Archive for August, 2011

Denver Daily News was making money when it closed

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

I had a hard time believing it, when the Denver Daily News closed back in June.

The free daily seemed to be growing and doing well.  I was thinking its chances of survival were greater than The Denver Post’s.

Then it was gone, with no real explanation of why it bit the dust so suddenly.

Westword’s Michael Roberts interviewed Denver Daily News publisher Kristie Hannon at the time, and she told him that, in terms of profit, the newspaper “had seen ups and downs.” Hannon told Roberts and other media outlets, it didn’t look like the Denver Daily News was sustainable.

I wondered why. Was it in the black? Was it really headed off a cliff before long?

You might ask, who cares? The paper had about 25,000 readers, 20 people on the payroll, and just three workhorses in the editorial department.

But, still, the Denver Daily News, usually ran daily stories about local politics, at a time when this type of content is in shorter and shorter supply.

When you think about it, on a daily basis, the Daily News was easily among the top ten media outlets in the entire state, if not the top five or so, covering the legislative session. Correct me if I’m wrong, please.

So it would be nice to know whether the DDN model, of a free print daily, mostly with original and wire-service coverage of news and sports, is anything close to viable in Denver.

Michael Roberts tried to get at this question in his interview with Hannon back in June, when the newspaper closed:

WW: Is there still a market for a print publication like the Denver Daily News? Or are such projects cost-prohibitive in today’s market?

KH: I know the price of print just increased again last week, and I don’t know if there is an end in sight for that. Competing against the Internet in that regard (print costs) is tough, but I believe ROI in this print format is far higher than most other mediums when you really do the math. As far as profitability, it’s tough to make a buck.

It was tough, it turns out, but possible.

I asked Hannon this month to talk to me more about why the DDN closed, and she agreed with me that it was worth clarifying that her newspaper was in the black when it closed, and she thinks a DDN type of newspaper could succeed.

“There were months that we lost money, but it wasn’t significant because other months would make up for it,” Hannon told me. 

The newspaper was treading water in a tough economy, and Hannon was done. She declined to say whether she and owner, Jim Pavelich, who owns the Palo Alto Post, tried to sell the Denver Daily News before shuttering it. (Pavelich, who’s developed successful newspapers but has been accused by former employees of not caring much for journalism, closed the Vail Mountaineer the same day.)

“You get to a certain stage,” Hannon told me, “and you say, does this make sense? As a business model, and personally? I was running myself into the ground.”

Hannon may have been running out of steam, but at least her editorial staff wasn’t.

“That’s the nature of the business,” said Tad Rickman, former Denver Daily News’ Editor, who often worked from dawn till dark during his decade at the newspaper. “I didn’t mind putting the hours into it.”

He says the long hours were about the same at the Lafayette News, which he left in 2001. He’s currently looking for work.

Hannon says that even though the paper ran on cash and was in the black, the future looked bad, especially with print costs rising.

“It was swimming upstream,” she told me. “We didn’t see the growth component.”

“The future always looks bad,” said Peter Marcus, the former assistant editor of the Denver Daily News, who’s now freelancing for the Colorado Statesman. “The future never looked good for that newspaper. For a decade they were beating the odds. They were doing it. But it sounds like they didn’t want to put up a fight.”

Like Hannon and Rickman, Marcus is happy to have worked at Denver Daily News, and he doesn’t fault the owner for selling the newspaper.

But he thinks management should have, among other things, given the staff notice of the closure and published a final issue, as a show of respect. As it was, the newspaper was shut down with no notice at all, he says, not even a news release on the day of the shuttering.

“They didn’t even archive the stories,” he points out. ” The website exists, but it’s blank. For some reason they decided to delete the entire legacy of the Denver Daily News. To me, that’s the epitome of the disrespect.  They don’t care that the stories have disappeared. But for us, it matters.”

That’s undoubtedly part of the reason the Denver Daily News survived for 10 years and maybe why someone will give it another shot someday.

Great radio segment addresses the question, “What is a country club Republican?”

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

The Chairman of the El Paso County GOP Eli Bremer appearted on Grassroots Radio Colorado Tuesday to disucss various issues roiling El Paso Republicans.

