Reporters should ask Tipton how his idea of cutting the fed budget by 10 percent squares with his plea to save rural post offices

The U.S. Postal Service, as you may know, is trying to save money by closing  post offices in rural areas, like the district of Rep. Scott Tipton.

This prompted Tipton and fellow Congressman Cory Gardner to deliver a letter, electionically I presume, to the Postal Regulatory Commission, protesting the closure of so many Colorado post offices.

We are aware of the grim fiscal position of the Post Office, and the need to make changes in order to survive in today’s competitive environment and adjust to the new means of communication in the 21st Century. However..Our constituents are concerned that retail discontinuance of some of these post offices could negatively impact their own businesses, especially during these tough economic times. Additionally, we are concerned that closing certain facilities will lead to costly and time-consuming commutes. Traveling to distant postal facilities in the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts during winter months could be extremely difficult, expensive and dangerous. Some post offices that appear to be in geographic proximity are in reality not readily accessible. Finally, some of these post offices that seem to service a proportionately small population are essential to the existence of small isolated communities. The potential effect of these closures should involve significant consideration of the individual or unique characteristics of the respective communities served…. We would prefer to see a bottom-up approach that utilizes actual cost savings rather than a top-down approach focused on an arbitrary revenue figure.

So, what Tipton and Gardner are saying here is, don’t just close post offices willy nilly. Be smart about it. Think about economic costs and benefits, and use a selective approach to closing post offices.

Except…isn’t Tipton the guy who’s called for a 10 percent across-the-board cut in federal budget discrtionary spending?

He is, but you wouldn’t know it from reading press coverage of his efforts to save post offices. None of the coverage I’ve seen (e.g., Montrose Press, Pueblo Chieftain, The Craig Daily PressThe Denver Post’s Spot blog) explains how Tipton squares his chain-saw approach to cutting the federal budget (10 percent cuts for all) with his touchy-feely, wonky recommendation for post-office cuts.

But should a reporter raise this point with Tipton? Or would this be a snarky attack?

It’s clear that journalists should report a “flip-flop” by a politician. So if Tipton had said that the U.S. Postal Service should be closed, and then he said, keep it open, that would an obvious matter for a journalist to raise.

But Tipton’s inconsistency on this isn’t really an in-your-face  flip-flop. It’s more of a sleight-of-hand.

So were journalists right not to question Tipton about why he thinks the post office deserves careful budget cuts while the federal budget does not?

Via email, I asked Fred Brown, a veteran Denver joiurnalist and columnist who’s nationally known for his ethics work with the Society of Professional Journalists, “Would it be unfair for a reporter to ask Tipton about this? Or would this be seen more as an attack by someone out to get Tipton?”

I think that’s a legitimate question to ask, at least in the initial report. Is it worth a follow-up story? There, I’m not so sure. It is more likely then to come across as an attempt at “gotcha” journalism. But if the question is asked, and answered, as part of the story about Tipton’s (and Gardner’s) request to keep post offices open, it’s certainly pertinent — and it shows a nice bit of research and recall on the reporter’s part. Tipton may say it’s a silly question, or that this isn’t part of the 10 percent he was talking about, or that he’d be perfectly happy if each little post office cut its budget by 10 percent. But if the question and answer are reported in full, then I’d say leave it to the reader (or viewer or listener) to decide whether it’s a fair question. I think it is.

That’s what I thought, too. I don’t think it merits a stand-alone story either, unless this turns into a trend, with Tipton asking for lengthy cost-benefit analyses of cuts proposed for stuff in his district, while throwing everyone else under the across-the-board-cut bus.

But reporters won’t have to wait for a possible stand-alone story. They will probably have a chance to query Tipton during the normal course of reporting the post office woes.

In Silver Plume Nov. 16 and elsewhere on other dates in November and December, public meetings will be held on proposed branch closures in Colorado.

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