Archive for November, 2010

Journalists to discuss media coverage of 2010 election

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Five prominent Colorado journalists will answer your questions during a panel discussion Wed., Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. , on the topic, “Colorado Journalism and the 2010 Election.”

 The panelists are:

Charles Ashby, Reporter, Grand Junction Sentinel

Curtis Hubbard, Political Editor, The Denver Post

Adam Schrager, Political Reporter, 9News, Producer/Host YOUR SHOW

Eli Stokols, Political Reporter, KDVR Fox 31 and KWGN TV

Kristen Wyatt, Reporter, Associated Press

 The description of the panel is:

“With the Rocky Mountain News gone and journalism in the midst of major changes, did Denver media outlets provide citizens with the information needed to make informed decisions during the 2010 election? What were the journalistic triumphs and lapses during the election cycle?”

The event will take place Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at Lawrence Street Center, 1380 Lawrence Street, in the Terrace Room on the second floor.

Panelists will offer introductory comments and then take questions from the audience.

If you can’t make the it, but you have a question, please email it to me (, and I’ll consider asking it.

The event is free and open to the public. No RSVP is required.

Questions? please contact Jason Salzman at 303-292-1524 or

The event is co-sponsored by University of Colorado Denver’s School of Public Affairs and Rocky Mountain Media Watch, which houses this blog.

An anti-election media bias

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Why do I feel like a freak in America for loving elections?

Because most people apparently feel the opposite way about them. That is, happy that the election is finished, the ads gone, the polls stopped, the metaphorical litter off our doorsteps.

How should a journalist deal the reality that, on one hand, most Americans seem to hate politics and modern elections, but on the other hand, there are plenty of reasons some people love them: Because they’re so important. Because they’re such a spectacle, especially this year in Colorado. Or for the challenge they present in deciding how to vote. Or, actually, for their depth and complexity.

It’s obvious that a reporter should cover the things that people hate and love about politics…-to air out the anger and the issues involved.

But one thing political journalists should not do, IMHO, is make broad interpretive statements about how much Americans hate the political season, in the course of reporting stories that aren’t focused on people’s attitudes about the election process.

And, unfortunately, it isn’t hard to find evidence of Colorado journalists doing this:

For example, during a news show before this month’s election, a Fox 31 anchor turned to a political reporter and asked:

“Don’t you think there’s going to be a collective sigh of relief when this is over, not only for the candidates but for all of us?”

Similarly, during its 10 p.m. broadcast the night before the election, 9News concluded its piece on the next day’s voting with a shot of snowy mountain peaks and orange leaves falling in Denver, while the voice over stated:

“After tomorrow we can get back to why we love Colorado, but I’m sorry to say that the 2012 election and those images we’re sick of (image of ad with clip …billions of new job-killing taxes’) are not so far away.”

The Denver Post’s Spot blog lobbed a subtle and unnecessary salvo in mid-October, when it reported on a Michael Bennet event in Estes Park:

“It was the kind of blue-sky, golden-leaf fall day that can kick politics far down the list of local concerns-.

The underlying assumption in each of these cases is that if we don’t hate politics, we certainly don’t like it much, and, especially in the TV examples I found, we want the election to go away as soon as possible.

Maybe that’s mostly true about Americans today, but even so, why should a reporter reinforce this anti-election attitude, in such broad terms and in news stories that have nothing to do with analyzing the election process?

Doing this amounts to an anti-election bias.

Ironically, journalists who report in this one-sided way are undermining their own jobs by turning more people off to politics and helping to convince them to change the channel when the news comes on.

It’s also not in the public interest.

Asked about this via e-mail, 9News Political Reporter Adam Schrager pointed out a few of the ways that 9news’ networks’ election coverage serves the public interest.

He listed the “thousand-plus voter questions” posed to candidates, the series of hour-long commercial-free debates, the more than 50 “long-form analyses of political commercials,” other election-related coverage, and more.

He also wrote that “voters, myself included, are frustrated because they’re not shown the respect I’d argue they deserve in this process. I share that with the candidates and campaigns themselves so I don’t feel like I’m being two-sided in any way.”

Schrager thinks candidates and the public want elections to focus on a candidate’s “merits rather than on someone else’s demerits.”

He wrote:

Am I frustrated with how campaigns are being run? Without question.

Am I disappointed that candidates are being taken out of context in order to make a political point? Indeed.