For those of you who’ve been following the story of the El Paso GOP, nothing has changed much there, but El Paso GOP Secretary Sarah Anderson is hoping that an upcoming mediation session among her, Bremer, State GOP Chair Ryan Call, and others will resolve the issues.

A chunk of Tuesday’s segment with Bremer was dedicated to discussing the definition of a “country club Republican.”

Here’s a partial transcript below. You may think as a progressive, I’m just trotting this out with amusement. Yes, there’s some of that, but having voted for Ralph Nader in 2000, I understand why people fight the party establishment, and no one would dispute that Democrats have their own “limousine liberals.” So I think you’ll find this discussion thought provoking no matter where you sit on the political spectrum. And it made for a great radio segment.

The day after this discussion occurred, on the same radio show, Anderson said Bremer himself was a country club Republican.

Bremer: We had a caller [on another radio show] who mentioned country club Republican. And this has been something that, to a certain extent, I’ve scratched my head over for a while and questioned what is it that people are attacking. So there was part of that, but I kind of wanted to get to the root of, who are we attacking as a country club Republican, and so I raised the question, somewhat in jest, would Dagny Taggart, in some people’s minds, be considered a country club Republican.

Now I actually went on to Wikipedia afterwards and looked this up, because it was the best definition, or the only definition I could find, and it said, a country club Republican is an expression emplyed, usually pejoratively, to describe certain members of the United States Republican Party. Some of the characteristics attributed to a country club Republicans are a higher than average income or wealth, a lack of sympathy with the lower income citizens, and liberal views on abortion, gay rights, and other social issues. They are also said to put less emphasis and value on religion and have attended more prestigious colleges than most other Repbublican Party members.

And so I was trying to open up the debate of, what does this actually mean? Are we turning on ourselves in a way we shouldn’t be. And who is it that we are opposed to with these folks? More to open up a debate than anything else.

Jason Worley, Grassroots Radio host (KLZ 560-AM): Then, let me ask you. Is that what you think is a country club Republican, Wikipedia’s definition, because I have my own.

Bremer: This is what I wanted to bring out in the discussion is, what does it actually mean? Because, by that definition, which is the one most people would look to first. When you Google something, that’s what you do in this day and age. By that definition, Dagny Taggart would be a country club Republican. But I don’t think that’s how a log of people are using it. But I do think there is so much confusion out there that we in the conservative and Liberty movements could potentially  run the risk of running into class warfare as opposed to saying, you know what we want, whether you are a high earner, a medium earner, or a low earner, we want government to get the heck off our backs and get out of our way.

Worley: …If you honestly just think the government to get out of our way, I’m kind of surprised at some of the people who come out of El Paso County. But let me just say, a country club Republican is someone who votes Democrat most of the time because they’ve made their money. They are all for the kind of corporate welfare or government schemes…You know what, they don’t care if they have to pay slightly higher taxes. Thatt’s not a big deal to them. What they care about is they have their position, and pretty much to hell with everybody else.

Bremer: Well, I think that’s a valid critique. I don’t think it’s the most common colloquial definition that the average person would know. Because the average person would go Google it, and see what’s out there. And, again, I’d agree with you on that. Republicans who are out there pushing for bigger government are bad Republicans. I’m totally with you on that. But one of the concerns I have, is are we looking at people like the Dagny Taggarts and saying if you are out there and you run a big business, and you’re successful, and you’re putting hundreds of thousands of people to work, you must be somehow bad. I don’t agree with that. I think the people who are out there leading industry and providing goods and services. They are good people. So long as they are in agreement with us that want less governmentr and they want the freedom to do what they want with their business.

Worley: That I would agree with…but when you talk about big-government Republicans, it seems to me that we’ve got some of those coming out of El Paso County in the form of Rep. Amy Stephens putting SB 200 down our throat. …

Bremer: The less confusing term would then be big-government Republicans, as opposed to country club Republicans. Because what my concern is, is that it’s fair game, and one of the best things that’s come out of the Liberty Movement and Tea Party, is to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire and say, you all should be for smaller and more efficient government. But what I’ve seen ocassionally, and what I don’t want to see this converted into, is class warfare, saying if you’re a country-club Republican, you have a lot of money, you drive a nice car, you live in a nice house, somehow you’re a bad person because of this.

