Archive for June, 2010

Foundation paid McInnis $300,000 to write and speak, not $150,000; 12 water articles released

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Over the weekend, The Hasan Family Foundation posted a series of articles on its website called “Musings on Water.”

Guess who’s listed as the author? Yup, Scott McInnis.

The 12 articles, plus five speeches and several TV interviews, appear to be some, but not all, of McInnis’ work produced during his two-year fellowship at the Hasan Family Foundation, for which he was paid $300,000, $150,000 per year, according to Hasan Family Foundation attorney Glenn Merrick.

(I previously reported that he only got $150,000 total for two years, but he got $150,000 per year. Sorry about that mistake.)

In a Dec. 2, 2005 memo accompanying the articles, McInnis writes that his work for 2005 “resulted in 12 researched articles (in a series format that requires continued research) supported by speaking engagements.”

But three of the 12 articles listed as his work product for 2005 are missing.  The missing titles are: “Who gets the water? Nothing much has really changed,” “West of the 100th Meriden (sic),” and “Dividing the Waters.”

McInnis expected to write over a dozen more articles in 2006, during the second year of his fellowship, according to his end-of-the-year memo in 2005.

“At this point I think we are well on track to have a very active 2006, including 15 to 20 more articles and several speeches,” McInnis wrote in 2005.

But only three articles stamped with 2006 dates were released by the Hasan Family Foundation. So either McInnis came way short of producing the expected 15 to 20 articles in 2006, or most of his 2006 work has yet to be released.

Each of the articles posted on the foundation website has “MUSINGS ON WATER” at the top, usually followed by a headline beneath it, like “A River Stretched too Far” or “A Start for the Upper Basin.”

Each article concludes with “Thank you until next time.”

The first article in the series begins: “WATER! It is an absolute human and economic necessity. WATER! You and I cannot live without it. Colorado’s economy and people absolutely depend on water.”

The articles are mostly descriptive, with some opinions and interpretations interspersed.

Oddly, the titles of the missing articles indicate that they might contain more of McInnis’ opinions on water issues, but who knows, given the content of the articles that were released. McInnis wrote in his cover memo to the foundation that, per the agreement between him and the foundation, his articles were “written at a level that non-water experts could easily understand.”

This seems to be true, but I’m familiar enough about Colorado water issues to know that as a “non-water expert,” I’m in no position to evaluate these articles.  

So I’ll find a few experts to look them over, and reporters, who should not have left it to me to dig into this topic, should also take a look.

As a sometime writer, I’m thinking that McInnis got one hell of a deal, getting $300,000 for these 12 articles and five key speeches and “several TV interviews.” At $150,000, he got a screaming writing gig, but $300,000 goes into the stratosphere, given what was produced.

So I asked the Hasan Family Foundation attorney, Glenn Merrick, if the Foundation had other McInnis’ water articles that were not posted and if McInnis was consulted.

“In response to your questions, Mr. McInnis served as a Hasan Family Foundation Fellow for two years and received $150,000 per year in that capacity,” he responded via email. “The decision to publish his work product for the Foundation was made exclusively by the Foundation. Neither Mr. McInnis nor any of his staff or advisors was consulted about the decision. All of Mr. McInnis’ work product in the possession of the Foundation is being published.”

Merrick leaves open the possibility that more articles exist, possibly in McInnis’ possession, but the Hasan Foundation does not have them. Previously, you recall, Merrick told me that McInnis would have to release the articles himself.

In addition to the articles, memo, and news release, the Foundation posted a revised description of McInnis’ fellowship, as well as an updated photo.

Questions remain for journalists to pursue: Judging from the articles produced so far, does McInnis have a grip on basic Colorado water issues? Where are the three missing articles from 2005? Where are the dozen or so missing articles from 2006? Why $300,000 for this work?

Reporters should query major GOP candidates on proposed education cuts

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Denver reporters should take a minute to read an op-ed by Lt. Gov. Barbara O’brien in Sunday’s Denver Post.

It discusses the broad ramifications of closing the federal Department of Education…-a position favored by GOP Senate candidate Jane Norton…-as well as GOP Senate candidates Rand Paul (in Kentucky) and Sharron Angle (in Nevada).

