Archive for December, 2013

Owner of coffee shop next door to recall office regrets talking to Denver Post

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

When the campaign to recall State Sen. Evie Hudak was ramping up in October, Denver Post reporter Kurtis Lee interviewed John Golay, owner of Cuporado Coffee, which is located next door to the now-empty offices of the recall organizers.

Golay told Lee the recall activists had been kind to him and boosted his business.

“But I’m not signing the petition,” Golay told Lee. “The issue of guns is a polarizing issue that blows partisanship up even more, and I hear where they’re coming from. But massacres like Aurora hit a little too close to home. Something had to change.”

Lee’s article amassed over 350 comments, but this one by cowboyxjon caught my eye:

“Now that we know that the owner of Cuporado Coffee supports gun control, we will no longer patronize his business. I encourage the Recall Hudak crew to do the same.”

Last week, I drove out to Cuporado Coffee, located in a strip mall on Simms and 64th Ave. in the Denver suburb of Arvada, to find out if the recall activists had boycotted Golay’s business after Lee’s article appeared.

Golay told me some anti-Hudak folks came by and told him they’d stop patronizing his business because of what he’d said in the newspaper. And some anti-Hudak regulars from the recall office next door stopped buying coffee, he said.

At the same time, his business didn’t see any upsurge in business from pro-Hudak, gun-safety activists, or progressives who might have appreciated his comments, he told me.

Golay explained to the anti-Hudak people that he’d mostly wanted to tell The Denver Post about how he wished schools had more money to help kids who need it, like his own three autistic children. He hadn’t intended to take sides, and he regrets talking to Lee, he told them.

His recall neighbors accepted this, and after an initial tense period of time, business pretty much returned to normal, he said. Per an agreement with the landlord, the people in the Hudak-Recall office used the bathroom in his coffee shop. And they bought coffee.

They also continued to push Golay to sign their recall petition, but he never did.

I told Golay I admired him for that and for his courage in talking to Kurtis Lee in the first place.

He seemed to appreciate my support, but he told me he’d rather The Denver Post had quoted him as saying this:

“Why can’t we take the money on both sides–recalling or not recalling Hudak–and just put it into the local issues that need money–schools and roads. We could make our community better. I see struggling families. I see struggling businesspeople like me who want to make money to feed their families. Just a drop in the bucket would go a long way.”

Golay hasn’t seen anyone from the Recall-Hudak office since it closed.

“They weren’t locals,” he says. “A lot of them were from the mountains. Or Aurora. Most of them didn’t live here. They were hired guns.”

Golay told me he’s not sure his business will survive, and he may be forced to go back to bartending and waiting tables.

He’s not blaming the recall organizers or The Denver Post, but he says having them next door and being quoted in newspaper didn’t make running his business any easier.

John Golay behind the Counter at Cuporado Coffee



Media omission: Name a billionaire who wrote a check to the recall. Charles Koch

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Asked by a caller on Saturday to name a conservative billionaire who donated to the recall campaigns of Senators John Morse and Angela Giron, KVOR radio host Jeff Crank replied, “Charles Koch.”

This caught my attention because Koch’s name hadn’t appeared on any recall donation lists that I’d seen.

You’d think Crank would know about Koch, though it’s not a certainty, because Crank was a Colorado state director and (briefly) chief operating officer of the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, until he left in July to start his own political consulting company, Aegis Strategy.

Via Twitter I asked Crank to explain which recall activities were funded by Koch, and he vehemently denied saying that Koch contributed to the recall campaign at all, tweeting that my take on the conversation was a “total misquote.”

“I mentioned [the] Kochs write checks to defend freedom,” Crank tweeted yesterday. “Didn’t say wrote checks in recall. Listen carefully at 1:55.”

I listened again, and so can you below, and I heard Crank say the Koch brothers are funding “freedom,” but I also heard a caller ask Crank to “name one [billionaire] that wrote a check in the recall!” And Crank replied, “Charles Koch.”

CALLER RON:  It was the billionaires that came after our guns.  So, should we go after the billionaires? 

CRANK:  And it’s also the billionaires that are funding freedom.

CALLER RON:  Name one!

CRANK:  –that are funding—I’ll name ya some!

CALLER RON:  Name one!

CRANK:  Sure!  Charles Koch!  David Koch!

CALLER RON:  Name one that wrote a check in the recall! 

CRANK: Charles Koch.

CALLER RON: Name one that wrote a $500,000 check in the recall.  Name one! 

CRANK:  They didn’t write personal checks. First of all, let me tell you.  Americans for Prosperity, Ron, did a heck of a lot more to help win on those issues than you’ll ever give them credit for! 

Asked to comment on Crank’s radio discussion, Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said via email that “Jeff Crank is admitting what we at Ethics Watch have been saying for years: Americans for Prosperity spends money on elections but uses a loophole to keep from having to disclose the money.”

Toro: “They did it in the Colorado Springs mayor’s race when Jeff Crank was the state director. They always say that they are just discussing the issues, not supporting or opposing candidates. They justify themselves by avoiding using words like ‘vote for the recall’ or ‘defeat John Morse.’ So by avoiding the ‘magic words’ and claiming not to have a position on the recall, they could spend as much money as they wanted on ads personally attacking Morse and Giron while at the same time pretending not to have a position on the recall vote. Crank is coming very close here to making a legally significant admission that AFP was spending to support the recall and should have reported where they got the money and how they spent it.”

Last week, the Sunlight Foundation released a list of groups that contributed to the Morse and Giron recall campaigns, and Americans For Prosperity didn’t appear on the list, including its list of TV ad buyers.

But the Sunlight Foundation notes that contributions by Americans for Prosperity wouldn’t have been reported if they were classified as “issue advertising.”

The Sunlight Foundation’s blog states: “Much of the money — how much isn’t really clear — spent by outside groups in the recall race came in the form of undisclosed dollars. There were no limits on contributions to these races and much of the advertising was classified as issue advertising and did not trigger official state reporting requirements. That meant that groups such as the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, on the pro-recall side, and Americans for Responsible Solutions, on the anti-recall slate, were active but did not report their spending to state authorities.”



Transcript of Dec. 14 exchange between caller “Ron” and KVOR radio host Jeff Crank about the political donations of Charles and David Koch

CALLER RON: If you want to show sides, it was the billionaires that came after our guns. So, should we go after the billionaires?

CRANK: And it’s also the billionaires that are funding freedom.

CALLER RON: Name one!

CRANK: –that are funding—I’ll name ya some!

CALLER RON: Name one!

CRANK: Sure! Charles Koch! David Koch!

CALLER RON: Name one that wrote a check in the recall!

CRANK: Charles Koch.

CALLER RON: Name one that wrote a $500,000 check in the recall. Name one!

CRANK: They didn’t write personal checks. First of all, let me tell you. Americans for Prosperity, Ron, did a heck of a lot more to help win on those issues than you’ll ever give them credit for!

CALLER RON: Well, tell us!

CRANK: Because you think it’s – I –

CALLER RON: Tell us!

CRANK: I’ve been telling you!

CALLER RON: There was $500,000 given. $360,000 was the NRA! Where was the billionaires on our side, Jeff?

CRANK: Oh, Ron! Ron, listen! First of all, I’m not even going to get in it with ya, because you just think that –. The only issue you ever want to talk about, Ron, is guns!

CALLER RON: You brought it up with the recall!

CRANK: But you think the only people out there that do anything in politics are the gun people! And you’re wrong!



Boehner’s attack on the Tea Party, from the perspective of CO Springs Tea-Party radio

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

When you read about House Speaker John Boehner turning against his right-wing supporters, what you miss is how Boehner’s salvo was received from the humble perspective of the Tea Party in the trenches of a place like Colorado Springs.

For this raw material, you need to tune to Tea-Party radio, like KVOR’s Jeff Crank show, broadcast from CO Springs.

On Saturday, someone named “Ron” phoned Crank’s show and calmly suggested that the Tea Party should back off a bit, because it might cause Republicans to lose elections. And Crank, a Tea-Party stalwart, lets loose on him.

I transcribed it below, but to understand the underlying feelings and battle scars, you have to listen here. (First you’ll hear caller Ron, then radio-host Crank.)

“[The Tea Party] is trying to do something real big, all at one time, and turn around the ship,” Ron told Crank. Maybe it should be more incremental, Ron said.

Crank: “Your attacks on the Tea Party, Ron,” said Crank as he began to blow his top. “You need to look and see who won those [recall] elections. I know you think it was the ads that the NRA ran.

Ron: “No! No!”

Crank: You’re foolin’ yourself, Ron. You’re foolin’ yourself, if you think that. You’re foolin yourself. I’m not going to sit and argue about it [apparently muting Ron]. I know who won those recall elections. I know who was out walking precincts, Ron. [Shouting] I know who did it! So you can say, ‘Oh it was just the NRA came in and won it.’ [now screaming] Look, I’m a member of the NRA! I have spent time and effort and money trying to get people to contribute to the NRA, Ron. But they’re not going to save America singlehandedly. We’re going to save it. And you attacking the Tea Party. And John Boehner attacking the Tea Party is simply counter productive. It just is.”

Asked if he’d photograph a gay wedding, State Sen. says it would depend “on the circumstances”

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Correction: An earlier version of this blog post stated that Sen. Kevin Lundberg would not photograph a gay wedding. In fact, he told me in a telephone interview that it would “depend on the circumstances.”


State Sen. Kevin Lundberg told a KLZ radio audience Dec. 12 that he relates to the Colorado baker who, by court order, must bake a cake for a gay wedding even though the baker says it violates his Christian beliefs.

“I actually do some photography, and I’ve shot a few weddings,” Lundberg said on the radio, explaining that a similar case involved a wedding photographer in another state. “And I can see a very close parallel between baking a cake for a wedding or shooting pictures for a wedding. And I can tell you that there’s no way I could enter into shooting a wedding without doing my best to condone everything that occurred there.” [BigMedia emphasis]

“You’re trying to get the best [photo] shots,” Lundberg continued. “You’re trying to tell the story. And you’re trying to promote the event. You’ve been hired by the couple, by the family, to make this statement. To do a wedding cake, it’s not just a cake. It’s a very strong symbol of the ceremony and the process that’s occurring.”

Lundberg, a Republican, appeared on KLZ to express his displeasure with Colorado Attorney General John Suthers, who told Lundbergduring a legislative hearing last week that his office would continue to side with the gay couple, not the baker, because Colorado’s public accommodation law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“This baker considers it an artistic statement when he’s baking a wedding cake,” Lundberg said on air. “Somebody said, ‘Come on. It’s just a cake.’ Well, the business is actually called Masterpiece Bakeshop.  It’s quite obvious they consider their bakery items a work of art. And if that isn’t something that would qualify under freedom of speech, I’m not sure what would.”

In his summary-judgment ruling against the Masterpiece baker, Colorado Administrative Law Judge Robert Spencer addressses Lundberg’s argument as well as others in favor of the baker that you find floating around the talk-radio airwaves. Read his decision here. The complaint against the baker was initially filed by the ACLU of Colorado.

“Some legislators would insist, ‘Keep your religion out of the State House,'” Lundberg told KLZ guest host Stacy Petty, going beyond the wedding-cake issue. “Well, I would say to them, ‘Keep your worldview out of the State House.’ And what do we have left? Nothing.”

Obviously, Lundberg sees religion everywhere, even if he’s not looking through his camera lens at a gay wedding.

Media omission: Conservative talk-radio host gets all excited about critique of Republican Senate candidate

Monday, December 16th, 2013

KFKA talk-radio host Amy Oliver urged Republicans last week to read a Facebook post by former State Senator Shawn Mitchell, in which Mitchell wrote that he’s “somewhere between distressed and appalled that GOP luminaries think it’s a good idea for [Rep. Amy Stephens] to bear the party’s standard into a campaign for federal office in 2014.”

Stephens is one of six GOP candidates vying to take on Democratic Sen. Mark Udall next year.  Also running are Tea Party favorite and recycled Senate candidate Ken Buck, mustachioed state Senator Randy Baumgardner from northwestern Colorado’s District 8, state Senator from El Paso County Owen Hill, as well as Jamie McMillan and Tom Janich.

Oliver, who doubles as a staffer for the libertarian Independence Institute, was really excited about Mitchell’s Dec. 9 Facebook post, telling listeners that “the entry of Amy Stephens in the race, and some of the subsequent endorsements that she has received, have got conservatives saying privately what Shawn Mitchell put out publicly.”

Oliver dedicated two segments of Tuesday’s show to the Facebook post, pouring over Mitchell’s writing, like you might read a religious text, slowly and respectfully analyzing it in loving detail, re-reading portions of it, pausing, and building up to what she called one of Mitchell’s “most important lessons:”

Mitchell: “Pushing Amy Stephens to the nomination will guarantee bitter debate and resentment that demoralizes the base, escalates recrimination, and urging toward party fracture, and accelerates the GOP’s recent death wish to impersonate the Whigs.

And that speaks only of the primary. If the elders and donors can carry her across the line to the nomination, what exactly do you think the Media Democrat team will do to the former employee of Focus on the Family, the co-architect of the infamous end-of session civil-buster, that killed dozens of bills on the calendar, in order to block a vote on civil unions? Whatever the merits of that move, it will be blood in the water come October. And it will be just about the only thing that unpolitical, tv-watching Coloradans ever hear about Amy Stephens.”

Oliver accurately provided context, pointing out that Mitchell’s post, which has amassed 264 comments on Facebook, states that Stephens is not a “bad Republican,” but she agreed with Mitchell’s view:

Mitchell: “In sponsoring SB-200, the Obamacare exchange, Amy Stephens bet wrong in a big way on a defining, existential battle, perhaps the biggest of the decade, maybe in our lifetime. She sided with party appeasers and corporate accomodationists against a vital, surging grass roots movement for liberty and smaller government. Even at the time she made her bet, the picture was murky, and ambitious politicians could be forgiven for being uncertain. (Once upon a time, it took me days to sort out right from wrong when Referendum C’s assault on TABOR was put before the people.).”

“I highly recommend that Republicans read it,” Oliver told listeners, even after she’s already said Mitchell’s post is a “must read” and “a great read.”

Oliver should obviously have Stephens on the show to get her side of the story.

Full story of Magpul’s gruesome CO connection to Sandy Hook has yet to be told

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Update 1/2/2013: A new chapter in the Magpul story unfolded today when the company announced, in a news release, that it’s moving its Colorado operations to Wyoming and Texas.

If company executives talk to reporters about the move, it would be a good time to bring up the unpleasant subject of Sandy Hook, where the shooter used a 30-round magazine made in Colorado.

Magpul declined to talk to reporters about the Newtown shooting when Connecticut State Police originally reported that a Magpul magazine was used.

And Magpul said nothing after photos were released Dec. 27, as part of a police report, showing its 30-round magazine at the crime scene. In the photos, you can read “Magpul Industries” and “PMAG 30” on the magazine.

Maybe reporters in Wyoming and Texas will have better luck than journalists here in extracting a comment from Magpul about Sandy Hook and the magazines in these photos:

Police photo showing Magpul magazine used at Sandy Hook


















Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the Newtown, Connecticut massacre, where 20 children were gunned down at Sandy-Hook Elementary School by a shooter using a 30-round bullet holder made in Colorado.

Erie-based Magpul Industries hasn’t commented on the fact that the Newtown shooter used its 30-round magazine at Sandy Hook—or on the possibility that the gunman might not have had a 30-round mag at all if a 15-round magazinelimit (opposed vehemently by Magpul) had been in place in Connecticut or nationally.

But Magpul has been anything but silent on gun-safety issues over the past year or so, as Colorado journalists have reported in bits and pieces. Here’s a quick look at what we know of the larger Magpul story.

Before it was known that a Magpul magazine was used at Sandy Hook, Magpul lobbied hard against Colorado’s proposed legislation to limit magazine capacity to 15 rounds, testifying in the same Feb. 12 and March 4 legislative hearings as Jean Dougherty, sister of the slain Newtown psychologist Mary Sherlach.

Opponents of Colorado’s gun-safety legislation embraced Magpul and promoted the company as their ally. During the debate about the magazine bill, Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman stated that a Magpul magazine had been used by Navy Seals to kill Osama bin Laden. Sen. Greg Brophy offered up his Capitol parking space to a Magpul promotional truck.

After the magazine limit became law, Magpul contributed 20,000 30-round magazines, decorated with a skull & crossbones, to a June 30 fundraising event for recall campaigns targeting State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron.

Of the 20,000 magazines donated by Magpul, 1,500 were given away, and the rest sold at the fundraiser for $10 each, with all proceeds going to an organization called Free Colorado, a newly formed 501c4 nonprofit advocating gun rights, with registered agent Katherine Kennedy who’s the agent for many Republican 527 and independent expenditure groups. Free Colorado announced that all funds from the Magpul rally would be spent specifically on the recall efforts of Morse and Giron.

At the event, held in Glendale, gun extremist Dana Loesch arrived in a Magpul helicopter to give away the free magazines and thrill the crowd.

Free Colorado kept its promise, running its own television ad against Morse and Giron. Television-station information reveals that Free Colorado purchased over $100,000 worth of cable and broadcast time for political ads targeting the recalls.

Of course, Magpul threatened to leave Colorado, if the Legislature passed gun-safety legislation, including a 15-round mag limit. The bills became law in March, but Magpul showed no signs of re-locating its manufacturing operations or, apparently, its political activities, though the company told the Boulder Daily Camera in October that the move is still planned.

So the Sandy Hook anniversary is coming up tomorrow, and as I wrote above, nothing has been heard from Magpul about its connection to the shooting. It appears that in March, a Magpul executive made rather crude references to Sandy Hook in online discussion forums, and the company issued a formal statement on its website after the shooting. And Magpul executive Duane Liptak, during a radio interview with Denver’s own Mike Rosen, addressed speculation about the possible use of a Magpul magazine at Sandy Hook.

There’s a lot for Magpul to reflect on, beyond its gruesome connection to Sandy Hook. I’m hoping a determined journalist has more luck than I’ve had getting through.


Radio host doesn’t explain why Buck was tagged a “gaffe-machine” in 2010

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

Fresh from his top-GOP-Senate-candidate showing in the latest Public Policy Pollingsurvey, Ken Buck took to the talk-radio airwaves in recent days, bragging that he’s ahead of his primary opponents by “25 points or more” and that he “had a lot Tea Party support last time” and he has “a lot of Tea Party support this time.”

Reminded by KHOW’s Mandy Connell that he was tagged as a “gaffe-machine” in 2010, Buck said:

Buck: “Obviously, I’m more careful in what I say and where I say it and who I’m around. It doesn’t mean I don’t hold the same values. I think messaging is important.”

Connell wouldn’t have gotten anywhere with Buck had she asked him the sorts of things he’d say privately versus in public, but she could have at least listed a couple of Buck’s private utterances that Democrats used to  sledge-hammer Buck in TV ads last time around, including his infamous exuberance for banning abortion, even in the case of rape and incest, as well as his private courting then public dumping of personhood activists, whose failed amendment would have banned common forms of birth control, as well as all abortion.

Connell, who had Buck on her show Tuesday, also might have recounted some of the Buck material leading to the “gaffe-machine” tag, like his comment comparing being gay to alcoholism.

With this info out there, listeners might have wondered about the truth of Buck’s claim to Connell: “The donors know me. They trust me.” Really? On the issues, Buck said: “I’m going to put out a series of issue statements, starting in January, that will be very specific on health care, on energy, on five or six or seven different issues.”

Five! Six! or even seven issue statements! Connell could have mocked Buck for promising such incredible depth. But instead she just let him say:

Buck: “I think it’s very important for Republicans to stand for something, not just stand against something. I’m not just part of the party of no.” On health care, for example, Buck says he wants a “free-market health-care system.”

On KLZ radio Friday, Buck took a shot at candidates who petition onto the primary ballot, as planned by his opponent Rep. Amy Stephens, instead of going through the caucus process.

Buck said the petition route “bypasses the party structure, the people who work the hardest in the party, and it’s something that would be very unfortunate, if people petitioned on.”

Discussing in more detail why it’s bad for a candidate to skip the caucus-process and petition onto the primary ballot, Buck and Clark said:

Clark: Then you have the other tactic, which is simply to pay a bunch of people to go out and get a bunch of signatures and put your name on the ballot. Well, okay, we’ve all seen what happens when that happens. It’s usually not very pretty. This particular candidate, I have a feeling, is going to run a scorched-earth campaign. We’re just going to have to deal with that. Ken?

Buck: Well, I think, one, there’s a big advantage to going to the caucuses and the assembly. And that is, you go to all the counties of the state, and you ask for their support. And they work for you in the primary and they work for you in the general election. And when you put people in front of a supermarket with a clipboard in their hands, you’re not gaining support. You may think that you may have enough money to run an air game in Denver media and win a race, but the reality is that running state-wide is very difficult to win petitioning on. And so, I agree with your analysis.

Buck told Clark: “In primaries, people are going to put their best foot forward, and they’re going to put their opponent’s worst foot forward, and we will be weaker going against a candidate like Mark Udall.”

An interview with Patrick Malone, who’s leaving the Ft. Collins Coloradoan Friday

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Investigative and legislative reporter Patrick Malone leaves the Fort Collins Coloradoan Friday for a job at The Santa Fe New Mexican, giving us another reason to grieve for the state of journalism in Colorado.

After starting his journalism career at the Chronicle News in Trinidad, Malone wrote for the Pueblo Chieftain for 15 years, from 1997-2012, holding numerous positions including Denver bureau chief/political reporter. He moved to the Coloradoan a year-and-a-half ago, and now he’s headed to Santa Fe to work at the New Mexican.

He answered a few questions via email last week.

Why are you leaving the Coloradoan?

Malone: Being from Trinidad in extreme Southern Colorado, New Mexico has always held a special place in my heart. My wife was a photographer at the Coloradoan and looking for a change that would allow her to explore more creative projects instead of running from one quick-hit assignment to the next, so we looked first to New Mexico. A couple of months ago I was offered a job at the Albuquerque Journal and turned it down in favor of staying at the Coloradoan. That led to some conversations with the new regime at The Santa Fe New Mexican. I learned it is in the very early stages of an intriguing renaissance, and I actively sought to be a part of it. Their reporting staff is a stellar mix of veterans, including Daniel Chacon whom Colorado readers will remember from his great work at the Rocky Mountain News and the Gazette in Colorado Springs, and some young rising stars. That impressed me, but the real sell for me was the New Mexican’s new executive editor, Ray Rivera. He’s most recently worked at the New York Times and before that at the Washington Post as an investigative reporter. Amid all the noise about shifting media paradigms and attention to the new way – things we certainly can’t ignore if we want to survive as an industry – Ray remains committed to the hard-core journalistic principles that led people like me to fall in love with newspapers at a very early age. I can learn a lot from him, and the opportunity to grow as a reporter, even 18 years into my career, is what really lured me to Santa Fe. Plus it’s a great city where my wife and 1-year-old daughter should be very happy. My beat will involve staffing the legislature when it’s in session, health care policy and investigative projects. My wife will freelance in Santa Fe, including for the New Mexican.

What are a couple of your favorite memories of news reporting in Colorado?

Undoubtedly my 15 years at The Pueblo Chieftain were the most memorable. Many of my best friends still work there, or were recently laid off by The Chieftain. Pueblo is uniquely newsy for a city of 100,000, and it has an oversized voice for its circulation because of its geographic reach. To me, my work on the decades-old sexual abuses committed by Catholic priests and covered up in Pueblo meant the most. I spoke to dozens of grown men who were victimized in childhood. They’d lived their whole lives with shame and fear of telling anyone, because nobody would listen. It could never undo what they suffered, but I hope those stories provided some measure of justice.

Beyond that, covering politics and the legislature for a few years at the tail end of my tenure with The Chieftain was a great experience. It plucked me from my comfort zone and taught me exactly how little I know about anything. We all need that periodically to continue growing as journalists. The camaraderie and competition of the capitol press corps is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. You have the tight-knit friendships that develop in newsrooms, but at the same time, you want to kick their asses on a daily basis. Case in point: When I broke the story of the House approving a spending package that included increased per diem reimbursement for lawmakers, Lynn Bartels from the Denver Post refused to talk to me for about two weeks. We helped each other when we were all working the same stock stories, but I’m not exaggerating when I say we’d lock ourselves in bathrooms at the State Capitol to conduct phone interviews we didn’t want the others in our shared office to hear. I’m looking forward to rejoining that kind of competitive environment when I cover the legislature in New Mexico.

You’ve had a diverse ride in journalism in Colorado. Can you briefly describe your different jobs and offer your thoughts on some of the strengths and weaknesses of Colorado political journalism now versus when you started?

By the time I arrived at the capitol I had covered courts for about a decade, been the weekend city editor at The Chieftain, covered education, features, senior citizen issues and crime, in addition to starting as a sports writer at The Chronicle News in Trinidad. None of it prepared me for day-to-day life at the capitol. It’s a complete rat race with more news to cover than any one reporter – or two-person team – can cover adequately. The loss of the Rocky Mountain News harmed political coverage in the state immeasurably. That’s not to say that the Post, AP and others don’t do a good job. They do. But the more competition, the better the coverage is going to be. It breaks my heart that The Chieftain abandoned its long-standing tradition of staffing the capitol when I left. That further erodes accountability in state government. Every time a paper ends its year-round reporting at the capitol, citizens suffer. Thinking back to the congressional redistricting trial in 2011, there was a day early on when all the testimony focused on Fort Collins, Greeley and Boulder and what their congressional boundaries should look like. Witness after witness spewed the essence of their communities and almost vitriolic emotion about which cities should be paired together and which shouldn’t. There wasn’t a reporter to be found in the courtroom from the newspapers in any of the affected cities. That was a pretty sick feeling, and at that moment I recognized where we stand as a state in terms of commitment to covering politics. It’s fallen a long way from the days of virtually every paper having a presence in the Statehouse. Point a finger of blame at the newspaper brass who’ve made these decisions, not the reporters that remain in the trenches or relegated to their mothership newsrooms.

In terms of strengths in Colorado political journalism, you’ve got some reporters in the capitol press corps that understand the chess match and the implications of officials’ decisions in peoples’ lives like no one else. Full disclosure: These are my friends, so I’m naturally going to say nice things about them as people. But professionally, they deserve mention as well. Charles Ashby of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covers state politics as well as anybody, regardless of era. Joe Hanel of the Durango Herald artfully distills the true meaning of any smokescreen for his readers and, for my money, could work anywhere in the country. The Associated Press team of Ivan Moreno and Kristen Wyatt catch everything, and increasingly are the only link many communities in the state have to what’s happening under the dome. Bartels is the best-sourced reporter I’ve ever met and can get lawmakers to talk about anything, regardless of how much they don’t want to.

Do you think your new position in Santa Fe is more stable? Was this a factor in your decision to leave?

I’m confident it will be stable because I believe that when you let the purest journalistic principles guide a paper’s course, readers will respond. There’s no gimmick in Rivera’s vision for sustained success. It all grows from a fundamental core of producing the kind of journalism readers can’t put down.

The Coloradoan is sort of an oasis of stability in the turbulent Gannett sea. When layoffs were happening throughout Gannett this fall, the Coloradoan was spared, largely because of its success selling the online product (thanks to a very strong ad department) and because the executive editor, Josh Awtry, analyzes data to a painful degree and constantly tweaks the news lineup recipe accordingly to appeal to local readers. The Coloradoan is uniquely positioned in a web-reliant market perfectly suited for its online pay subscription model that yields decent revenue returns for practically no overhead. The top of the news and advertising food chains at the Coloradoan have adeptly maximized it.

the New Mexican is family-owned, so I have no doubt that it is totally committed to its market. The New Mexican’s ownership has shown a commitment to adding reporting muscle as a vehicle to drive subscriptions and motivate advertisers. When I arrived at the Coloradoan 18 months ago, they were embarking on a similar strategy and got the response they wanted. Having worked at both a family-owned paper (The Chieftain) and for a corporate giant (Gannett), I see pros and cons to each. One of the more profound examples of the differing philosophies between corporations and family operations can be found in their lobbies. In Fort Collins, I can walk downstairs and touch a cardboard cutout of any number of the reporters on staff. The same space in Santa Fe is occupied by Thomas Edison’s desk. I think Rivera embodies the merger of the New Mexican’s traditional journalistic values and the recognition that there’s a contemporary, digital track to success. Ownership aside, the ultimate key to stability is having the right leaders in place from top to bottom. Trust and accountability for every rung on the newsroom ladder give you the sense that together you can accomplish spectacular things. I believe the New Mexican has assembled the right team. It’s genuinely inspirational.

What advice would you give to a young person who wants to be a journalist?

Regardless of the industry’s undulations, remember you’re carrying the mantle for journalists that came before you and those that will follow. You have an immense responsibility, and it’s one of the cornerstones of democracy.

I’d tell them that the only measure of control journalists have over the news they cover is the effort that they put into it. So work hard. Remember that you’re asking the questions all of society wants answered, but doesn’t have the luxury of time to ask for itself. So channel your readers when you ask questions. Write to them and for them, not for yourself or the subjects of your stories.

Adapt to the changes in the industry, but don’t do it at the expense of what has always been and always will be great journalism – namely telling people how the subject you’re covering affects their lives, the factors driving it and clearly identifying any resulting conflicts. Pay attention to the contemporary tools we have to measure success. They can tell us a lot about what we need to do to survive as an industry. But be careful not to become so preoccupied with analytics that you ignore the quality of the underlying journalism. Everybody wants a million web clicks on their story. But who wants a million people to see they’ve written a crappy story?

Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. You will never be as ashamed of the story that you tell as you will of the story that you don’t tell.

You’ve got to be committed in principle to journalism, or you’ll never last. If you follow this path and find out that it’s not for you, get out of the way. Someone else is waiting in line for the opportunity.

Media omission: State Republicans try to edit out internal dissent

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Do you remember this headline from The Denver Post Spot blog back in September?

“Upset Republicans propose chicken protest at Colorado GOP meeting Saturday”

It referred to an idea hatched by a group of Republicans to bring boxed chicken to a GOP gathering as a protest against State GOP Chair Ryan Call, who joined Democrats in criticizing a Republican legislator for talking about the “chicken” eating habits of the “black race.”

