Archive for June, 2011

Perlmutter, Tipton acting ethically, according to House ethics rules

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

A Denver Post article June 17 reported that both Rep. Ed Perlmutter and Rep. Scott Tipton have stock investments in industries that could be affected by the lawmakers’ votes in congressional committees.

The Post quoted experts who stated that both Congressmen’s stock investments were ostensibly legal.

But while one expert quoted in the The Post said that the Congressmen’s behavior was unethical, the article didn’t offer a clear countervailing view, namely that neither Representative is necessarily acting unethically.

Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for public disclosure by public officials, told me today that neither Perlmutter nor Tipton was necessarily engaging in unethical behavior:

“What Congress has done is to say that disclosure is the best way to handle these questions. Congress is not going to force people to divest themselves of all of their stock, and basically separate themselves from the economy and have no interest in the economy. So disclosure is the way to go, but it’s got to be a lot better.”

He added:

“As long as it’s disclosed, they are not in violation of any kind of ethics laws.”

Allison was quoted in The Post article saying:

“Do you want them not to have investments, like regular Americans do? When you think about the case-by-case basis, the farmer who comes to Congress, are you saying he shouldn’t be involved in the Agriculture Committee?”

In my interview today, Allison answered his own question by saying it depends on the situation, but he hadn’t seen evidence of unethical behavior.

Asked about this, Luis Toro, Director of Colorado Ethics Watch, said via email:

 “While there is evidence that the portfolios of Members of Congress have performed better than those of the general public, there is no evidence that either Rep. Tipton or Rep. Perlmutter have taken advantage of their position to gain an advantage. Neither one of them has changed their portfolios once they got into Congress. For us the ethical concern is when members are buying or selling stock on inside information about the industry they regulate, and there is no evidence that this happened here. In fact, Rep. Perlmutter’s office pointed out that his family has owned that banking stock for a long time.”

The  House Ethics Manual states plainly that neither Perlmutter nor Tipton were acting unethically according House ethics rules :

No statute or rule requires the divestiture of private assets or holdings by Members or employees of the House upon entering their official position….The speaker would not rule that a Member owning stocks in breweries or distilleries should be disqualified in voting on the proposed amendment to the Constitution concerning prohibition of the manufacture and sale of liquor.”

Blog’s source for Hancock Story was a “chain of people”

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Here’s something for your Sunday amusement: Complete Colorado’s Todd Shepherd telling Jon Caldara about his sources for the allegation that “Michael Handcock’s” name and cell-phone number were listed on the client list of Denver Players, a prostitution ring.

You don’t need to be an journalism professor to know that Shepherd had nothing close to credible sources. No surprise there. But, it’s worse, as you can see below. You’d like to think an intelligent guy like Shepherd would have checked his conscience before dropping this kind of junk on his blog.

Shepherd is talking to Caldara on KBDI, Channel 12, June 17, on “Devil’s Advocate,” a show is hosted by Caldara and underwritten mostly by  the Caldara’s Independence Institute.

Caldara: Where did you get this story?….

Shepherd: You know, the way the story came to me is really, it’s something I can’t disclose because it’s part of what corroborated what, again, I had a source that showed me documents of this prostitution ring, essentially the customer log and appointment sheets. But, the way, the chain of people as it worked its way to me, is part of, I can’t disclose those names, because in essence they were able to disclose other key points of information that essentially corroborated everything that my source was ultimately going to tell me.

Channel 4 takes high road by not airing any stories about unproven Hancock-prostitute links

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Marching to the tune of journalistic integrity, Channel 4 has yet to air a story about Michael Hancock’s alleged ties to prostitutes.

“I said from the very beginning that this is a story we are going to pursue aggressively behind the scenes and conservatively on air,” News Director Tim Wieland at Channel 4, Denver’s CBS affiliate, told me. “The bar for reporting for this story is evidence. What I didn’t want to do was report on the process of our investigating. Once we had something concrete to report, some evidence to report, that we would do so. Because of the nature of the claim, and how sensational it is, the bar should be high.”

