Archive for April, 2010

Post provides history of GOP donor who was angry at Markey vote

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

At the end of March, The Denver Post reported that a GOP donor sent Republican congressional candidate Cory Gardner a $1,000 check with a note, “You can thank Betsy Markey’s vote [for the health-care law] for this check.”

This anecdote was repeated in a subsequent Spot blog post and then the Washington Post, without the context that the donor, Fred Vierra, was a major GOP contributor, giving over $400,000 to GOP candidates nationwide since 1998, including big money to lots of big name Colorado Republicans. I wrote about this previously.

Unfortunately, this story of incomplete information gets even worse, but this time The Post should be congratulated for providing context, not omitting it, and for publishing the information that was absent previously, namely that Vierra was “regular contributor to Republicans,” even if the size and scope of his donations was still absent.

The Post revealed yesterday on its Spot blog that on Jan. 13, more than two months before Markey voted for the health-care law on March 21, Vierra had already given Cory Gardner $2,000, making him among Gardner’s top individual donors and bringing him close to the maximum an individual is allowed to give ($2,400 per election). 

Here’s why this is important, though it’s pretty clear in The Post piece:  When Vierra handed Gardner his $2,000 check on Jan. 13, Vierra could not have included a note, like he did later, saying how pissed he was at Markey for her health-care stance, because at that time she had only voted against the health-care bill. (She voted against an earlier version November 7, and she had made no indication that she would switch her vote.)

After Markey switched her position, and voted for the law, Vierra gave an additional $400 to Gardner, bringing his donation to the $2,400 maximum allowed. So how did he make a $1,000 donation without breaking the law? His wife, Roxanne Vierra, gave $600, as the Spot pointed out this afternoon.

The Spot reported that neither the Gardner campaign nor Vierra mentioned the previous $2,000 donation, when interviewed about it in March: “What Vierra didn’t say …• and neither did Gardner’s campaign …• was that the retired Cherry Hills Village resident had already donated $2,000 to Gardner.”

This information was not available on databases, like Vierra’s extensive donations, until last week when quarterly fundraising reports were posted. So there’s no way The Post could have known about the $2,000 unless told by someone.

Chris Hansen, Gardner’s campaign manager, told me yesterday morning before The Post’s piece was published, “We did not mislead anybody on anything. I think I should make that clear. I mean, we don’t need to.”

Asked if he told The Post about Vierra’s $2,000 donation in January, Hansen said, “Basically the conversation was a long conversation, with me reading off all the different notes. At a certain point it got kind of redundant. I probably have a pile of 30 or so. After that, she [The Post] asked for some numbers of people, and I gave them over to her. Truth be told, that was about a month ago. I don’t exactly remember the conversation. ”

“The reality is,” he said, “if you want to substitute Fred Vierra for any of our many other dozens of notes, the story would still have been there.”

And if Hansen makes these names available to journalists, reporters should, among other things, check their donor histories and ask them when they last gave to Gardner.

AP misrepresents Markey health-care outreach as “small-bore”

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

It’s basic journalism to seek the perspective of those you’re scrutinizing–and to check your facts.

But the Associated Press did neither of those things for a story last Friday titled, “Vulnerable Democrats are tiptoeing on health care.”

As a result at least one Democrat, Rep. Betsy Markey of Colorado, was presented in the article as tiptoeing when in reality, she may not have been tiptoeing at all, depending on your interpretation of the facts.

You’ll see what I mean when I provide information (below) that was omitted from the article.

The AP piece reported that Markey, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV), and Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ) had not “made an in-person appearance before a large crowd on the topic [health care] since it was passed into law.”

The AP wrote of Markey, “During Congress’ two-week Easter break, she reserved any discussion of health care reform for conference calls, an op-ed piece, and an appearance at a small-town Rotary Club–all small bore outreach.”

“After the raucus, angry town halls of last summer, Markey steered clear of massive gatherings,” the AP reported.

But the AP never called Markey’s office to discuss the matter, according to Markey spokesman Ben Marter. If the AP had done so, here’s what it would have found out:

After the health care bill passed the House (March 21) and prior to the publication of AP’s article (April 8), Markey held two “tele-town hall meetings,” with 8,500 participants each, Marter told me, adding that these conference calls were publicized in “newspapers and announced on radio stations all across the district.”  

