Post Editorial Page Editor sees need for more left-leaning opinion on Spot blog for “more balance”

If you’ve been watching the evolution of political blogging at The Denver Post, you know that the Spot blog, is by far the best effort yet, way better than the newspaper’s blog in the days when rightie Ross Kaminsky wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote, while his left-leaning Gang-of-Four counterparts were often AWOL, along with any audience to speak of.

Now, with Kaminsky safely booted back to his Rossputin blog, The Post’s political blog features bylined reporting, fact-based with breaking news and some humor but without rumor and slander.

The Spot also offers two opinion writers (sometimes more, but rarely): right-leaning Chuck Plunkett, who posts as much as once per day, and libertarian David Harsanyi, who posts less frequently.

I’ve got nothing against Plunkett and Harsanyi. I respect both of them.

But it’s obvious to me that the Spot, by adhering to basic journalistic standards in the vast majority of its blog posts, strives to be fair and accurate, like The Denver Post generally.

And featuring two right-leaning opinion bloggers, amid the eight news writers, isn’t fair and doesn’t reflect well on The Post’s commitment to even-handedness.

So, for example, last week. On Tuesday, the morning after the 9News-Post-sponsored Bennet-Buck debate, there’s Harsanyi bashing Bennet on health care, with no blogger offering counter-spin.

And Wednesday morning, there’s Plunkett defending Buck in the “buyer’s remorse” case.

Then Plunkett is at it again on Thursday, trotting out a rape victim who praises Buck’s treatment of her.

The previous week, Bennet got unfairly punched in the mouth by Plunkett, in a Spot piece titled, “Bennet ought to drop his hypocritical strategy.” 

I know Plunkett doesn’t always side with the GOP (e.g., McPlagiarist), but he seems to be on a particularly conservative jag of late (See list at end of this post.)

Since the primary, Plunkett wrote eight pro-Buck posts, versus four siding with Bennet. Harsanyi tossed in five more attacking Bennet and, no surprise, none favoring Bennet. (Well, that’s not exactly right. Harsanyi posted a piece Friday pointing out that even though he “fundamentally” disagrees with most of Bennet’s policy positions, Harsanyi doesn’t believe Bennet hates the Broncos, as Republicans claimed. And on Friday Plunkett posted The Post’s endorsement of Bennet.)

I emailed The Post’s Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley, who’s in charge of the opinion posts on the Spot, while Political Editor Curtis Hubbard oversees the news posts.

I asked Haley if he thinks the situation is fair and, if not, if he’d balance out the Spot by adding a couple left-leaning opinion writers from the editorial page.

I suggested that, with the election raging, the Spot should dump Plunkett and Harsanyi for the final weeks of the election season, in the name of basic fairness. Or balance them out immediately.

His response:

You make an interesting point, and one I hadn’t thought of. When we created The Spot, the idea was to join forces with the citydesk reporters, so we could have one strong blog (with news and views) rather than two weaker blogs. I’ve encouraged everyone on my staff to blog, but I don’t make it mandatory. Given our staff size, our main goal each day is to produce two editorials and create a compelling op-ed page. (Of course, online and social media have taken on a bigger role, as they should.) I have no plans to ask David and Chuck to stop blogging during the campaign because I think their contributions are a valuable part of the blog, in specific, and the public discourse in general. But I do think we should encourage more of our left-leaning editorialists and columnists to do more blogging for more balance, and that’s a broader discussion that we should have here.

Also, I would argue with your characterization of Chuck Plunkett’s blog posts. While those you point to can be viewed as conservative, or right-leaning, he also has written numerous posts that could be seen coming from the left, if you feel the need to put everything in a neatly labeled box. Beside critiquing Scott McInnis and Dan Maes, for example, he has taken on Tom Tancredo in a few posts, including one after Tancredo called for Obama’s impeachment. He also has defended Michael Bennet in numerous instances and criticized Dick Wadhams when he tried to lump Hickenlooper and Ritter together as “Hickenritter.”

I was obviously happy to receive this, since Haley essentially agreed with me that more left-leaning posts on the Spot would bring more balance, and he seems ready to move in this direction.

Though I’d dump Harsanyi and Plunkett now to achieve immediate fairness, I wouldn’t eliminate them or the opinion posts from the Spot forever. I like the news-opinion format of the blog, as long as it’s balanced.

The question is, how to achieve balance in the long term?

Adding posts by left-leaning bloggers is the place to start, obviously.

It’s also a necessary to acknowledge that Plunkett leans right.

Harsanyi, for one, doesn’t think so, as he told me in an email, that Plunkett is a centrist.

Asked if he thought of himself as right-leaning, Plunkett wrote that “free-market libertine” had a “nice ring to it.” He emailed me:

“I think of myself as a centrist. So do others who know me well. I’m progressive on social issues like gay rights and a woman’s right to chose. I’m passionate about protecting the environment. But I am skeptical of government over-reaching in many ways, and I am a free-markets kind of guy, as long, of course, as those markets are conducted under the rule of clear and reasonable laws and regulations. In my life, I have voted more often for Democrats than Republicans, but it is true Democrats have deeply disappointed me of late. I also think Republicans share the blame in the present situation.

 So no, I don’t lean GOP. I no longer lean Democrat. I don’t even know if you can say I lean Libertarian. What I think is going on is you and others are seeing a Chuck Plunkett who is a centrist by nature but who is writing and commenting during a unique time in our history when the conservatives are generating much of the energy.”