“We did all the same investigating that everybody else did,” he added. “In all that investigating, and we continue to investigate, we haven’t come up with evidence to support the claim. And so we haven’t done a news story about it.”

Wieland said his station published one story online explaining why Channel 4 did not accept Hancock’s conditions for reviewing cell phone records, but this story was deemed appropriate only for the station’s website.

“I’ll tell you, it was an extremely difficult decision. When you see everybody else out there doing it, and you’re the only one not. Believe me I did a lot of soul searching.  But at the end of the day, when you’re in this seat, you have to do what you feel is right. I had laid down the standard for our team, and it wouldn’t have been right for me to go back on it.”

But, says Wieland, CBS4’s investigation into the matter continues.

Without context, Post’s Nottingham references in Hancock stories unfair

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

In three of the stories that The Denver Post ran about Michael Hancock’s alleged ties to prostitutes, including the big splashy ones on the front page, Post reporters, as if to bolster a weak story, tossed in vague and misleading references to U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham.

9News revealed in 2008 that Nottingham was allegedly a client of the same prostitution outfit that Hancock allegedly used, and “fallout” from that investigation, the Post informed us June 11, “led to the resignation of then-Chief U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham.”

In case you missed it, the next day, June 12, The Post repeated itself, stating that stories by 9News “led to the resignation of then-Chief U.S. District Judge Edward Nottingham.”

If you know the exploits of Nottingham, which themselves were over-publicized by the Rocky in the day, you know that it’s really unfair and self-serving to imply, as the Post does here by mentioning Nottingham without proper context, that Hancock’s situation is comparable to Nottingham’s.

Nottingham had a bunch of serious problems that had been building up for years, before 9News revealed that his name was on the Denver Player’s client list.

Remember Nottingham’s divorce records were dragged through the media cycle in 2007, when it was revealed he had allegedly spent $3,000 in one night at a strip club and didn’t  recall much of the evening because he was drunk.

Then he allegedly threatened to call federal agents when a women, in a classic act of civil disobedience, parked her wheelchair behind Nottingham’s car, which was illegally in a handicapped slot.

It was also alleged, through Nottingham’s divorce dispute, that he was watching porn on a work computer from the bench. Back in 2007, the year before the Denver Players story came out, The Post revealed that the FBI was allegedly investigating Nottingham regarding the use of his computer and possibly other matters.

So his nickname of Naughty Nottingham stuck.

And recall that the Judicial Code of Conduct states that a judge must avoid the appearance of impropriety. There’s no such Politician Code of Conduct, just so you know.

Then, after all this, 9News aired its story in 2008 that not only was Nottingham’s name allegedly on the client list for the prostitution outfit, but Nottingham had allegedly told a prostitute to lie to investigators about their weekly trysts.

The bottom line is, Nottingham’s problems and allegations were way more serious than what Hancock is accused of, and for which no credible evidence was present when the Denver Post started hyping this story. And there’s still no credible evidence.

Yet, The Post spiced up its story with Nottingham’s naughty name, and, wouldn’t you know it, Nottingham was being tossed around by other news outlets, and the talk-radio gang, and blogs.

Asked via why he included the Nottingham reference, with so little context, Post reporter Chuck Plunkett, who was the author of two of the three Post pieces mentioning Nottingham, wrote:

I do think it’s important to note the Nottingham connection. It gives readers a bit of reference to the source of the recent allegations. But I don’t know that it’s necessary to go into every detail of Nottingham’s case.

Talk show hosts should ask about poor kids whose parents won’t (or can’t) pay more for state health insurance

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

The conservative talk-radio world erupted in anger a few weeks ago, when Gov. John Hickenlooper vetoed a bill that would have required families near the poverty level to pay more for state-subsidized health insurance for their kids.

On KLZ’s “Grassroots Radio Colorado” June 1, Rep. Brian DelGrosso told hosts Ken Clark and Jason Worley that families need to “have some kind of skin in the game.”

On Regis University Radio’s (KRCX) “Seng Center” June 2, state Rep. Kathleen Conti told host Jimmy Sengenberger: “It’s my experience, especially as a parent, that if people don’t have any investment, they don’t appreciate what they have.”

On the same show, Conti’s colleague Rep. Robert Ramirez added that it’s “not a big deal” to ask families earning between 205 and 250 percent of the poverty level, making $45,000 to $55,000 per year, to pay between $240 and $600 per year for health insurance, as stipulated by the bill vetoed by Hick.

But the talk-show hosts didn’t ask a question that might keep you up at night if you had to vote on the bill:

What if families are required to pay more for their children’s health insurance, and they don’t pay?

And what if, as a result of not ponying up, they don’t take their kids to the doctor for checkups and something goes wrong? And their kids, not their parents, ultimately pay the price?

On the radio, DelGrosso said he thinks families making about $55,000 per year have enough money to pay more for their kids’ health insurance. “…They are not taking trips to Mexico on that, probably,” he said. “But quite frankly, they are not living in a cardboard box on the side of the road either.”

DelGrosso is partially right here.

The Colorado State Legislature’s bipartisan staff, in its fiscal analysis of the bill vetoed by Hickenlooper, estimated that 80 percent would pay the higher premiums. And a report by the Colorado Center on Law and Poverty shows that half or more of the families in question have some disposable income.

But what about the half who don’t? And what about that pesky 20 percent?  The state’s fiscal analysis assumed that 20 percent of kids in families from this income group  would drop off the health insurance rolls.

On KLZ radio, DelGrosso questioned the 20 percent drop-off figure, saying it wasn’t based on a study of what happens to kids from families making 206 to 250 percent of the poverty level.

“So they were seeing a 20 percent drop off with the very low income,” DelGrosso told Worley. “But it wasn’t a true apples to apples. It wasn’t people making $50,000 a year, are we going to really see a 20 percent drop off. So even some of their statistics are wrong.”

I called Joint Budget Committed Fiscal Analyst Melodie Beck, who arrived at the 20 percent figure, to find out if DelGrosso was right.

Turns out, he was.

“Different states and different studies have shown different rates of drop off,” Beck told me. “There wasn’t an apples-to-apples study. We honestly don’t know for sure. In my professional judgment, we picked a fair and defensible assumption of 20 percent based on the available studies. But there is uncertainly. You could have differing opinions.”

She told me she believes one thing is certain. Some parents will drop their kids’ health insurance. 

“There’s going to be a drop off, whether 20% is correct drop off, maybe not. Maybe it’s 10 percent. Maybe it’s 25 percent. Maybe it’s 30 percent.”

So this gets back to the unasked question. How do legislators like DelGrosso, Conti, and Ramirez feel about the children who are going to lose their health insurance if Colorado makes families pay more?

I decided I’d do Jimmy Sengenberger’s job for him and call Ramirez myself to find out what he thinks.

““The bad parent, it’s still their responsibility to take care of their kids,” he told me, adding: “If there are parents who aren’t going to take care of their kids, Jason, that’s where child services comes into play.” (Back in March, Sen. Greg Brophy suggested foster care for kids in this situation.)

Is he concerned that this approach puts kids at risk?

“When you’re talking about risk, I keep hearing, we need to take care of our children,” Ramirez replied. “Not true. We need to make sure that people having children are being responsible. And that’s where social services comes in.”

Ramirez, who points out that uninsured children still have treatment options in America, told me he wants to lessen risk to kids in the long run by addressing the financial problems now.

“I think it [the bill Hickenlooper vetoed] was the right thing to do to save the program. Let’s save the program and pass on some of the costs, because we don’t have the money to run it.  And with the increase in Medicaid, it just killed us all the way around.”

Overall, he said: “I accept the responsibility that as a community we should watch out for people and help people when we can as a community. That’s what churches and charities are for. That’s where I give my time and money. I’m involved in several organizations. That is not a function of government. It is not constitutional.”

Sengenberger, along with Clark, Rosen, and other conservative talkers, should really start asking their guests about the risks of dismantling government programs. This might add more spice to the shows.

KLZ’s Worley, for example, told me via email:

BTW, the endgame on this is that if parents don’t take care of their kids they go to jail.  We have laws against child abuse.  But unless you want to put a govt monitor in every house there is no easy answer.

