Irony Watch: Michael “Heckuva a Job” Brownie calls Black Lives Matter protesters “dip-wads”

August 13th, 2015

You’d think if there were anyone who’d understand the Black Lives Matter protests, it would be President George W. Bush’s  FEMA Secretary Michael “Heck’ve a Job” Brownie.

But, alas, no. Apparently forgetting that he embodies the problem that Black Lives Matter is trying to spotlight, Brownie had this to say Monday about a protest pointing out that Benjamin Stapleton was a member of the KKK and calling for Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood to change its name.

“You dip-wads. You absolute dip-wads,” said Brownie on his  KHOW 630-AM morning show (@5:15 below), arguing that Stapleton, a former Denver mayor, was a leader to create red rocks and people like Cesar Chavez has been accused of initiating violence.

Brownie played a news clip of a protester saying that Stapleton’s name is a symbol of “lingering white supremacy in our community.”

Brownie mocked the comment (@6 minutes): It is. It absolutely is. Because if you go out there go that Stapleton neighborhood right now, you won’t find one black person out there at all. Not at all. And in fact, I can remember at Stapleton, I would look around to find someone to help me with my bags. There was never a black person working at Stapleton International Airport. Never. Never. Never. Never.

You people are so full of crap it just drives me up the wall. If you would just open your eyes and look at the fricking Stapleton development, what would you see. I bet you’d see evil white people. Then you’d see black people. Then you’d see Hispanic people. And I don’t know, you might have to dig, but you might even see some Asian people. Although I really doubt there are, like, Native American people out there, because Native Americans just live in Teepees on the reservation, so there wouldn’t be like any Indians living out at Stapleton. No. Not at all. You people are the biggest dumb-asses I’ve heard in ages. ‘We just want you to be aware that this is just a reminder white supremacy,’ said the black people living at Stapleton. God you’re dumb.

How could the man who presided over the Katrina disaster, and resigned in disgrace, deliver a rant like that? I guess it’s because Brownie is the guy who presided over the Katrina disaster. Yet another need for the Black Lives Matter protests.

https://soundcloud.com/bigmedia-org/michael-heckve-a-job-brownie-misses-the-point-of-black-lives-matter

Exit interview: Joanne Davidson answers questions about journalism and her 29 years at The Denver Post

August 12th, 2015

Last month, Joanne Davidson took a buyout from The Denver Post and left the newspaper after a 29-year run, serving as society editor since 1985. Prior to The Post, she worked for U.S. News and World Report. Davidson’s coverage of social gatherings, fundraisers, and nonprofit events was a benefit to our community, beyond what many people understand. Her work will be missed.

Davidson kindly accepted my request to answer a few questions about journalism and her career at The Post.

Why are you leaving The Post? Would you have stayed on if not for the economic troubles facing the newspaper and the pressure this puts on reporters?

I left The Post, after 29 years and eight months, not because I wanted to but because I was afraid of what might happen if I did not accept the buyout that was made available to 20 employees. When the buyout was announced, it was made clear that even if 20 people were to accept, there was a chance that further belt-tightening would be necessary. Which I interpreted to mean getting laid off without the financial cushion that the buyout provided.

You were known for writing about fundraisers and “society” events. Do you know if The Post will continue covering this beat after your departure—and it seems no other media outlet in town covers this stuff? What’s lost for Denver if your beat is eliminated or scaled way back?

I don’t know what the plans are, although I would be very surprised if the coverage is discontinued. It may continue in a different format, such as pictures only, or it might continue with general assignment reporters or interns taking turns covering the events. I just don’t know.

It would be a huge loss if it was discontinued. Nonprofits count on the exposure to build awareness and attract new supporters. And people new to town can learn about the various worthy causes by reading about the organizations that I covered.

But society coverage is much more than shooting pictures of people all dressed up in their party clothes. (And by the way, I need to emphasize how much I dislike the term “society coverage.” It implies a focus on rich white people when in fact I worked very hard to be as inclusive as possible).

Many years ago I did a story that outlined the “trickle-down theory of society economics.” It pointed out the financial reach a fundraising event has: the graphic artists who design the invitations, printed programs and souvenir journals; the printers who print them; the venues who rent the space for the events; the purveyors who sell the meat, veggies, breads and whatnot to the chefs who prepare the meals; the waiters and bartenders who staff the event; the florists who provide the flowers; the valets who park the cars; the event planners hired to make sure everything runs smoothly; the boutiques, department stores and tuxedo rental shops where those attending the events buy or rent something to wear; the musicians and speakers who are booked to entertain or inform; hair stylists and manicurists who have an uptick in business the day of the benefit …

Diminished resources aside, what are your biggest concerns about how political journalism is practiced in Colorado today?