Worley: Eli, I can guarantee you that nobody in the Liberty movement or Tea Party is making that argument…. We have a problem with Romneys of the world…

Bremer: If you guys got Internet, I just pulled it up on my Blackberry, Google country club Repbublican and one of the first hits you are going to get is an accusation that Rand Paul is a country club Republican, which, again, the term is not being used in the same way, and you can see the damage that can be done by a term being misunderstood. Look no further than Congressman Lamborn and I think he would tell you how destructive that can be at times. My point was to bring up the discussion of what we stand for. And I think we stand for less government. We stand for people going out and being entrepreneurs, creating jobs, creating goods and services that don’t exist and doing it without the help of the government. And if you Google country club Republican, which I think most people would do, that’s the definition you’re going to find of a country club Republican. So i think it’s important maybe to change the lingo or to make sure people get it because the average person who hears it thinks if you belong to a country club, or if you’re a fiscal conservative, and that’s your point for being in the Republican Party, you’re somehow a bad Republican.

Worley: And let me be very clear why the term country club Republican has been used by the Liberty Movement. It is because the old school Republicans who don’t want new players in the field, like the anarchists, out there…You have a Representative, Larry Liston. I stood within 10 feet of Larry Liston and heard him put down as losers who shouldn’t take part in the Party, and I am paraphrasing. Now that’s a Republican? That’s a Republican at an Independence Institute event? Seriously Eli…I’m getting worked up here because this is a straw man..

Bremer: I would agree with you. I think the whole idea of a country club Republican is a bit of a straw man. And that’s my concern. I am totally with you, big government Republicans are bad folks to have out there.

Worley: Then why are we going after people who attack big-government Republicanism within the El Paso Country Republican Party?

Bremer: We’re not. The short answer is, we’re not. The long answer is, I view, and many others view, that the party’s job, and  that I as the head of the Party, and that the party establishment, should not be out there as an unaccountable arbiter of ideology. You know, dictatorships seem like a great idea when you first set them up. If you set up Mother Theresa as a dictator, 30 years later you’re going to come back and people are getting their heads cut off. …

New weekly newspaper, Sneak Peak Vail, debuts Thursday

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Here’s a sentence you don’t see much these days:  A new newspaper will hit the streets Thursday.

Erin Chavez, former Associate Publisher Vail Mountaineer, which closed in June along with the Denver Daily News, will launch a weekly called “Sneak Peak Vail.”

Chavez told me she saw a hole in the advertising market after the Mountaineer closed, and she developed a business model to meet the demand and make a new newspaper sustainable.

“We’re partnering with core businesses that had supported the Vail Mountaineer,” she says. “We offered them a preferred advertising rate that provides a base for us and stable and inexpensive advertising source for them for years to come.”

After the Mountaineer shut down, Chavez said that local businesses told her that if they had an affordable and guaranteed advertising rate, they’d sign a longer term contract.

She’s got 27 contracts as of Monday, which, she says, is enough cover the main cost of printing the newspaper. She figures she can offer the reduced rate to a limited number of advertisers before her business will lose money.

The advertisers will have no input on the paper’s editorial content, which will be “more lifestyle-oriented, not based on news in the Vail valley, but more of what is going on and applying it to second home owners and locals,” she said.

Chavez has hired seven staffers and seems excited to give the business model a shot. “I’ve been lucky to have the resources up here to try this,” she said.

She said of the Mountaineer, “The model wasn’t unsuccessful. On paper it makes sense. But when the economy is hurting, and people aren’t paying, cash flow is a big problem.”

She’s hoping her new model, with ongoing support from advertisers, will fix that problem.

Decades later, Rosen still can’t back up his assertion that Denver Post has liberal bias

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

You could probably think of a lot of ways I could spend my time more productively than debating  KOA’s Mike Rosen about whether The Denver Post has a “liberal bias.” 

I mean, I could check Twitter. Then I could check Twitter again. And again. Or I could pet my unbelievably annoying cat. Or there’s a podcast of  Grassroots Radio Colorado on KLZ 560 AM waiting for me.

But I exchanged emails with Rosen anyway.

I started the thread by sending him a post I wrote about his former KOA colleague Steve Kelley.

Rosen: Jason, Just curious: have you ever complained about the left-wing line-up on AM 760? Mike

Jason: Hi Mike. I hope you’re well. I’ve praised the diversity of opinion on The Post’s editorial page. J

Rosen: I don’t think u answered my question.

