Archive for June, 2010

What about the substance of McInnis water articles?

Monday, June 28th, 2010

It’s been almost two weeks since 1) we learned that the Hasan Family Foundation paid gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis $300,000, rather than $150,000 as previously reported, mostly for his “series of in-depth articles on water, Colorado Water” and 2) that the series, titled “Musings on Water,” amounted to 150 pages, according to McInnis’ campiagn (though, mysteriously enough, the Hasan foundation is only in possession of 60 pages).

But I can’t find a single news reporter in Colorado who’s reported a water expert’s views about McInnis’ formerly stealth water articles.

Fortunately, while we wait for basic reporting on the matter, a few columnists and bloggers have weighed in. Here’s what they concluded:

Over the weekend, Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen, who’s definitely counts as an expert on Colorado water issues himself, spotlighted big-time errors in McInnis’ work, including McInnis’ failure to list the South Platte among Colorado’s major river basins. Quillen writes, “We’re not talking arcane knowledge, just the ability to read a map.”

Quillen concludes, “So you may not learn a lot about our water issues from these $12.50-a-word musings, but you could learn quite a bit about McInnis.”

On KBDI’s Colorado Inside Out June 18, Post columnist Susan Greene had a similar view:

“You know, I’ve actually covered the Colorado River for 20 years, and you could Wikipedia this stuff. I’m not saying he did… I’m just saying his name is on it. I don’t care. It’s not edifying at all. It tells me nothing about the Colorado River Compact. It has these sort of flourishes and great moments of insights like, water is very important to humanity. You know, $300,000? I’m thinking, he could have done that much less expensively.”

The blogosphere has also been pretty quiet about the substance of McInnis’s writings. John Orr of the Coyote Gulch blog  was by far the most kind to McInnis: “He’s consistent in his message, bashing government and the Bureau of Reclamation specifically. He embraces the development of water and other resources and laments all the possible mineral mother lodes locked up by wilderness designation. He demonstrates a good understanding of water issues and the history behind Colorado’s present situation.”

Over at Westword’s Latest Word blog, Alan Prendergast has made a complete mockery of McInnis’ own claim in a memo to the Hasan Foundation that his articles were “carefully-proofed.”

In his third article on the topic, published the same day that the National Association of Hispanic Journalists was holding its national conference in Denver, Prendergast quoted a passage from McInnis’ water writings and then pointed out that McInnis got his Spanish translation messed up.

McInnis: “The Colorado River is the primary River of the Southwest part of Our Nation. It is called the ‘River of Rivers’ because of its importance in some of the most arid lands in the Americas… Do you know the name of ‘Rio Colorado’? That was the name, given by the Spanish, to a portion of what we now know as the ‘Colorado River.’ Colorado is ‘Red’ in Spanish. It was called the Rio because of the Reddish color that dominated the River…”

Westword’s Prendergast:  “No, Señor Snore, I’m pretty sure it was called the Colorado because of the reddish color, but who am I to contradict a $2,000-a-page man?”

So, despite some great work by columnists and bloggers, we need more serious news analysis of the McInnis writings. You might argue that journalists don’t need to go fact checking old articles of a former Congressman who’s got a long trail of paper behind him, but with the Big Question still hanging out there (Why was McInnis paid so much for this?), I think reporters should ask more experts about the substance of these articles.

McInnis skipped press conference partly for sun-roof reception

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Media outlets have not reported that, during part of the time that gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis was scheduled to meet with reporters after his speech to the Denver Petroleum Club Tuesday, he appeared at a sun-roof reception for Petroleum Club members, according to a Petroleum Club board member who helped organize the event.

“I do know that Scott went up to the sun roof for a few minutes, but he didn’t stay long,” Denver Petroleum Club board member Pam Roth told me. “They had to move him along to the next commitment, whatever it was.”

McInnis was scheduled to meet with reporters after his speech, but he did not show up, instead going to the sun roof at the Athletic Club for at least part of the time. Roth did not know where he want after this.

“They were very well aware that we had scheduled Hickenlooper first, pre-event, and Scott was to go down and visit with you guys post event,” Roth told me.

