15:18-20; 1 Cor 6:9-10.)”

Here in Colorado, the face of ADF has long been Michael J. Norton, who left ADF recently to start the Colorado Freedom Institute, but he apparently continues to represent the group on occasion.

Norton, who drafted a 2006 amendment that voters added to the Colorado Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, testified frequently at the state capitol and has been an outspoken advocate for anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ campaigns.

As I blogged previously, in Colorado, ADF was embraced by 33 Republican state legislators in 2015 to push for an investigation of Planned Parenthood. The lawmakers, who appeared to be led by State Rep. Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs, included State Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa and State Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton.

In the Post’s opinion piece today, ADF’s lawyer writes that Phillips should “have his cake and freedom too.” Actually, it’s gay people who should have their wedding cake and freedom too. But they won’t, if ADF succeeds in blocking their basic human rights.

 

Will Gardner slip by reporters again on Planned Parenthood?

June 22nd, 2017

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner built his political career in Colorado, and rallied grassroots Republican support, by opposing abortion, even for rape and incest. Part of that, of course, has meant that he’s opposed and vilified Planned Parenthood.

Now it appears that the Senate’s Obamacare-replacement legislation would remove federal funds for Planned Parenthood, just like the House version did.

And you’d expect Gardner to be fully on board with this.

After he voted to defund Planned Parenthood two years ago, Gardner said,

“We voted to take the money from Planned Parenthood and distribute it to the community health clinics around the state of Colorado,” Gardner told KNUS 710-AM’s Dan Caplis in 2015.

He said the move would provide “more access” to men and women across the state, even though many low-income woman want to go to Planned Parenthood clinics for specific and understandable reasons, like privacy, trust, and convenience.

And even though no federal funds are used for abortions at Planned Parenthood, the organization provides abortions. In contrast, community health centers don’t offer abortion services that many woman obviously want available at their clinic of choice in the year 2017.

But Gardner apparently doesn’t think women care. When confronted with his extreme anti-choice positions during the 2014 election, Gardner responded by saying Democrat Mark Udall was trying to “distract voters” from the real issues.

Now Gardner should face the same question from reporters. Does he think women in Colorado care about Planned Parenthood? About the U.S. Senate’s and the Republican Party’s assault on abortion rights?

Gardner may try to say his opposition to Planned Parenthood isn’t about opposition to Planned Parenthood, just like he tried to say, during his last election campaign, that his support of abortion-ban legislation wasn’t support for an abortion ban.

Despite heroic efforts by journalists to untangle Gardner’s wordpile on his support for an abortion ban, packaged at the time as “personhood,” Gardner got away with it. He’s Colorado’s Senator.

Will he slip by again on Planned Parenthood?

Key question for Gardner is, how many Coloradans would lose insurance under GOP Obamacare replacement?

June 19th, 2017

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner continues to talk about making Medicaid “sustainable” and stable, but the key question Gardner needs to answer is, Will Colorado Medicaid recipients lose health insurance under the GOP’s Obamacare replacement?” And if so, how many? And how long a “glide path” until they’re cut out?

That question cuts through Gardner’s vagaries about what will happen to Medicaid under the Senate’s Obamacare-replacement bill, which Gardner is helping to draft in secret. On this topic, Gardner has said:

Gardner June 15: “If you don’t have a sustainable Medicaid program, then you risk the Medicaid programs.”

Gardner June 14 (at 9 min 30 sec). “A health care plan that focuses on … making sure that we make Medicaid sustainable and allow a program that gives greater functionality and flexibility to the sates to manage that program in a way that the states know how to do better for their people than Washington does….”

Gardner also frequently says he wants to pass a law that’s “better than Obamacare.”

Great. But in the name of alleged improvement, sustainability, and stability, how many Coloradans will lose health insurance?

About 400,000 Coloradans gained insurance under Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to include adults, without children, who earn less than $16,000 per year. Under the Obamacare-replacement bill passed by the U.S. House, 14 million Medicaid recipients would lose coverage within a year, and 12 million more would be dropped within 10 years. Within five years, most of the 400,000 who gained insurance in Colorado are expected to lose it.

Back in March, Gardner was tagged as a defender or Medicaid when he signed a letter, along with Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, stating that “we will not support a [Obamacare replacement] plan that does not include stability for Medicaid expansion populations or flexibility for states.”

Again, the key question is, how many Coloradans will lose coverage in the name of stability?

Cutting through the spin: Gardner wants to end, not protect, insurance coverage for 400,000 Coloradans

June 13th, 2017

Back in March, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner joined fellow Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, in stating that “we will not support a [Obamacare replacement] plan that does not include stability for Medicaid expansion populations or flexibility for states.”