So a total of 17,000 people participated in Markey’s conference calls, many more than the average of 200-300 participants at Markey’s live town hall meetings over summer, according to Marter. In addition, he says, Markey met during her office hours with groups (up to 50 people each) in a setting that “allowed more people to see Betsey and ask a question.” 

These figures make AP’s characterization that Markey engaged in “small-bore” outreach look way off the mark.

Let’s just call it what it is, editorializing.

It’s up to us to decide whether to believe Markey’s office and size up her outreach and the reasons for using the conference calls and other outreach measures in the wake of last summer’s, as the AP put it, “raucus, angry” town hall meetings. (Some might have called them “unmanageable,” “disruptive,” or possibly “unproductive.”)

But the AP never put the facts on the table for us to evaluate.

I was hoping the AP would talk to me about this, because I’m a huge fan of the news service, and it seemed really strange that it wouldn’t have bothered to call Markey’s office to get her side of the story, especially because other Democrats in the article were apparently interviewed.

But Kristen Wyatt, the AP reporter who wrote the piece, could only apologize for not being allowed to talk to me.


Media should clarify Gardner’s explanations for absences

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Back on March 19, on KCOL radio in Ft. Collins, Cory Gardner told host Brad Jones that there’s a natural overlap between Gardner’s State House duties and his activities as a candidate for U.S. Congress:

 Brad Jones (at five minutes 15 seconds, March 18, hour 4) : One issue on the campaign trail even before the caucuses this week has been your ability to balance your duties down at the State Capitol with the very rigorous demands of being a candidate in one of the most high profile congressional races in the country.  How have you been able to strike that balance? And what kind of job do you think you’ve been able to be doing at that?
Cory Gardner: You know I’ve given up sleep. It’s over-rated.

Brad Jones: Laughs.

Cory Gardner: And so we’ve been working very hard representing the people of eastern Colorado. My house district is basically the entire eastern plains of Colorado already, which is all within the 4th Congressional District. With the exception of a portion of Adams County, the rest of it is within the 4th Congressional.  And so we’re able to work for the people of Colorado, for the people of House District 63, fighting for water, agriculture, rural Colorado, at the same time as we stand up and fight for this country.

Does this mean that Gardner sees his congressional campaign and his duties as a state legislator as one and the same?

Has this made him less concerned about being present for State House procedings?

You wouldn’t think so from reading The Denver Post’s Spot blog, where Gardner’s campaign has accused Democrats of manipulating the House schedule, causing him to be absent on a number of occasions, including last Friday.

Either Jones or The Spot should ask Gardner to clarify himself. 


Norton not endorsed by National Republican Senatorial Committee

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

In an otherwise excellent article about the recent fortunes of U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, who’s battling Jane Norton (and Tom Wiens and others) for the chance to go up against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, The Post wrote today that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has endorsed Norton. This isn’t true.

The Post wrote:

The fund [Senate Conservatives Fund] has given money to those in competition with candidates endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee, like Norton.The fund has given $343,000 to Marco Rubio, the Tea Party candidate polling ahead of Crist in Florida’s Senate race.

It’s actually understandable that The Post would think Norton was endorsed by the NRSC. She has deep ties to and financial support from the Washington GOP establishment, including Lobbyists and politicians there, as The Post reported back in October in an article stating that “Norton also is presumed to have the support of the National Republican Senatorial Committee….”

Before she launched her campaign officially, The Post reported: “Her entry would bring the field to six declared Republican candidates, although Norton is expected to get the backing of the national senatorial committee and most of the state’s GOP power brokers.”

Also, before Norton launched her campaign, the NRSC registered two domain names for Norton: and, creating a backlash from Tea Party activists, like Buck.

But a spokeswoman from the NRSC confirmed to me this morning that the NRSC has not endorsed Norton.

Wow, Dems NOT quoted in story on GOP primary

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Michael Bennet announces his plan to petition his way onto the Democratic primary ballot, and The Denver Post’s Spot blog rushes to GOP chair Dick Wadhams for a comment, which is reportedly one word, “Wow.”