Most importantly, am I saddened with how Colorado voters continue to be treated without the respect they deserve by candidates and interest groups that hide in the shadows peddling half-truths, empty rhetoric and outright falsehoods? Most definitely.

I always sign my latest book, …Democracy needs to be a participatory sport.’

There is nothing I do, either professionally or personally, that in any way turns people off to voting or …trashes elections.’

If I may be so bold, the folks who are paying you to blog and others on both edges of the political spectrum are already accomplishing that goal nicely.

Asked about his reporting from Estes Park, Denver Post reporter Michael Booth wrote:

“I’d have to say that of all the things I worried about with my reporting on politics, this was not among them. I agree that politics is policy, and people should care, and that it’s silly to continue bemoaning the nastiness of elections all the time. A good fight over policy and positions is exactly what makes these things interesting. But it’s also true that every time I met someone from outside the politics/journalism field, friend or new acquaintance, the first thing they said to me was, …I’m so sick of all the ads and I just want this to be over, don’t you?’ So there’s a benefit to occasionally let readers see in print that we acknowledge their pain, and that we understand not everyone is thinking about these things 24/7. Many, many of our readers would rather know it was a beautiful fall day in Estes Park, and keep that image in their heads the rest of the day, than to know Michael Bennet was up shaking hands in an Estes Park jewelry store.”

I acknowledge that my point is nitpicky, when you look at the enormous body of election coverage in, for example, The Post, and on 9News and Fox31.

And I know that journalists are right about people’s dissatisfaction with politics, and there’s plenty of evidence to back this up, like low voter turnout, hatred of Congress and political advertising, and a political culture that’s shallow and ill-informed.

And no one wants Suzy Sunshine reporters running around saying how great the electoral process is and that everyone loves it, especially on sunny days.

We don’t want to hear a reporter say: “We know you’ll be sad when the election season ends tomorrow. But look on the bright side. The 2012 election is just two years away, and meanwhile Colorado is a great place to live.”

So news stories addressing the dark and unpopular side of politics should be aired early and often. I definitely agree that our election process is flawed.

But the public interest isn’t served when journalists make sweeping statements, in the course of covering election events, about how much we all dislike politics and the election and how happy we’ll all be when it’s over.

That’s a form of media bias, however subtle, that could cause more destruction than liberal and conservative media bias combined.

Video cameras playing journalists’ role on campaign trail

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

At a campaign stop in 2006, the former Senator (R-VA) was repeatedly referring to a young man of Indian descent–who was volunteering for Allen’s rival Jim Webb–as “macaca.” Webb won. Allen’s videotaped “macaca moment” may have cost him the election.

Allen’s “gaffe” was serious–the term is a racial slur.

Still, with video cameras rolling at events large and small, from the beginning of a campaign to the end, we should take candidates’ gaffes with a grain of salt, because political campaigns shouldn’t be won or lost with the single slip of a tongue.

However, the ubiquitous video cameras on the campaign trail do more than catch gaffes.

They also show how politicians change their messages in front of different audiences.

That’s particularly important, nowadays.

Fewer journalists are assigned to trail political candidates, which makes it harder for us to know how candidates are fine tuning their stump speech and talking points as their campaigns progress.

This past electoral season here in Colorado, GOP Senate candidate Ken Buck was caught on video early in his campaign making statements that arguably later led to his narrow loss to incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet.

But Buck’s video-taped statements weren’t slips of the tongue. They weren’t “macaca moments.” They were policy positions that appealed to conservative voters in the GOP primary.

Republican primary voters were deciding between Buck and his Republican rival Jane Norton. Norton was viewed as more of an establishment Republican, while Buck was embraced by Tea Party groups.

With backing from the GOP’s  far right wing, including social conservatives, Buck narrowly defeated Norton.

But after Buck won the Republican Party primary, videos of Buck’s right-wing statements came back to haunt him.

They were used both by national groups and state campaigns to paint Buck as “too extreme” for Colorado.

In assessing his Senate bid after his loss, Buck told The Denver Post that Democratic trackers recorded video of him at 600 public appearances and took his words out of context.

A review of his statements, however, shows that videotapes of Buck mostly illuminated straight-forward policy positions that voters in the general election, as opposed to conservatives in the GOP primary, found disagreeable.

Many of the videos that hurt Buck weren’t shot by his opponents at all, but by his supporters, eager to spread the word about Buck’s ultra-right conservative views.