Jason: Right. I didn’t. Sorry. I have not criticized AM 760 for its lineup. I think it provides a bit of balance in a talk radio world that tilts way right. But I don’t like all the talkers on AM760. I like Sirota, but he’s too hard on Obama and the Dems, even though I relate to him having voted for Nader myself in 2000. I don’t really like Ed Schultz. I think Thom Hartmann is generally excellent.

I’ve pointed out that talk radio on the major stations is dominated by right-leaning shows. I’ve suggested trying more left-leaning shows, maybe a Caplis-and-Silverman type show with a real lefty to counter a rightie like Caplis, though I would not dump Caplis and Silverman because I think it’s a good show. Nor would I suggest dumping your show, though your print column could go.  (I think you’re better on the radio than in print.)

I like diverse opinions, but the far right gets more air across the media spectrum these days than the far left. I don’t think that’s good. I’ve complimented the news department at KOA for its spot news coverage. I also support local programming, so KOA gets credit from me in that regard, even if the lineup is far from perfect for me. J

Rosen: I’d agree that there are more conservatives on talk radio than liberals. But that’s because they tend to attract larger audiences than left-wing hosts.  On the other hand, so-called news programming on network TV is dominated by liberals hosts and a liberal agenda.  Fox’s 3 million cable viewers is overwhelmed by the more than 20 million viewers of evening news shows on ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS.  Have you ever called for more balance there? The lineup on AM 760 isn’t just liberal, it’s radical left; farther left of center than the average conservative on talk radio is right of center.

Jason:  I don’t believe the mainstream media has a liberal bias. You make this accusation about local media, like The Denver Post, all the time, and you don’t have a credible study to back it up. You just assert it based on anecdotes, just like a leftie could do based on anecdotes. I’d say the lineup on AM 760 closer to the center than the lineup on KNUS.

Rosen:  That just says a lot about how far left you sit. For a credible, scientific study, read Tim Groseclose’s new book “Left Turn – How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind.” I’ll make a prediction.  Now that you have the study you’ve asked for, you’ll dismiss it.

Jason: So are you saying that book proves to you that The Denver Post has a liberal bias?

Rosen: No.  Groseclose’s study proves that, what you call, the “mainstream media” have a liberal bias, which you deny.   “Studying” the Denver Post is too small a target to justify a “studier’s” time.  Might be a good project for a grad student who doesn’t have a liberal bias. My thirty-year personal, informal study satisfies me about the Denver Post’s liberal bias.  It’s obvious.

Jason: So, again, you prove my point that your assertion that The Denver Post has a liberal bias is based on nothing, except because you say it it’s so. And you have anecdotes. Someone on the left could say The Post has a conservative bias, and point to anecdotes. You’re not better.

Rosen: That’s right.  It’s based on my credibility and personal observations over many years, which isn’t a formal “study” but it’s based on much more than “nothing.” That you would deny the obvious liberal bias of NBC, ABC, CBS, NPR, PBS, NY Times, Time, Newsweek, etc. doesn’t say much for your credibility.  That those radically to the left of the liberal media, perhaps you,  regard them as balanced or conservative doesn’t make them balanced or conservative. Here’s a quote you might find instructive from Evan Thomas (a liberal and grandson of Norman Thomas, six-time Socialist Party candidate for president) when he was Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief in 1996: “About 85 percent of the reporters who cover the White House vote Democratic.particularly at the networks, at the lower levels among the editors and so-called infrastructure, there is a liberal bias.  There is a liberal bias at Newsweek,  the magazine I work for.(then ABC White House reporter, now Fox News anchor) Brit Hume’s bosses are liberal, and they’re always quietly denouncing him as a right-wing nut.” He didn’t conduct a study either.

Jason: So what if they vote Democratic. They can still be fair and accurate as reporters, just like a Republican could be. Judges can be fair, regardless of party. There may be exceptions, but these are professionals. In fact, reporters or judges could over-compensate for their personal view and tilt their coverage in the other direction. So you have to look at the content of the Post’s news pages.