Since then, Portman and Capito have added a measure of definition to this vague statement by endorsing a seven-year phaseout of Obama’s Medicaid expansion, which provided over 400,00 Coloradans with health insurance. Portman called it a “glide path” that would gradually reduce federal Medicaid funding to the states beginning in 2020.

But Murkowski and Gardner are refusing to discuss their current thinking on the Medicaid expansion. The Hill asked Murkowski twice last week if she’d agree to a gradual phaseout, and she declined to say.

In May, Gardner declined to answer a direct question from The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews about whether he supports the plan, in the Obamacare replacement bill passed by the House, to begin the Medicaid-expansion phaseout in 2020.

But Gardner did tell Matthews,“We need to have a glide path that works for the states.”

In the absence of more details from Gardner, journalists are on solid ground reporting that Gardner is on board with ending the Obamacare Medicaid program that covers over 400,000 Coloradans. The only question is the time frame, the number of years in the glide path.

And journalists are also completely justified in reporting that Gardner’s phaseout doesn’t square Gardner’s promise to defend the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, as stated in the The Denver Post’s March 6 article headlined, “Sen. Cory Gardner defends Medicaid expansion as GOP reveals Obamacare replacement.”

During the 2014 campaign, and ever since the first Ryan budget introduced a partial privatization of Medicare, the often repeated message from Gardner was that making dramatic cuts to health programs was a way to protect them for future generations.

Now Gardner is talking about a “glide path.”

These sort of policy justifications can make sense within their own inverted logic, but the plain meaning of the words are likely lost on the average voter. Journalists have the burden of making sure the facts are presented alongside the spin.

State senator alleges that local chamber “refused” to read his statement at annual breakfast

June 7th, 2017

scott on gj chamber

Jon Caldara’s sniffling Denver Post op-ed last month, decrying fellow Republicans who voted to save rural hospitals via a budget maneuver, prompted ColoradoPols to write a post headlined, “World’s smallest violin plays for legislative loser Jon Caldara.”

But, in case you missed it, Caldara took heat from fellow Republicans too, such as State Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa), who wrote a letter to The Post in response to Caldara, who heads up the conservative/libertarian Independence Institute.

Crowder pointed out that doing nothing would have resulted in “demise and closure of a vast number of these rural hospitals.”

Crowder took issue with Caldara for thanking Republicans who voted against the measure, which reclassified the “hosptital provider fee” as a business under TABOR.

Caldara: Let me thank the courageous Republican senators who stood up to leadership and the pressure cooker of the takings coalition and voted no: John Cooke, Chris Holbert, Kent Lambert, Kevin Lundberg, Vicki Marble, Beth Martinez-Humenik, Tim Neville, Ray Scott and Jim Smallwood. Heroes all.

Crowder: The lawmakers Jon Caldara thanked for voting against the bill all happen to represent metropolitan areas, where hospitals are big business. But that isn’t true for rural hospitals, many of which are just trying to stay open. Closure of these facilities would mean real hardship for rural Colorado.

But Republican state senators who voted against the reclassification of the HPF were doing more than rejecting the painful cries from rural hospitals.

They were turning their backs on pretty much the entire business community, with deep ties to Republicans, which stood together in favor of the HPF reclassification. Recall this list of biz groups that backed the HPF reclassification last year.

So, it’s no surprise that State Sen. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), is apparently a persona non grata at the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce these days.

In a recent Facebook post, Scott wrote that the GJ Chamber “refused” to read his statement at their annual breakfast because, Scott wrote, he’s “chopped liver or they wanted to see how many would notice.”

Scott posted his rejected statement, which stated that “cities and counties put immense pressure on legislators to help fulfill their budget demands especially in the 44 counties that are distressed as Mesa County is. It was so hard to say no to many times but the reality is the state budget has been a runaway train for 12 years are we are tasked with holding the line.”

Scott, who was unable to attend the Grand Junction Chamber’s event, went on to blame Democrats for the budget problem, but he didn’t mention that some of his fellow Republicans, like Crowder, inched toward a solution. While Scott’s success was getting thanked by Caldara in The Denver Post.

Life after death for the Colorado Statesman

June 1st, 2017

Everyone thought the Colorado Statesman was about to die, and it just did.

But there’s life after death for the political weekly, because it’s been purchased by conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz, through Clarity Media, which plans to fold many of the pieces of the Statesman, including many of its staffers, into a media property that Clarity launched about a year ago called ColoradoPolitics.com

Here’s what’s going to happen, according to a post in ColoradoPolitics.com:

The websites of the two media companies will become one starting June 1, under the Colorado Politics banner. Clarity Media, which owns The Gazette newspaper and several weekly publications in Colorado Springs as well as the Washington Examiner, Weekly Standard and Red Alert Politics in Washington, D.C., will become the Statesman’s new owner.

