Archive for September, 2007

Independence Institute: Loved and Embedded by Denver Media

Saturday, September 29th, 2007

In my column on Saturday, I argued that the Independence Institute, the self-described “free-market think tank,”  projects a disproportionately loud voice in the Colorado media.

The Golden-based organization plays a unique role in state politics compared to other local policy shops. It dedicates a large share of its resources to issue advocacy, communications and media. 

And as its impressive media presence demonstrates, II is quite effective at getting its message out.  By way of regular features in the press, television and appearances in news articles, II enjoys a status of being a newsmaker and conservative source for reporters.

The question for journalists, editors and television producers, however, is how to handle such a behemoth with an aggressive media strategy and ideological bent?

Here’s some more information about the Institute’s media profile.

INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE STAFF EMBEDDED IN COLORADO MEDIANo organization on the left or right of the political spectrum has so many of its staffers doing part time media gigs on the side:President Jon Caldara hosts his own talk show on KOA radio and KBDI Channel 12. In addition, he subs for Mike Rosen on KOA.

Jessica Peck Corry, policy analyst for II, is part of the current crop of Denver Post Colorado Voices columnists, and she’s the “Diary of a Mad Voter” blogger on the Post’s new website.

Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, is an “On the Media”
columnist at the Rocky, as well as a regular guest on KBDI’s Colorado Inside Out.

Amy Oliver, operations director for II, has her own radio show on KFKA 1310, Greeley/Ft. Collins.

Undoubtedly, some left-leaning organizations wouldn’t want a media gig. They’d rather focus limited funds on lobbying and PR work that targets a narrow segment of the population. Being a host on KOA, for example, isn’t a wise use of time for the leaders of many nonprofit groups.

But surely at least some left-leaning organizations would jump at the chance to have one or more of the media platforms enjoyed by the Independence Institute.

KBDI President Wick Rowland told me he’d work with a group like the Bell Policy Center on a show, and the Bell spokeswoman Heather McGregor said her organization would produce some type of show if it had grant money.

“We’d like to be invited on Colorado Inside Out more often,” McGregor told me. “Wade [Buchanan] and Rich Jones have been on 4 or 5 times. There’s no cost to us.”


Here’s a list of op-ed placements by Independence Institute staff.

Staff Name and Position                                                                    Op-eds

Pamela Benigno, Director, Education Policy Center                               0

Linda Gorman  , Director, Health Care Policy Center                            0

Dave Kopel, Research Director                                                          18       

Randal O’Toole, Director, Center for the Am. Dream                           0

Jessica Peck Corry, Policy Analyst, Property Rights Project                  6

Ben DeGrow, Policy Analyst, Education Policy Center                          0

Marya  DeGrow, Research Associate, Ed. Policy Center                      0

Penn Pfiffner, Director, Fiscal Policy Center                                          0

Amy Oliver, Operations Director                                                          1

Jon Caldara, President                                                                          0

It doesn’t look like II staff places more op-eds in the dailies than the staff from comparable organizations, if you don’t count Dave Kopel, who writes bimonthly for the Rocky. Jessica Peck Corry has the temporary “Colorado Voices” position at the Post, accounting for three of her op-eds.

It could be worth analyzing placements by II “fellows,” like Jay Ambrose, whose op-eds are distributed by his former employer, Scripps Howard. He had six op-eds in the Rocky this year, on a variety of subjects.

To be fair, you’d have to compare op-eds placed by II fellows with those published by advisors to comparable left-leaning organizations. The results of such a comparison might not be all that meaningful, since unpaid advisors presumably have their own agenda.


Independence Institute is mentioned in staff-written news stories by the dailies more than any other comparable issue-advocacy group.

Group                                                              News               Post
Independence Institute                                    19                    19

Bell Policy Center                                          2                      8                     

ProgressNow and ProgressNowAction            5                      5

Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute                        4                      6

Focus on the Family                                       13                    15

Colorado Union of Taxpayers                          1                      1

Colorado Progressive   Coalition                      6                      7

Journalists turn to the Independence Institute for a wide variety of opinions, ranging from FasTracks to green subsidies.

In some cases, the II is in a “newsmaker” role when it’s quoted, but in most cases it’s not. By “newsmaker role” I mean II might be, for example, releasing a report or threatening a lawsuit. I did not assess whether the “news” that II was “making” was in fact newsworthy. But you can argue that in some cases the organization got more attention for its “news” than it deserved. For example, the II got repeated ink for threatening a lawsuit on the tax freeze, even though such a lawsuit hasn’t been filed.