Your view does indeed count for more than “nothing.” Sorry about that. But both right- and left-leaning readers can find anecdotes to prove their point about bias. So why is your opinion more valid than a leftists, unless you can support what you say with data? If you can’t, with due respect, you should tone down the destructive rhetoric and focus on your specific concerns about specific stories, rather than overstepping and asserting overall bias.

Rosen: Newsroom cultures are uniformly liberal and it does influence what they write and how they edit. We’re not getting anywhere. Read Groseclose’s book, then dismiss it just as you would any “study” I’d on the Denver Post’s news pages.

KFKA’s Oliver advocates government dismantlement but forgets about it when Gardner jumps on board

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

“The Amy Oliver Show made national news,” Amy Oliver told her KFKA listeners Aug. 10, reading the headline from The Hill, a Washington-DC blog, “GOP lawmaker OK with dismantling DOT.”

“That’s not exactly what he said,” Oliver explained to her radio audience, apparently forgetting that Gardner was talking with Oliver the day before when he said it’s a “great” idea to “basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states.” (See transcript here.)

I emailed Oliver to find out why she thought Gardner didn’t say what he said in plain English (and then did not retract).

“Interpret the dialogue as you wish,” she wrote back. ” The only story I see here is that a freshman Congressman is thinking outside the box for solutions to our current budget situation.”

I appreciated Oliver getting back to me, but I wish she’d have answered my question about why she let Gardner off the hook, overlooking sounds and words that she got first hand.

You’d have to assume that Oliver herself supports dismantling the Department of Transportation, given that Oliver works for Caldara’s Independence Institute and all.

So you’d think she would embrace Gardner’s dismantlement position, not deny it. It’s not every day that a Congressman jumps on board with dismantlement of a major federal agency.

I mean, in the same interview with Gardner, before she asked him about the Department of Transportation, Oliver told Gardner that the Environmental Protection Agency is “one agency that I think should be completely dismantled.”

In fact, she asked Gardner point blank, “When are we going to de-fund the EPA.” Gardner answered that the EPA had taken a “significant funding decrease,” and he said he hoped more was on the way.

Later, Oliver told Gadner: “You can’t de-fund the EPA until you get the Senate on board.”

To which Gardner responded, “Right.”

Oliver didn’t get Gardner to agree with her that EPA should be abolished.

But if she had, you wonder if she’d have denied what he said to her, once it was reported in the media.

Denver radio fixture Steve Kelley joins right-wing lineup at KNUS

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Steve Kelley, who hosted KOA’s morning radio show for 19 years, is now hosting a morning-drive program on right-wing KNUS (710 AM) weekdays 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

The show, Kelley says, will be take more in-depth looks at topics than KOA’s morning show, which he called a “news carousel,” but his show won’t be “riding the horse until its legs drop off,” like Peter Boyles can do on KHOW during the same time slot.

“I don’t think you can do justice in a two-minute interview, and KOA is bound by the format,” said Kelley. “I like it. I’ve been in that format. It’s a fast-moving, fast-paced kind of thing. But I’m not doing that.”

He says his show, Kelley and Company, isn’t designed to be political. But he’ll “respond to something that’s edgy,” like an “outrageous comment by Maxine Waters,” which was at topic on the air this morning.

Also today, Kelley lashed out Obama, saying, among other things, “We don’t need a 10-day drum roll for your big jobs plan” and “this president has already played more golf than President Clinton and Bush.”

Still, he says he’ll try to present both sides of political issues, in contrast to the programming currently on KNUS, whose weekday lineup includes Bill Bennett, Dennis Miller, Dennis Prager, Mike Gallagher, Hugh Hewitt, Mark Levin, Michael Medved, and nary a left-leaner.

The hard right view is what you’d expect from KNUS owner Salem Communications, whose founders, Stuart Epperson and Edward Atsinger II, are major funders of evangelical and right-wing causes.

The company owns 95 radio stations, including one or more stations in all but two of the top 25 U.S. markets, according to the company website.

I asked Kelley if there was pressure to push a conservative agenda on his show?

“No, certainly not from management,” Kelley says, acknowledging that it’s a conservative station “without question.”

“I think they like me because I tend to have a more conservative approach. I would call myself a common-sense conservative.”

Kelley’s KOA job ended when he moved to television to anchor Fox 31’s morning program. But at the end of 2008, his contract wasn’t renewed in the wake of the merger between Channel 2 and Fox 31.

