Archive for April, 2010

If tax forms released, McInnis would take “beating” from partners, Independent reports

Friday, April 30th, 2010

It slipped by me somehow, but Wed. the Colorado Independent was the first news organization to ask Colorado gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis’ campaign what McInnis meant when he said on Fox Radio April 15 that he’d take a “beating” if he released his income tax returns.

McInnis, you recall, said on the radio: “So I’m not going to invite myself to my own beating.  I mean, let em [garbled words]. I’m going to give what I think the people want, not what The Denver Post wants.”

The Independent reported Wed. that McInnis spokesman Sean Duffy said that McInnis’ statement was a reference to the “beating” the Republican candidate would take from his business partners for releasing their personal income information, which would allegedly be included on McInnis’ income-tax forms.

The Independent quoted James Vander Laan, a certified public accountant, who stated that the individual partnership income of all partners is not listed on K-1 forms, which are used to report partnership income, just the individual’s total. But the individual’s percentage of all the partnership’s income categories is listed. So the total income of  the firm could be calculated from the information provided on an individual partner’s K-1 form.

Presented with this information by the Independent, Duffy emailed the Independent that this was the reason the forms were not released to the public.

But the Independent didn’t ask the Vander Laan if McInnis could simply redact the information about the percentage of the partnership’s income that McInnis earned, thereby making it impossible to determine the total income of the firm from looking McInnis’ K-1 form.

“Absolutely,” Vander Laan said. “It would be pretty easy to take a black Marks-A-Lot and cover it up, wouldn’t it?”

Vander Laan added that McInnis could document his partnership income without releasing his K-1 form at all.

“Actually that information goes on a schedule in your 1040 that’s called Schedule E. By the time it hits Schedule E, you can no longer see ownership percentage. That doesn’t appear on Schedule E.”

News outlets should follow up, asking McInnis if he would be willing to take these steps and possibly others, if required, to protect the privacy of his business partners and avoid a “beating” by them, if he releases his income tax returns.

Big picture needs emphasis in coverage of ed bill

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Education gets big headlines year around, not just when an education law like SB191 is being debated at the State House. There are the CSAP tests, the graduation rates, the international comparisons, school rankings, and so on. The news is mostly bad, and the impression you’re left with, even if the reporting is broad and comprehensive, is that our schools and teachers aren’t doing their jobs well enough, particularly in urban areas like Denver.

But what if we had an annual parade of front-page stories about the success rates of our other public programs on the front lines of the battle against poverty?  What’s the “graduation rate” from public housing? From the “free lunch program?” From drug-addiction programs? From poverty itself? Is Colorado making progress in these areas?

My point is that education gets too much media attention, relative to other problems related to poverty in America. I haven’t done a bean count to document this, if one could be done, but who doubts it?

And with the media spotlight on the schools and teachers, legislation like SB191 naturally becomes a hot button story and issue, with various interest groups clamoring to be heard and seen.

So journalists are right to give serious play to SB191, but in doing so, reporters should take every opportunity to illuminate the big-picture issues of school funding and the effects of poverty on education.

“To get a school that serves truly disadvantaged kids to the point where it could actually focus on teaching and learning is going to require infusions of resources that we haven’t even begun to think about, just into the school, let alone the community,” Rona Wilensky, the former principal at New Vista High School in Boulder told me.

If you look through the news coverage of SB 191, you find one perspective that’s predictably under-emphasized: the view that passing any new education laws isn’t necessarily the way to improve public education in Colorado.

“They are looking for a simple answer to a complicated problem,” Wilensky told me of the legislative effort in Colorado. “Getting rid of bad teachers is not the solution to all our educational woes. We have the schools we have because we want these schools. They serve a function in our society. Why would we have them if they didn’t work for us? And everything in our system supports them being the schools they are. To change this in a really fundamental way, to equalize school achievement, means overturning the effects of social and economic inequality, which we’ve built our society around. ”

Call me a socialist if you must, but don’t you think this perspective should be seen more in coverage of education reform…-because what Wilensky says reflects a reality that you miss in education reporting that too often focuses on the latest narrow bit of education-specific data.