“So I think they were looking at the time constraint saying, well, it wouldn’t be the full 20 minutes anyway so here’s another option: we’ll go down and give them another time to follow up,” Roth said. “I had several discussions Mike Hess, who is with McInnis’ campaign, that that was rather frustrating for me because, first of all, it was on the fly, so I didn’t have a chance to understand how we could accomodate you guys better. But I was told that [McInnis spokesperson] Sean [Duffy] was going give you the opportunity to have an alternative time.”

Duffy did this. He told reporters he would arrange individual interviews with McInnis.

If Norton wants to talk defense, ask her about defense cuts

Friday, June 25th, 2010

Even with U.S. wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, I was surprised U.S. Senate candidate Jane Norton dropped the old Democrats-are-weak-on-defense bomb into the Colorado Senate campaign, via an ad that’s angered some left-leaning veterans.

But now that Norton is talking about the military, reporters should broaden the debate a bit, and ask her and the other Senate candidates about defense spending generally.

Tea party activists from coast to coast are trashing big government generally, and big government spending in particular.

They tick off ways that they think the government should save money. Stop the bailouts. No more earmarks. Abolish the Department of Education.

If you review local news coverage where tea party candidates are running strong, you see that reporters are dutifully noting the budget-cutting soundbites from tea partiers.

But reporters are failing to ask tea party activists about a more effective way to curb deficit-building federal spending that’s not on their cost-cutting wish-list: the wasteful programs embedded in the world’s largest bureaucracy, the Pentagon.

We’re spending about $750 billion on the military this year. That accounts for about 40 percent of the federal budget, if you include mandatory outlays like interest on the debt and Social Security. It’s over half of the so-called discretionary budget, the amount Congress divides up and spends annually.

As budget analysts of all political persuasions will tell you, the Pentagon budget replete with waste. Over $60 billion could be easily trimmed, according to the Unified Security Budget taskforce headed by Institute for Policy Studies research fellow Miriam Pemberton and Lawrence Korb, who served as President Ronald Reagan’s assistant secretary of defense. The savings, they say, would come from just cutting fighters, submarines, and other big weapons that don’t make sense given the threats faced by the U.S. today. Other military analysts have identified other ways to save even more money.

If the Pentagon isn’t red meat for the ferocious tea bag express, what is?

Yet, the issue is off the media radar screen for the most part. A Google News search for “tea party” and “Defense Department” yields about a dozen articles. Searching for “tea party” and “health care” produces more than 2,700.

But one recent article in Politico, titled “Robert Gates May Get Lift from Tea Parties,” did tackle the issue. It provides an excellent example of the kind of Pentagon-related questions reporters across the country should ask tea party candidates.

Politico asked numerous tea party activists whether military spending should be on their budget-cut hit list. And all of them said it should be.

The article quotes tea party leader Mike Pence (R-Ind.) saying “If we are going to get our fiscal house in order, everything has to be on the table.”

But Pence opposes cutting a redundant engine for the F-35 fighter jet. Rolls Royce, a big fish in Indiana, makes the engine.

So Pence isn’t joining forces with the Obama administration to cut this second engine, widely seen as unnecessary, and tea partiers haven’t been up in arms about his embrace of Pentagon waste.

Reporters should call Pence on this inconsistency. They should find out if other tea party candidates are willing to join President Barack Obama on this issue. Despite the recession and noise about the deficit, Congress is bitterly fighting even his relatively small defense cuts.

Tea party candidate Chuck DeVore, who lost a bid for the GOP Senate nomination in California, told Politico that defense cuts are “not an issue” that came up in the hundreds of tea party events he attended on the campaign trail in California.

Yet he and others like him, when asked, say they won’t shy away from the issue.

Against this backdrop, and now that Norton is talking military issues, it’s time for Colorado reporters to ask tea party leaders about this.

How much would they trim from the Pentagon budget? What weapons systems would they cut? Would they join Democrats and the president to get the job done?

A portion of this article was distributed nationally by the OtherWords syndicate.

What happened to Mike Saccone?

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

In my “What happened to them?” series, I’ve been asking Denver journalists 1) what they’ve been up to since leaving the Rocky, the Post, or some other news outlet in Colorado…-and 2) what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. Lots of journalists in recent years have been on our doorsteps one day and then gone the next. I thought it would be interesting to find out what happened to some of them.