My biggest concern is that without a newspaper adequately staffed with inquisitive and knowledgeable reporters, too many things that need to be brought to the public’s attention will pass unnoticed. Reporters need to be watchdogs, unafraid to hold any decision-maker’s feet to the fire.

What do you admire most?

How well my colleagues are able to keep on keepin’ on despite the challenges with which they are saddled.

What’s the worst error you made as a Colorado journalist? Can you name a story or two you’re most proud of?

The worst error came about a week after I started at The Post.

I was covering a holiday party put on by the president/ceo of The Denver Dry Goods. I had just walked in the door when a guest approached and asked, “Have you met our host yet?” I said that I had not. So the guy says, “Well, his name is Joe Davis. He’s surrounded by people right now, but let me see if I can break him away for a minute so the two of you can chat.” Long story short, I had another event to get to that night, so I could only stay at that party for roughly a half-hour and wound up having to leave without having been introduced to the host. But, in the story I wrote, I described in great detail the party that Denver Dry Goods president Joe Davis had hosted. The ink was barely dry on the paper when a barrage of angry phone calls began. Joe Davis, they pointed out, was president/ceo of the Denver Dry’s arch rival, May D&F! Tom Roach was the boss at The Denver Dry Goods.

Needless to say, both the editor, publisher and vice president of advertising were not pleased. Joe Davis and Tom Roach, were able to laugh it off, thank goodness. But not before I hand-wrote letters of profuse apology that were delivered by courier, along with very expensive bottles of their favorite adult beverage.

As for stories of which I am most proud, I would have to say no one story in particular but the fact that I made it a priority to get to know and write about people from all of Denver’s ethnic and income communities. Years ago I read an obituary for New York Times society columnist Charlotte Curtis that recalled the answer she had given when someone asked what her definition of “society” was. To her, “society” was the entire human race.

That’s how I define it, too.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in journalism?

Go for it. It’ll be the best job you will ever have.

What will you miss most about your job at The Post?

The people, the long hours, the pressure … swear to God, I loved it all. But the landscape has changed and it’s time to move on.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Stay tuned. You haven’t seen the last of me yet!

[See more in this series of "Exit Interviews" with journalists here.]

Coffman and Rubio’s path away from immigration reform

August 11th, 2015

A good way to understand (or get further confused) about Rep. Mike Coffman’s illusive position on immigration is to compare it to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s. And reporters should consider using this comparison to help explain Coffman’s (non)position to voters.

Back in 2013, Rubio was part of the “Gang of Eight” Senators (including Michael Bennet) who pushed a comprehensive immigration bill that, miraculously, passed the U.S. Senate. It offered major border security, along with a long path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in America.

Despite claiming to be for “comprehensive immigration reform,” Rep. Coffman opposed the Rubio bill and its path to citizenship. And House Republicans, with Coffman’s blessing, never voted on the Rubio bill, and it died a truly tragic death.

Asked why he wouldn’t support the comprehensive-immigration-reform legislation, after he’d thumped his chest in The Denver Post in favor of the idea, Coffman said he didn’t want it all in one bill.

Instead, Coffman said he wanted a “step-by-step,” multiple-bill strategy, telling the Aurora Sentinel that a “comprehensive approach doesn’t have to be a comprehensive bill.”

And Coffman scrubbed the phrase “comprehensive immigration reform” from his website.

Now Rubio is running for President and facing Republican voters who are hostile to immigrants entered our country illegally. And so he’s given up on his gang-of-eight, comprehensive bill and is now favoring of a vague “three-step” dance that ends with a “further discussion about whether they’re allowed to apply for a green card.” The path to citizenship is gone.

In its place, Rubio has advocated Coffman’s position to give “legal status” to adult undocumented immigrants, creating a taxation-without-representation underclass of America workers.

With this new stance, Rubio is no longer considered a moderate on immigration. He’s joined Coffman and the Republican right in opposing serious reform. At this point, with his position such as it is, Rubio would vote against his own immigration bill of 2013.

For his part, Coffman hasn’t even said which parts of Rubio’s vague “step-by-step” process he favors, since Coffman has never outlined the steps—even in bare bones terms–much less identified specific bills that he actually factually would vote for.

So Rubio’s flipping and flopping sheds some light, such as it is, on Coffman’s immigration mushiness. It’s a useful trip back, and, for reporters, there will be more opportunities like this to review policy stances of local politicians as the presidential campaign drags on.

 

Media omission: Brauchler denies “ego” or “political ambition” as he goes on the radio attacking the Aurora murderer’s parents and The Denver Post

August 10th, 2015

George Brauchler leaped onto conservative talk radio this morning to deny that his decision to pursue the death penalty in the Aurora-shooting case, instead of saving big bucks and major trauma by accepting a plea deal of life in prison, was driven by “ego” or “political ambition.”

“People who are opposed to the death penalty are going to find reasons to accuse me or any other prosecutor for seeking it,” said Brauchler on KHOW’s Mandy Connell show this morning. “And the most likely targets are, ‘Oh, it must have been ego, or it must have been political ambition.’

Brauchler denied this, but there he was leveling his harshest tone and barbs on conservative talk radio. Home base of the Republican Party, on the morning after the verdict. You respect Brauchler for taking questions about the case, but why jump on conservative talk radio circuit and sound like a conservative talk-radio host?

At one point  on KNUS’ Craig Silverman Show Saturday, Brauchler attacked the parents of the shooter for not talking to him directly during the trial.

Then he slammed not only a Denver Post editorial as “strident” but The Denver Post editorial board itself as becoming irrelevant.

First, here’s Brauchler’s comment to Silverman, lambasting the murderer’s parents for not calling him up and begging, as Brauchler put it, “Please, God, don’t kill my son….”

To his credit, Silverman pointed out that the parents were likely just following their lawyers’ instructions not to talk to a guy who’d successfully sought the death penalty in the past and was crusading to put their son to death.

Brauchler (below at 11 minutes): There is something that sticks out to me that I find completely unusual, and that is, at no time during the pendency of this case have the ever reached out to me. In fact, I had people call them throughout the pendency of this case, and they continued to hide behind an attorney. And while I get there are legal reasons for them to maybe not talk, but as a parent myself, and I’d ask anybody listening to this, if your son or daughter was facing the potential of a death penalty, what could stop you from calling the DA and saying, ‘Please, God, don’t kill my son or my daughter.’ Instead, they went to The Post and did an op-ed piece coincidentally timed with three days after the juror summonses went out. And then mom published a book of thoughts—or whatever they were—calling into question, of course, our motives, and saying a bunch of things about mental illness coincidentally timed with the middle of jury selection, right before opening statements. I mean, again, they are not at fault for what happened here, but I can’t, as a parent, envision taking the path that they took.

Silverman: Bob and Arlene [the murderer's parents] were in the courtroom. I imagine they were following the instructions of the public defenders, their son’s attorneys. …

Later, Brauchler turned his attention to The Denver Post, saying its “strident” Friday editorial against the death penalty is evidence, along with polls showing 2-1 support for the death penalty in Colorado, that the newspaper’s “editorial board continues to demonstrate some irrelevance.”

Brauchler (@ 50 minutes 20 seconds): The Post op-ed piece [sic] was striking in how over-the-top it was to me. And I get that they had been opposed to the death penalty from the word go. But the strident language that they used to suggest that somehow I had seriously misjudged the jury. It sounds like there was one juror, and the other jurors were on board with moving forward through the rest of the trial, as was even that juror. I wonder what that their tone would have been had that one juror gone the way of the others and they had imposed death. I’m sure it would have been critical. And I think the point that The Post missed, and maybe this is the part of how this editorial board continues to demonstrate some irrelevance, is this Quinnipiac poll showing Coloradans are two-one in favor of the death penalty.

Lashing out at the murderer’s parents? At The Denver Post? On conservative talk radio? Why is Brauchler behaving like this? Hmmm.

Brauchler on KNUS’s Craig Silverman Aug. 8, 2015:

https://soundcloud.com/bigmedia-org/george-brauchler-attacks-denver-post-and-murders-parents

Brauchler on KHOW’s Mandy Connell Aug. 10, 2015.

https://soundcloud.com/bigmedia-org/da-bruachler-discusses-holmes-verdict-and-the-death-penalty-with-mandy-connell-khow-630am-81015

Media omission: GOP activists allege that GOP State Chair is concealing dire financial problems from donors

August 10th, 2015

UPDATE: In the FAQ below, GOP activists have clarified and corrected a couple issues in this blog post, but the central points still stand.

—–

In an email distributed Friday by GOP activist Marilyn Marks, three GOP Central Committee members express dismay over the financial health of the state Republican Party and accuse State Chairman Steve House of concealing outstanding liabilities from donors.

The letter was signed by Nicholas Lundberg and Doug Childress. They did not immediately respond to my request to verify the letter, but other sources have verified it.  It was addressed to members of the Republican Central Committee.

The email lists 11 specific items, and it requests that the Executive Committee, which beat back an effort to oust House, address the financial concerns at its Aug. 19 meeting.

Most of the points focus reporting failures; others allege deception:

3.        Chairman House acknowledged that he concealed and failed to report outstanding liabilities and bank debt to avoid donors learning that the party was in “dire financial straits.” Such failure to disclose violates campaign finance laws, violates bank covenants, and is unethical with respect to reporting obligations to the CRC.

4.        Chairman House states that at least $188,000 in unrecorded liabilities have intentionally not been disclosed. He states that unpaid legal bills make up a significant amount of the liability and relate to the Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC) legal issues. He further states that it is undetermined whether the party will ultimately pay for this liability.

An email seeking comment from the Colorado Republican Party was not immediately answered.

The letter asks that the Committee insist that an “independent CPA firm be immediately engaged to audit the books and records and prepare financial statements as required” by the bylaws of the state Republican Party.

The letter summarizes the situation this way:

We write you as concerned legal and financial professionals to explain our growing concerns about the Colorado Republican Party’s financial reporting and disclosures. The party appears to be materially out of compliance with federal and state reporting requirements, bank loan covenants, and bylaw financial reporting requirements. This situation is exacerbated by Chairman [Steve] House’s disregard for basic requirements of financial transparency, decisions to conceal material liabilities, and his lack of candor regarding financial matters…

Repeated efforts made by several other CRC members to persuade Chairman House to address the issues have been unsuccessful. Instead, he has demonstrated a lack of basic business knowledge and financial literacy resulting in significant financial reporting problems and reputational damage to the party.

The text of the letter, without attachments, follows:

Dear Fellow Central Committee Members:

As we work to prepare for an exciting 2016 election, our state party must undertake some preparatory work to ensure that the party is in a strong position going into election season.  Financial health and transparency are essential foundations for success as we seek to attract voters, candidates and donors. The party faces concerning financial reporting issues we wish to bring to your immediate attention for a timely remedy.

We write you as concerned legal and financial professionals to explain our growing concerns about the Colorado Republican Party’s financial reporting and disclosures. The party appears to be materially out of compliance with federal and state reporting requirements, bank loan covenants, and bylaw financial reporting requirements. This situation is exacerbated by Chairman House’s disregard for basic requirements of financial transparency, decisions to conceal material liabilities, and his lack of candor regarding financial matters.

The problems are attracting the attention of the press, candidates, volunteers and donors. They must be promptly addressed by the officers of the party to repair the reputation of the party, and to diminish the financial risks. Repeated efforts made by several other CRC members to persuade Chairman House to address the issues have been unsuccessful. Instead, he has demonstrated a lack of basic business knowledge and financial literacy resulting in significant financial reporting problems and reputational damage to the party. We ask that you join with us to seek the commitment of Chairman House, the Audit Committee and the Executive Committee to bring the party into compliance with: Federal Election Commission financial reporting requirements Affirmative Loan Covenants with Centennial Bank requiring the books and records be kept in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Practices (GAAP); Bylaw requirements for independent CPA firm annual audits; Bylaw requirements to provide quarterly financial statements to membership.

Non-compliance may have been a problem in prior administrations, but improper past practice cannot stand in the way of the transparency and compliance. Nor can the excuse of “competitive secrets” be used to conceal financial information that must be public. The public has access to exceptionally detailed financial transactions through required FEC reporting, such as this 35 page June, 2015 report. Political parties are by law not permitted to have much “confidential financial information.”

Our concerns are based on the correspondence attached to this letter, the Quarter 1 and 2 schedules transmitted to the CRC, and recent FEC reports. We have also referenced loan documents and party bylaws. Our major concerns are:

1.         Chairman House improperly asserts that the party is not required to use GAAP. However, bank loan covenants require GAAP. The party is in technical default with the loan’s affirmative covenant to maintain its books and records in accordance with GAAP.

2.        Party members have a reasonable expectation of meaningful quarterly statements. Chairman House makes the nonsensical argument that the “books” are kept on different basis of accounting than used in the preparation of the financial statements.

3.        Chairman House acknowledged that he concealed and failed to report outstanding liabilities and bank debt to avoid donors learning that the party was in “dire financial straits.” Such failure to disclose violates campaign finance laws, violates bank covenants, and is unethical with respect to reporting obligations to the CRC.

4.        Chairman House states that at least $188,000 in unrecorded liabilities have intentionally not been disclosed. He states that unpaid legal bills make up a significant amount of the liability and relate to the Independent Expenditure Committee (IEC) legal issues. He further states that it is undetermined whether the party will ultimately pay for this liability.

5.        Chairman House states that he did not want to “dump” all the liabilities onto the required disclosure statements because it would appear to be blaming Ryan Call for large unpaid expenses.

6.        The bylaws require an annual audit by an independent CPA firm and to report the results of the audit to the executive committee. To our knowledge, no such audit was conducted for the year ending December 31, 2014, a clear violation of the bylaws.

7.        Chairman House’s staff wrote an email on July 9, 2015 that first quarter audit was under way, causing the delay in the CRC receiving the financial statements. However when the financial “statements” were released, they had not been audited.

8.        The recently released nonstandard, incoherent quarterly financial schedules were supplied to the CRC in lieu standard “quarterly financial statements.” Chairman House refused to provide the fundamental statements required by GAAP, Balance Sheet, Statement of Cash Flows and Income Statement. He argued that such statements are not required, although they are universally understood to be essential elements of an organization’s “financial statements” required under GAAP.

9.        The nonstandard financial schedule provided to the CRC classifies the $70,000 proceeds from a bank loan as a contribution and income, not as a liability. Chairman House considers it a “contribution” in his communication attached. Treating loan proceeds as income is not compliant with GAAP.

10.    Chairman House acknowledges that, despite the many month delay in producing financial statements, material adjustments must be made to the financials once they are “through the August ExComm meeting,” and “before month end,” implying that the ExComm will still not receive accurate financial statements in August.

11.    Chairman House indicates that the Q1 and Q2 financial schedules were prepared based on an “sense of” current “running rates” rather than actual financial activity. This is a serious departure from GAAP maintained books and records required by CRC’s lender, Centennial Bank.

Our concerns about the loan covenant default and CRC bylaw compliance are serious. The Audit Committee, which requires one of the three members to be a CPA, must provide immediate and direct oversight of financial management and reporting. It is imperative that an independent CPA firm be immediately engaged to audit the books and records and prepare financial statements as required in Article X of the bylaws.

We urge each of you to contact voting and non-voting members of the Executive Committee prior to their August 19 meeting to ensure that these issues are addressed by the Executive Committee. Urge the Executive Committee to direct the Audit Committee to set the scope of the audit at the Formal Audit level, as opposed to a review or a compilation, consistent with Article X.A.1.d of the bylaws.  All county chairs and congressional district chairs are members are the Executive Committee, whether they are voting or non-voting members. Non-voting members can attend executive sessions and take a meaningful part in requesting information and offering suggestions.

The linked pages of correspondence are included as supporting documentation for the summary of our concerns. We have highlighted some of the more concerning statements in yellow. While House’s assertions may appear reasonable if you skim his communications, a thorough reading reveals illogical deflection and lack of candor that represents an ethical breach and failure to disclose material financial information.

With the attention of the CRC and its Executive Committee, financial management issues can be brought under control in a timely manner so that our party can prepare itself for 2016 success.

Sincerely,

Nicholas Lundberg, Accountant, Denver CRC member

Doug Childress, CPA, Jefferson County CRC member

Celeste Gamache, Attorney, Denver County, CRC member

The day after the above email was distributed, Marilyn Marks send out a second email below, signed by the same GOP activists along with Randy Corporon, clarifying and/or correcting a few points:

Dear Central Committee Member:

You should have received an email yesterday that we wish to update to answer some of your inquiries and correct a few errors.

FAQs

Is the party insolvent? Is it able to pay the bills?  

Given Chairman House’s statements that liabilities may exceed $188,000 and a recent FEC report showing cash on hand of $125,000, there is reason for concern and Executive Committee review.

If the party is out of compliance with bank debt agreements, does that mean that the bank will call the loan?

Not necessarily. The bank will likely undertake a review of the financial condition, and make their decisions based on current risks and liquidity. They will likely demand financial statements based on Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

Aren’t these just petty accounting technicalities that make no difference in getting Republicans elected in 2016?

No. If the party is in stable financial condition, the reporting issues can be promptly remedied. However, if the organization is facing a cash crisis, it will shake the confidence of donors, candidates, and vendors.

Chairman House’s emails state that he plans to have a closed-door session to discuss financial matters at the August meeting. Can he do that? 

Yes, but the Executive Committee should discourage that, given the legitimate interest that members, candidates, and donors have in the party’s financial picture.

Also, non-voting members may attend. All county chairs, CD chairs and chairs of affiliated organizations should be encouraged to attend, speak up and get answers for their constituents.

Shouldn’t this criticism be behind closed doors? Aren’t we just giving the Democrats ammunition and making 2016 tougher for us?

Private inquiries and requests have been unsuccessful. Chairman House has not been candid and has concealed information that the party is required to disclose.

The Democratic Party does opposition research and likely knows more about the issues than most Central Committee members do. We should expect them to use it mid-next year when it is too late for us to remedy the issues.

These financial reporting issues were inherited. Why are you blaming Chairman House?

Chairman House is responsible for complying with the bylaws, bank covenants and campaign finance laws, which all require a recognition of liabilities, whether or not they were reported in the past.

If you have additional questions, please let us know at ColoradoConcernedGOP@gmail.com .

Thank you for your questions and concern.

Sincerely,

Randy Corporon

Doug Childress

Nicholas Lundberg

This blog post originally listed Celeste Gamache, Attorney, Denver County, CRC member, as a signer of the Aug. 7  letter. She did not sign it. 

 

Media omission: What kind of rotten decision-making process did CSU use in suspending the use of some fetal tissue?

August 6th, 2015

If you take a close look at Colorado State University President Tony Frank’s July 23 decision to suspend school’s use of fetal tissue from vendors “implicated in the Planned Parenthood investigation,” you’re left wondering what kind of strange and half-assed process the University implemented in making its new policy.

There’s of course the overarching fact that journalists are saying Planned Parenthood has broken exactly zero laws, and you can be pretty sure that, if laws had been broken, the undercover anti-choice video tapers would have provided the evidence by now.

But beyond that, the description of the process by which CSU arrived at its decision, as described in Frank’s letter to Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO Springs), raises serious doubts about whether the process was fair. (Lamborn had complained to Frank about CSU’s fetal-tissue policies.)

Frank: Since receiving your letter, I have reviewed the video that was released by the Center for Medical Progress; sought clarification on the points of law you’ve raised; and discussed the issue further with Colorado state Senator Kevin Lundberg, who provided additional insight. We also convened our Bioethics Advisory Committee to assess the known facts and make a recommendation directly to me regarding University practices going forward.

Frank “reviewed” the heavily edited video? He talked to Lundberg! Lundberg is a passionate advocate to be sure, but he  happens to be one of the least objective sources you could find in the entire state of Colorado, when it comes to abortion issues.

Frank makes no mention that he talked to any entity that might have given him Planned Parenthood’s perspective–and he writes as if he may not have even reviewed the unedited version of the Center for Medical Progress’ video.

CSU’s public-relations office isn’t taking questions from me, though it provided copies of the documents linked in this blog post.

So we have no clue about the input received from the Bioethics Advisory Committee, which made recommendations to Frank and which consists of seven scientists, who might be five-star research geeks but appear to have no clue about the politics and mechanics of this kind of political drama.

Why do I think they have no clue? Take a look at their key recommendation, as stated in the Committee’s July 22 letter to Frank:

The committee recommends that CSU suspend acquisition of fetal tissue from StemExpress or any other vendor in question with Planned Parenthood until the congressional investigations are concluded and there is affirmation that all vendors used by CSU under NIH support are in compliance with federal law regarding the acquisition and use of fetal tissue.

I’m sorry, but this is a ridiculous recommendation, and it was adopted happily by Frank. First, using congressional investigations as a litmus test for innocence is completely absurd, because we all know they are often initiated and terminated for reasons that have everything to do with politics and nothing to do with the rule of law.

And are congressional investigations “concluded” in any rational manner or time frame? Nope.

And whose affirmation is the bioethics committee going to rely on to clear the vendors of wrongdoing? The vendors used by NIH are already affirmed by NIH to be in compliance.

I’m not saying CSU’s Bioethics Advisory Committee is opposed to fetal-tissue research. In fact, you can see from their letter to Frank that they’re strong supporters, and they want it to continue. But the politics is beneath them, and their judicial process–along with Frank’s–appears to be rotten.

Exit interview: Claire Martin answers questions about journalism and her 31 years at The Denver Post

August 5th, 2015

After over 31 years at The Denver Post, Claire Martin departed from the newspaper last month, along with 18 other staffers who accepted a buyout offer. Martin was mostly a feature writer at The Post, and her obituaries received national acclaim. Her writing at The Post will be missed.

Last week, Martin kindly accepted my request to answer a few questions about her career and journalism. Here are her answers, provided via email:

Why are you leaving The Post? Would you have stayed on if not for the economic troubles facing the newspaper and the pressure this puts on reporters?

I am not leaving because of the paper’s economic troubles. The Denver Post is actually profitable, as I understand it. It’s just not profitable enough for the hedge fund company that owns The Denver Post.

I started writing for newspapers in the early 1970s, when I was still in high school, and newspapers were doing well enough to pay for high school correspondents. I don’t know what the profit margins were then, but there was never a general consensus that it was the newspaper’s job to be extremely profitable. The watchdog role was more important. This was when the Washington Post was breaking the Watergate scandal, and the New York Times had published the Pentagon papers, and the culture in newsrooms definitely reflected the watchdog sensibility, not expectations of high profits.

Part of the reason I took the buyout was because it was the first time a buyout was offered at a time when the newspaper was profitable. In my 30-plus years at the Denver Post, I have accepted a wage freeze, a pay cut and other measures we were told were necessary to keep the paper going. It’s kind of exasperating that when the newspaper IS making money, the owner wants to make even more.

I have had a great run at the Denver Post. They liked my idea when I suggested in 1985  that we host a cross-state bicycle tour, and Ride the Rockies became a genuine boon to many of the Colorado towns who hosted the tour for a night.