Boyles lets McInnis off the hook on AZ immigration law

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Pseudo-journalists like talk-radio hosts should pin political candidates down when they make vague, chest-thumping pronouncements.

Especially when they’re talking to candidates, like Scott McInnis, who’s been refusing to be interviewed by serious journalistic entities like The Denver Post. And declined another interview request from The Post today.

We’ve seen over and over how talk-radio hosts let their favored candidates off the hook, but still, this is an extreme example given the topic and the show.

It happened this morning on KHOW’s Peter Boyles show, and the topic was immigration.

Boyles let gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis rant about illegal immigration, and make it sound like he supports Arizona’s new law, but he didn’t bother to pin him down on what specifically he’d do and what he favors.

Instead, Boyles just listened and said stuff like “Yeah,” “hmm,” “alright,” and “Oh,” and agreed with McInnis.

Yet McInnis didn’t say much that was meaningful, stating of the Arizona law, “I’d do something very similar.”

What does McInnis mean? We have no idea, because Boyles, who presents himself as Mr. Immigration-Detail-Guy, didn’t bother to ask. McInnis spokesman later told The Post that McInnis favors the provision of the law that immigrants carry identification, but thanks to Boyles, we haven’t heard this from McInnis.

Here’s the exchange this morning, 7 a.m. hour at 35 min. 20 seconds on the podcast.

35 min. 20 seconds.

Boyles: Now, Jan Brewer in Arizona. I’m going to wave the magic wand. You’re governor.

McInnis: Yes.

Boyles: What would you do?

McInnis: I’d do something very similar. I’ll tell you the situation. The federal government has refused to act and finally some governor stood up and said we’re stopping the retreat, no more retreat. Federal government, if you’re not going to do it, we are going to do it because it has impacts to all of the parties involved in the state of Arizona. Now I’ve looked at a lot of material that’s come out in the last 24 hours on that, and by the way, if a person has a driver’s license or a  government ID there’s a presumption of citizenship. That’s not the issue. The issue is, the government refuses to acknowledge that illegal means illegal.

Boyles: hmm.

And here’s a governor that stood up to it and said, Look if you have a system that’s going to work you have to have some kind of repercussions or some kind of circumstances or consequences when somebody steps outside the system illegally.

Boyles: Yeah.

McInnis: And so I think this governor, I know she’s catching all kinds of flack,

Boyles: Oh.

McInnis: Most of it is unfair, most of it is race guard. Most of it is all this kind of stuff, but the fact is somebody finally stood up and said the federal government needs to do what they are required to do. And the federal government is just not doing it. And I think, what, they have a poll just yesterday that said 75 percent of the people in Arizona said it’s about time somebody and said, “come on government.” Get this taken care of.

Boyles: Overwhelming. Greater than 70 percent. So that would mean a lot of Democrats. A lot of Latinos. I mean, Al Sharpton rallying from New York.

McInnis: People want a system that works, and people understand that if you let people go outside the system or you kind of become politically correct, and that’s what’s entered this whole picture. It’s too much political correctness. Let’s just kind of turn our eyes the other way. And the states can’t take it because they’re the ones that get stuck with the burden of it. They’re the ones that have the costs, the communities, etc, etc, etc. So I think the governor stood up and a lot of people said it’s about time we stopped the retreat. Federal government, do what you are supposed to do.

Boyles: All right.

Caplis and Silverman’s gentle handling of McInnis

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Two weeks ago Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis told Fox Radio News in Loveland that he’d take a “beating” if he released his income tax returns. And the hosts didn’t bother to ask him why.

Today, he’s on the Caplis and Silverman show, on KHOW (hour one), and the questioning is ever so slightly tougher, but McInnis slides out of the interview with basic follow-up questions floating around unasked.

Co-host Craig Silverman gets credit for at least asking him the key question, about why he only released two pages of his income tax return: “Just two pages? It’s like a tease. Why not show us the rest of it?

McInnis’ response:

Because as you know, Craig, of course, the rest of it involves not just my wife and I. The rest of it then discusses detail of other people, who are not–including the boys’ ranch, how the different shares are held in the ranch, how the ranch is structured.  Same thing with my family. You know I have five brothers and sisters. And I have businesses with my brothers and sisters. And we have had for years. And we disclosed the names of those and their net worth and so on. That changes from day to day now. It used to change more from year to year. But these people aren’t running for Congress, I mean for governor. And so, that’s why.”