Looking back at Plunkett’s writing, I have to agree with him that he’s not partisan, for sure. He’ll take unexpected positions.

But before you believe he’s Mr. Centrist, read the following excerpt from a speech he gave at conservative gathering Sept. 15, called “Denver Liberty on the Rocks.”

Plunkett describes how he want back two years ago, after he joined the Post editorial board, and read “key passages” of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, which was an “exciting and affirming” experience. “I thought it was an overwhelmingly positive message, and I note that you guys think that way,” he said, adding that a lot of Americans “don’t see that free markets could structure a beneficial society.”

“Vast segments of our population either believe or act like they believe that Americans only enjoy their standard of living at the expense of others,” he said.  “They experience guilt when they ought to experience gratitude. They don’t understand that wealth creates wealth. They don’t understand that the poor countries in the world are almost always poor not because Americans are stealing all of their resources, but because their governments prevent free markets from forming and empowering their people…-because over-reaching governments won’t help them make money. You need to frame the narrative so more people understand that.”

“Too many Americans believe that here at home only the rich get richer,” he told conservatives. “You hear that all the time that the system has gotten rigged somehow against the middle class and especially against the poor.”

I know the political center in the United States has been moving steadily to the right, but if this quote represents the new center, the right has been moving so fast I lost track of it.

I mean, the Spot needs a voice to stand up for unions and government interventions in the economy to create economic equality–countering Plunkett and Harsanyi.

Still, the addition of more progressive blog posts on the Spot, written by other writers, would help balance the blog.

But it won’t solve the fairness problem because it’s true what Haley says: Plunkett in particular and even Harsanyi will sometimes attack conservatives and their ideas.

So you could run into a situation, like during this year’s primary season, when Plunkett was in his “McPlagiarist” period, when the Spot’s opinions could tilt left, instead of the current rightward tack.

That wouldn’t be fair either.

So it’s up to Haley to flag situations where the Spot starts to look one-sided, favoring one candidate or view, whether left, right or center. Or when it’s doing the opposite. This makes The Post look bad, and right now that’s what’s happening. There are plenty of opinion mongers out there to make the situation right, if need be, on short notice.

I’m not alone in thinking that newspapers will survive only if they can convince people that they are the source for credible, fair, and accurate information…-even on their blogs.

By sponsoring a blog that tilts rightward, particularly in a Senate race that has huge national implications, The Post isn’t doing itself or us any favors.


 The vast majority of Spot pieces are not opinion. They are written by Denver Post reporters Lynn Bartels, Michael Booth, Karen Crummy, Jessica Fender, Tim Hoover, Michael Riley, and Allison Sherry. Political Editor Curtis Hubbard also contributes.

Opinion pieces are mostly written by Chuck Plunkett and David Harsanyi

A sample of recent Spot posts by Chuck Plunkett:

  • Oct. 18: Buck’s gay gaffe and what Republicans should learn from it (States that Buck’s views are wrong.)
  • Oct. 15: Denver Post picks Bennet for Senate
  • Oct. 14: Rape Victim Praises Ken Buck for his assistance (Reports on rape case in which victim praises Buck)
  • Oct. 13: Sex and Politics in the Senate Race (Supports the way Buck handled rape case)
  • Oct. 12: Dan Maes blames his supporters for believing in him
  • Oct. 7: Did GOP just drop Dan Maes? Really?
  • Oct. 6: Bennet ought to drop his hypocritical strategy. (Slams Bennet ads)
  • Sept. 24: WhoSaidYouSaid catches its “They Spend You Pay” stride (Praises free-market website)
  • Sept. 9: Bennet gets it right (supporting Bennet positions against more stimulus funds and Afghan war)
  • Sept. 8: Hickenlooper’s strange bedfellows
  • Sept. 3: Maes snubs reporters; proves pundits right
  • Aug. 31: NRO finds Bennet also faults stimulus as “immoral” (digs at Bennet for faulting bill he supported)
  • Aug. 27: More on Bennet’s “Nothing to show for it” comment (defends Bennet remark.)
  • Aug. 25: Bennet’s “Nothing to show for it” comment” isn’t really a bombshell (adds context and defends Bennet remark)
  • Aug. 24: Bucking the Federal footprint (defends Buck against extremist label by NYT)
  • Aug. 13: Buck to use candor against crazy label (explains how Buck will answer charges of extremism)
  • Aug. 13: On trying to label Ken Buck (Suggests Buck perfectly represents GOP)
  • Aug. 12: Team Buck versus Team Obama (Suggests national GOP will like Buck)

David Haransyi’s sample Spot blog posts:

Alicia Caldwell is a Post opinion writer, but her posts on the Spot are not hard-edged like Plunkett’s. She wrote last week that U.S. Rep Jared Polis and State Senator Michael Johnston appeared on Time Magazine’s list of rising stars of U.S. politics. She wrote wrote Aug. 24, spotlighting a Washington Post piece that quoted Buck lauding the Tea Party movement but distancing himself from it. Before that, in an Aug. 20 piece titled Buck gets no love from the NYT, she wondered whether Buck’s being labeled “extreme” in a New York Times editorial would hurt or help him among moderate voters in Colorado. She wrote three other pieces in August and more frequently in July, mostly passing on information from other media outlets, some of it left-leaning.

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