It seems Worley’s guests are thinking along the same lines, but Worley and his counterparts should do us and their ratings a favor and talk about it.

Denver media miss Romney’s shift in Afghan message

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Two days before a major address by President Obama on Afghanistan, in which he’s expected to announce the drawdown of troops, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has again changed his message on Afghanistan.

In Denver yesterday, Romney said the Afghan surge should be seen as one of Obama’s successes, as reported by The Denver Post:

Asked whether he credited Obama for any successful policies, Romney said: “He got Osama bin Laden. I appreciate the fact that he did that and made the decision to go after the guy. That was a good decision. I also agree with his decision to pursue a surge in Afghanistan.”

But in covering the Romney press conference (starting at the six minute mark in this video), Denver reporters didn’t ask Romney how this squares with his statement during June 13 GOP presidential debate that U.S. troops should be brought home as soon as possible:

“It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can — as soon as our generals think it’s okay,” Romney said. “One lesson we‘ve learned in Afghanistan is that Americans cannot fight another nation’s war of independence.”

Does Romney think that the surge was a success, and the U.S. is now ready to go home?

And how do both of Romney’s recent statements comport with his Dec. 2009 comments on CNN that he may have added even more U.S. troops to the Afghan surge, if he had been President?

These questions, flowing from Romney’s statements about Obama’s successful surge in Afghanistan, went unasked during Romney’s visit to Denver yesterday.

As recently as January of this year, Romney said U.S. troops should not leave Afghanistan, according to a Boston Globe report.

Post should stop rewarding the bad blog behavior of Complete Colorado

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Bloggers like me see it as big win if a serious journalistic entity like The Denver Post credits them for breaking a news story.

People read about your blog in the newspaper, and your audience might increase from three to five.

But the best part is the credibility. Most bloggers still flail on the margins of the media world, hoping more people will take them seriously.

Even bloggers who don’t like The Post have to admit it represents the finest Colorado has to offer, journalism-wise.

So when The Post acknowledges a scoop by your blog, you just gained some standing in the journalism world, making your blog a little harder to ignore, even by reporters who hate bloggers.

So the blog Complete Colorado, a project of the right-leaning Independence Institute, is probably feeling pretty good right about now.

It’s been mentioned by The Post as the “first” to make public the evidence allegedly showing that Denver mayor-elect Michael Hancock was a client of a local prostitution ring.

Post reporters didn’t say Complete Colorado broke a news story.

But Post reporters have repeatedly referred to Complete Colorado as putting the story in motion, even if words like “broke the news” were not used.

To my way of thinking, this amounts to crediting Complete Colorado for breaking the Hancock news story even though The Post doesn’t consider the allegations published by Complete Colorado as a legitimate news story.

In fact, after Complete Colorado published the allegations, Post Publisher Dean Singleton said that no “reputable” news organization would touch the story. It didn’t pass muster as news story because the facts were not verified and the sources not adequate, Singleton said on the Caplis and Silverman show, where Post reporter Chuck Plunkett made similar comments.

It didn’t rise to the level of a legitimate news story, in The Post’s eyes, until later, when Hancock allegedly reneged on a promise to turn over cell phone records to The Post, according to an op-ed by Post Editor Greg Moore, who wrote that the campaign was “stonewalling.”

That’s when the Hancock story was deemed news, as Moore explained in his op-ed on Sunday.

So Complete Colorado deserves credit for nothing in this case, except irresponsibly spreading unsubstantiated anonymous rumors. Nothing resembling journalistic triumph for Complete Colorado.

In an email to me, Post Editor More wrote that his reporters didn’t credit Complete Colorado, but instead cited its action as “a fact in the narrative timeline.”

More wrote me:

As you noted in your email, The Denver Post has not described what Complete Colorado did as “breaking” a story. We simply described the fact that it posted the documents purporting to contain Hancock’s name and that represents nothing more for us than a fact in the narrative timeline.

He’s right.

But here’s an example showing how Complete Colorado was included in a front-page Post news story.