Not asked was why he doesn’t release other parts of the income tax return, like his payment for sitting on the boards of large corporations and such, that have nothing to do with other people.

Craig pushed McInnis a bit: “Why not disclose your charities, Congressman? After all, you more or less challenged me and Dan and you said, I’ll disclose it to anybody. It was the subject of Chuck Plunkett’s opinion piece in The Denver Post today. Why not, especially since it seems to me that you’d gain a political advantage since John Hickenlooper won’t release his. Why not show us yours?”

McInnis’ response:

Huh. As you guys know, a request by the papers is not, ah, to help you with your political advantage. It’s to use something-I mean, you know what this is being used for. I mean it was interesting. I know I’ll answer your question more specifically. When I was in Congress, if you wanted to check out financial disclosures, anybody was welcome to go in there. You could do it, but you had to sign your name and identify who you were with. And if you were to go to the Republican disclosures, the only real people checking it out was the Democrats, the Democrat National Committee, because they wanted to use it against you. Or on the Democratic side, the only one looking at the Democratic disclosures, was the Republican National Committee. So the only purpose– the average person on the street, Craig, doesn’t really care what I make. They care why they’re not making anything, where their jobs are. That’s where they’re at. Now let me answer your question.

Craig didn’t question McInnis about the different reasons that average people might want to know about his financial interests, even if regular people don’t go chasing down financial documents. Craig told McInnis to “focus on the charities.”

McInnis responded:

 Well, on the charities. This is also a misnomer. People think that, well, we’ll be able to determine what you give, pay for charities by what you disclose on your income tax return. Now, I think you’re probably aware of this, Craig. I know you are, Dan. But on your tax forms, what you show are charitable contributions that are deductible. They are not deductible if they are not a 501c3 or whatever. I don’t know the technical classification. So, the way we grew up, and the way my family, my dad, mom taught us…-this is a long time ago. We don’t…-our vehicle of charitable giving isn’t necessarily United Way or the March of Dimes or things. My folks taught us…-now we grew up in a small town…-that is, when some families, somebody’s in a car wreck, or somebody’s hard on their luck, or something like that, they don’t have 501c3s. Drop by, give them a thousand bucks. Or a couple years ago, we had a family that, ah…-I had an elk take. I went out and, ah, got an elk and had the elk processed meat and donated the processed meat to the family in need. That kind of…-one, I’m not sure…-I don’t think you should deduct for that. Two, they don’t have a 501c3. So the charitable chart is going, I think, in most of those years, is going to want to show Episcopal Church, or something like that, Lori’s church, and maybe, I’m not even sure, but it certainly doesn’t reflect ,even close ,the way Laura and I give charitable giving and a lot of people do it that right.

Co-host Dan Caplis’ response reads as if he should have been panting, but he wasn’t: “That’s right, Congressman, I think most people who vote will understand that and most people probably do it the same way, which is, you know, charity is not just limited to the groups that qualify for a tax deduction. And so I think most folks are going to understand that.”

Caplis should have asked McInnis to enumerate more of his good works, to get a handle on if McInnis is as old-fashioned generous as he says. McInnis killed the elk “a couple years ago.”  What’s he killed and given away since then? How many people dropped by the McInnis residence and left with $1,000? What else has this wealthy man given away?

As McInnis makes the rounds of the conservative talks-show circuit, and continues to avoid the Post, I hope the questioning gets tougher.

Transcript of McInnis on Fox News Radio, KCOL, April 15, 2010

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

FOX News Radio, 600 KCOL

Mornings with Keith and Gail

April 15, 2010

Hour 4


Begins at minute 15:30

Obtain the podcast here.

Keith: We are joined by Republican candidate for governor of the state of Colorado, Rep. Scott McInnis. Rep. McInnis, welcome again to Keith and Gale, always a pleasure.

McInnis: Good morning.