The statements that damaged Buck in these videos for the most part weren’t  gaffes but policy statements, which may never have come to light had they not been recorded on the campaign trail.

Video clips showed Buck telling various conservative audiences that Social Security is a “horrible policy,” the Veterans Administration and big chunks of the federal government should be privatized, and the Department of Education abolished. He also questioned the federal separation of church and state and the federal student loan program.

One clip aired repeatedly in TV ads showed Buck telling a Tea Party group during the primary: “I am pro-life, and I’ll answer the next question. I do not believe in the exceptions of rape or incest.”

The passion in his voice on the video contrasted with his statements later that he wasn’t campaigning on social issues, like abortion.

So campaign-trail videos, at least in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race, helped bring to light Buck’s policy positions–and also illustrated his heart-felt dedication to them.

That’s a role that journalists used to play in covering a campaign. They’d write about these kinds of policy shifts and nuances from start to finish. But with their ranks depleted, more of that role, especially in the early part of a campaign, is left to individuals, holding small video cameras near candidates in church basements or back-yard picnics.

I’d rather see professional journalists doing this. But at least we’ve got cameras on the candidates–even if some of them are operated by paid political operatives.

This op-ed was distributed by the Other Words syndicate.

McInnis mostly blames Denver Post for downfall

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Scott McInnis likens his gubernatorial disaster to a sting by a honey bee that he got in his youth, according to a front-page Denver Post article today.

And he apparently believes the ouchy bee is The Denver Post, which he mostly blames for his meltdown this year.

Unfortunately, the Post doesn’t bother to defend itself in its front-page article today, but Post Editor Greg Moore, you’ll recall, published a column in July pointing out that the story was reported fairly and that his newspaper doesn’t have a political agenda.

As for McInnis’ claim that the Post’s reporting is responsible for his downfall, anyone with a brain knows that McInnis himself is to blame–though today’s Post doesn’t offer this perspective.

But McInnis is almost undoubtedly correct that this story would have never seen the light of day had not been for the Post. First, it asked all the gubernatorial candidates to release their tax returns, as part of the newspaper’s usual process of asking for financial disclosures from state candidates. McInnis initially refused. But facing public embarassment about this, McInnis eventually released portions of his tax returns to the media. This revealed income of $150,000 from the Hasan Family Foundation, a fact that was first reported in the Post. Later McInnis told KHOW that the money was used to write water articles, and the story evolved from there culminating in The Post publishing the evidence of plagiarism.

A particularly damaging piece of the story was KMGH’s interview with Rolly Fischer, the octogenarian researcher whom McInnis said was the real copy cat. Yet, McInnis isn’t blaming channel 7.

In any case, the news media definitely spotlighted the plagiarism story, as they should have, but they don’t deserve blame for the series of events that led to McInnis’ early exit from the gubernatorial race.

Media outlets forecast more political ads and explain how to fact check them

Monday, November 15th, 2010

The Denver Post reports today that we can expect an intermittent or constant flow of political ads starting now and ending who knows when. Not surprising, but it’s something people should know

In some parts of the country, like Scranton, the post-election political ads already hit the airwaves, according to a professor quoted in the Post article.

The anti-union and anti-environmental group sponsoring these ads was clever to realize that their first-TV-ads-after-the-election-FLOOD would get noticed by ad-hating reporters, like the one who wrote today’s Post story, and they would get even more publicity, an earned-media bump, as it’s called.

It seems that I’m in a tiny minority who admits to liking the ads, even though I hate them, of course, for what they do to our political culture, which is basically kill it.

Still, if we’ve gotta have them, I’d rather see a political ad than an ad for used cars or something.

During the election, and I should have pointed this out previously, 9News actually posted a how-to guide to do your own political “truth test,” like the kind 9News does, fact-checking political ads.

The guide offers basic parameters for evaluating a political ad and an organization sponsoring it, including websites for tax information about charities, campaign finance figures, congressional votes, and such.

You gotta hand it to 9News for taking the time to put together the guide. I mean, any and all efforts to empower people to get involved in politics is obviously in the public interest. As 9News’ Adam Schrager has told me, fact-checking an ad is not so hard to do.

Is Tancredo a great communicator?

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

In a post-election analysis story last week, The Denver Post quoted conservative political analyst Katy Atkinson’s views on Tom Tancredo’s future.

“He’s always going to have an audience. He is a really great communicator,” said conservative political analyst Katy Atkinson.