Mike Saccone was a writer and blogger at The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction from Jan. 2006 through the end of Feb. 2009, first covering mostly criminal justice and then politics. Prior to working at the Sentinel, he wrote for Cox News Service in Washington, DC, and The American Lawyer Magazine, among other publications.

 Here are his answers to my email questions:

1. More than a year ago, I left my perch as chief political writer and blogger for The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction to become communications director for the Colorado Department of Law. I am responsible for coordinating our public relations efforts as well as responding to the daily needs of the media throughout Colorado. Having covered the legal profession in New York and our nation’s capital, I have always been fascinated with the law. My current job allows me to continue to learn about the law and to see state government from the other side …- the inside …- of the fishbowl.

2. All things considered, I think Colorado’s journalism scene actually is all-in-all fairly healthy. Though larger newspapers might be going through a rough patch, smaller, local outlets such as my former newspaper, The Daily Sentinel, along with The Durango Herald, The Longmont Times Call and too many others to mention are doing great local and regional coverage that at times bests the work of their larger peers. For example, Bob Moore at the Fort Collins Coloradoan blows his competition out of the water when it comes to covering the 4th Congressional District.

Colorado broadcast media also is doing some really strong work. From the investigative pieces coming out of the Denver market to the local and regional coverage of outlets like KUNC in Greeley, KREX in Grand Junction and Aspen Public Radio, Colorado’ broadcast outlets do some great work, even if the smaller stations don’t get the notice they deserve. Just as an example of broadcast media expanding, Colorado Public Radio stationed one of its reporters at the Capitol this year to cover the legislative session.

On top of all of this, Colorado’s online media also is flourishing. From the Colorado Independent to Face the State to the work Westword is doing with its blogs, there is decent competition emerging for the traditional print and broadcast media. Do I think they will eclipse the traditional media? Probably not in my lifetime, but they do add another layer to Colorado’s journalism landscape. That can’t hurt.

Will every print, broadcast or new media outlet still be here in five years? Probably not, but Colorado overall is in great shape. Obviously losing the Rocky was a major blow to Colorado journalism, but the show goes on. From The Denver Post, 9 News and KOA on down, there’s still great journalism being done. And from my perspective, I think great journalism will continue to be done in Colorado, even if it’s coming from new outlets or existing outlets being repurposed or reoriented.

Wash Post blogger suggests asking about BP fund

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Washington Post blogger David Weigel wrote Tuesday that not all Republicans are running away from Rep. Joe Barton’s surprising comment that the BP’s $20 billion escrow account for Gulf oil damages amounts to a government “shakedown” of BP.

Weigel points to a couple GOP candidates who’ve criticized the fund in Wisconsin, and writes:

In Colorado, it was an aide to once-frontrunner Jane Norton (Ken Buck now leads in some polls for the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination) who called the escrow account a “slush fund.” I’m not seeing a massive trend here, but I’m not sure that local reporters are all posing the question. Plenty of conservative candidates agree with Rush Limbaugh that the fund amounts to “thuggery” or a shakedown — something the Gulf Coast Republicans who favored the fund disagree with.

We know, thanks to the Denver Post and Progress Now, that Norton’s Josh Penry later said the aide, Aindriu Colgan, was not speaking on behalf of the Norton campaign, even though he had said he was representing Norton.

Penry said the campaign didn’t have a comment on the fund set up by BP.

So here in Colorado, reporters are posing the question, at least to Norton’s underling, but they aren’t getting an answer one way or the other. This makes me think reporters should, per Weigel’s suggestion, ask other candidates about the BP fund. I don’t know about you, but I’m curious about what they’d say.

Petroleum Club and McInnis disagree on canceled news conference

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Republican gubernatorial candidate McInnis didn’t show up for a scheduled news conference after his speech before the Denver Petroleum Club yesterday.

The Colorado Independent reported that McInnis spokesperson Sean Duffy told journalists, who were waiting for McInnis after his speech, that McInnis was unaware of the press conference. The Denver Post quoted Duffy as saying McInnis had “other events.” (I was not aware of the Post’s reporting in an earlier version of this.)