Keith: Let’s start this morning with the last question first, of sorts. We’ve followed the story The Denver Post ran saying that they had requested tax forms from gubernatorial candidates as has been the tradition, not the law or a requirement in Colorado, and that you up until this point have declined. And they followed with an editorial today saying that candidates are not required by law to make tax returns available. They understand that releasing private, personal information can be uncomfortable, but it is common both on the state and national level. And they say that tax returns show sources of income, charitable giving, potential conflicts of interest, use of tax shelters, other valuable information. And that your spokesperson, Sean Duffy, has indicated to them, when they reiterated the question, that you may now make tax forms available at some unspecified point in the future. Does that mean that you will?  At what point in time?  And what stands in the way of your doing it as soon as possible?

McInnis:  Well, let me say first of all that’s not very much of a complete picture of comments that they’ve [The Denver Post] made in there. Second of all, understand that during all the years I served in Congress and the State House, you have to make disclosures.  And in the State House of Representatives in Colorado, and I think in every state in the country and in the United States Congress, they do not require disclosure income.  However they do require financial affidavit. It’s the same thing if you’re a candidate in Colorado. So I have made more disclosures on my financial background than any other candidate in this race and probably any other candidate for a long time simply because of length of service, number one.

Number two, we’ve told The Post we’re happy to let people know what I made, although that’s private information and I’m certainly not required to do it. And I’m more than willing to tell when I tell them what I made also tell them what I paid as a percentage of tax or give them the actual amount of tax I paid because I want people to know that I don’t have a tax shelter out there. I’m not one of these people that frankly make a living and go out and not pay any taxes. I pay my share of taxes, which I think is too high like many of your listeners.

The third thing, this is not common place, and my income tax returns, by necessity because of the family business, you know we’re in a family business, have disclosures of private individuals just like Mayor Hickenlooper has refused to disclose, I guess, his blind trust, which of course he has a lot of things in, and he’s also refused to disclose his partnership agreement. And frankly I don’t criticize him for that because what he says is what I say. Look, there are people, for example my kids, who are not running for Governor of Colorado. There are other people, my brothers and sisters, that are involved in our family enterprises whose information, whether it’s social security numbers or forward are included in those documents.

The key here is what I made, and what I paid and that’s what we’ve agreed to give to The Denver Post and I note that it’s somewhat uncomfortable. Keep in mind that their job is to make my job as uncomfortable as possible.

Gail: [laughs] And that’s just how the game is played.

McInnis: Yeah. And they say it in the newspaper. I mean, they put it in there. So I’m not going to invite myself to my own beating.  I mean, let em [garbled words] I’m going to give what I think the people want, not what The Denver Post wants.

Gail: You have no interest…-

McInnis: What the people want. And I think they’re entitled to, what did he make and what did he pay. We want to make sure he’s carrying his fair burden and that’s a very legitimate request.

Gail: No interest in being complicit in your own self destruction. I think that’s a healthy perspective.

McInnis: Yea. [Laughs] Somebody calls you on the phone and says, Scott, stop by. We’re going to beat you up, on your way home from work.

Gail: What time? What time do you want me there? Where do you draw the line as far as, because we’ve gotten into an interesting side conversation with many of our listeners about this. Where do you draw the line as a candidate as to what the voters should be aware of and what they shouldn’t be aware of, as far as personal information goes in making their decision?

McInnis: Well, I think the voters are entitled to financial disclosures. And you know this kind of debate has been carried on extensively at the state level and at the federal level. What really is fair? What really goes kind of beyond the privacy? On the other hand, you are a public official. You are elected to serve the people, and they need to know some of your background.

So for 22 years, I was in office for 22 years. I filed disclosures all of those 22 years. And I can assure you the second I file them, not many of my constituents looked at them. The people that check them out, and in Congress, very interesting, you have to put your name, when you look at them, you check them out, and it’s all full of Democrats, the Democratic National Committee, the Chair of the State Democratic Committee, those are the people looking at that.

I think the voters have a right to be assured their representatives, one, pay taxes and pay a fair amount of taxes, in other words, their fair obligation, two that they haven’t skipped, that they are not in arrears on paying their taxes, in other words they’re not a tax evader. And beyond that, I don’t think the voters are entitled to every detail of where every dime that you spend.