I would have liked one more sentence explaining why she thinks this. So I asked her.

“Have you ever heard Tom Tancredo speak?” Atkinson kindly replied via email. “I’ve known the guy for 30 years and his enthusiasm is contagious. Combine enthusiasm with passion, sincerity and the ability to make complex subjects comprehensible, sprinkle on a sense of humor and you get a great communicator. You don’t have to agree with him all the time, or any of the time, to admire his abilities.”

I admire Atkinson’s abilities, but I’ve criticized The Post in the past for quoting her and other familiar pundits too often. So when I queried her, Atkinson added, “I’ve just been relishing the irony of you asking for my opinion.” (Nowadays, I think there’s a wider variety of pundits quoted in The Post’s political stories, which is a good thing. But I’ll do a bean count at some point to see if this is true.)

In any case, Tancredo is clearly great at getting media attention, and he is a good speaker, but he’s not so great as a communicator, because he goes off message too often, and it’s not clear what he’s trying to achieve…-except to draw attention to himself.

Extreme media stunts, like the kind Tancredo is famous for, can work for extremists as long as they are on message, but Tancredo too often goes over the cliff.

For example, when he says the U.S. should bomb Mecca in retaliation to a terrorist attack, and Tancredo’s agenda is to foment anger against illegal immigrants or Islam, he’s gone too far because his message about immigrants gets lost in the outcry about bombing a religious site and the ramifications. The ensuing debate does not focus on immigrants or Islam per se.

But when Tancredo says Obama is more of a threat to America than Osama Bin Laden, and Tancredo’s agenda is to tear down Obama, he’s actually succeeded in injecting his message into the mass media. The ensuing media discussion centers on how bad Obama really is.

Still, you’d never guess that strategic communications occupies Tancredo’s thoughts very often, but that’s how it goes with bomb throwers. And he’s a great one.

Green Party candidate Kinsey won’t run for U.S. Senate again

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Bob Kinsey came really, really close to becoming Colorado’s version of Ralph Nader this year.

As Colorado’s Green Party candidate for U.S. Senate, Kinsey got 2.1% of the vote Tuesday. Bennet beat Buck by a 1.1% margin, with 97% of precincts reporting.

Kinsey says many of his supporters wouldn’t have voted at all, and others might have voted for Buck. Still, if Green Party voters here reflect the Green Party voters in Floriday for Ralph Nader in 2000, then Kinsey took more votes from Bennet. Had the race been close enough, this could have swung the election to Buck.

Does Kinsey have regrets?

“Well you know what, Bennet is in favor of increasing military spending. Neither one [Buck or Bennet]  is going to challenge the military any more than Obama is. No I have no regrets. I have no regrets that I tried to get this country to talk about the military.”

Kinsey, who got about 2% of the vote when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2008, was almost invisible in the Denver media this election cycle. His name appeared once in The Denver Post over the past year. He said he got some decent coverage statewide, but not much, even by left-leaning outlets like KGNU radio in Boulder. I asked him what the media missed in not covering him.

“My major focus is foreign policy,” he said. “I want to cut the military budget by 75% and use that money to create jobs. If you include in miliatrey spending the drug war, Homeland Security, the CIA, and other agencies, that’s over a trillion dollars a year. The AFSC calculated that you could provide every unemployed person with a $50,000 job and the U.S. would still spend more on the military than any other country in the world.”

In 2008, Democrats worried that Kinsey could tip the election away from Mark Udall. They worried again this year. But Kinsey will be one Green candidate they won’t have to worry about when Udall is up in four years.

“I am 73-years-old,” Kinsey told me when I asked if he’d run again. “Next time around for Senate, I’d be 77. What I plan on doing is trying to get the Green party to get some other good candidates and build a party. I don’t think so. I’ve done it three times, once in the 4th Congressional [2004] and twice for Senate, and  I gave people the opportunity to vote against militarism, and I got 35,000 votes.

I don’t have the energy at 77 to do it again, but I will continue to speak out against militarism.”

Post shouldn’t forget about Stapleton’s DUI case

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Even though Walker Stapleton has been elected State Treasurer, The Denver Post shouldn’t forget to make sure he turns over, at some point, the police report from his 1999 DUI arrest in San Francisco.

In an interview Oct. 27 on KHOW’s Caplis and Silverman show, Stapleton said he ordered the report and promised to deliver it to The Post’s Tim Hoover as soon as he gets it.