This insightful utterance is then placed by the Spot in the opening paragraph of its post on Bennet’s decision:

Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams could only say, “Wow.” That’s it, one word.

After this opening graf, the rest of the article, titled “Bennet move surprises Republicans, Romanoff,” quotes Romanoff and Bennet spokespeople, and explains the process for petitioning on the ballot. A later Spot post, on the same day, has the title “Bennet wants to meet more voters,” and this time, thankfully, the Republican attack quote is not included.

Fast forward to yesterday when Jane Norton announced that she would be petitioning her way on the Republican primary ballot.

The Spot’s post on Norton’s decision not only didn’t lead with the Democratic response to Norton’s move, but it didn’t quote a Democrat at all.

Instead, the piece focused on internal GOP politics, quoting Republicans, which is what you’d expect. After all, Republicans are the most important players in a story about the Republican primary. Just as the Democrats are the most important players in a story about the Democratic primary.

I know that The Spot is supposed to be conversational, and a good quote or quip can count for a lot.  Still, it was tacky to give Wadhams such a platform, as if he were a celebrity or a guru or something, for his shallow “Wow” attack quote.

And it was wise of the Spot not to make the same mistake twice and put the Democratic equivalent of “Wow” in paragraph one of Norton’s story yesterday.

What happened to Diane Carman?

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Many Denver journalists have disappeared over the past few years. I thought it would be fun and interesting to hear from them. So I’ve been asking a few what they’ve been up to–and what they think of the state of journalism in Colorado these days.

Former Post metro columnist Diane Carman was kind to take time to answer those two questions. (See below.) She started at the The Post in 1989, working first as features editor and then entertainment editor. She wrote a column once a week from 1991 to 1998 before she became a full-time columnist. Here’s what Diane wrote me via email this week.


My current situation:

I left the Post in 2007 to join the staff at the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver. For the first year or so, I was working primarily with the Presidential Climate Action Project, a national nonprofit headquartered in the school. That effort trailed off after the 2008 presidential election and I began working full time for the school. I have helped faculty and staff members work more effectively with the local media, organized events on public policy issues, taught a class on the media and public policy, and helped produce the alumni magazine and features for the website.




I am developing a nonprofit health policy analysis operation to be headquartered at the school. Funded by private foundations, the project will feature regular email newsletters, a website and a blog on health policy in the context of Colorado. It will be old-fashioned reporting, writing and analysis, but in an intentional nonprofit model. We hope to have it operating within the next six months.


While I miss the newspaper business, especially the newsroom atmosphere, I have come to enjoy my new colleagues and the opportunity to learn new skills. I feel really fortunate to have found another job working in the world of ideas. Still, I’m amazed at how many total strangers stop me on the street or at the grocery every week to tell me they miss my column. It was a wild ride and I’ll never forget it.


The state of Colorado journalism:

The news that Craig Walker won the Pulitzer Prize this year was tonic for those of us who want to see the news business in this town succeed. Craig is a tremendously talented guy who’s really well liked. He shot some amazing photos and really persevered to see that project through. It was so well deserved.


That being said, projects like Craig’s are becoming increasingly rare across the country …• not just in Denver. I’m a big fan of long-form journalism, investigative reporting, in-depth analysis and tenacious searching for the truth …• all of which are expensive to produce on a consistent basis. Given the demise of the Rocky and the reduced staff and savaged news budget at the Post, we are getting a small fraction of that kind of high-caliber journalism anymore. Some days I actually pick up a New Yorker after I finish reading the Post because I can’t find enough to read to occupy myself for a 20-minute bus ride.


My pals in the newsroom are working hard, trying to achieve greatness and they believe in what they do. They don’t know if they’ll ever get another raise or another contribution by the company to their 401k. And they all know the odds are against them given the outdated business model for the industry. I wish them all the best, but I’m not optimistic that we’ll ever see the kind of high-quality journalism that we got during our great Denver newspaper war in the ’90s. At least not from newspapers.


That being said, I really hope they prove me wrong.