I don’t think the voters are entitled to, not the voters, but primarily the press and the Democrats, because we know what they are going to use it for, to look at my kids, to look at my parents, to look my parents, my parents are still alive, to look at my brothers and sisters and so you have to draw a line.  

You know we went through this debate with personal lives, and I don’t have to worry about any of that. I’m happily married and have been for a long time, but people said, you know, there’s a certain line that you just probably don’t go across. But we really care about [garbled]. People don’t really care about what my brother and sister made or what that says on my income tax returns. What they care about is their job. What are you going to do for policy and so on? Now we do want to know. Scott, that you carried your fair share, that you haven’t been a tax evader. That’s understandable. But tell us what you’re going to do for Colorado, what you’re going to do for us, what you’re going to do for our jobs.

So I, that’s kind of how I see the direction. But it’s always debated and it’s generally brought up by, ahh, the press or by the opposition party. It’s rarely brought up by the average citizen on the street. Gee, Scott, I want to know some of that information.

Keith: Let me see your tax form.

McInnis: Yeah. Let me see. Nobody. And there’s nobody out there. And by the way, it’s not common place, like they like to say, across the country. They make it sound like every elected official. I’d doubt seriously, I’d say that 99.9 percent of the elected officials in the United States are not expected to file income tax returns nor do they.

Keith: Are not expected to file income tax returns? Not expected to divulge them

McInnis: That’s, well, I mean income tax returns with the press. Not with [laughs].

Gail: And that goes to some extent–

McInnis: No, no, no, we’re all expected to file with the IRS.

Keith: Laughs.

Gail: Laughs.

McInnis: We’re not expected to do a simultaneous filing with The Denver Post or with somebody else.

Keith: Understood. Understood.

Gail: You know, and that goes in large part to whether people feel they’re paying too much tax or just about the right amount. The ones that aren’t paying any tax are like, Yeah, works for us.

McInnis: And that’s about half the population, unfortunately. And it’s a very unfortunate predicament we’re in. You can’t have in my opinion a society that thrives very long where half of your society pays and the other half does not. There’s a huge inequity there.

On the radio, McInnis says he’d take a “beating” if he releases his tax returns, but hosts don’t ask why

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

You wouldn’t call many talk-radio hosts “journalists.” They’re mostly entertainers. But, still, what talk-radio host with any integrity sits in silence while a political candidate says he’d take a “beating” if he made his income tax returns public and doesn’t ask the most basic follow-up question in the book, “Why?”

But that’s exactly what happened April 15 on Fox News Radio, 600 KCOL in Loveland. (See the Keith and Gail page on the KCOL website, April 15, hour 4, beginning at 15 minutes 30 seconds.)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McGinnis told hosts Keith Weinman and Gail Fallen, “So I’m not going to invite myself to my own beating. I’m going to give what I think the people want, not what The Denver Post wants.”

McInnis was on the radio after having apparently just read a Post editorial,  published that morning, calling on him and fellow Republican Dan Maes to “follow Hickenlooper’s lead and agree to make their returns public.”

The Post argued that releasing income tax returns “shows that a leader who seeks the public trust is committed to transparency at all levels,” adding that “[t]ax returns show sources of income, chronicle any charitable giving, and reveal potential conflicts of interest, use of tax shelters and other valuable information.”

In a news story on the same day, The Post reported: “Since at least 1998, all but one Colorado major-party gubernatorial candidate …- Republican Marc Holtzman …- have released their tax forms to the media. And in the past 14 years, all major-party U.S. Senate candidates in Colorado have released their tax returns.”

Against this backdrop, after listening to McInnis April 15 on “Mornings with Keith and Gail,” many other questions spring to mind that the hosts should have asked, starting with: What, exactly, is in your tax returns that would result in the expected beating by The Post?

But instead, host Gail actually tells McInnis that it’s a “healthy perspective” to have “no interest in being complicit in your own self destruction.”

McInnis’ KCOL interview April 15 is a case study in how talk-radio hosts can let us down, apparently in the interest of soothing a public figure, even though talk-radio hosts occupy a pseudo-journalistic position that could allow them to advance the public interest on daily basis.

