Archive for May, 2013

9News’ innovative fact-checking partnership with Denver Univeristy should be national model for local TV stations

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

During the last election, Denver’s local NBC affiliate (9News) hired Denver University graduate students to help reporters check the facts in election ads.

“We essentially created three temporary jobs with a set number of hours each week to study as many ads as possible,” 9News Assistant News Director Tim Ryan told me via email. “What we assumed, which turned out to be true, was that we would see an extraordinary number of political commercials in Colorado in 2012 and needed additional staff to keep up.”

Ryan says the additional help allowed 9News to produce 44 ad-check stories during the 2012 election cycle–and it gave the student researchers some real-life job experience.

“Our researchers produced very detailed examinations of each spot, then our permanent reporting staff (Brandon Rittiman, Chris Vanderveen, Matt Flener, Todd Walker) turned that detailed research into television stories,” wrote Ryan.

9News calls its ad-check stories  “Truth Tests,” and they won a Cronkite/Jackson prize and other national praise.

“The reason this was successful is all about volume.  At any point in time, there might be commercials from the Obama campaign, the Romney campaign, interest groups in support or opposition to both candidates, as well as a number of competitive congressional campaigns that also included spots produced by candidate campaigns as well as interest groups.  In other words, there was a tremendous stream of ad content that needed attention, and the only way to do that effectively is hire additional staff.”

Local TV stations should hire more real-life-professional journalists, but short of that, it’s a no brainer to employ graduate students for fact checking, especially in swing states where political ads bring in millions of dollars.

But Ryan doesn’t know of other stations that have done it. “We certainly think it could be a model for other organizations, but newsrooms would have to balance the cost vs. the number of spots requiring study.”

I checked around and it appears that no other station in Colorado–or the country–has tried a similar arrangement.

“I’m not aware of those relationships, but I wouldn’t be shocked if there were some,” said Mark Jurkowitz, Associate Director of the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “Student journalists are contributing in more robust ways to news. In Boston, investigative journalist students have written for local media. Graduate students are 0ld enough to perform the task, under the assumption they’re properly trained to the point that you are confident they are looking at things the same way.”

Deborah Potter, who’s the Executive Director of NewsLab and writes frequently about the local TV news industry, doesn’t know of any other stations that have hired graduate students to “fact check” political ads.

“I’ve often wondered why more stations don’t partner with colleges and universities in their area on projects that involve research,” Potter emailed me. “As long as student work is supervised by professionals, I don’t see much downside in this kind of arrangement.”

“They were closely supervised and they trained in terms of reliable sources,” Ryan told me. “Their jobs didn’t require source building, or other pieces of journalism that are more difficult. It was database work. And at the end, the experienced political journalist had to decide what to call the ad. Was it true? Exaggerated?”

And if an error slipped through, Ryan said, 9News would hear about it. “As you know, the campaigns watch everything and would take issue with anything they thought was wrong. And we’d respond.”

Ryan expects to hire graduate students again for the 2014 election, but nothing is finalized. Until then, staff reporters will probably check political ads as they air.

I suggested that TV stations that are too stingy (sh0ck) even to hire grad students might partner with a professor and find a graduate seminar class to take on an ad-check project for free. No money!

Ryan said this could be a “definite possibility,” but cautioned that  “management could be a bit more challenging.”

“But if you had the right class, it could work, especially for stations that don’t have the resources,” Ryan told me, adding that his station “partnered” with Denver University to find graduate students this year, working with a DU staff person as a point of contact.

9News’ emphasis on fact-checking political ads began in 1998 as a series called “Spotcheck,” done in conjunction with Denver Post reporter Mark Obmascik, according to Ryan.

“In the 2002 cycle, we continued to work with the Post but called the project ‘Adwatch,'” Ryan wrote. “Adam Schrager began producing them as Truth Tests for the 2004 cycle, which we repeated in 06, 08 and 10 (as well as occasional off-year efforts like Denver mayoral campaigns).

The concept of checking political ads on local TV was apparently pioneered in Denver by Channel 7’s John Ferrugia, in a project called “Truth Meter” ,in the 1990s.


Reporter exposes lawmaker for manufacturing a phony war on rural Colorado

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

The Grand Junction Sentinel’s Charles Ashby deserves credit for correcting one of his local lawmakers who claimed a bill mandating a higher renewable energy standard would devastate his constituents when, in fact, it wouldn’t affect them at all.

On Channel 6’s Colorado State of Mind Friday, Ashby told the story of how SB 252, which would increase the renewable energy standard on large Rural Electric Associations, was cited by Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita) as evidence of a war on rural Colorado, even though one of Grand Junction’s REAs supported the increased standard, and the other local REA gets power from Xcel Energy, which isn’t affected by the legislation, which awaits Gov. Hick’s signature.