Kaminsky should inform listeners of health-care misrepresentation delivered by Norton

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

In my post yesterday about Ross Kaminsky’s radio interview with Republican Senate candidate Jane Norton, I made an oversight in not pointing out that the IRS will not, in fact, hire 16,000 IRS employees to enforce the health-care bill.

On his next show, Kaminsky should inform his listeners of this serious misrepresentation delivered by Norton on his show.

According to the credible website,

The IRS’ main job under the new law isn’t to enforce penalties. Its first task is to inform many small-business owners of a new tax credit that the new law grants them …- starting this year …- which will pay up to 35 percent of the employer’s contribution toward their workers’ health insurance. And in 2014 the IRS will also be administering additional subsidies …- in the form of refundable tax credits …- to help millions of low- and middle-income individuals buy health insurance.

The law does make individuals subject to a tax, starting in 2014, if they fail to obtain health insurance coverage. But IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman testified before a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee March 25 that the IRS won’t be auditing individuals to certify that they have obtained health insurance. He said insurance companies will issue forms certifying that individuals have coverage that meets the federal mandate, similar to a form that lenders use to verify the amount of interest someone has paid on their home mortgage. “We expect to get a simple form, that we won’t look behind, that says this person has acceptable health coverage,” Shulman said. “So there’s not going to be any discussions about health coverage with an IRS employee.” In any case, the bill signed into law (on page 131) specifically prohibits the IRS from using the liens and levies commonly used to collect money owed by delinquent taxpayers, and rules out any criminal penalties for individuals who refuse to pay the tax or those who don’t obtain coverage. That doesn’t leave a lot for IRS enforcers to do.

Norton not questioned about why health care repeal not practical but de-funding the law is

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Backbone talk radio host Ross Kaminsky told me today that for his interview with Jane Norton Sunday, “I expected to get harder questions for her, and I didn’t get them [from listeners].”

So he gave her the kid-glove treatment.

For example, Kaminsky said he asked Norton a “fairly tough” question about why she doesn’t talk about “her primary opponents more.”

This question gave Norton the chance to slam Michael Bennet, praise Ronald Reagan, and conclude by saying:

“But the fact of the matter is, you have somebody running a negative campaign against me, dumping $800,000 into a negative campaign against me in the primary. Though I believe in Reagan’s 11th Commandment of never speaking ill about another Republican, certainly we have to set the record straight. Things like, when Ken [Buck] says I am for amnesty, that’s just flat out wrong and we need to address these things and set the record straight.”

No follow up questions were asked about the question, though immigration policy was discussed later.

Kaminsky did a bit better earlier in the interview when he asked Norton, what he termed “sort of a hard question:”

“The criticism most frequently thrown at you is that you are a party person. I don’t believe that of you, but I wanted to give you a chance to answer that directly.”

She then told Kaminsky that the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s purchase of URLs for her campaign was a “small issue” and that it was “nonsense” for anyone “to say that I’m, you know, hand-picked” because “you know that they know they [the NRSC] don’t endorse.”   

Asked by Kaminsky about repealing the health-care law, Norton said:

“Well, realistically, I don’t think you can repeal it, with the makeup we’re seeing right now, and even if we were able to put in place conservatives in all the seats, you wouldn’t be able to repeal it because of the President’s veto power. There’s two ways that you can approach it. One is not funding those 16,000 new IRS employees that it’s going to take to implement and then police this. And then, also, insuring that each component of that 2,700 page bill is indeed constitutional.”

Kaminsky did not ask Norton why it’s more realistic for the next Congress to delete funding for a portion of the health-care bill, effectively killing it, than it would be to repeal the entire bill.  Later, Kaminsky told me that he believes deleting funding for the bill through the Appropriations process would, in fact, be easier, even with Obama as President. So he had no reason to doubt Norton.

Also in the interview, Norton declared:

“Our principles and our civil liberties are being just jack hammered away. And if we don’t, we will lose this country forever. It’s not histrionics. Think about the situation we’re in. I mean, we have a government that is the problem. It is telling us that we have to buy a private product. It’s telling us what kinds of light bulbs we have to utilize, what kinds of homes we have to have.”