Another journalist, who was one of the group of reporters waiting for McInnis, told me that Duffy entered the room and told reporters that the Petroleum Club hadn’t “told him [McInnis] about the press availability, but Duffy said he’d schedule individual meetings with anybody who wanted one.”

I asked Joyce Witte, President of the Denver Petroleum Club, if it was true that the McInnis Campaign wasn’t informed about the news conference.

“No, he did know about it, and I am not sure why he decided not to participate,” Witte told me. “It was my sense it was a last-minute decision on behalf of his campaign.”

I wanted to be sure I had this right, so I asked Witte, “But you’re sure he got the message, or Sean got that message somehow, because Sean is putting the blame on you guys?”

“Nope. They knew about it.”

Both McInnis and Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper spoke to the Denver Petroleum Club. A press conference with Hickenlooper took place, as planned, before his speech. McInnis was supposed to answer questions from reporters after his address to the group.

Hickenlooper sat down with about a dozen reporters and took questions not only about oil and gas issues, but about healthcare, immigration, stimulus funding, and more. At one point, the Mayor said he thought the press conference was going to be about oil-and-gas issues only, but he answered most of the questions put to him. (He told one reporter he’d have to get back to him on a question related to state legislation about a national identity card.)

Hickenlooper’s spokesperson George Merritt told me that his campaign was aware of the scheduled press conference well in advance.

I was on the press list for Petroleum Club event, which was moderated by Adam Schrager of 9News, and I attended half of it. I didn’t see a single organizational flaw there. The planned press events with both candidates were listed on press materials emailed to me two weeks in advance.

The big question about the water articles

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Some of the best news stories stay in your head because they revolve around an unanswered question.

The story about Scott McInnis getting $300,000 from the Hasan Family Foundation, mostly to write 150 double-spaced pages about Colorado water issues, centers on exactly this kind of big question.

Why did McInnis get so much money to write this stuff?

It’s surely a question that journalists will put to McInnis during the campaign, even if he’s not talking about it now. Right, all you reporters out there?

But over at Westword, which prides itself on alternative views, Alan Prendergast thinks the real question is, “what McInnis’s 150 pages of soggy prose tell us about the kind of governor he would make.”

Prendergast dissects McInnis’ water writing, quoting McInnis, and then offering his analysis of the pricy articles:

 McInnis water article number one: “The water we use day-to-day comes mostly from mountain snow melt — some from rain — but mostly from mountain snow melt. The climate of Colorado is semi-arid or even arid with statewide precipitation of 16-17 inches, mostly as snow melt, mostly in the mountains.”

Prendergast: Hmm. Somebody seems to be hypnotized by the words “snow melt.” But showing the resourcefulness of a true leader, McInnis rouses himself from this rhetorical rut and soldiers on, marching through a droning geography lesson about Colorado’s major river basins, marred by only the occasional incoherence, as in “So Colorado does not get to keep off of ‘its water.’” Could “off” be a typo for “all,” or is the writer invoking the rebellious spirit of Mick Jagger singing “Get Off of My Cloud”?

Read the entire piece here, but watch out because Prendergast warns us, “The Westword Foundation is paying me an extravagant sum to blog on this topic. I can’t reveal the exact amount without my patron’s permission, but suffice it to say that I am getting paid by the word.”

Would Gardner un-invite Norton

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

One Republican has said that President Barack Obama “has a default mechanism” that “favors the black person.”

Closer to home, another GOP politician has said at least twice that President Barack Obama’s Administration “cares more about the rights of terrorists than the lives of American citizens.” 

The first statement is by Rep. Steve King of western Iowa, the second by Colorado Senate candidate Jane Norton.

If you’re a journalist, you don’t need to have an opinion on which of the statements is worse.

All you have to do is recognize that they are comparable.

If you think they are, and it’s clear that the two statements are in the same ballpark, then it’s fair to ask Rep. Cory Gardner, who this week canceled a $100-per-person fundraiser with King, if he’d un-invite Norton to a campaign event, if he were holding one with her. Or if he’d stand with her on stage at some point in the future.