O’Brien did a good outlining the basic substance behind the soundbite, which is helpful because the issue has largely been ignored by news reporters across the state. Her opinion article defends the agency and describes the basic functions of Education Department, including innovative research, grant making , and job training.

You recall that in late December when Norton announced her position, The Denver Post, to its credit, tried to ask Norton about it.

Her spokesperson refused to comment, telling The Post, “It’s a holiday. Nobody cares.” 

Norton’s spokesman told The Post at the time that Norton would provide more details after the first of the year. But these details never materialized and, as far as I know, The Post hasn’t published any more information from Norton on the matter.

Also, as O’Brien’s op-ed pointed out, Ken Buck has a nebulous position to downsize the U.S. Dept. of Education, because it is “encroaching on local parents and educators.” His view…-and associated budget cuts–should be explored by reporters. Of course, Democratic candidates Michael Bennet and Andrew Romanoff should also be queried about this.

No matter what you think of the U.S. Department of Education, you’d agree that closing the $78 billion department would be a pretty radical change in U.S. education policy, one that should be thoroughly aired out during the election season given Norton’s and Buck’s views.

In the gubernatorial race, reporters should clarify Scott McInnis’ position on education cuts. Asked in February if there were any “Colorado agencies, boards, or commissions” that he would eliminate, McInnis replied, “You could look at the Department of Education.”  

McInnis isn’t joining an emerging national Tea Party backlash by gubernatorial candidates against state education departments, like his GOP compatriot Norton seems to be in attacking the federal Education Department.

Instead, McInnis is apprently staking out new ground in targeting a major state education agency for possible closure.

Reporters should find out the details of the state’s major GOP candidates’ thinking when it comes to the federal and state governments’ major education agencies.

McInnis flip on Springs water issue may explain silence on his Hasan water articles

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I’ve been on the hunt for any article about water, written by GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis.

And guess what appeared in print when I was on vacation last week? A water article by Scott McInnis, titled, “Why I changed my position on the Southern Delivery System.” 

It was published May 31 in the Colorado Springs Gazette, in response to a column by Barry Noreen that raised questions about a McInnis vote on a water issue just prior to his leaving Congress.

Unfortunately, McInnis’ Gazette water piece was written too recently to be one of the articles in the series that McInnis wrote for the Hasan Family Foundation, which paid the former Congressman $150,000 from 2005 – 2007 to write a “series of in-depth articles on water.” (McInnis won’t talk about them to me, and reporters aren’t asking him about them. So I’m forced to keep searching for them myself. Hence this post.)

I thought there might be a remote chance I could find a clue or two in McInnis’ Gazette water article that might lead me to McInnis’ expanded writings on water issues, or at least to a reason for their disappearance.

In the Gazette piece, McInnis says that as a Congressman, he voted against the Preferred Storage Option Plan (PSOP), which would have provided funding for a study of, among other things, enlarging Pueblo Dam, a project possibly connected to the construction of the Southern Delivery System (SDS), which would move water from Pueblo Dam to Colorado Springs and areas around there.

In his column, McInnis writes that in Congress he didn’t support PSOP or the SDS.

Noreen’s column cites a Republican who said McInnis was originally in favor studying PSOP and SDS, as long as it didn’t take western slope water. But he allegedly changed his mind at the last minute, allegedly under pressure from McInnis future employer, Hogan and Hartson, and voted against the PSOP.

If that’s true, Congressman McInnis was for SDS before he voted against it. And now candidate McInnis has come out in favor of it again in his Gazette article. Why?

“Simply put, I believed then that the project needed significant improvements …- improvements that a ‘no’ vote could encourage,” McInnis writes in the Gazette.

Colorado Springs City Councilmember Sean Page, who tracked the issue when McInnis was in Congress and continues to follow it , told me he didn’t think the project has changed much between then and now.

“The plan is basically the same today as it was back then, which is to run a pipe from Pueblo reservoir into Colorado Springs and put it into a reservoir and so on and so forth,” Page told me. “The argument that somehow Scott McInnis improved the SDS by blocking the PSOP legislation is specious in my view and not supported by the facts.”

McInnis wrote in the Gazette that he changed his view on the project because there’s more collaboration around the project now.

“This collaboration, which was frankly lacking in 2004 and is alive today, is why the project has earned my support,” McInnis wrote in his column. “I’m also very pleased with the required safety and environmental projects on Fountain Creek. As with many folks in the region, while my support didn’t come easily, it’s enthusiastic for this reformed and vastly improved project.”

City Councilmember Page, who’s a Republican not backing McInnis or his primary opponent Dan Maes, thinks the collaboration (He calls it “extortion.”) would have happened as part of the normal regulatory process even if McInnis had not “torpedoed the PSOP.” 

Page believes McInnis changed his view on the water project because he’s looking for votes from El Paso County.

“Back then, he was representing his congressional district, and Bob Rawlings of the Pueblo Chieftain, had a lot of pull in his district,” said Page. “When you run for statewide office you have to take the bigger perspective, because all of a sudden the people in El Paso County and Colorado Springs matter to your election. I’m sure he has changed his view based on the fact that he’s running for statewide office. You know, parochialism and being parochial is common for politicians, to look for what suits them in the short run for their district. Maybe this is just a lesson that sometimes you have to project down the road a little bit. I wish that five, six years ago he [McInnis] had taken a more statesmanlike position and looked out for not just his district but for the good of the rest of the state, or I should say the Arkansas Valley.”

Whatever you think of McInnis’ different positions on SDS, it’s clear that his recent Gazette piece reflects a detailed understanding of at least one Colorado water issue. So, I’m thinking maybe McInnis excerpted a portion of a previously written Hasan water article for his Gazette piece. That’s mostly a joke, but I think McInnis knows a lot about Colorado water issues, and I have no reason to doubt that McInnis wrote water articles as a Hasan “senior fellow.” McInnis said so. Why in the world would he misconstrue this?

The simple reason for McInnis’ apparent refusal to produce his water opus might be the fact that these issues are so mind-bogglingly sensitive that he feels he has nothing to gain politically by exposing more of his thinking on the topic.

McInnis alleged temper tantrum (described in City Councilmember Page’s blog) in a private meeting in CO Springs, when a water issue was raised, is proof of the sensitivity of the issue. As is the Noreen’s recent column on the topic.

This is speculation, I know, but until McInnis explains what’s going on, or reporters dig into it, what more can we do?

What happened to Bill Menezes?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

In my “What happened to them?” series, I’ve been asking Denver journalists 1) what they’ve been up to since leaving the Rocky, the Post, or some other news outlet in Colorado…-and 2) what they think of the state of Colorado journalism these days. Lots of journalists in recent years have been on our doorsteps one day and then gone the next. I thought it would be interesting to find out what happened to them.

Bill Menezes doesn’t exactly fall in this category, because he worked at both the Rocky and The Post quite a while ago. (He was a business reporter at the Rocky in 1995, a deputy business news editor at The Post in 2003, and he spent nine years at the beginning of his career at The Associated Press.) But as Editorial Director Colorado Media Matters, he falls in the category of people in the journalism world who abruptly disappeared or made big changes recently. For Bill, this happened in March of 2009 when Colorado Media Matters was closed after a three-year run critiquing Colorado media.

 Here are his answers to my email questions:

 1. What I am doing now: After Media Matters for America closed the Colorado office, I spent most of the summer looking for permanent employment while doing freelance projects in public relations and in media. One such project with Center for Independent Media was a detailed “mapping” of the Colorado news media landscape, to get a quick sense of the coverage gaps that had emerged or were widening in the wake of such events as the shutdown of the Rocky Mountain News and major cutbacks among other mainstream media outlets. Since last September I’ve been working as a director with VisiTech PR, a boutique, tech public relations agency based here in Denver, covering companies involved in wireless, cable and broadband technology — almost a flashback to the sectors I covered for years as a tech journalist back in the day.

2. State of Colorado journalism: The Center for Independent Media research project I mentioned earlier gave me a great opportunity to get a sense of the journalism landscape in Colorado at a time of wrenching change. There is a lot to be optimistic about, primarily the continued wealth of talented or up and coming journalists we have in this state and their willingness to adapt to — or even create — the new world in which they will be practicing their craft. One example is the new Colorado Public News operation that my longtime friend and former Rocky colleague Ann Imse is developing at KBDI, creating an entirely new outlet for reporting on areas of importance to Coloradans — healthcare, environmental issues, science, to name just a few — that the mainstream commercial media by and large no longer cover in-depth and on a regular basis. KBDI’s willingness to provide a platform for Colorado  Public News reinforces my impression that journalism isn’t dying, even if the old-fashioned news media businesses are; it’s evolving. I’m also encouraged by the work of some mainstream news journalists such as Bob Moore of the Fort Collins Coloradan, who despite having had to make withering cuts in his newsroom is producing perhaps the best political reporting — on newsprint, on Twitter and in his blog — in the state. Finally, you see people in the newsroom at one of the most battered daily newspapers in the state — the Colorado Springs Gazette — getting to the Pulitzer Prize finals and you know somebody’s still doing something right.

The other side of the coin is the rather disappointing way in which some of the major old and new media have failed to seize the day at a time of great opportunity. For example, the Denver Post has remade its political “blog” presence into The Spot and lists about 10 full-time political/government reporting staff, but neither the bloggers nor the newspaper break much significant political or public policy news and rarely engage with the blog’s audience. Instead we get Lynn Bartels “blogging” about Dick Wadhams’ wedding, thus giving the Post the distinction of having no full-time science writer but three full-time gossip columnists.

It’s also amazing that local broadcasters such as KUSA/9news are touting the huge expansion of their news airtime, but typically are filling most of those extra hours with content that even generously can’t be described as news. KUSA has one of the top political/public policy journalists in this market in Adam Schrager but I’ve yet to see the station fully leverage this asset with all that added “news” airtime.

I believe the weaknesses in Colorado journalism have created a competitive void, one that ominously is filling up with what can only be described as “astroturf” new media outlets. The right-wing think tank Independence Institute alone accounts in one way or another for three of them — Colorado News Agency, Complete Colorado and Face the State. None of these three profess to adhere to a standard journalism code of ethics and their “work” sometimes gets aggregated by other “news” organizations such as State Bill Colorado that do not routinely identify the political and financial ties the three have with conservative donors. A State Bill reader who sees a Colorado News Agency article has no idea it’s being produced by a right-wing organization which actively is promoting and campaigning for its own political agenda.

With luck the tide will again turn and legitimate journalism organizations eventually will crowd out the pretenders much as healthy grass eventually will crowd out dandelions.

It’s the health-care law, not “Obamacare”

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

You expect the news in The Denver Post to be fair and accurate, as opposed to the writinng in most blogs, which is usually gossipy, free-wheeling, and, with luck, accurate. As to fairness on most blogs, forget it.

If you’re a journalistic outfit like The Denver Post, and you’re operating a blog like The Spot, you face conflicting priorities. You want to post stuff that’s easy to read and talk about but you definitely don’t want to undermine the journalistic credibility that separates you from the blogging masses…-especially if your fair-and-accurate news reporters are the ones doing the blogging, as is mostly the case on The Spot.

 One really good way to undermine your journalistic credibility is to use political propaganda as descriptive terms for bills or laws.

 I did some bean counting and documented a small, but meaningful, way that this is happening on The Spot.

 The Post’s blog is sporadically using the term “Obamacare” as a synonym for the federal health-care law.

It’s one thing to report the term “Obamacare” as part of a quotation or within quotation marks but to use it as a descriptive term, no. You don’t want to do that.

If you’re thinking this is no big deal, I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong. “Obamacare” is an inaccurate and partisan salvo, and coming from a reporter, working for a publication that cares about accuracy and fairness, it looks sloppy…-not to mention the fact that this kind of term in news reporting, even on a blog, makes The Denver Post look like it has a hidden agenda in support of the right wing.

 On the Spot, during this calendar year, I found 15 articles using “Obamacare.” Of these, it was used nine times, inappropriately, as a synonym for the health-care bill or law. In the remaining six articles, the term was used, appropriately, in quotation marks or in a quotation from a partisan. Once it was used in a Spot headline, “Don’t Worry, we’ve got Obamacare,” on March 23.

In a May 22 post on the differences between Attorney General John Suthers and his opponent Stan Garnett, the Spot reported: “They differ on Obamacare and medical marijuana for starters.”

On May 1, the Spot reported, “The AG’s race normally is pretty ho hum but with Suthers and Garnett disagreeing on Obamacare and medical marijuana it’s shaping up to be a battle.”

