Other mistakes in Manzanares coverage

In my column on Saturday, I argued that the dailies overplayed the allegation that former city attorney Larry Manzanares had porn on a stolen computer in his home.

One aburd front-page Denver Post headline read, “Indictment alleges sex videos viewed.” Big deal.

In response to criticism for hyping the porn, the dailies have said that the porn could explain Manzanares’ motive in the case. It’s true that Manzanares could have been embarrassed, even though the prosecution stated that no child porn or illegal porn has yet been identified. Maybe Manzanares took the computer to hide the porn he was viewing at work. Or to look at porn at home. Who knows? It’s all speculation, not worthy of front page headlines.

And besides, there are other possible motives: There were legal documents and jury instructions on the laptop. Maybe Manzanares, if he stole the computer, was a workaholic, not a sex addict, as the dailies speculated. Or you could speculate that he was a combination of the two. Seriously.

Or maybe he was just cheap. Just because he made a six-figure salary doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be motivated to save $300 bucks or $1,500 bucks. Lots of rich people are frugal beyond belief. Maybe he had financial pressure and struggled with a shopping addiction instead of a porn addiction.

Maybe that’s far-fetched. Maybe not. But my point is that the speculation about Manzanares’ motive rose too high on the news agenda, and if the operative motive hadn’t involved porn, you can bet it wouldn’t have been given the headlines it got.

Another mistake of journalists was failing to offer critiques of the prosecution’s tactics until after former Manzanares killed himself. You’d think that they would have done this, as they did on Sunday, just to balance out the focus on the porn. But this critical reporting came too late.

You have to respect the dailies for writing articles about the anger that’s currently directed at them for the Manzanares coverage, but you also have to wonder why they don’t cop to making any mistakes. How often does hindsight fail to illuminate mistakes? But the editors at the dailies are basically saying they were fair. Period.

I’m not blaming the media for Manzanares’ death at all. But journalists should be as honest as possible about their coverage, even if it means admitting a mistake or two.

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