Archive for March, 2010

Twenty-two weeks since we’ve heard directly from Norton in The Post

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Now wait a minute, you say, in The Post on Nov. 11, in the year 2009, there’s a quote attributed directly to Norton, not to one of her spokespeople or to a news release.  Norton was quoted as saying, “The very heart and soul of who we are as Americans is being eroded. We’re seeing Washington’s giant hand grabbing everything in sight.”

Yes, that’s a Norton quote, but alas the Nov. 11 quote is taken from a speech she gave at a Republican forum. The words went from Norton’s mouth to the ears of a reporter. But this doesn’t count, because it wasn’t a two-way communication, as far as I can tell. The reporter just quoted her speech.

So you have to go all the way back to October 4, 2009, to find a Post article containing words that came directly from Norton’s mouth into a reporter’s ears, in a two-way conversation.

That’s over 22 weeks since Norton has been quoted directly in The Post.  And since she launched her campaign back on Sept. 15, 2009, she’s been quoted in a two-way conversation a grand total of two times.

How many times has her spokespeople been quoted during the 22 weeks? Eleven times in the print edition. (See information on Bennet and Romanoff on a Feb. 24 post on

During Norton’s 22 quoteless weeks, reporters probably had no reason to talk to her directly, you’re probably thinking. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they just pick up the phone and ask for her?

Actually, Post reporters have had a string of excellent reasons to talk directly to Norton. Just today Talking Points Memo published a video in which Norton describes Social Security as Ponzi scheme. I’m sure there’s a few hundred thousand Coloradans curious to hear directly from Norton about what she means.

Post readers would also benefit from hearing from Norton about the gross misrepresentation or outright lie found in one of her first political ads. Denver’s FOX 31 (KDVR) aired an interview with Norton Tuesday, showing that she did not cut the budget of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, as she claimed in a recent political advertisement.

Post readers also need to hear directly from Norton about these lingering questions:

 ·         Why does she favor the elimination of the Department of education? The Post tried to obtain a comment from Norton’s campaign on this, but was told by a spokesperson, “It’s a holiday. Nobody cares.” The spokesperson told The Post that Norton would address the issue after Jan. 1. That’s two-and-a-half months ago, and it appears The Post hasn’t followed up.
 ·         Why does she support a national sales tax and flat tax, and why does she think a
“simplified flat tax with exemptions for mortgages and charity” would be more viable than a pure flat tax? (The Post published a Norton statement about this on its blog but hasn’t questioned Norton directly.)
 ·         Why does she think health care reform is
unconstitutional? Not addressed in The Post.
 ·         On what basis does Norton think that the
“rights of terrorists are more important in this administration than the lives of American citizens”? This statement was quoted in an opinion column in The Post, but no reporter has asked Norton about it.
 ·         If she’s never been a lobbyist, as she’s claimed, what was she doing from 1994-1999 as head of the lobbying department of Medical Group Management Association (MGMA)?  An MGMA spokesman did
tell the Colorado Independent that Norton headed the organization’s lobbying department. In one instance, on Oct. 25, 2009, in an article about Norton’s ties to high-powered Republicans, like her brother-in-law Charlie Black who advised John McCain, The Post told readers that “Norton, through her spokesman, declined to comment.”

I actually don’t know why The Post hasn’t quoted Norton directly in 22 weeks (from her mouth to a reporter’s ears in a two-way conversation), and a Post spokesperson declined to comment for this blog post. All I can do is speculate.

But as more and more time goes by, and the good reasons to talk to Norton pile up, you have to think that Post reporters just aren’t doing their job to represent the public, at least in this case.

The Post as caucus central?

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

You’ve probably heard how NYU Professsor Jay Rosen describes those of us who follow the news as, “the people formerly known as the audience.” The reality isn’t a clear cut, because so many news consumers are sooooooooooooo passive, but the phrase definitely reflects the kind of thinking that should be going on at The Denver Post. How to involve US in THEIR journalism?

So you gotta love The Post’s idea to round up news from Tuesday’s caucuses via Twitter and other social media. In a blog post yesterday, titled “What happens in the caucuses shouldn’t stay in caucus–help us cover them,” Political Editor Curtis Hubbard invites you to help The Post “keep readers up-to-speed on the action during our live blogging from 6 to 10 p.m.” (To make citizen journalism easy, The Post included a link to help you find your caucus.)

You can tweet and send photos (using hashtag #caucusCO), and The Post will share them on its gallery. The Post wants to follow all the candidates as well. Its Twitter list is here.