The editors typically have been open to the other ideas I have had, and I deeply appreciated that support.

In terms of feeling pressured to produce, that has not really been a problem for me. I have more ideas for stories than I have time to write, and nearly always I become absorbed in researching and telling those stories.

How does the upheaval in journalism affect feature writing? In a place like Denver, do you think there will be fewer jobs for feature reporters than, say, political reporters?  Or will everyone be writing about sports?

I do not know, but I think that one possibility is that the lines between features, business, news and even sports will become blurred. I would not be surprised if there were different categories, maybe breaking news, in-depth articles, and briefs — and that would cover news, business, features and sports. I think people in general like sports sections to be distinct from the news, even though technically that line is awfully blurry sometimes — Tom Brady and the deflated football for instance.

Diminished resources aside, what are your biggest concerns about how political journalism is practiced in Colorado today? What do you admire most?

The problem is that there are not enough reporters to adequately cover it. I think there should be much closer examinations of the fracking industry, and the relationship between the fracking interests and lobbyists and the legislators who champion them.

I think Lynn Bartels will be sorely missed, in part because her institutional memory is exhaustive.

The most worrying political reporting-related incident I experienced at the paper was when a reporter — no longer at the paper — was on the phone with a source, and I overheard the reporter reassuring the person on the other end of the phone, *Not to worry, we will get that bastard.*

I was appalled. It is NOT a newspaper reporter’s job to get the bastards. It is our job to research a situation that looks problematic, and to report the facts of that case. If anyone is going to get the bastard, it should be through the legal system. I know there are bastards out there, and God knows there are some I’d certainly like to see suffer the consequences of their behavior. But it’s not my job to catch and punish them.

What’s the worst error you made as a Colorado journalist? Can you name a story or two you’re most proud of?

When I was writing obituaries, easily my favorite gig in those three decades, a woman called and asked if I would interview her BEFORE she died. It was a weird situation. I said I’d need to talk to some of her friends as well. Wound up meeting her in a hospice, along with a couple who’d known her a long time. We chatted, and I asked about her life and took notes. She emphasized the last three decades or so of her life, and when I asked about children and family, said she had none. The couple confirmed that, but they acted weird about it. I should have paid attention to that.

Time passes. The woman dies. The obit runs. My phone rings. On the line, a furious daughter who asked whey she was not consulted for the obituary. The woman had not mentioned a family, but it turned out that she’d estranged herself from her children and former husband. While what she told me at the hospice was not untrue, it also was not the full story.

I go over how I could have figured out the deception, but still can’t see where I could have caught it. I ran a criminal check on everyone I wrote about, to avoid an obit about someone who was a thief or worse, and that hospice patient was clean.

My favorite beat was writing obituaries, but it was also fun writing about how to train for Ride the Rockies, and the odd stories I ran into when I edited the short-lived Colorado Sunday section. Maybe my favorite story is one I wrote in 1989 about an avalanche that crashed into a condominium parking lot at Mt. Crested Butte, trapping three children and suffocating one of them.

What would you say to a young person considering a career in Journalism?

I would advise learning programs like Final Cut Express, and thinking about following the example of the Center for Digital Storytelling’s model of 2-4 minute videos that tell a tightly-focused story. I also would suggest doing a lot of reading, and going into different communities to ask what is NOT being covered that ought to be getting attention.

What will you miss most about your job at The Post?

The eccentric, charming people who were my coworkers, getting unlikely PR pitches, that kind of thing. I am working now on projects I describe as helping to make the world a better place for the aging. I am as excited about some of those projects as I was about stories I worked on.

Do you think you’ll be alive to see The Post close, and, if so, will you write an obituary for the newspaper?

I hope very much that the newspaper will not close during my lifetime. I think the city would be poorer without it, although the readers who think The Denver Post is either too conservative or too liberal would disagree.

As for writing its obituary — wow. An honest obit would require a book, and different Denver Post veterans would tell that story different ways. Dick Kreck would tell one story. Mike McPhee would tell a different one. I would tell yet another. It would be like the blind men trying to describe an elephant. Each would be accurate, as far as his hands and senses could go, and each would be inaccurate. It’s a tricky beast.

Media omission: When it comes to Julie Williams, even conservatives can’t present a unified front

August 4th, 2015

In today’s scripted political environment, you don’t often see one arm of an advocacy organization rip into, say, a school board member, when other arms of the same organization are fighting wildly for the survival of the same school board member.

But that’s what the appendages of the Independence Institute are doing.

On Colorado Public Television July 10, Independence Institute Research Director Dave Kopel criticized Jeffco School Board member Julie Williams.

Kopel said, Williams is “by far the least capable member of that group, and the one who has gotten the rest of the board into trouble with a lot of  foolish, barely thought-out ideas she has expressed inappropriately.”