 Asked about this via email, Denver Post Politics Editor Curtis Hubbard wrote, “Whether it’s ‘Obamacare’ or ‘the Party of No,’ it’s incumbent upon reporters and editors (I can’t speak for columnists and the editorial dept.) to attribute political marketing terms to a source or somehow put them in proper context for readers. 

“Without going back and re-reading each post, your analysis suggests that there have been instances on the blog where that hasn’t happened in regards to the term ‘Obamacare.’ While it’s possible that the entire tenor of a post made it unnecessary or that the author assumed the audience of a politics blog was astute enough to figure it out for themselves, our goal should always be to provide clarity.”

 I often see things in my favor, but I’ll take this to mean he at least partially if not mostly agrees with me.

 For fun, and because bean counting is so interesting if you’re counting the right beans, I checked out how “Obamacare” is being used in the print edition of The Post.

 In staff-written news articles, I found “Obamacare” in eight articles (from May 23 of this year through July of 2009). In each case, it was used appropriately–either with quotes around it, or in a quotation by a partisan. It was never used as a synonym for the health-care law.

 For example, in describing a speech by Sarah Palin March 23, The Post reported that she “called the freshly passed health care reform law an attempt to drive the country toward socialism. The article quoted Palin as saying, “Mr. President, do you understand now that Americans don’t want Obamacare? And do you understand that it won’t improve our health care system?”

In the Post’s opinion articles, where fairness is not expected, “Obamacare” is used as political marketing term, without quotation marks. In an opinion column, you’d expect this and it’s appropriate. In the print newspaper, in opinion columns and editorials, I found “Obamacare” in 10 articles from May 23 of this year through July of 2009. In nine of those cases, it was used as a synonym for the health-care bill or the health-care law passed by Congress. (Columnist David Harsanyi used it in six columns, columnist Mike Littwin in two, and columnist Susan Greene in one). I found it in one Post editorial, used within quotation marks. Once it was used in a headline (“Repeal Obamacare? Unlikely”) on a Harsanyi  column. (If I were an editor, even on the opinion page, I wouldn’t put “Obamacare” in a headline, because it’s not factually accurate and therefore not right for any headline.)

 In any case, with the exceptions I cited in the Spot blog, the Post is treating the term “Obamacare” as you’d expect, allowing its use in opinion articles but not using it as a descriptive term elsewhere.

If you read the Spot, especially more recently, you see writing that’s fairly similar, if more chatty and quirky, to what’s in the print newspaper. I think the Spot blog should follow the standard described in Sunday’s New York Times by Times Managing Editor Jill Abramson:

“Blogs are an important part of our news report. On big, running news stories, like the oil spill, the earthquakes in Haiti, the elections, and so forth, they offer readers the most important, up-to-the-minute developments-.While the opinion side of The Times also has blogs, the news blogs exist to report and analyze, not to offer slanted “takes.” Times blogs are never personal diaries. All of our blgos are carefully edited, and we apply the same standards for accuracy and fairness to them.”

Does McInnis’ water-article deal qualify him to be literary agent?

Friday, June 4th, 2010

I’ve been hoping that journalists, being writers and all, would take more interest in the fact that gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis managed to cut a deal with the Hasan Family Foundation, paying him $150,000 to write a “series of in-depth articles on water” that could be used in a “series for education on water in Colorado.”

Denver Post columnist Ed Quillen, having toiled as an editor and writer in Colorado for more years than most living journalists in the state, knows the going rate for freelance writing better than your average congressman.

So I wasn’t surprised that the $150,000 received by McInnis for writing the water articles got Quillen’s attention. He wrote in a column yesterday:

“So $150,000 divided by zero disseminated words works out to something like infinity. Thus, Scooter must be the best-paid writer in our state. And if he doesn’t get elected governor, I want to engage him as my literary agent, since he knows how to cut some sweet deals.”

Since so many reporters hope to break out of the daily grind by publishing novels or something, I’d suggest they contact McInnis, too.

Meanwhile, one of them should ask McInnis to make his water articles available or, at least, to tell us why no one who knows anything about water in Colorado seems to have seen them. McInnis’ campaign won’t tell me.