The Statesman’s print newspaper, which has published nonstop since 1898, will continue to publish weekly under the Statesman banner until a complete redesign and relaunch planned for later in 2017. At that time, the Statesman will be rebranded Colorado Politics.

The new, combined website will feature free and exclusive subscriber-only news stories daily. Subscribers also will receive the print edition of the newspaper in the mail every week with additional subscriber-only content being provided in the future. The print edition will also be available on newsstands around Denver in the coming months.

You got that right. Available on newsstands around Denver in the coming months!

Who in their right mind would ever have expected a political newspaper in Denver to launch a street-side print edition in 2017? Phil Anschutz, that’s who. Because he lives in a billionaire reality.

God knows what he has in mind, but I’m glad a group of talented and respected journalists are going to keep their jobs. I’m counting on them to let the world know if Anschutz starts trying to meddle with elections and such in Colorado.

 

 

Denver talk-radio host calls body-slammed reporter a “little jerk”

May 31st, 2017

“I’m sorry, but what a meterosexual. Have you ever heard a bigger meterosexual?” said Denver KNUS 710-AM’s Chuck Bonniwell, mocking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, who was body slammed by Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT).

“In the real world of men, men, men,” Bonniwell continued, “you, know, it’s inappropriate. And you go, ‘You owe me an apology.’ And Gianforte did give him an apology the next day. And that would be the end of it.”

Bonniwell runs newspapers in the Glendale and Cherry Creek. So you’d have thought there might be a chance he’d actually take the side of journalism here.

“I got in lots of fights, as an adult,” said Bonniwell on air. “My reaction, if somebody shoved me, would be shove ‘em back. But I would never say, ‘You broke my glasses.’”

Bonniwell called Jacobs a “little jerk,” saying he got what he deserved.

How did we get here? Listening to the audio won’t help you understand.

Radio host warns against “living next door” to a Muslim

May 30th, 2017

Pick a day on Denver talk radio, and you’ll find Muslims under attack in the most heartbreaking, insulting, and ignorant ways.

The audience is small but the bigotry is too real to ignore with Trump in the White House. More people need to know this is happening here, in Denver, our home, so we can be ready to help our Muslim neighbors if they come under even more serious attack or discrimination.

The latest example oozes from KLZ 560-AM, which describes itself as “dedicated to upholding this country’s Judeo-Christian roots” and “committed to serving God and country, upholding traditional American values such as freedom, justice, honesty, and respect.”

If you caught the station’s afternoon show, called Rush to Reason, this is what you heard:

John Rush @2 min 15 sec below: Those out there predicting that the Muslim faith–I don’t want to call it af faith because I don’t think it is–Those that believe in the Muslim world, telling you that there are a bunch of peace-loving Muslims running around that are waiting to shake your hand and help you out, I don’t think so…. Trust me, they are not going to stop until we stop them or they take the world over, one of the two. Those are the only two answers, folks.

There is nothing in between. There is none of this,  living next door to one and thinking everything is going to work out great. It’s not how it’s going to happen, folks.

It’s obvious that all religions, including Christianity and Islam, rely on interpretations. Here’s what Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and author of Journey into America, told me couple years ago:

“In Islam, god in the Koran has 99 attributes, 99 names, and the two names that god uses all the time to define himself, and we use to define god, are compassion and mercy. So god’s justice reflects god’s compassion and mercy.”

The bigots on the radio are going to take a lot of work before they accept the fact that Islam is no different than any other religion. Meanwhile, we have to be ready in case Trump, John Rush,  or anyone comes after the Muslims in our community. ProgressNow Colorado has set up a “rapid response” network to respond to Trump and his allies. Sign up here.

Can conservatives and progressives trust journalism for the sake of fighting “fake news?”

May 19th, 2017

To fight fake news in a bipartisan way, Republicans and Democrats need to find it in themselves to trust professional journalism, while reserving verification rights.

We need to agree that the role of journalists is to enforce truthfulness as a basic ground rule for civic discourse, while advocates reserve the right, of course, to disagree with the conclusions of journalists.

So it kills me that conservatives, like Colorado State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton), won’t accept respected journalistic fact checkers as arbiters of fake news.

But maybe there’s a road to compromise in liberty advocate Ari Armstrong’s thoughtful definition of fake news that he articulated last month–much of which I agree with.

Armstrong and I diverge from the thinking of most journalists on the definition of fake news, because we both define fake news based on the content of the news story, not its source. In other words, we both agree that a fake news story could come from the Washington Post, Brietbart, BigMedia.org, PeakPolitics.com, or TheFreePatriot.org.