On the day McInnis’ was on the radio, McInnis’ spokesperson, Sean Duffy, was cited in The Post  indicating that McInnis might in fact release his tax returns on an unspecified date. But Duffy’s boss, McInnis, is on the radio saying he’s “not going to give what The Denver Post wants.” What gives? This wasn’t asked.

McInnis also told Keith and Gail, “So I have made more disclosures on my financial background than any other candidate in this race and probably more than any candidate for a long time simply because of length of service, number one.” The missing follow-up:  “Okay, those narrow disclosures were good, but now, what’s in your tax returns that would invite the unwanted beating by The Post? Why can’t we see the broad information in your returns?”

Elsewhere in the interview, McInnis says, “Keep in mind that it’s their [The Denver Post’s] job to make my job as uncomfortable as possible.” In the interest of defending journalists, Keith and Gail should have pointed out to McInnis that making his job uncomfortable is a side effect of the basic job of The Denver Post, not the goal of the enterprise: The Post wants to report the facts about a candidate. If candidates or public officials are what they say they are and do their jobs right, a newspaper won’t make them uncomfortable…-or certainly won’t give them a “beating” over typical income tax returns.

McInnis told Keith and Gail that he’d release his income, but, as The Post pointed out, income tax returns reveal much more than just income, but also stuff like board compensation for his recent spot on the board of equity firm KSL Capitol Partners. Keith and Gail clearly knew the difference between releasing only total income and releasing broader income-tax information, because they referred to The Post editorial explaining this at the beginning of their show. But neither Keith nor Gail pressed McInnis to explain why the release of his total income would be sufficient, when so much more information is contained in his income tax returns.

McInnis repeatedly said on the radio that releasing his returns would compromise the privacy of his family. But he wasn’t asked about, at a minimum, releasing the portions of his returns that apply to his personal income.

At various points in the interview, McInnis stated that it’s the press and Democrats who want to see his tax returns, not the people. At one point he said, “People don’t really care about what my brother and sister made or what that says on my income tax returns,” adding later: “It’s rarely brought up by the average citizen on the street. Gee, Scott, I want to know some of that information.”  Here again, Keith and Gail missed the opportunity to defend journalism a bit, even though they rely on it so much for the content of their show, failing to point out to McInnis that The Denver Post is representing the people when it asks for the disclosure of information. That’s what journalism is about, to represent the guy who doesn’t have time to hound politicians like McInnis for this type of stuff.

Keith and Gail said they hoped to have McInnis back on the show next month. They’ve got a lot of material to go back over.

Appointed incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Here are the titles used by The Denver Post in March and April (as well as recent examples from The Spot) to introduce U.S. Sen. Bennet in news stories or blog posts:

  • Michael Bennet
  • Sen. Michael Bennet
  • U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet
  • Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet
  • Incumbent Democrat Michael Bennet
  • Incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet
  • Appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet
  • Appointed incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet
  • Appointed incumbent Michael Bennet
  • Incumbent appointed Democrat Michael Bennet

There may be more combinations, but these are the kinds of titles you’ll find if you’ve got bean-counting time on your hands.

 The most common titles are simply “U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet,” “Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet,” or “Sen. Michael Bennet.” These were used to introduce Bennet in more than half the 50 articles I reviewed.

“U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet” and “Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett” are my own preferences, in part because multi-word titles like, “Incumbent appointed Democrat Michael Bennet” are clumsy to read, and I waste time pondering their meaning.

But mostly I prefer a title like “U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet”  because that’s what he is. He was appointed in accordance with our laws, and his title is “U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet” or “Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.”

Still, the fact that Bennet was appointed to be our U.S. Senator is relevant information for readers, because he’s in fact an unusual type of U.S. Senator, given that he was appointed. So if I were a Post reporter, I’d use the word “appointed” occasionally, in a parenthetical context, but not routinely, like it’s used in this Post article April 18:

Appointed Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet already has raised millions and will benefit more from PAC and party support. Bennet receives money in $5,000 and $10,000 increments, for example, from trade group PACs and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Calling him “incumbent Sen. Bennet” or “appointed incumbent Sen. Bennet” needlessly spotlights the fact that he’s an incumbent. If he’s “Sen. Bennet” he’s by definition an incumbent. I mean, it’s redundant. Senators are incumbents. Stringing together “incumbent” with “Senator” looks like Republican propaganda in a year when incumbents are not popular. And even if “incumbent” wasn’t in the GOP attack lexicon, there’s no need to use it, like this in The Spot April 14:

Romanoff also hit other points he has emphasized on the campaign trail so far, where he is trying to gain support against appointed incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet for the primary nomination in August.