In an interview with me last month, Hubbard talked about trying to use citizen journalists, even partisans from both sides, this election cycle to give The Post access to political events. It looks like this caucus project is one concrete way this is happening.

If this were to take off in a way that The Post could only dream about, a journalistic dilemma could arise: what if campaign strategists bombarded The Post with fake tweets, attempting to show that one candidate was kicking ass. And what if this influenced the outcome of the caucuses in real time? It would be like releasing exit polls or election results on the East Coast before the polls were closed in the West. Some serious journalists stopped releasing exit polls becuase they didn’t want to influence elections. A wholly theoretical problem for The Post’s caucus project, of course, but a thought, nonetheless.



A time and place for “he-said-she-said” reporting

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Journalists may be doing 17 things at once, but if they’re going to write a story quoting not one, not two, but three opponents of bills in the state legislature, you’d think they would at least quote one proponent of the proposed legislation.

But in a Feb. 26 article in the Denver Business Journal, three opponents of health-insurance-related bills in the Colorado Legislature were quoted–while proponents didn’t get a paraphrase much less a quote.

I asked Bob Mook, who wrote the piece, about his strategy in reporting the article.

“The story was about how the insurance industry was reacting to the legislation,” he told me, adding that he had “space constraints” and that the views of Democratic legislators or consumer groups “would convolute the piece.” He also pointed out that he described the bills in question (HB 1166, 1168, 1234, 1266, and SB 76), explaining what they would do.

“In general,” he said, “I’m finding that the he-said-she-said model of reporting has sort of fallen out of favor.”

To a degree, I’m with Mook about he-said-she-said style. With all the dubious information out there, people are looking to newspapers to tell them the facts, if the facts are clear or mostly clear. Who wants to read a newspaper full of regurgitated quotes with factually inaccuracies embedded in them?

For example, reporters shouldn’t give us the he-said-she-said routine when oil industry spokespeople claim that Colorado’s oil-and-gas regulations have driven rigs out of the state. Reporters should state that this is almost certainly false, rather than offer competing claims that are not supported by the facts. (I wrote in more detail about the limits of he-said-she-said reporting here.)

But in Mook’s story, the facts are reasonabley in dispute about the impacts of the health insurance bills. And so readers need basic reporting of different points of view, including views from folks who support regulation of insurance companies. With none offered, and none planned, Business Journal readers are left with the impression that business in general is opposed health insurance regulation, especially when opponents in the article say the cumuluative effect of the bills could be bad for business.

I told Mook that some businesses favor health insurance regulation.

“I’d like to meet some people who actually believe that, especially within the insurance industry” he said. “I’d like to talk to people who thought that was true.”

I called Kjersten Forseth, State Director of Change that Works, and asked her about businesses that support health insurance reform.

She told me her organization has held multiple events featuring small businesspeople concerned about the health care situation and favoring reform.

She said: “We’ve gotton Bob [Mook] on the phone, and he says, ‘We don’t cover those kinds of things.’ How is he going to become educated on these issues if he doesn’t attend our events? If Bob wants to take a true business stance, he needs to pay attention to the costs of health care insurance on small business.”

Mook, who is leaving the Business Journal at the end of the week to become Editorial Manager at the Colorado Health Foundation, said, “We [the Denver Business Journal] have the view of a business publication, and we’re pro-business. And you know, what’s good for the bottom line is good for our readers.”

That’s excatly why he should offer a variety of views when the facts are in despute–as they are on the health insurance bills in the State Legislature.

“Things are changing, especially with niche-oriented publications” Mook told me. “It’s not the traditional AP style anymore, where you try to be as comprehensive as you can. It was a business piece written for businesspeople. I didn’t see it as partisan at all. The thesis was, insurance industry insiders have concerns about this legislation. Here are their concerns.”

Enyart says son did not collect signatures; apparently pulls recording from website

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

To his credit, Bob Enyart clarified on his show yesterday that his 12-year-old son did not collect signatures to place an initiative on the November ballot that would define human life as beginning when a human egg is fertilized. He also said that children are not allowed collect signatures for an initiative, under Colorado law.

On his show last week, at one point, Enyart said his son collected 20 signatures.

In an interview yesterday, Enyart promised me he’d explain to his listeners that it’s illegal for children to collect signatures.

It appears that the recording of last week’s show, Blue in Faith, on which Enyart made his controversial statements about his son collecting signatures, has been removed from his show’s website.

Talk show host misleads

Monday, March 8th, 2010

It’s illegal for children to collect signatures for ballot initiatives in Colorado.