Ashby: “We already have a 20 percent standard for utilities like Excel. In ’08, I think it was, they imposed a 10 percent standard on the REAs. Then [this session] they wanted to up it to 25 percent, and they ended up doing 20 percent. And that became the ‘war on rural Colorado.’ It’s going to raise rates. It was almost funny because one of my local lawmakers, for example, from Grand Junction, got up there, and he said, this is going to put people out of their houses. Businesses are gong to close. And what’s funny, in Grand Junction, for example, the major REA gets its power from Xcel, so therefore not affected by this bill. The other REA in his district actually passed a resolution in support of raising the standards. So it was more politics than it was policy.” [BigMedia emphasis]

Ashby originally called out Wright in an April 26 Sentinel story.

I think some journalists see fact checking as boring, but I agree with Ashby that it’s fun to point out the misinformation, even if, at least theoretically, it’s part of the blocking-and-tackling grind of journalism.

Why the world looks upside down if you take the wrong talk-radio show too seriously

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

On KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado yesterday, co-host Ken Clark told a story about how he was waiting in line for car wash and got rear-ended.

He jumps out to confront the asshole who hit him. He’s  swearing and cursing and cussing and…. He can’t see who hit him because of tinted windows.

He assumes the fight stance. He’s going to kick some ass. Door opens.

It’s a 17-year old young woman…. Crying and freaked out.

Ken talked to the girl’s dad on the phone and it all worked out – even though Ken never met the guy, and even though he was so pissed off he was willing to initiate a violent altercation.

Everything worked out FINE!

Ken’s moral of the story:  Government is bad.  Obamacare would have told Ken where he HAD to take his car for repair… and the work would have sucked.  Ken would have been forced into a bureaucracy, and would not have been able to settle this issue on his own.

Nice huh? Only on Grassroots Radio Colorado!

Post dips toe in (then out) of search to find out who’s funding recall campaign targeting Senate President Morse

Monday, May 13th, 2013

In a Spot Blog post Sunday, The Denver Post cited a story from Colorado Springs TV station KOAA reporting that organizers of the campaign to recall Senate President John Morse hired Kennedy Enterprises to gather signatures to put the recall question on the ballot.

But the Post’s print version of its Morse-recall story, unlike it’s Spot Blog post, did not include a reference to Kennedy Enterprises, and it didn’t delve at all into the mysterious question of who’s funding the Morse recall campaign, even though Post reporter Kurtis Lee quoted one of the anti-Morse campaign’s major donors (without informing readers of her donation).

So The Post missed an opportunity to follow up on the query posed by KOAA-TV’s Jacqui Henrich in her May 6 story, “The bigger question at hand: who hired Kennedy Enterprises despite their questionable background?”

In his piece for the print edition of the newspaper, Kurtis Lee quoted Laura Carno, who was identified as a “Republican political strategist who runs a political action committee in Colorado Springs and is in staunch support of the recall.”

Lee didn’t point out that one of Carno’s organizations, I Am Created Equal (IACE), donated over $14,ooo in in-kind support to the recall effort. Lee should have informed readers about her donation, what it’s being used for, and her views other aspects of the anti-Morse campaign, once considered rag-tag but now infused with real money.

You’d have to hope The Post would get better answers from Carno than I did when I emailed her last week. Carno did confirm that her 501(c)4 organization donated 14k, but she skirted these questions:

Will you tell me what the IACE’s 14K (in-kind) donation to El Paso Freedom Defense Committee was used for or what it was earmarked for?

Do you know who’s paying for the people to collect signatures to recall Sen. Morse, if it’s true that there are people being paid to do this?

Do you think it’s fair to call the Morse recall effort “grassroots” even though the paid petition drive appears to be led by someone named Tracy Taylor, who’s not from Colorado?

Carno sent me a video link as well as this written response:

“We are raising money for our Morse education campaign the way I Am Created Equal always has — we are asking folks who believe in free markets, free enterprise, and limited government to help. To date, every penny we have raised for this comes from Colorado, just as you would expect from a grassroots group like our own. Rest assured, not one penny has come from Mayor Bloomberg. That much I can promise you.”

Weld County Sheriff won’t arrest federal agents

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Last month I reported that Larry Pratt, Director of Gun Owners of America, praised Weld Country Sheriff John Cooke for his opposition to gun safety legislation.

On KFKA’s Scooter McGee show, Pratt said some 400 sheriffs in the U.S. are promising not to enforce gun-safety laws, like Colorado’s new statute expanding background checks.

Pratt also said some sheriffs have vowed to arrest federal agents whom sheriffs believe are violating the U.S. Constitution.