What’s Kelley been doing since leaving Fox?

“I’ve been living off the government teet, which was very very difficult,” he says. “I didn’t want to take unemployment for six months. I just thought other people could use it more than I can. I thought I’d land somewhere. It was devastating financially, and then I decided to do this unemployment thing.”

A lawsuit against Fox was settled out of court.

“Ninety-eight percent of all lawsuits are settled out of court,” Kelley says. “I was determined; this one’s not going to. I felt wronged and lied to, and I needed to clear my name. The Settlement was significant, but not nearly what I lost. It cost me, I’m not afraid to tell you, well into a million dollars. It’s tough.”

Kelley had hoped to return to KOA, which he considers “family,” but there were “no openings that I fit.”

“It was KNUS, though, that continued to say, we really, really want you. We need a morning show here. The more and more I kept putting this off, it was pretty clear that it’s good to be wanted. And these guys, hey, it’s a blank page. We want you to do what you want to do. I couldn’t do that on KOA.”

“Anything that occurs to me. Hey, did you see this. Let’s talk about it.”

During a recent recent morning, the show aired a piece on I70 traffic, an interview about Rockies pitcher Nicasio, a stock update from an advertiser, a mention that Anthony Weiner “has been erased from the menu at the Queens Deli,”  a story about a mayor who had a 20-ton boulder dumped on his ex-wife’s lawn. Weather. Traffic.

“It’s still a cake that’s not fully baked. We just put it in the oven. We’ll see how it comes out. I think within 6 mmths or a year we’ll see if this finds an audience.”

“What really is most exciting is the chemistry,” he said speaking of  on-air colleagues Bill Rogan and Murphy Wells. “You can’t force chemistry. You just can’t. I’ve been part of shows where the egos are so big.  The chemistry makes work enjoyable. And I haven’t felt that in a long, long time, certainly not in television. It’s sad.”

Community radio station should follow up with Tipton on why he likes rural radio and thinks Grand Junction could be model for national health care

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

One of the beautiful things about journalism is, you never know what someone will say when you throw a question at them, especially when you preface your question with factual background information.

For example, when just-elected Rep. Scott Tipton was interviewd by KVNF Community Radio in Paonia, the host posed a question with information that may have affected Tipton’s answer:

KVNF: “Our station receives about a third of our budget from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and that’s because we are a rural station. Urban stations, it’s more like 5 percent of their budgets or 10 percent of their budgets. But there has been a proposal to cut off funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which would have an effect on rural stations in Colorado, particularly this district. Do you have a position on Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding yet?”

Tipton: You know, we’ll take a look at that. I happen to have a little more empathy, obviously, for our rural stations, as opposed to urban stations, which have resources that they are able to draw from and other outside sources. A lot of our local public radio stations do provide a valuable service and serve our local communities. Will it be at the same amount? I don’t know. We’re all going to have to tighten our belts.

Unfortunately KVNF hasn’t aired a follow up interview with Tipton to discuss why he voted to defund CPB, once he got into Congress.

So I called the station and spoke with reporter/producer Ariana Brocious, who said:

I hadn’t thought about doing that, but maybe we will follow up with him and see how he’s going to act on our behalf.

It’s also worth asking Tipton what he meant when he told KVNF that the health care system in Grand Junction and Mesa Country could serve as a national health-care model.

You can watch for interviews with Tipton and others on KVNF’s website, and Brocious told me that KVNF is now podcasting its local news show, in addition to special interviews and programming, so it’s accessible to us flatlanders and anyone else who’s interested.

Gardner’s response to The Hill about Dept. of Transportation raises more questions for journos

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

The Hill picked up the ball after KFKA radio host Amy Oliver dropped it, and asked Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) about his statement on Oliver’s radio show Friday that there are “great ideas” floating around to “basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states.”

The Hill’s Transportation blog reported yesterday:

“When you listen to whole interview it is clear that Rep. Gardner is simply saying there is a discrepancy in transportation funding and Colorado is a net loser when it comes to the money we get back,” Gardner spokesman Rachel Boxer said in a statement provided to The Hill.  “He believes in letting Colorado keep more of the gas tax it collects therefore cutting some of the bureaucracy between the states and Washington.”