Nine days ago, as those records from Denver Players were first made public by the blog Complete Colorado, Hancock vigorously denied any association with the service. His campaign pledged to The Denver Post and 9News that it would produce cellphone records showing no calls to or from the service, and bank records that would show whether he made cash withdrawals on or near the dates in question.

You can see why I think most readers would mistakenly believe that The Post, above, is giving Complete Colorado credit for breaking a news story, even though if you read carefully, you see The Post isn’t doing so.

So here’s a proposed solution:

Going forward on this story, if an irresponsible outfit like Complete Colorado must be mentioned for background, The Post and other Denver outlets should state clearly that Complete Colorado published unsubstantiated information, which reputable news outlets would have left in the garbage can, at least until more credible information was found.

Continuing to give de facto credit to Complete Colorado encourages it, and other bloggers, to act irresponsibly in the future.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m really glad The Post is trying to give credit where credit is due to lowly bloggers for breaking news stories.

The Post’s proper acknowledgement of the fine work of bloggers will help journalism and good bloggers survive. But rewarding bad blog behavior, like rumor-mongering, hurts journalism, bloggers, and everyone else.

Hancock’s phone in use during alleged prostitution appointments

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

The Denver Post buried a key paragraph in its front-page story today showing that Michael Hancock apparently did not use his cell phone to call a prostitution ring. The Post reported toward the end of the story:

Additionally, Hancock’s cellphone was frequently in use at times when the appointment logs alleged he was engaged with a prostitute. Of the nine possible times over the three years most likely covered by log books, Hancock’s cellphone was in use during five.

If you’re Peter Boyles, you’d probably say the cell phone was part of the sex.

Then Boyles could talk about phone sex in the pre-Twitter days, and experts like Scottie Ewing could be summoned for their opinions on what Hancock and the prostitute could have been doing with the cell phone.

And Rep. Anthony Weiner’s view could be solicited.

Or better yet, the carnival barkers could fill an hour speculating on what Weiner or a prostitute might say about this.

Maybe that’s joke, and maybe it’s not, but it gets at the problem with this story. You can’t kill it, unless you’re a responsible journalist and you say, enough is enough.

Boyles won’t say this. That’s why he’s still looking for Obama’s Social Security number, education records, etc., etc., etc. And he’ll keep looking and talking as long as people listen.

But the mainstream media, like The Denver Post, which hyped this rotten story unfairly, should back off of this drama now and stop the strange front-page play that it’s been giving it.

You can imagine more developments coming, like interviews with prostitutes who of course should be asked what Hancock was doing with his cell phone during sex.

And you can imagine others coming forward with who knows what.

But with the alleged crime itself being such a petty matter, and the issue of lying about it now as resolved as it will ever be, it’s time to refrain from giving future developments more legitimacy than they deserve, as the Denver media has been doing so far.

Post hyping Hancock story

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

Some carnival barkers and radio chatterers are saying there was some sort of agreement between the Michael Hancock campaign and The Denver Post that went something like this: The Post wouldn’t print the story about his alleged liaisons with prostitutes, if Hancock agreed to turn over his cell phone and bank records to reporters.

I was glad to hear Denver Post reporter Chuck Plunkett, on the Caplis and Silverman Show yesterday, deny that any such agreement existed, because this obviously would have constituted journalism at its worst.

“We made no such commitment,” Plunkett told Caplis and Silverman. “If we could have gotten, for example, through our other research and other journalistic efforts, some kind of third party corroboration, one way or the other, that was unimpeachable, you bet we would have gone to press with it.”

So Plunkett confirmed on the radio that if The Post had a credible story about Hancock prior to the election, they would have rushed to publish it. But, as Plunkett’s big boss Dean Singleton told Caplis and Silverman June 7, no “reputable” news organization would have published a story based on the information they had on hand at the time.

And here’s the strange part. After a series of front page stories in The Post, warmed with hot air out from some local TV stations, the facts of this story haven’t changed much. A piece of paper with Hancock’s misspelled name povided by a pimp, plus his cell phone number and some dates.

That was’t much then or now.