That’s why my jaw dropped when I heard radio talk show host Bob Enyart, during a live broadcast Thursday, say, “So, my son today got 20 signatures so far. My son, he’s 12.”

Enyart has been imploring his listeners to gather 20,000 signatures needed to place an initiative on the Colorado ballot that would define human life as beginning when a human sperm enters a human egg and a zygote forms.  Nothing wrong with a talk show host imploring people to do things, but they should be clear about what’s legal.

Backers of the initiative initially failed to turn in the required 76,000 valid signatures, but they’ve been given two weeks to collect more signatures. A similar initiative lost in 2008 by at 3 to 1 margin.

On his talk radio show, “Bob Enyart Live,” during a program titled “Blue in Faith” on March 4, Enyart and his co-host had a discussion about gathering petitions for the ballot initiative. The show airs weekdays on KLTT 670 AM in Denver and at other times elsewhere.

On Thursday’s show, Enyart encouraged his listeners to collect signatures at churches and public events. He said, “We got 15 days to get 20,000 signatures. We have 10 teams. Each time has to get 2,000 signatures.”

Later in the segment , Enyart says that his 12-year-old son got signatures, which…-if it were true…-is a violation of Colorado’s rules for collecting signatures, according to the website of the Colorado Secretary of State, which states that in order to circulate an initiative petition, you must be “at least eighteen years old at the time that the petition is circulated.”

In a discussion with his co-host, Enyart said his 12-year-old son was being “supervised,” but the Secretary of State’s rules do not state that a supervised a child would be allowed to collect signatures on an initiative position.

Prompted by his co-host, Enyart later stated about that “actually, he’s [his son] like the PR guy.”

But still, a reasonable listener could conclude that Enyart’s 12-year-old son was illegally gathering signatures for the initiative…-especially because Enyart was so gushing about the benefits of kids being involved in signature gathering.

“They [kids] love this,” Enyart said on the air. “They love it.”

[His 12-year old is way different than mine, I’m afraid to say.]

This exchange followed:

Enyart’s co-host: When you’re out there with them [kids], it really gives you hope for the future.

Enyart: Yeah. Hope for the future. And here are kids learning to be bold for the Lord-
Co-host: Amen!
Enyart:  and for the innocent. Isn’t that what we want of our children? Instead of having mom and dad just sit on the couch and watch, I don’t know, the cooking channel-.

Enyart’s statements, while not incriminating, are certainly confusing. So I called him to find out about his son’s role.

“He’s not a registered voter,” Enyart told me. “But he enjoys going to the store or a church with his mom or dad and saying to people, …Did you sign the personhood petition?’ And then however many signatures we get, he thinks that he got em. Our three youngest boys are 8, 10, and 12. So it’s like, you know, going deep sea fishing with dad.  Whatever dad catches, he thinks he caught.”

[Again, my kids differ. My own 12-year-old would undoubtedly catch more fish than I would.]

I suggested that Enyart clarify on the air that 1) it’s illegal under Colorado law for children to collect signatures for ballot initiatives and 2) his son was not, in fact, collecting signatures for the initiative.

He readily agreed, saying, “Yeah, I think that’s good advice. I could do that today. We do the show live each day. Yeah, that’s very good.”

Here’s partial transcript of Enyart’s March 4 show, which begins after Enyart and his co-host were discussing whether the crowd going to see Mary Poppins at the DCPA would be a good target for signature gathering:

Bob Enyart

So, my son today got 20 signatures so far.




My son, he’s 12.


So he got them while you were supervising…-or your wife…-was supervising him, of course.


Well, he was being supervised. So, actually, he’s like the PR guy.


He’s standing there with a sign?


He doesn’t say, “Will you sign the pro-life petition?” He says, “Have you signed the pro-life petition? And then he says, “Oh, look we need three more signatures so we can turn the page.”


Yeah, yeah, my daughter Nicole does that. I’ll tell you what the little kids-


They love this. They love it.


When you’re out there with them, it really gives you hope for the future.


Yeah. Hope for the future. And here are kids learning to be bold for the Lord-




and for the innocent. Isn’t that what we want of our children? Instead of having mom and dad just sit on the couch and watch, I don’t know, the cooking channel. Nothing wrong with the cooking channel that I know of.


No, but if you’re sitting there watching the Food Network while the world around you is on fire and collapsing and you don’t do anything-I’m not saying you can’t watch Diners, Drive-ins and Dives once in a while. I’m just saying, get out there and do something for the Lord-


Is that a good show, really?


Well, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is good if you can stand the guy’s tattoos and earrings. You have to get past that-.


I gave up on all that when they had Trading Spaces. You remember that show?