Jon Caldara appears to be the dailies’ number-one favorite public policy activist. He was quoted in a total of 22 news articles this year in the dailies. As a newsmaker, he was quoted eight times.

Even if you deduct the instances when Caldara was quoted as a newsmaker, he was still quoted twice as much as any comparable activist, except James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who’s not really comparable to Caldara. I did not count a guy like Mason Tvert, of Safer, who’s a newsmaker on a very narrow issue.

Name                                                              News               Post    
Jon Caldara                                                      13                    9

John Andrews                                                   7                    0

Michael Huttner, ProgressNow                         1                    4

Rich Jones, Bell                                                1                      2

Wade Buchanan, Bell                                       0                      2

Kathy White, CO Fiscal Policy Inst.                 2                     1

Carol Hedges, CO Fiscal Policy Inst.               0                      2

James Dobson, Focus on the Family                 4                      5

Bill Vandenberg, CO Progressive Coalition      2                      4

Most of the Independence Institute’s views align with the fiscally conservative branch of the Republican Party. The center describes itself as “free market.” A smaller number of its views are left-leaning.

There may be fewer conservative public policy organizations, but there certainly are conservatives willing to talk to reporters any time of day or night.

Independence Institute doesn’t have a monopoly on articulate and conservative policy mavens.

In their media appearances, Caldara and other Independence Institute staff mix up their facts, as documented by Colorado Media Matters. Click here to see a summary of this.


When reporters mention the Independence Institute, they should identify it as “conservative,” “conservative-libertarian,” “free-market,” or something like that, so readers understand the dominant ideology of the outfit.

Sometimes the Independence Institute is properly described; other times it isn’t.

Liberal groups, like ProgressNow, seem to be labeled “liberal” or “progressive” more frequently, but I did not evaluate this methodically.


Colorado Media Matters has documented that reporters will not only quote Caldara, but do so uncritically. In its May report, CMM noted that Caldara was quoted by local media as comparing Gov. Bill Ritter’s mill levy freeze to “fiscal date rape.” But Caldara was not asked to explain this statement or prove its veracity. Caldara’s point was that the Colorado Legislature did not ask voters to sign off on the tax freeze, prior to approving it. But, in fact, local districts where the freeze will be applied had already approved it. And furthermore, the freeze isn’t a tax increase. Journalists reported Caldara’s sound bite, but did not point out that local districts already approved the tax change.


Foundation support for journalism

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Dan Gillmor writes a great op-ed in the SF Chronicle arguing for more foundation support of newspapers. It’s an old and compelling view, but he points out an aspect of this that I’ve missed for some reason.

 That is, external support for newspapers and other quality sources of news shouldn’t be viewed as permanent. Money is needed during the current transition period as journalists find ways to make money online.

Tally of syndicated pundits

Monday, September 17th, 2007

In my column Saturday, I wrote that the Rocky and Post do not run more columns by conservative syndicated columnists than by liberal pundits, based on my two-week analysis.

Some readers wanted to see my tally of pundits. Here it is:


Left, Leans Left, Center, Leans Right, Right
News 31-Aug NONE
News 1-Sep Dale McFeatters C
News 1-Sep Garrison Keilor L
News 2-Sep Amy Goodman L
News 2-Sep George Will R
News 3-Sep Krauthammer R
News 4-Sep Roger Hernandez LL
News 4-Sep Robert Samuelson LR
News 4-Sep Jay Ambrose R
News 5-Sep Martin Shram LL
News 6-Sep George Will R
News 7-Sep Ellen Goodman L
News 8-Sep Keilor L
News 8-Sep David Brooks LR
News 9-Sep Amy Goodman L
News 9-Sep George Will R
News 10-Sep Krugman L
News 10-Sep Krauthammer R
News 11-Sep George Will R
News 12-Sep NONE
News 13-Sep Samuelson LR
Post 31-Aug E.J.Dionne LL
Post 31-Aug Linda Chavez R
Post 1-Sep None
Post 2-Sep David Ignatius C
Post 2-Sep Bob Herbert L
Post 3-Sep NONE
Post 4-Sep NONE
Post 5-Sep Bob Herbert L
Post 5-Sep Rubin Navarrette LR
Post 6-Sep David Broder C
Post 6-Sep Maureen Dowd LL
Post 7-Sep E.J.Dionne LL
Post 7-Sep Froma Harrop LL
Post 8-Sep NONE
Post 9-Sep David Ignatius C
Post 9-Sep Neal Peirce C
Post 9-Sep Leonard Pitts C
Post 9-Sep Cal Thomas R
Post 10-Sep NONE
Post 11-Sep E.J.Dionne LL
Post 11-Sep Linda Chavez R
Post 12-Sep Froma Harrop LL
Post 12-Sep David Brooks LR
Post 13-Sep David Ignatius C
Post 13-Sep Thomas Friedman C


