Among Denver media, Post and (believe it or not) a talk-radio show had most primary election impact

Before the memory of the primary elections slips behind us (yes, I know it’s been unforgettable, but still), I wanted to point out the media organ that’s moved off the sidelines to have the second greatest impact on the election.

The Denver Post gets top honors as the most influential media outlet in Colorado, of course, for reasons that are obvious and go beyond the McInnis plagiarism coverage.

But number two is pretty surprising. It’s the Caplis and Silverman show, which airs 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on KHOW 630 AM.

I can’t stand the show sometimes (especially when centrist/right Silverman idles as Caplis acts like a spinmeister for the Republicans), but I mostly like it a lot. And this election season I’ve been floored by the show’s impact, substance, and entertainment-value…-on a regular basis.

The show’s string of major hits began in Aug. of 2009 when Scott McInnis inexplicably lashed out at both Caplis and Silverman and claimed to be more generous than they. The bizarre outburst, in which McInnis “went off the rails,” according to The Post, got quite a bit of media attention and in retrospect set the bizarre tenor of the McInnis campaign to come, including his comment on the show in April, also widely publicized, that he’s the kind of person who donates elk meat to folks in need, rather than giving to nonprofit groups.

That info came when McInnis was refusing to talk to The Post, after the newspaper had asked to review his tax returns. So McInnis explained himself on Caplis and Silverman.

In the same elk interview, Silverman became the first in the media to ask McInnis what he did to earn $150,000 from the Hasan Family Foundation, which was mentioned among McInnis’ 2005 income sources in The Post, where it might have died without Silverman. Silverman asked McInnis if he was trying to help the foundation foster a better understanding between U.S. citizens and Muslim cultures. But no no, McInnis eagerly corrected him and said the foundation paid him to “write” articles on Colorado water.

As the primary wore on, all the major GOP players and many Dems were regulars on Caplis and Silverman. In your car on the way home, it was like listening to a mix of live breaking news bits, in-depth discussions of politics and various issues, and five-star drive-time drama and comedy–and tragedy. It felt like a town hall, showing how great talk radio can be. Unfortunately, John Hickenlooper appears to be avoiding the show, after a contentious appearance earlier this year about his charitable contributions, and Michael Bennet didn’t materialize.

“Dan Maes was a frequent guest on the show, and while they didn’t treat him with kid gloves, his accessibility and willingness to step into the arena helped place him on an equal status with McInnis or even above McInnis,” said Westword’s “Latest Word” blogger and media critic Michael Roberts.

I asked Roberts if he agreed with me that Caplis and Silverman, now in its sixth year on the air, deserves the number two spot among media outlets for impact on this year’s primary.

“In terms of that specific primary, I think you can make a very good argument that it was second to The Post, which clearly had the biggest impact,” Roberts told me, adding that Channel 7’s interview with Rolly Fisher was also a major journalistic triumph. “But the Caplis and Silverman show wasn’t one hit or two, but had an impact over the long haul.”

Roberts also thinks that Caplis’ early abandonment of McInnis, days after the plagiarism scandal hit the news, contributed to the conservative rush away from him.

Silverman, who credits producer Brad Lopez for landing great guests, wrote me that regular interviewees Ken Buck and Jane Norton both had “huge” ad buys on their show, “so they must have thought voters were listening.”

“Dan Caplis and I are both trial lawyers so we should have skills at questioning,” writes Silverman, who’s now an unaffiliated voter in contrast to partisan Republican Caplis. “We try to use courtroom etiquette including no interrupting. I fancy myself a political free agent and ask tough but fair questions to Dems and Repubs.” 

He continues: “Some talk radio hosts (i.e. Limbaugh) call opposition politicians schoolyard names or otherwise belittle or caricature them. I understand why politicos avoid such shows. We do not do that.  Our show is more like a friendly courtroom. Often, Dan and I are on different political sides, so there is usually some balance in the overall experience for the guest and listener.”

Some balance, yes, but no much if you look at the big picture. I mean, the show creates the illusion that the political spectrum in America runs from the center-right (Silverman) to the far-right (social-conservative Caplis). That drives me nuts, as I’ve written previously, and motivates me to find some real balance by listening to progressive David Sirota, who’s doing a great job in the mornings on AM760. But I have to agree with Silverman that pairing Caplis with a guy like Sirota would probably fail…-and the number of quality guests would certainly decrease. Still, I’d like to see a talk-show experiment in Denver with a true lefty and Caplis-like righty.

But we have the Caplis and Silverman, and for this year at least, it’s been about as good as you could hope for from a political talk-radio show.

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