If you define fake this way, you allow conservatives, who might hate the Washington Post, and progressives, who might hate Breitbart, to agree on a starting point to discuss how to address the fake news problem. So I accept the idea that any outlet could produce fake news partly for sake of compromise with conservatives.

But how could someone like me, who has such respect for journalism, possibly agree that the New York Times could be a potential source of fake news? Because, as Armstrong points out, a credible news outlet like the Times will go to great length not to make errors and to correct them quickly. So if it makes a mistake, and produces a fake news item, its fake news will likely be ephemeral fake news.

But even if we accept that any news source can produce fake news, we need a practical way for liberals and conservatives to agree on a definition of fake news.

This definition has to rely on arbiters, rather than an individual’s own case-by-case assessment, as proposed by State Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton) and, in part, by liberty-advocate Ari Armstrong, because just like in any competition, partisans need referees to judge the game, in this case, to assess the facts.

That’s why it’s so unfortunate that most conservatives won’t name journalistic entities that can help us referee the facts. By doing this, they are rejecting the role of professional journalism in society.

Both Armstrong and Neville have rejected the Fake News Pledge, which is a promise not to post fake news on Facebook. It defines fake news as a story “deemed false or inaccurate by Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or by a respected news outlet.” It also must “packaged to look somehow like news.”

That definition could snag an article from the Times, but as a practical matter, it’s unlikely that a fact checker like Factcheck.org will find a factual error in a New York Times article before the Times corrects the error.

So I think the Fake News Pledge’s simple definition should work for conservatives and progressives.

But who’s optimistic? With Donald Trump’s constant berating of mainstream media as “fake news,” how could Trump followers ever accept journalists as arbiters of facts, especially given that everyday Republicans in America don’t seem to. The Pew Research Center reported this month:

Today, in the early days of the Trump administration, roughly nine-in-ten Democrats (89%) say news media criticism keeps leaders in line (sometimes called the news media’s “watchdog role”), while only about four-in-ten Republicans (42%) say the same.

That’s not encouraging for the prospects of Republicans accepting the Fake News Pledge and the role of journalist fact checkers as arbiters of fakeness. And it’s bad news, no matter how you look at it.

Colorado conservatives mindlessly blame media for Trump’s problems

May 18th, 2017

Some Colorado conservatives are joining Trump in blaming the press for the daily-eye-pop-head-spin news stories streaming from the White House.

Leading the charge are local talk radio hosts, but conservative politicians are also mad at journalists.

Appearing on KOA’s Mandy Connell show yesterday, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) lamented that the media are “inventing this Russia story.”

Buck: “When George Bush won, he was the dumbest human being alive, even though he’d gone to great schools and gotten great degrees. Every time he stumbled in a speech, it was a story for two or three days. He just wasn’t smart enough to be president ” Buck told Connell. “And then we get Barack Obama, and he’s the smartest person in the world. He’s just a savior.

“And then we get Donald Trump. And they’ve got to find something with Donald Trump. He’s a very successful businessman. So obviously he’s not stupid. So now now we’re inventing this Russia story, and just on and on.”

Citing the anonymous sources used by the New York Times in its story about Trump pressuring Comey to lay off Flynn, KNUS radio host and (former Fox 31 Denver reporter) Julie Hayden said on air May 15.

Hayden: “I have been dismayed — I mean, as a reporter– at just how they just make it –. I mean, they really do just make it up, you know!”

C0-host Chuck Bonniwell jumped in with, “They don’t care. They just don’t care.”

You can always criticize journalists, and some people will never accept anonymous sources, but that’s why we have professional journalism. To utilize such sources in a responsible way. That’s not making stuff up–or not caring.

Gubernatorial candidate George Brauchler also pointed to media bias among reporters covering Trump. On KNUS 710-AM May 15, Brauchler said:

Brauchler:  [Journalists] don’t need Trump’s help. But he gives it to them anyway. That’s the only part that’s a little frustrating, is like, ‘If you, Mr. President, could just pull it back– just a little bit — it would expose, I think, how biased that they truly are.’ Because right now, there’s just enough there that they make mountains out of molehills, and all this other stuff.  But if he can just pull it back, just a little bit.

To her credit, KOA host Mandy Connell faults Trump for blundering, but then she attacks the “viciousness” of the media and says the “media has picked [his blunders] up, [and] blown up into massive proportion.

“Trump keeps giving the media ammunition with which to shoot him,” said Connell on air. “If he would shut his pie hole sometimes and not shoot from the hip, they would not have the ammunition that they currently have.”

In truth, the media are working sources and exposing serious dangers to us and our democracy. That’s what the fourth estate is supposed to do. Thank you, journalism.

Listen to Buck on KHOW May 18: