Archive for October, 2017

Why hasn’t Patrick Neville removed fake news from his Facebook Page?

Tuesday, October 17th, 2017

neville patrick on kaepernick saying he'd stand for anthem if he could play again“BREAKING: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick tells CBS he’ll stand during the national anthem if given chance to play football in NFL again.”

If I were Colorado State Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Littleton), I would have shared that news, delivered via Facebook by the Associated Press, on my Facebook page.

I mean, it was reported by CBS and and validated by AP, both credible news outlets.

And, in fact, Neville shared it on his Facebook page, with the comment, “Values have no price.”

But it turns out Kaepernick never said this.

Snopes now says it’s not true, and so does CBS itself, which corrected its own report.

So it’s 100 percent fake news, if you define it, as I do, as false information, packaged as news, that’s been deemed false by Factcheck.org, Politifact, Snopes, or a credible news outlet.

So, if I were Neville, I’d delete it from my Facebook page, if a progressive blogger alerted me to the problem with calls and an email. I’d explain what happened, because, as the Republican leader in the Colorado House, I’d want to set a good example and show my commitment to fact-based discourse.

But despite my outreach to Neville beginning last week, the fake news post remains on his Facebook page. I wish I knew why he hasn’t removed it. Maybe he didn’t get my messages? Seems like he and I would agree on this one.

Hey ColoradoPolitics, you’ll lose the war against fake news if you put your credibility at risk

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Journalists hate fake news, right? And they hate it when they’re accused of being purveyors of fake news. So why would a newspaper put its most valuable asset, its credibility, at risk by publishing fake-news advertisements that look almost exactly like news? And then not answer questions about it?

Don’t ask ColoradoPolitics, a political news site owned by conservative billionaire Phil Anschutz, because that’s what it did this week.

Corey Hutchins, writing for the left-leaning Colorado Independent, reports that ColoradoPolitics will not respond to questions about a deceptive advertisement, designed to mimic a news supplement, that ran in the online and print editions of ColoradoPolitics last week.

That was disappointing, because I thought ColoradoPolitics would respond to reasonable questions like the one in Hutchins’ headline, “Who paid for ‘sponsored content’ and a ‘paid advertisement’ in Colorado’s weekly political newspaper?”

I noticed that the logo on the ColoradoPolitics’ sponsored content/advertisement appears to matche the one used by Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED). And CRED ran a similar ad insert in The Denver Post a few years ago, with similar pro-oil-and-gas messages. So the answer to Hutchins’ question could well be CRED, but we don’t know for sure. CRED did not return a call.

I had a few other questions about the ad, and I listed them in my email, sent Thursday, to Vince Bzdek, the editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, also owned by Anschutz. Bzcek oversees editorial direction at ColoradoPolitics. He did not respond, which is too bad because I’ve admired his work and was hoping to hear from him.

Here’s my email to Bzdek. If you happen to know the answers to any of my questions, please let me know.

Hi Vince –

I’m a former freelance media critic at the Rocky, now blogging on media and politics, from a progressive perspective, at BigMedia.org, ColoradoPols, and elsewhere.

…[I thought] you might answer a few questions about the sponsored content that ran in ColoradoPolitics.

I know this is standard industry practice these days, used by The Denver Post and many other newspapers. And I’ve written about The Post’s sponsored content previously here.

My questions are:

  • Why is there no mention of the sponsor of the ad in the print or online editions. The logo matches the one used by Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development (CRED), so I’m guessing that’s the sponsor. Is this true? Why not state this on the ad?
  • Did you consider making the “Paid Advertisement” in larger type on the print edition. I was glad to see it on all four pages, and you admirably made “Sponsored Content” very large online, though an explanation of what this phrase means might be useful for readers.
  • When you Google author “Tim Peters,” who’s the bylined author of the sponsored content, along with the phrase “Colorado Politics, you get “Author at ColoradoPolitics.” Click there, and you get his story, which, to your great credit, is headlined as “sponsored content.” Still, this makes it appear as if he’s a real journalist/author.
  • But other than his identification as the author of the sponsored content, Tim Peters appears not to exist. I can’t find him on the energy company websites or on CRED’s site. A fake byline mocks the basic journalistic principle that the author of an article should stand behind it. Do you think the stories should have no byline or the byline of a person that can be reached, even if that person is an energy-company employee?
  • I’ve been told I’m wasting my time on this, and journalism has bigger problems. I would agree, but the sponsored content bugs me, because if you want journalism to survive, why put your best asset, your credibility, at risk by brazenly deceiving readers?

Thanks for considering a response to these question, or as many of them as you want to answer.

Nothing lengthy is needed, and feel free to call me if that’s easier. And if you want to respond, I can wait as long as you need to find time for it.

Much appreciated.

Jason Salzman

 

Columnists shouldn’t have trumpeted outlier poll showing free speech is “deeply imperiled” on campuses

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

The Denver Post has run two guest opinion columns (by a local columnist here and by a syndicated columnist here) relying heavily on a dubious study, financed by the right-wing Koch Foundation and conducted by a UCLA professor, which concluded that “freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses.”

Yikes! I’ve been seeing conservatives fret about this, and I’ve been waiting for proof. Could this be it?

My kid is in college and my wife works for one. They both love free speech, and they haven’t complained about its demise on campus. And I haven’t seen any data, beyond minor anecdotes, ridiculously overblown by the media, supporting the notion that American universities don’t love free speech and are anything but completely dedicated to protecting it and educating students about its value.

Yet, a new poll comes out, and Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll sounds the alarm in an Oct. 1 column arguing that unlike today, activists in the 1960s and 1970s did not want to shut down hate speech:

“UCLA professor John Villasenor, who conducted the survey, found that a plurality of students believe the First Amendment does not protect hate speech (of course it does) and a majority thinks a school is ‘legally required’ to present opposing viewpoints to a speaker ‘known for making statements that many students consider to be offensive and hurtful’ (there is no such requirement),” wrote Carroll.

“Far more disturbingly, a slight majority also said it was acceptable for a student group to disrupt the speech of a controversial figure ‘by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker,’ while nearly one-fifth said it was acceptable to use violence ‘to prevent the speaker from speaking.'”

The trouble is, no one, not even Villasenor himself, seems to know whether his on-line, opt-in poll can be trusted.

And it doesn’t comport with most opinion polls of students on the topic, according to Prof. Seth Masket, who’s the chair of the political science department at the University of Denver.

“It’s true that researchers use on-line polls all the time,” Masket wrote me in response to my email query. “But generally great care is taken to make sure the sample is gathered or weighted to be representative of the underlying population. It’s not clear to me that this was done in this case.

“Regardless, the fact that this survey produced results that are highly inconsistent with other recent surveys on similar topics suggests that more research is needed. Either this poll is an outlier or there’s been a radical and massive shift in the beliefs of college students. The former is far more likely than the latter.”

I contacted Masket after my jaw dropped in response to reading an extraordinary exchange between Villasenor and the Guardian’s Lois Beckett, in which Villasenor wouldn’t even confirm that his own study was representative nationally of college students.

Beckett reports:

The way the survey results have been presented are “malpractice” and “junk science” and “it should never have appeared in the press,” according to Cliff Zukin, a former president of the American Association of Public Opinion Polling, which sets ethical and transparency standards for polling…

Villasenor wrote in an email that he was reluctant to give a yes or no “sound bite” answer to the question of whether the students he surveyed were nationally representative of college students or not.

By some measures, Villasenor wrote, the 1,500 respondents to his survey had seemed to reflect the rough demographic makeup of American college students. By others, they might not.

Asked if he’d seen the Guardian story, Carroll emailed me:

“Yes, I saw the Guardian critique, although not until the day my column was published. It made me uneasy. Then I saw this analysis from the Washington Post, which made me feel better: [See it here.]

I am not a polling expert, so I am not about to tell you I am sure which point of view is correct. Polls are used in the country far too often to measure the unmeasurable — to assess opinion that either doesn’t really exist or that is so shallow as to be essentially meaningless. I thought that the questions in the Brookings poll by contrast had the potential to provide useful information, which is why I wrote about the results.

Whatever the merits of that poll, I do think, as I wrote in my column, that the desire of some student activists today to cleanse campuses of hate speech and other opinions that offend them differs from the goals of student activists in the 1960s and 70s.”

I agree with Carroll about polls. They seem to be used to generate clicks or create public opinion more often than to provide meaningful information that reflects public opinion.

And the article Carroll cites, by Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampell, who defended Villasenor’s survey, helped me understand the utility of an opt-in poll, like the one Villasenor conducted. But Rampell’s article didn’t make me feel much better about relying on conclusions derived from Villasenor’s specific poll.

For example, Rampell reveals that Villasenor “had not conducted a survey before,” and yet he was responsible for making sure his sample was representative. And we know from the Guardian that Villasneor didn’t really know if his poll was representative of college students nationally.

Still, Rampell’s column makes the point that these types of polls can be useful, and any poll can be flawed. In this case, Charlottesville might have affected it, Rampell points out.

That’s why it’s a disservice for columnists or journalists to trumpet a single poll about any topic, particularly if it’s mostly out-of-step with other opinion data.

That’s what Masket soberly points out above, and what Tufts University Prof. Daniel Drezner argues here in a Washington Post column about the Villasenor poll.

“So let me be candid: Just as I think everyone was too hasty in trumpeting this [Villasenor] survey, I do not want everyone coming to the opposite conclusion because of this column,” writes Drezner. “Villasenor’s findings warrant some follow-up polling. If his results are substantiated in more rigorous follow-up research, I will be greatly concerned.

“But what concerns me far more right now is the eagerness with which columnists seized on these findings as vindicating their preconceived belief that today’s college students are just the worst. One of the common laments of modern pundits is that today’s college kids are snowflakes who rely on feelings more than logic to jump to conclusions. But it is the commentators who are leveling critiques against today’s college students by relying on arguments as well organized as a Berkeley free speech week. They are the ones who failed to look more closely at a result that they so badly wanted to be true.

“Given the hysteria that this poll produced, I am far less concerned about today’s students than I am about today’s scolds.”

To be fair, Carroll draws on his own experience to make the point that he didn’t see 1960s and 70s activists shouting down speakers, but toward the end of his column, he offers this broader pessimistic opinion:

“Villasensor believes colleges need ‘to do a better job fostering freedom of expression on their campuses,’ while middle and high schools should focus more attention on the First Amendment and constitutional principles. Of course they should, but the likelihood of either occurring is not good,” Carroll wrote.

In truth, most of the evidence we have says colleges in America are doing this now–and doing a good job of it.

Will you please connect me with Steve Bannon’s room?

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Sometimes a journalist tries the most basic research tactics, and they pay off.

That’s what happened to Colorado Springs’ KRDO reporter Chase Golightly last week when he went to the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs in search of right-wing political strategist Steve Bannon.

Golightly went to the hotel, hung around a for a bit, but didn’t see Bannon. He interviewed staff, who wouldn’t confirm anything. He spoke with guests and workers.

Finally he got the idea to call the front desk. He phoned up the hotel, asked for Bannon, and bingo, the notorious Breitbart editor and former Trump adviser was on the line.

Unfortunately, Bannon apparently hung up on Golightly, but confirmation positive. Bannon was at the conference, sponsored by the Council for National Policy.

It’s one of the details you’ll enjoy in Golightly’s piece last week about Bannon’s presence in Colorado. He takes you through the steps he took to try to find the elusive Bannon.

Unfortunately, Golightly didn’t return an email and call seeking comment, but perhaps he’s just seeing what it feels like to be Bannon. So I don’t hold it against him.

The bigger praise goes to The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews, with help from John Frank, who broke the story that Bannon was somewhere in Colorado and, more importantly, had been talking to Tom Tancredo about his possible run for governor.

But without slighting The Post, it’s great to see aggressive and entertaining journalism from KRDO TV’s Golightly.

Because, as Golightly reported himself, the Broadmoor is “no stranger to gatherings of the highest political and financial ranks,” and we need journalists to try to figure out what’s going inside there–and elsewhere in Colorado Springs’ conservative miasma.

In excellent interview, Stephens says fellow Republicans owe us an “apology for seven years of blustering with no plan”

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Colorado Public Radio picked a perfect guest today to discuss the GOP’s failed efforts to kill Obamacare: former Colorado’s former GOP House Majority Leader Amy Stephens of Monument.

I’d been vaguely hoping someone would solicit Stephens’ opinion on the Obamacare saga, after she cosponsored bipartisan legislation to establish Colorado’s state-run insurance exchanges in 2011.

Stephens has been brutally criticized for her support of the exchanges, which she continues to maintain was not an expression of support for Obamacare, but instead an effort to allow state control of the insurance marketplace, which would otherwise have been run federal government.

Her GOP opponents think otherwise, saying her “Amycare” bill ushered Obamacare into our state.

Today, speaking with CPR’s Ryan Warner, Stephens defended her work on healthcare in Colorado, and she offered a critique of the seven-year GOP campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare, saying in part that Republicans owe us an “apology for seven years of blustering with no plan”:

Warner: …How was the exchange used against you, whether it was running for reelection at the state legislature, or later you considered running for the U.S. Senate, right?

Stephens: That’s correct. I think in part, in running for the U.S. Senate and really going to my own party was saying, you know, I didn’t do the whole, “Hey! No Obamacare!” tattooed on my arm. There were people that actually had to make decisions – right? — and be the adults in the room. And I considered that my job as a leader was to do that. However, I think that my party owes everybody, really, an apology right now. We’ve had seven years —

Warner: Your Party, the Republican Party.

Stephens: Yeah. I do think they owe people an apology for seven years of blustering with no plan. And to actually say that, you know, we have a plan. I think it’s important for all of us to say, “Where do we want to go with this? Where do we want to be? I applaud Hickenlooper and Kasich for working together […]

Warner:  So, let me say, that the governors of Colorado and of Ohio – Kasich, a Republican and Hickenlooper, a Democrat came together with a plan to stabilize the insurance markets

Stephens: Right. I’d say that’s not the only answer, but I think it’s a good first start. It’s a fair first start. I wish the governor had perhaps come to some of our — our Governor, Hickenloopoer — had come to perhaps some of our own Republicans to perhaps work on that. I didn’t hear of that happening

Warner told his listeners he wanted to interview Stephens, in part, to get the “long view.” If you’ve been part of the history of healthcare in Colorado, or even if you haven’t, you should listen here.