That’s the HGTV. Home Owned Gay Television. Have you ever tried to watch that? -They have house hunters. Every third couple, let’s just say they got married in Vermont. I’ll leave it at that.

What happened to Jim Spencer?

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

Note:  During the year, I’ll be asking former Denver journalists what they’ve been up to since disappearing from the Denver journalism scene…-and what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. I previously queried Bob Ewegen.


Jim Spencer, the former columnist for The Denver Post, was kind enough to answer my questions via email yesterday. Spencer came to The Post to write a metro column in 2003. He was laid off in June 2007.




Here are my e-interview answers

1.       I hoped to work the rest of my professional life as a columnist at the Denver Post. But Denver Post Editor Greg Moore laid me off in June 2007. I tried hard to get another job in journalism. I was invited to St. Louis to interview for the editorial page editor’s job and to the Indianapolis Star to discuss a political editor’s job, but did not receive offers from either paper. Meanwhile, to keep publishing columns, I started my own website,, with technical help from two non-journalist friends, Chris Dunn and Sharon Steadman. I convinced the publishers of Colorado Confidential to pay me a monthly stipend to co-publish my columns on their website. I covered the news in Colorado in much the same way I had while at the Post. Public officials granted me access and information as a working journalist. I guest-hosted on AM760 talk radio, appeared monthly on John Andrews radio show on Backbone Radio and occasionally appeared on PBS talk shows as a guest commentator. But the pay in online journalism could not support me or my wife, and it came with no benefits. So I eventually applied for and got a job as communications director of the University of Colorado School of Medicine. I worked for wonderful people, especially Dean Dick Krugman, who did important work and included me as a strategic adviser, not just as a flack.  It was arguably the best PR job I could have conceived. But I missed journalism. The relationship between journalists and people with power differs remarkably from the relationship between institutional advocates and those same powerbrokers. In my view, independent journalists possess a leverage against abuses of power that serves the public’s interest better than any form of marketing or advocacy. So I continued to look for work in journalism. In October 2009, I found an opportunity at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where I now work as a general assignment writer. I have written about medical research using animals, middle class people on food stamps, overcrowded homeless shelters and attempts to end a health care program for the poor. I recently returned from Haiti and have published the first two parts of three-part series. Your readers can read  those stories and view accompanying videos and photos at


2.       As for the state of journalism in Colorado, I believe it suffers significantly from the closure of the Rocky Mountain News and the shrinking of the Denver Post staff. So-called new media pays for far too little original reporting, settling instead to consolidate for free and redistribute  the work of institutions such as the Post and Rocky that it mocks as “main stream media.” Alternatively, new media too often consists of selective reporting designed to advance the agenda of its owners. Or new media consists of partisan rants supported by no reporting.  When your local website pays livable wages and benefits to independent professional journalists who will report the story wherever it leads and who have access to and respect from newsmakers, then you have a model that serves the public. However, if the public refuses to support that model financially, then society will get what it pays for. Having fewer independent journalists ferreting out corporate, political and bureaucratic abuses of power serves no one but the people who hope to exploit the public to their personal advantage. That kind of greed and exploitation always exists. But it runs amok as journalism struggles. Having watched how things work from the PR side as well as the newspaper side, I believe Coloradans and all Americans are on the brink of being manipulated by people with big money and special interests in ways they hardly comprehend.

Norton bio incomplete in Steamboat Today

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The following description of Senate candidate Jane Norton in an article on the Steamboat Today website Monday looks innocent enough at first glance, but read it closely:

Norton was Colorado’s lieutenant governor from 2002 to 2006. She was executive director for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from 1999 to 2002. She worked with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services during the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations.
 The paragraph covers Norton’s life from 2002-2006, 1999 …• 2002, and 1988 …• 1993. But the period from 1994-1999, which should have been sandwiched in the middle there, was mysteriously absent.

That’s when Norton worked for Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), which describes itself as the “premier membership association for professional administrators and leaders of medical group practices.”  Her responsibilities from 1994-1999 included “monitoring health care reform legislative and regulatory proposals in the 50 states on behalf of MGMA’s 18,000 clinic administrator members and 6,700 medical group members,” according to Norton’s website. 

Norton’s MGMA job became campaign fodder last month when she stated during a radio interview, “I’ve not been a lobbyist.” Her spokesman later told the Colorado Independent that Norton has never been a registered lobbyist.

Democrats point to her job at MGMA as proof that she was a lobbyist for the healthcare industry.  And MGMA told the Colorado Independent that the arm of the company that Norton’s directed conducts MGMA’s  lobbying activities.