The big picture and the tax-rate freeze

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Colorado Media Matters noted that the Rocky, in reporting the higher-than-expected revenue from the property-tax-rate freeze, did not state that property taxes will actually go down in 49 districts.

But as Republicans roll out attacks on the tax-rate freeze, journalists need to keep the big picture in front of the public.

When the Republicans attack the property-tax-rate freeze, Reporters should ask how the GOP would solve the state school finance mess.

In this case, do Republicans favor repealing the tax-rate freeze, just because revenue may exceed expectations? And if so, what’s their solution?


What would Gallagher do?

Thursday, September 13th, 2007

City Auditor Dennis Gallagher felt compelled to put out a news release warning about higher taxes in the wake of the property tax-rate freeze and Denver’s bond package and tax increase to fund infrastructure improvements.

He told the Rocky he was just stating the facts, but what about the fact that without these tax adjustments, the state school fund goes bankrupt in 2011, and the ctiy’s infrastructure crumbles away.

Maybe Gallagher, with his historical involvement in limiting property taxes, thinks that the tax-rate freeze is regressive. Who knows what he thinks, because reporters haven’t asked him. It’s time they did.

I’d welcome a news release from Gallagher stating what he’d do to solve the state school fund mess and the city’s infrastructure problems.


Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

In my column Saturday, I didn’t discuss the possibility that protesting could generate increased media coverage of the DNC.

Don’t count on it. If there is protesting, it will be minor. And if there are arrests, I bet the numbers will be small and the actions peaceful and therefore not attracting Seattle-WTO-like coverage.

Someone told me she thought the DNC would get more coverage because it’s in the West. Yup, she’s a Democratic political consultant, and she forgets that the real world doesn’t care about speculation that western states could decide the 2008 presidential election, at least not enough to drive ratings. So this issue, while obviously important, won’t affect media coverage of the DNC.

Here’s the full email text of retired 9News anchor Ed Sardella’s thoughts on media coverage of the Democratic National Convention.

I think the downward spiral of interest in and coverage of orchestrated, suspense-less conventions will continue on the national and local level.  Denver media may enjoy an unusual level of interest just because the Dem convention is here.

I predict there will be less coverage than 2004, and that print will rely on their outsources more than ever before. I can’t comment specifically on the number who will attend but I think it will be down significantly from 2004.

Back in the heyday of TV news with big budgets, it was worth the expense to stations on the local level to have their anchor seen live in front of the banner at the podium that said, “Democratic (or Republican) National Convention.” I had personal experience with that. At the conventions I was sent to in the 80’s, it seemed I started hearing “WRAP” in my ear as soon as I and the banner appeared on the screen together. The importance of the shot far exceeded the content of the report. Those days are gone. I sense local stations will not send people to the conventions in large numbers not only because of the financial consideration but out of conviction that few, if any, watching at home will care… banner or not.

Three other factors in the equation may be worth mentioning. First, the circus that is presidential campaigns has crossed the line into the theater of the absurd in the minds of hoards of citizens because of the early campaigning and the childish and frantic obsession on the part of the states to be first or early with their primaries. I heard reports this week that all will be decided by March, if not sooner.  That will leave months before the conventions for people to put the campaign completely out of mind.

The second factor is the location of the conventions. I have had a number of print people tell me that the attractiveness of the venue has a lot to do with the intensity of the lobbying for the assignment in their newsrooms. Perhaps that is an element of the decision making process that is underestimated. How will this year’s locations be seen by reporters who might have the option (and luxury) of going or not going?

Third, and unknown, is to what degree, if any, the candidates’ reliance on new media to attract young potential voters will succeed. I am on the pessimistic side of center.