The protest never happened, but Ryan Call was so upset that the idea for such a protest would land in the hands of The Denver Post that he angrily passed out copies of The Post story at the Sept. meeting of the Republican Party’s Executive Committee and announced that he never wanted to see another article like it again.

During an hour-and-24-minute discussion about the chicken protest, Call angrily reprimanded CO GOP Secretary Lana Fore-Warkocz, who was accused, over her objections, of leaking the chicken-protest story to The Post. Never undermine the Republican Party again, she was told.

That is, according to the unedited, unofficial meeting minutes, written by Fore-Warkocz in her capacity as party secretary, and given to me by credible sources.

But the  Colorado Republican Party’s official minutes of the meeting, which are an edited version of Fore Warkocz’s notes and were also given to me by credible sources, tell a different story:

Official Republican Meeting Notes: “Certain matters concerning recent disclosures in the press, and the airing of disagreements between certain officers and members of the Executive Committee were candidly discussed. Officers and members of the Executive Committee were reminded of the importance of trust, unity, confidentiality and our role as leaders and members of the Executive Committee, and of our duties with respect to the Republican Party, but no formal action was taken.”

The unofficial meeting notes paint a different picture.

State GOP Secretary Fore-Warkocz’ Meeting Notes: “Chairman Call made it clear that I signed up to defend ALL Republicans, including McCain and Boehner, and if I didn’t like that, to check my bags at the door. Chairman Call said that folks like Jason Worley, Ken Clark, the Brattens, Debbie Healy and the Arnol’s are no friends of this party. Again, I was instructed to never undermine the family or the Republican Party again.”

Fore-Warkocz explained in her minutes that she had actually argued against the chicken protest.

But this didn’t stop Ryan Call from telling Fore-Warkocz that “trust and honesty” had been broken and from ordering Fore-Warkocz to notify him “immediately” if she’s invited to another meeting involving dissent (gasp) within the GOP.

“Senator Bill Cadman reiterated Chairman Call’s comments, and I was reprimanded for another 20 minutes,” according to Fore-Warkocz’ version of the meeting.

Fore-Warkocz’ notes state:

“[Committee member] Ellyn Hilliard explained that Ken [Clark] and Jason[Worley] are in it for the ratings and to not speak to them. I explained that I hadn’t.”

(Side note: As a media critic I was floored that anyone would think KLZ talk-radio hosts Ken Clark and Jason Worley are in it for the ratings! No one defends Sen. Vicki Marble for the ratings! You can defend Mylie Cyrus for the ratings. But talking on the radio about chicken or Marble or barbeque doesn’t do much for you. Unless you’re gunning for Tea-Party ratings, which still don’t do much for you.)

At the end of the executive committee meeting, Ryan Call presented a new branding campaign for the Republican Party.

The bold initiative replaces “Grand Old Party” with the smooth-and-easy phrase “Great Opportunity Party.”

“New brochures were presented, and all were very impressed with the new marketing materials,” according to the official minutes.

I get it. Dumping the word “old” will make the Republican Party young!

Just like whitewashing the notes from a contentious GOP meeting will make the Party get along?

Denver Post did right thing by reporting Coffman backpedal–and how he did it

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

reported last week that Rep. Mike Coffman said on a radio show that America is in a “Constitutional crisis,” because of Obama’s “abusive interpretation of the Constitution.”

Sounds bad, even in the paranoid and crisis-filled world you find on conservative talk radio.

When asked for a solution by KHOW host Mandy Connell, Coffman talked about filing a lawsuit, maybe a personal one, against Obama!

Yesterday, The Denver Post’s Allison Sherry reported that Coffman’s spokesman “tried to soften the congressman’s assertion last week that he is looking into whether to sue President Barack Obama on abuse of power, saying, ‘litigation, legislation — all of it is on the table.'”

Coffman is becoming known for walking back statements made in front of friendly microphones, most memorably his repeated sort-of apology for his assertion that Obama isn’t an American “in his heart” and his statement that he didn’t know whether “Obama was born in the United States  of America.” (He later said his birther moment was overblown.)

In this week’s case, I appreciated that Sherry noted not only that Coffman’s backpedal was made by a spokesman, not Coffman himself, but also through a statement by the spokesman, not the spokesman himself.

What’s more, Sherry did the right thing by informing us that the Coffman spokesman “wouldn’t elaborate beyond the statement.”

Sherry’s reporting allows us to understand the different ways Coffman deals with these situations.