In fact, once Bennet is identified as “Sen.” in an article, there’s no need to emphasize again that he’s an incumbent. I’m not saying reporters should never write the word as part of a longer story that benefits stylistically from referring to Bennet in different ways, but the use of the word “incumbent” should be fairly rare.

I sent my views on this topic to Denver Post staff writer Michael Booth, and he emailed me a thoughtful  response below:

The goal is to give as many readers as possible the most relevant information in a given story. We have considered all of these modifiers, talked about them in the newsroom, and reconsidered them after the usual relentless pushback from various campaign interests.

First, I’d say there is a fundamental difference between the way you are reading the paper or Spot blogs, and the myriad ways our hundreds of thousands of readers might see the same information. We’re constantly balancing the desire not to bore political junkies — god love ’em, our hits are big and growing — with repetition or redundancy, and the realization that so many other people are barely paying attention to the Senate race at this point in the season. Given how Americans perform on many current events test questions, how many Colorado readers do you think remember, or ever knew, how Michael Bennet became a Senator, when that happened, who made the decision, whom he replaced, what job he held before . . . or for that matter, whether “senator” means U.S. Senator or Colorado State Senator.

There is no laminated cheat sheet sitting above our computer keyboards that delineates how Bennet and Romanoff will be referred to in all cases. You may think it’s redundant to say “incumbent Sen.,” and technically it is; in the reality of quick-read news, it might be helpful to readers who get confused among former senators, state senators, U.S. Senators and Senate primary challengers; former U.S. Rep. McInnis and former Colo. Rep. Romanoff. We use it occasionally in case people seek or need the reminder that Bennet has the seat, Romanoff is the challenger for the party nomination. Your assessment — that it could be a Republican plant to remind Washington-haters that Bennet is the targeted incumbent– was a new one on me. I hadn’t considered it and don’t find it a compelling reason to stop. Just because people are setting traps all around us doesn’t mean we have to act like rabbits. There may be just as many voters who attribute great power and advantage to Colorado having an incumbent Senator that they feel deserves to retain power and grow in office; should we avoid the word so as not to inadvertently please that group?

To the question of “appointed.” Again, we use it when we think it’s relevant, and in this campaign, I believe it will likely be relevant fairly often. First and foremost because we are writing for a public too busy or disinterested to always remember why and how Bennet got to be a Senator. How and why Bennet got the appointment is still an issue with many Romanoff supporters. People are still fascinated by why Ritter picked Bennet. There is not an extensive track record of short-term appointees trying to hold office in an anti-establishment wave. I could go on. The Bennet campaign has already suggested we stop using it. Romanoff might love it if we used it every time. Traps waiting for rabbits.

I hope you will go through this exercise with other candidates, while remaining cognizant as you usually do that you are approaching the questions from a Democrat-defending point of view. What modifiers are Republican campaign stories getting loaded down with? Are they biased? Purely informational? Might they mean different things to campaign insiders and political news junkies vs. readers who haven’t always read the last 10 campaign stories?

I appreciate the questions and encourage you to keep exploring them.

Booth makes some good points here. It’s clearly a difficult job to write for mass audiences, and he’s right to try to provide basic, relevant information to people. I don’t want to see Booth acting like a rabbit. But if The Post wants to add redundant information, you could argue that something like, “Sen. Michael Bennet, who wants to represent Colorado in Congress,” would be better than “incumbent Senator”, to clarify things for uninformed readers.

Iraq is a surprise topic this week on commercial drive-time radio in Denver

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

I’m completely amazed at the air time and hype KOA’s Colorado Morning News is giving to dispatches from Iraq by anchor Steffan Tubbs.

Colorado’s Morning News has got to be the only major commercial drive-time radio show in the country that’s actually reporting from Iraq these days, if ever.