Gardner’s office has yet to return my call, so I’m hoping a journalist, or even Oliver, will ask Gardner for details on this, to fill in the journalistic gap here.

First of all, the statement doesn’t actually say anything about whether Gardner believes that the Department of Transportation should be dismantled. So if Gardner’s office is trying to backpedal, he hasn’t done it.

So, the question remains hanging, “Does Gardner think, as he told Oliver, that it’s a great idea to basically turn the Department of Transportation over to the states?” If so, how would he do it? If not, why not?

And Boxer’s statement to the Hill raises a number of other questions, such as: How much of the gasoline tax does he think should be returned to Colorado and other states? How would he cut the Department of Transportation budget to make up for lost funds? How would he determine how much tax money individual states should keep? Does he support the other functions of the Department of Transportation, as described here? Does he believe the Department of Transportation serves the national interest?

Also when you read a transcript of Gardner’s interview with Oliver, it’s not at all “clear,” as Boxer told The Hill, that Gardner was “simply saying” that Colorado should keep more of the gasoline tax it sends to Washington.

That’s what Oliver, the talk show host was saying.

But Gardner got all excited and one upped Oliver. He told her about great ideas to “basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states.” That sounds like the entire banana to me. Or basically the entire banana. Maybe leave a bite or the skin in Washington DC.

Was this a misstatement on Gardner’s part, rather than a misreading of his interview on the part of The Hill, me, and anyone else in their right mind who heard him on Amy Oliver’s show Friday?

Radio-show host nudges Gardner into announcing his support of turning “Dept. of Transportation back to the states”

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Egged on by radio-host Amy Oliver, Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) revealed Friday that he favors plans that “would basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states.”

Oliver, who hosts the “Amy Oliver Show” on KFKA 1310-AM in Greeley, told Gardner that Colorado should keep most of its federal gasoline tax, so “we don’t have to beg or anything like that.”

The sentiment apparently struck a nerve in Gardner, who ran with Oliver’s suggestion:

“Well, I think there are some great ideas that would basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states, because why do we have this system that says, hey, we’re going to just have you collect money, and we’re going to scrape some off the top. I mean, it makes no sense to have this middleman treated the way it is.”

You’d expect Oliver, who works at the right-leaning Independence Institute, to favor dismantling the Department of Transportation.

But when a U.S. Congressman like Gardner jumps on board, you’d think even Oliver would recognize that she owes it to you, me, and her audience to extract more details from him. Instead, she went, as planned, to a commercial break, Gardner disappeared, and the topic was dropped.

So, what would turning over the Department of Transportation to the states mean?

I asked former Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena for a reaction to Gardner’s notion.

“At first blush it may seem to be an attractive idea to let the states control their own funding, but the reality is that there is a real need to have a national highway system that supports our economy and contributes to our national security,” Pena said, adding that a national entity is needed to provide oversight so that transportation systems from coast to coast run smoothly and support economic development.

“I guess one could say every state should fund its own airports, but we could not have built Denver International Airport without $500 million from FAA,” Pena said. [The FAA is part of the Dept. of Transportation.]

DIA was not built just to benefit Colorado, Pena said, but to help the nation’s airports run more smoothly. Backups at Denver’s old airport, Stapleton, were causing inefficiencies and backups at airports nationwide, Pena pointed out, and it was clear DIA would remedy these problems.

“There was a national need to build DIA,” Pena told me.

The Department of Transportation has played this role, identifying and addressing national transportation needs, including those of less populated regions, since its inception, Pena argued. This role extends beyond airports and highways to ensuring that pipelines and other transportation systems are efficient and meet national safety standards. (Here’s a summary of the Department of Transportation’s responsibilities.)

“I don’t think he’s [Rep. Gardner] done his homework or analyzed his position very closely, because it [dismantling DOT] would have terrible consequences for national security and for our economy,” said Pena, who also served as Secretary of Energy.

On the radio, Gardner didn’t seem to care about national concerns:

“But if you look at the broader picture of transportation in general, Colorado gets less than a dollar for every dollar of tax dollars it sends in for the package of highway systems. So we are a net loser when it comes to sending a dollar in and getting less than a dollar back.”

Neither Gardner’s Office nor Amy Oliver returned calls for comment.