Not histrionics? Kaminsky failed to ask Norton what she meant by this, given that it sounds like she’s against municipal housing codes and zoning. Kaminsky told me in a subsequent interview that he didn’t ask Norton to clarify because he thought she was referring to the “so-called climate change legislation that does get federal involvement in building codes as well as moving to eliminate incandescent light bulbs.”

Questions for Norton filtered on conservative talk-radio show

Monday, April 12th, 2010

You know talk radio shows filter out unwanted questions and stop unwanted callers from getting on the air.

There’s the mute button, which the host can use to silence a caller with the tap of a finger.

And there’s the person (the producer or possibly the host herself) who fields the calls asks about the topic of the call.

But Ross Kaminsky, blogger and guest host on Backbone radio yesterday, took call filtering to the next level by asking his listeners to submit questions for his review. Then, he said, he’d select “at least one of them” to present to Republican U.S. candidate Jane Norton, who was featured in the last segment of his show.

By asking and selecting questions himself, Kaminsky eliminated the remote chance that a caller would get on their air and ask a question that Kaminsky didn’t want asked.

I asked Kaminsky if this take-no-questions-directly-from-callers arrangement was orchestrated in advance with the Norton campaign.

Kaminsky said it was not.

“The reason that I did was not in the interest of filtering,” he told me. “It was for time management. Frequently what happens is you get a caller and they spend one or two minutes with a preamble to their question. When I only have a total of about 17 minutes with a candidate what I have found is that too much time gets wasted. The intent of my approach was time management not filtering particular questions.”

I actually thought Kaminsky was gentle with Norton, but I’ll discuss this in my next post.

But tough questions aside, Kaminsky’s heavy approach to filtering questions was out of step with the way most talk-radio hosts conduct interviews. Conservative and liberal talk-show hosts allow callers to question candidates and politicians directly, and it usually makes for more engaging talk radio. The callers are often the best part of these shows, not the hosts.

“They [other talk-radio hosts] usually have much more time with a candidate than I had [with Norton], It’s a lot easier to take callers’ questions when you’ve got a candidate for an hour or two, or you know they are going to be on frequently.”

Plus, he said, he asked Norton every question he got.

I believe Kaminsky, but by setting up an elaborate question-filtration system, he makes his show smell bad.  That’s for sure.

Just like The Denver Post looks bad for publishing just one article in the last 27 weeks with a Norton quotation, obtained in an actual exchange with a reporter.

Issues should trump minor accusations

Friday, April 9th, 2010

People tell me all the time that The Denver Post isn’t bothering to cover local elections, like State House races, for example. I usually defend The Post by saying that the paper has to set priorities, and just how many local elections are there in the metro area? A ton.

And besides, the newspaper does provide online resources with lots of info about local candidates. In an interview in Feb., Post Political Editor Curtis Hubbard told me that The Post may provide more coverage of local political races in its YourHub supplement. And this seems to be happening, though I haven’t looked at the YourHub coverage in a systematic way.

So with space for local elections at such a premium, it’s a surprise to see stories about State House races in The Post, like today’s piece about three pimaries for House seats.

But the piece was a major disappointment with a focus mostly on minor squabbles and sparring among candidates–without single serious local issue spotlighted.

The article covered the District 4, 5, and 9 State House races.

The coverage of the District 4 race focused on whether Dan Pabon got special treatment. No evidence was cited by The Post, though it reported that complaints had been lodged but no verdict rendered; a Democratic spokeswoman “feared” that the caucus results might have to be tossed.

The portion of the article on the District 5 race centered on a hostile email exchange between a Cristina Duran supporter, not affiliated with Duran’s campaign team, and candidate Jose Silva.

As for the District 9 portion of the article, it focused on a dispute over whether a Republican party official should have pointed out that one candidate was on probation for a petty offense of disturbing the peace.

I think fights among candidates are important for voters to know about. How they are handled by candidates is illuminating.

But with so little ink available for these races, and no money or serious judgment calls involved yet, I think the focus for The Post, especially for the print edition, should be on the issues. And god knows there are many at play at the Legislature, including education, the budget, the environment, and many more. Next time, pick a couple issues tell us where the candidates stand.