At the same time, down the figurative hall, the Executive Vice President of the  libertarian/conservative outfit, Amy Oliver, has been slaving to save Williams, defending her and the jeffco board in a relentless string of tweets and sporadic media appearances. Oliver, who keeps any criticism she might have of Williams to herself, was the spokesperson for her organization’s website set up to battle alleged mean-girl tweets directed at the Jeffco board and staff.

Meanwhile, another tentacle of the Indy Institute churns out articles favorable to the board–with nary a word of criticism of Williams.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with having a sometimes schizo organization, and it’s actually refreshing. Plus, Kopel speaks for himself. But his criticism of Williams, in the midst of his organization’s agenda, is noteworthy, and may reflect the polarizing effect Williams, in particular, has had on her Jeffco school community.

Recalling Coffman’s proposal for English-only ballots, as the Voting Rights Act turns 50

August 3rd, 2015

Over the weekend, I enjoyed reading Jim Rutenberg’s piece in the New York Times magazine on how conservatives have methodically dismantled the Voting Rights Act, which turns 50 on Thursday, culminating in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision gutting major provisions of the law.

Here at home, one conservative who’s been throwing his congressional spear at the Voting Rights Act, widely credited for finally giving African-Americans actual factual access to the voting booth, is Rep. Mike Coffman of Aurora.

Coffman, you recall, introduced legislation in 2011 repealing the law’s requirement that bilingual ballots be provided in areas with large numbers of voters don’t speak English very well.

In other words, Coffman wanted to leave the decision about whether to provide bilingual ballots to local authorities, and if you take the time to read Rutenberg’s article, you’ll see that, as much as we’d all like to believe otherwise, local politicians are apparently still trying to keep black Americans from voting. That’s why we need federal requirements for stuff like bilingual ballots–to make sure everyone can participate in democracy, such as it is.

But Coffman, who once suggested that immigrants “pull out a dictionary” if they’re having trouble understanding an English ballot, doesn’t see it that way.

Coffman: “Since proficiency in English is already a requirement for U.S. citizenship, forcing cash-strapped local governments to provide ballots in a language other than English makes no sense at all,” Coffman told the Denver Post in 2011.

Last year, Coffman doubled down on his support for English-only ballots, saying during a Univision debate that he still opposes the Voting Rights Act’s requirements for mailing Spanish-language ballots, because it’s expensive.

But Coffman said it in a more friendly way, “I would hope that every voter will be able to get the information that he needs in a language he can understand.”

Again, most of us have to share Coffman’s hope, but there’s also reality lurking out there, embodied in politicians who care more about self-preservation than democracy. And you can read about it in the New York Times.

Trump puts media spotlight on immigration policies of Colorado politicians, like Coffman

July 31st, 2015

Reflecting yesterday on Donald Trump’s recent pledge to deport, cattle-car style, each and every one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in America–and then expedite the return of the “good ones”– the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called on reporters to extract detailed plans from the herd of Republican presidential candidates regarding their positions on immigration.

Indeed, one hopes that the moderators of the upcoming GOP debate will see an opportunity in Trump’s cattle car musings: why not ask all the GOP candidates whether they agree with him? And if not, where dothey stand on the 11 million exactly? Remember, Mitt Romney’s big “self-deportation” moment came at a GOP primary debate…

The point is that eventually, we’ll need to hear from all the GOP candidates as to what they would do about the 11 million — beyond vaguely supporting legal status, but only after some future point at which we’ve attained a Platonic ideal of border security. Trump may have just made it more likely that this moment will come sooner, rather than later. One can hope, anyway.

It’s a good idea and has direct application here in Colorado, where Republicans, like Rep. Mike Coffman, continue to slide by journalists with vague and shifting statements about immigration.

Like Trump, Coffman has said he favors some sort of “legal status” for adult undocumented immigrants, but it’s not clear whether he’d boot out everyone first, and then allow the good apples to return–or if he’d skip the cattle-car phase and grant “legal status” to the immigrants here.

Either way, would he wait for seamless border security? And what’s good enough, when it comes to the border?

And then, assuming the border is sufficiently seamless, and whether he chooses the cattle-car or no cattle-car opition, does Coffman really want t0 create an underclass of millions of noncitizens in America, with no voice in government? Would we be looking at good old fashioned taxation without representation? What rights (voting?) and responsibilities (military service? taxes?) would be denied? Even Helen Krieble, a Colorado resident who first proposed the cattle-car option, advocates giving a political voice to undocumented immigrants through citizenship.

Details, details. I wouldn’t want to go there either, if I were Coffman–because he’d get bitten by both progressive and conservative sharks. But that’s not a problem for journalists who should be asking him the questions.