Yet, the story went from unreportable to the front page because, according to Plunkett, Hancock decided not to honor, as Plunkett put it yesterday, a “gentleman’s agreement,” to hand over his unvetted bank and cell-phone records?

On the radio, Plunkett sounded offended that Hancock didn’t turn over all his records, per the gentleman’s agreement, which Hancock’s campaign manager denies making.

But even if the gentleman’s agreement was broken, that doesn’t make this petty story all that big a deal, if you look at the facts on the table. Giving it so much hype, and assigning The Post’s top writers to it, and continuing to do so, is a journalistic embarrassment.

I’m not saying Hancock’s alleged shift in stance regarding the documents wasn’t news. The Post made the right call to air the story, along with the news that Hancock’s laywers asked for police evidence. There’s a little news there. But this might have merited a few paragraphs because the core of the story remains empty.

Going forward, The Post should take a breath and distinguish between significant advances in this story from next-to-meaningless, but titillating, developments.

There could be potential big news here, like real evidence proving Hancock is lying about paying prostitutes, but spare us the hype.

Radio hosts and right-wing extremists unfairly define Sharia

Friday, June 10th, 2011

Last month, Sarah Palin made a joint appearance in Denver with retired Gen. William Boykin, who believes Islam shouldn’t be given the same first-amendment protections as other religions.

Palin came and went, and most major local media didn’t mention Boykin’s anti-Islamic views, which would surely have been reported if Boykin had made similar attacks on Christianity or Judaism.

It’s the kind of omission you might try to forget about and move on, even though it’s classic religious bigotry.

But I listen to a lot of talk radio, and ideas like Boykin’s ooze out all the time.

I know if I were a Muslim, I’d be scared. As a matter of fact, I’m not a Muslim, and I’m scared.

On the radio, the argument reflects what Boykin writes in a Colordo Christian University essay, that the “Koran is unequivocal in its directive to Muslims to establish a global Islamic state…with Sharia as the only law of the land.”

Sharia, Boykin argues, echoing what you hear on talk radio, “demands death for those who renounce Islam” as well as “marital rape, female genital mutilation, and severing of hands and feet.”

This leads people like Denver Post columnist John Andrews to ask, “Can a good Muslim be a good American? …the answer is not so simple.”

So I interviewed an expert on Islam, to offer a countervailing view.

“The Taliban takes one bit of the Sharia, the harsh and literal interpretation, and leaves out the most important part, the compassion,” Akbar Ahmed, Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and author of Journey into America, told me. “In Islam, god in the Koran has 99 attributes, 99 names, and the two names that god uses all the time to define himself, and we use to define god, are compassion and mercy. So god’s justice reflects god’s compassion and mercy, which the Taliban overlook in their interpretation.”

Ahmed said that some literalists, like the Taliban, interpret Sharia exactly as written in the Koran, but the vast majority of Muslims believe Sharia should not be interpreted literally.

He cited the example of stoning to death, which he says was inherited from the Judeo-Christian tradition, like other brutal laws in the Sharia. 

“Do Christians go around stoning adulterers and so on?” he asked. “They don’t. They don’t use the literal interpretation of the Bible for their law.”

Some Muslim groups, like the Taliban, do rely on the literal interpretation, he says, but this is mostly “tribal.”

 “If you look around the Muslim world, you will see that there is no question of stoning in countries that are on the path to modernity, countries like Malaysia, Egypt, or Indonesia, even Pakistan and Bangladesh. By and large, you will not get people advocating the stoning of women or the chopping off of hands. You will not get that.”

“If you took a vote in the vast majority of the Muslim world, Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, and they have a population of 90 to 98 percent Muslim, and if you took a vote on the Sharia, they would overwhelmingly turn it down,” he said.

He told me journalists aren’t reporting enough about Sharia, so the hate-filled and inaccurate statements of talk-show hosts and right-wing extremists like Boykin are defining the term, unfairly, for Americans.

“If journalists take this on, you will see others jumping up and saying it’s time to call a halt to this,” he said. “It’s not being American at all, in terms of the religious pluralism that is at the heart of the American character.”