Listen to Gardner’s views on the Department of Transportation 12 minutes into the Aug. 5 podcast here. A partial transcript follows:

Oliver: I want to ask you about this. It really gets to the philosophy of what the proper function of government should be. Why on Earth should someone from Mississippi, why should federal tax money from any other state, Mississippi, Main, Missouri, Ohio, anybody, have to pay for a runway here in northern Colorado?

Gardner: Well, it really goes to the heart of what’s happening now in the bigger discussion on whether or not we should be trying to do all things for all people. I mean, certain people in the aviation industry do pay user fees to land. They do pay av tax on their aviation fuel. And that comes back to the airport and helps fund projects like the runway extension. But if you look at the broader picture of transportation in general, Colorado gets less than a dollar for every dollar of tax dollars it sends in for the package of highway systems. So we are a net loser when it comes to sending a dollar in and getting less than a dollar back.

Oliver: Well, we actually get less than that because they have their overhead that they have to do.

Gardner: You’re right. The middleman. They just kind cut it off. There’s states like Wyoming that get more money. Alaska gets more money. So the question is, how does this continue and how can we continue it when people are struggling to make ends meat as it is, and we have a government that’s far beyond its means.

Oliver: Let me ask you something, and this might be getting back a little bit to your state capital days. Couldn’t we do something with our federal gasoline tax and just say, hey listen, you guys, what is the federal gasoline tax, I think it’s 18 cents a gallon, we’ll give you two cents. Let us just keep the rest. That way we don’t have to beg or anything like that. We just keep it here in Colorado.

Gardner: Well, I think there are some great ideas that would basically turn the Department of Transportation back to the states, because why do we have this system that says, hey, we’re going to just have you collect money, and we’re going to scrape some off the top. I mean, it makes no sense to have this middleman treated the way it is.

Follow Jason Salzman on Twitter @bigmediablog.

Journalists should remember the GOP once denounced secret negotiations that Coffman now praises

Friday, August 5th, 2011

If you follow my blog, you know I’m often critical of talk-show hosts who fail to ask obvious follow-up questions. 

In their defense, it’s easy for me to listen to a recording of an interview, ponder it, do research, and then say how stupid they were for not thinking of a follow-up question that took me a half hour to formulate.

Here’s an example of the kind of follow-up question that you wouldn’t expect an interviewer to ask on the spot, because it’s based on obscure information, even if it’s readily available from Google.

I’ll lay it out here, not to criticize the interviewer, but to have it on the public record so other journalists can draw on it in future interviews.

On 9News/Channel 20’s YourShow airing Aug. 7, Rep. Mike Coffman told YourShow host Matt Flener that secret negotiations between House leadership and the White House should be seen as a necessary part of the legislative process:

Coffman: “… The Speaker of the House would go to the White House, as well as the majority leader — sit down the president, sit down with the vice president. They would come to some tentative agreement, in terms of direction. Then they would come back, and behind closed doors, we would have input at that point.   … You have to have to a limited group of people — you can’t have, you know, 435 people in a negotiation from the House of Representatives, you know, with the Senate or the White House. And so, I thought the process worked pretty well.”

But back in January of  last year, when Coffman’s party was in the minority and squeezed out of the negotiations like House Democrats are now, he was so mad about Democrats’ health-care negotiations that he felt the need to blast out his displeasure in a news release praising a House resolution demanding that all meetings “to determine the content” of the health care bill be conducted in public:

Coffman:  “It is appalling that negotiations on a bill which will impact one-sixth of our nation’s economy, and every American, would be brokered behind closed doors rather than in the light of day.” 

If you followed the health-care debate, you know that one of the GOP’s major criticisms wasn’t about the substance of the legislation but the alleged secrecy of the drafting of the bill.

This GOP attack-line was all over the news, so Coffman’s praise of legislative secrecy would be expected to raise an eyebrow, once the hypocrisy of it sinks in, especially in light of his news release above.

Next time, if he, or any Republican for that matter, defends secret negotiations again, reporters should ask what gives.

See the segment of the interview in question here: Mike Coffman on YourShow, Channel 20, Aug. 4, 2011

(YourShow, which features weekly interviews with public figures, actively seeks topic and question ideas from viewers. Follow the show on social media of email and get involved.)