Last week, I criticized The Post for not interviewing one of two woman whose cab Stapleton hit when he drove his car through a red light and into their taxi. An interview with this victim was published in the Colorado Independent.

In the KHOW interview, Silverman seems to have made a mistake (uncorrected by Stapleton) when he said on the air that “as recounted by you, the accident wasn’t even your fault.”

In fact, Stapleton said told Silverman:

“What happened is, I had been drinking, and I had been under the influence of alcohol at the time, and I was hit by a taxi cab. And it was at an intersection where I had a blinking red and the taxi had a blinking yellow light. It caused my car to spin, to do a 360, and there were two people in the back of the taxi at the time.”

To me, it appears that the accident was Stapleton’s fault, even if the taxi hit him.

One of the women in the taxi also said Stapleton’s car ran a red light.

This victim also said something that Stapleton has denied, namely that he tried to flee the scene, but his car was cut off by other cars, possibly taxis.

The police report may clear this up, to some extent, as could documents requested by the Independent, which has raised questions about possible drug use by Stapleton.

When Stapleton turns over the report to The Post, a full story…-including an interview with the victim…-should be run to clear up the air or pollute it, depending on what the record shows.

Partial transcript of interview with Walker Stapleton on the Caplis and Silverman Show

10/27/2010 HOUR 4

Silverman: This involves a DUI conviction. Isn’t that something that the voters should know and determine whether it’s important to them or not.

Stapleton: Sure. Absolutely. And that’s why I admitted to this transgression 12 years ago. I was 25 at the time. It was a mistake that I’ve owned up to, that I’ve been honest about. In fact, the first time I was asked about it I was honest about it in a very public forum, and I’ve taken full responsibility for it. I served my community service as a result of this. It’s not something I feel great about. It’s not something that needs to be put into a political attack ad where the facts are twisted and distorted to make it look like things happened that simply didn’t happen. That is disingenuous to voters and it’s also insulting to voters…-as if voters would vote on issues like this and not issues that pertain, policy issues, which pertain to the job of being state treasurer of Colorado.

Silverman: Sure, good people can get DUIs. There was an accident involved, and some people were shaken up. There was an issue about whether those people were in a taxi or on foot, and whether you left the scene of the crime or not. Why don’t you explain what really happened?

Stapleton: Well, you know quite well from your experience as an accident attorney that a lot of things take place in an accident. What happened is, I had been drinking, and I had been under the influence of alcohol at the time, and I was hit by a taxi cab. And it was at an intersection where I had a blinking red and the taxi had a blinking yellow light. It caused my car to spin, to do a 360, and there were two people in the back of the taxi at the time. I didn’t even know that there were two people in the back of the taxi, wasn’t even told about it until my insurance company contacted me and said that both of these two individuals had applied for and received back massages. Liberal interest groups tried to drum up this story by saying that I had hit a number of pedestrians. That did not happen, and it was confirmed that it did not happen by the San Francisco Police Department. But they still did not drop the story even though The Denver Post spent the time and got a categorical denial from the Office of Public Safety of the San Francisco Police Department that pedestrians were not involved in this accident. When I explained that I had pulled out of traffic to the San Francisco Police Department, they dropped the hit-and-run charge. You know, from being a lawyer, that just because you are charged with something and you go through the legal process, now 12 years old, doesn’t mean you’re guilty of it-.

Silverman: I agree. A lot of good people can have a DUI. And as you recounted, the accident wasn’t even your fault. And I could see how that could happen. But there are DUIs and then there are DUIs. Some people have a .082 blood alcohol content, which gets them in trouble in Colorado right now under with DUI. Heck if you’re over .04 you can be charged with driving while ability impaired. And  you sometimes seepeople with huge blood alcohol content and, what was yours? Did you take…-

Stapleton: The answer is, I don’t remember. It was well under .2, I can tell you that. And, just as evidence that I have absolutely nothing to hide, and Tim Hoover of The Denver Post can confirm this, as soon as the Kennedy campaign, in an effort to smear me, brought this issue up again, I immediately attempted to order the police report from the San Francisco Office of Public Information, at which I will deliver a full report to Tim Hoover at The Denver Post as soon as I receive it. Unfortunately, there are bureaucratic circles involved with receiving such a report. But I have told Tim at The Post that I have absolutely nothing to hide with this accident. I have owned up to my mistakes-.