Given the recent debate about Norton’s job at MGMA from 1994 …• 1999, it’s weird that this part of her bio wasn’t included in Steamboat Today story, especially when her jobs before and after MGMA were listed.

You hate to be nitpicky when you’re a media critic, especially when you know reporters are doing seventeen things at once these days.

But this small omission in the story, given the larger debate about Norton’s role at MGMA, makes you wonder what happened.

So I called Margaret Hair, the reporter at Steamboat Today who wrote the piece, and asked why she left out the MGMA job.

She said: “I was just trying to highlight her policy experience, trying to provide a quick bio.”  She told me that Norton’s Washington DC experience is more relevant for readers than her job at MGMA.

That’s fair enough, and it makes sense from her perspective, as a reporter. The jobs Norton held  in Washington were more important. Hair’s willingness to discuss the issue helps me believe her, and I do in this case. That’s why journalists should talk to the public. Still, I think Hair should have included the MGMA information in her piece, however briefly, because it rounds out the picture of Norton.

To its credit, Steamboat Today directed its online readers to Norton’s website bio, which at least lists the MGMA job.

Chohan to leave CBS4, but fact checks of ads to conintinue

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Raj Chohan, a reporter for Channel 4 News (CBS4), is leaving the station to become a lawyer.

He and 9News’ Adam Schrager are known in political circles for, among other things, their on-air fact checking of political ads during election cycles. 9News’ ad analyses are called “Truth Tests.” CBS4’s are called “Reality Checks.”

CBS4 doesn’t plan on dropping Reality Check, which is a great public service given the overwhelming power of political ads on television. The on-air fact checks are some of the best political coverage we see on local TV news shows. And, strangely enough, they’re popular. The big challenge for journalists covering politics on local TV news is to find ways to make important political information engaging enough so viewers don’t change the channel. The ad checks are one way to do this.

Chohan will continue hosting KBDI’s flagship public affairs show, Colorado Inside Out, which airs Friday at 8 p.m. on Channel 12.

Chohan’s wife, CBS4 reporter Shaun Boyd, may replace him as the lead reporter for the “Reality Check” series.  

In an email to me, Chohan responded to a few questions about his departure from CBS4.

 ·         Is it true that you’re leaving Channel 4 to practice law? Why?

I will be leaving Channel 4 after the May ratings book to become a lawyer.  I expect to graduate in May with a J.D. from DU. I will spend the summer preparing for the July bar exam.  I have accepted an offer to join the Denver office of a national law firm.

 ·         Will you be leaving Colorado  Inside Out?

I expect to continue hosting Colorado Inside Out.  It is a unique show and one of the best parts of my work week.  KBDI has expressed an interest in my continued tenure there and I am certainly inclined to stick with it.

 ·         Will anyone be doing Reality Check in your absence? If not, why?

CBS 4 is in the process of identifying a replacement for Reality Check.  The inside scoop is that my wife, Shaun Boyd, may take it over.  She is an excellent reporter and would do a great job with the franchise.  She has been approached by the news director, Tim Wieland, about this possibility.  She has not yet made a final decision.

 ·         Do you think you’ll go back to journalism someday?

I love the biz, but I don’t expect to return in any full-time capacity.  For my family, the journalism business has become too unstable.  News outlets are making less money and making tough business decisions to remain viable.  There are a lot of talented journalists on the street looking for work.  Local TV stations across the nation have been cutting back staff, newspapers have been taking a beating, and the new model of journalism has not yet developed enough for me to feel secure in this business over the long term.  Several years ago, my wife and I saw the storm clouds gathering over this business.  We decided to set-up an exit strategy before things got too bad.  We have two young children and could not risk the insecurity of a business in flux. I am excited about my new career and look forward to practicing law.  I hope to keep some presence in the news community via Colorado Inside Out, perhaps even a blog or maybe a column. 

 ·         What will you miss most about leaving journalism?

I will miss covering politics.  It is a fascinating time to be doing news.  This is a wonderful business for information junkies who enjoy learning how the world works and contributing to the discussion.  No matter what the economic realities of the business are, I hope enthusiastic aggressive journalists will continue to come to the business.  It is a remarkable thing to be able to do for a living. 

 ·         What will you miss least?

What I will miss least:  I never enjoyed “death patrol.”  This is when reporters show up on doorsteps on the worst day of a person’s life – when they have lost someone very close.  At times these stories can offer compelling insights into the human condition.  However, most of the time they are an unwelcome intrusion into a family’s grief.  The other thing I won’t miss is working holidays.