I mean, if you don’t know the show, it fixates on traffic, weather, entertainment sports, and the water-cooler headline news…-which is certainly not Iraq. You’ll hear political and entertainment heavyweights on the show, and the questioning they get from Tubbs and co-anchor April Zesbaugh ranges from fawning to lightly critical.

But ongoing reporting about something that’s off the news radar? Almost never. But this week, Iraq.

I’ve admired Tubbs for closing his show most days with, “remember our troops,” but now, there he is in the war zone, talking with commanders and troops and finding Colorado connections. And on KOA’s “Steffan in Iraq” page, you can read his blog.

Tubbs isn’t offering investigative reporting, and he’s being too much of a cheerleader, but still I have to say it’s great to hear our troops on commercial drive-time AM radio…-as well as Tubbs’ other stories.

Tubbs, who went to Iraq in 2006 as well, is part of a Colorado group, including Ryan Huff, a Boulder Daily Camera editor Ryan Huff and folks from Altitude Sports and Entertainment, that’s there to teach Iraqi reporters about journalism.

Here’s Tubbs’ blog on his presentation:

today was a busy one, with my presentation to Iraqi journalists off-base at a place they call Camp Midicah. It is only a couple of miles from where we sleep… and consists of some older Iraqi buildings and mostly U.S. trailers.

I addressed them on TV, radio and overall journalistic technique. The group is about 50 in size… and they were attentive, inquisitive, funny and intelligent. They are a respectful people for the most part, though if they are bored, they will let you know!

They liked my examples of both my TV work and portions of KOA and Colorado Morning News… but they were most interested in whether or not I could truly report on what I want to report. They had a bit of trouble comprehending that… I think so many of them are set in their ways from the old regime. But they are changing. I hope I made at least a dent.

Even those of you who can’t stand KOA have to admit that KOA-style expression and journalism look pretty good, if you’re standing in Iraq. Good luck to Steffan Tubbs.

AP responds to post on Dem health-care outreach

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

In a post Saturday, I criticized the Associated Press 1) for mischaracterizing Rep. Betsey Markey’s public outreach after her vote on the health-care bill as “small-bore” and 2) for not contacting Rep. Markey’s office to discuss the topic of the article. AP declined comment last week, prior to publication of my post.

But in response to a crosspost of my piece on ColoradoPols, the AP stated Monday:

Mr Salzman:

Allow me to clarify a point in your posting.

Our reporter, Kristen Wyatt, tried to contact Mr. Marter several times to discuss U.S. Rep. Markey’s plans for explaining the health care bill to constituents.

Specifically, she called Mr. Marter twice in late March. The calls were not returned. Then she e-mailed him on March 25. When she got an out of office response to that e-mail, she contacted Anne Caprara in the congresswoman’s Washington office.

Ms. Cabrara told Kristen that details of any health care town halls would not be released because of security concerns.

Kristen approached the congresswoman at an unrelated March 27 appearance to talk about her vote. Markey’s comments were reflected in the story.

Mr. Marter’s assertion that The Associated Press failed to reach out to him or the congresswoman for comment are wrong.

Jim Clarke
Chief of Bureau
The Associated Press
Denver, Colo.

Spot quotes Wadhams joking about Dem plagiarism without questioning him about Norton’s

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Denver Post’s Spot blog gave GOP state chair Dick Wadhams a bullhorn yesterday to bash Vice President, who’s visiting Denver April 30, for being accused of plagiarism in 1987. (I must note that when The Spot last week announced Sarah Palin’s May 22 visit to Denver, State Democratic Chair Pat Waak wasn’t asked to comment. In fact, no Democrat was asked, but that’s the way it goes.)

Anyway, the Spot reported yesterday:

Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams couldn’t resist a jab at Biden, who on the presidential campaign trail in 1987 and in law school was accused of plagiarism.

“I understand Vice President Biden has personally written a special speech for this auspicious occasion and that the opening line is: …Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth. . . . ,'” Wadhams said.

The Spot should have used this opportunity to ask Wadhams what he thought of Republican Jane Norton’s own plagiarism of Gerald Ford. She plagiarized Ford during the announcement of her camaign.

The Spot impressively uncovered Norton’s plagiarism but hasn’t asked Norton about it.