Trouble is, Gardner cancelled the King event without comment, and his campaign isn’t talking to the media about it.

So what’s a reporter to do?

Don’t let this slip through the cracks. Ask Gardner about Norton’s statement (versus King’s) at a venue where he can’t run away from the question, like a televised debate or a direct, public interview.

Hypocritical talk radio hosts trash journalism at their own peril

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Sometimes it seems that if you flutter from radio station to radio station in your car, like I do, and you light for more than a few minutes on a conservative talk show, you inevitably hear the host slamming journalism, not just The Denver Post or a specific story, but journalism in general.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with criticizing The Post. I do it all the time. But it’s the sweeping condemnations of journalism that are destructive and unnecessary, like the unsubstantiated claims that The Denver Post has a liberal bias.

I mean, just this morning, as I was driving to work and considering a blog post on this topic, I hear KHOW’s Peter Boyles agree with a caller who compared today’s journalists, like those at The Denver Post, to Catholic Church leaders who tried to stop the Gutenberg press because the Catholic Church didn’t want the masses to have their own bibles and their own access to the scriptures.

“Sure they are,” said Boyles in agreeing that journalists are like the self-serving Popes of yore who tried to put the lid on information and shut down the printing press.

Is that a stomach-turning and untrue analogy or what? The Post isn’t trying to stop ordinary people from learning on their own or publishing whatever they want on the Internet, whether it’s true or not. 

The Post is actually trying to give us the credible facts (not always accurate, but mostly) to help us be involved in public life in a meaningful way and to figure out stuff like who we want to vote for.

Boyles brought up this topic because Denver Post publisher Dean Singleton was on KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman show earlier this week saying, essentially, that people should be wary of all the untruths on the Internet. He argued that his newspaper is a credible source of information, versus much of the Internet.

And Boyles opinion of  Singeton’s radio appearance, as uttered on his show this morning: “That was bad.”

It was actually great to see Singleton defending journalism, and it raises the question of why don’t journalists defend themselves more often? Rocky Editor John Temple did it occasionally in his weekly column, even if his style was on the snooty side sometimes.

It’s ironic, of course, that talk radio hosts trash journalism, because they rely on it day after day for their shows. It’s hard to imagine how Boyles would fill his three hours if he didn’t have The Post to beat up on.

That’s the point I tried to make in this op-ed in Today’s Ft. Collins Coloradoan. KCOL’s Gail Fallen and Keith Weinman were perfectly happy to pat gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis on the back, as he condemned The Denver Post for doing its job and asking him to release his income tax forms.

Did the talk show hosts point out that The Post was performing the basic function of journalism, to get the facts on the table. Of course not.

Maybe they don’t care, but how great would it be if talk radio hosts changed course and defended journalism, instead of letting their callers and guests misrepresent the what reporters do and the role they play and have played historically in public debate?

Boyles knows better than to compare journalists to Popes. You can do better, Peter. So can other hosts.

Quote what the candidate said before he turned mum; McInnis called $300K Hasan Fellowship “Sweet”

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Reporters have yet to interview Scott McInnis directly about his two-year, $300,000 fellowship from the Hasan Family Foundation…-mostly to write a series of articles titled “Musings on Water,” which totaled about 150 double-spaced pages.

Instead, spokesman Sean Duffy is handling the press, telling The Denver Post that McInnis fulfilled his contract with the foundation.

In a case like this, when a candidate is apparently not talking, reporters should go back and quote what he had to say on the topic previously, before he turned mum.

McInnis previously stated that his Hasan fellowship was “sweet.”

McInnis said this on KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman Show April 26. He also said, “And so I was pretty excited to do it. It was the first time in my life I got paid to write about a subject that I, one, knew a little something about but, two, actually, I always like to tell, hey look at water look at history. So that’s what that was about.”

Questioned further by Silverman, McInnis stated, “When I got out [of Congress], we were having a conversation and they [the Hasan Family Foundation] said we’d be interested in doing this if you’d be interested in helping put together some articles at some point, could be used in a series for education on water in Colorado. So that’s what that was about. And I was thrilled to do it. I got paid to do it. That’s pretty sweet. And it was a family that cares intensely about the state of Colorado.”