Pratt said on the radio that some “sheriffs are saying, ‘Not only will I not cooperate, but if the Feds are doing something unconstitutional in my county, particularly a gun grab, I’ll put them in jail.'”

It wasn’t clear whether Cooke was among the sheriffs who are ready to arrest the feds, so I called to find out.

“The state gun laws are unenforceable, and I won’t enforce them,” he said. “I’d rather go after drug dealers, burglars, and rapists.”

But Cook said he wouldn’t actually arrest federal agents in Weld County, even if he thinks they’re enforcing unconstitutional laws, like federal gun safety statutes.

“I’m not going to arrest a federal agent,” he said. “No, I’m not going to go that far.”

Zoologists needed for KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Tea Party radio hosts Ken Clark and Jason Worley agreed Friday that Colorado House Minority Leader Mark Waller is a “jellyfish.”

As you can see below, Clark and Worley, who host KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado, identified Waller as a jellyfish without explaining the taxonomic features that led them to their conclusion.

So it’s an easy call for a media critic like me to suggest that they have a zoologist or two on their show to substantiate their claim.

Here’s their on-air conversation, which started with a discussion about the possibility that Rep. Brian DelGrosso or Rep. Libby Szabo might replace Waller.

JW: Here we go again, man! There’s a saying in football: If you have two quarterbacks, you have a problem because you have no quarterbacks. In the statehouse —

KC: Oh, god!

JW: It seems that we, on the Republican side, might be having two quarterbacks.

KC: You know, it’s interesting, because right now we’ve got a –

JW: Jellyfish.

KC: Well, yeah, I guess “jellyfish” is a good way to put it. The House minority leader is weak at best. He tried to pressure the Republican caucus to vote for the long bill, was horribly unsuccessful in doing that, because we actually have some Republicans in the House of Representatives in the state of Colorado who have principles. They stick to their principles. They are very, very strong. So, he didn’t do very good. But the whole idea behind that was — Oh, I don’t know, he wanted to run for Attorney General. And yes, Mark Waller, I’m speaking specifically of you. So he figured that if he cut a deal with Ferrandino, Ferrandino wouldn’t fight him on the AG run, and blah blah blah. Well, it looks like he is going to be stepping down. And so that means we have a leadership void that has been there for, what, a year now?

JW: [laughter] Well, at least for six months.

KC: Well, since the session started, anyway. So who knows what’s going to happen?

Media Omission: Personhood backers focus on new ballot initiative as “Crimes-Against-Pregnant-Women Act” advances

Monday, May 6th, 2013

A bill awaiting the signature of Gov. John Hickenlooper would make it a crime for a drunk driver to hit a pregnant women, causing the death of her fetus.

Perpetrators of this and other reckless acts against pregnant women would face prosecution for terminating a pregnancy, whereas now, due to a loophole in state law, they do not.

You might think this is something all sides of the abortion debate could get behind, but think again.

“Personhood” activists, who’ve twice lost ballot initiatives in Colorado to define life as beginning at conception, opposed the bill, as did GOP legislators, like Sen. Scott Renfroe, who was quoted in the Denver Post as saying the bill should be called “Let’s Go on Killing Babies…” and that abortion amounts to the “Holocaust of our day.”

Why didn’t Personhood USA support the bill, even though it specifically does not “confer the status of ‘person’ on any human embryo, fetus, or unborn child at any state of development prior to live birth.”

“The response is very simple and direct,” Personhood USA’s Gualberto Garcia Jones told me via email. “Personhood could not support Planned Parenthood’s bill because, under it, Brady Surovik at 8 lbs, 2 ounces would not be considered a person.”

Brady Surovik was the name chosen for her baby by Heather Surovik, who was hit by a car when eight-months pregnant, resulting in the end of her pregnancy.

Still, why wouldn’t Garcia Jones support the legislation, giving prosecutors a stronger hand to pursue crimes against pregnant women, even if her fetus would not be considered a victim? Why not fight for legal recognition of zygotes (fertilized eggs) and other early forms of human development in other forums?

“The bill is purporting to ‘create(s) a new article for offenses against pregnant women,’ Garcia Jones responded. “Heather is up and about, she is recovering. It is Brady, her son, that is dead. How can the bill drafters claim to bring justice for the death of Brady, while reinforcing and denying that his life was worth protecting?”

“[The bill] specifically denies personhood recognition to babies like Brady,” added Personhood USA Spokeswoman Jennifer Mason. “That is why Heather says she can’t support it, and neither can we.” (Earlier this year, they threw their support behind a competing bill, defeated by Democrats.)

So Personhood backers will push ahead with their “fetal homicide” ballot initiative, which they call the “Brady Amendment” allowing law enforcement officials to prosecute people who commit crimes against “unborn human beings.”

The phrase “unborn human beings” isn’t defined in the text of the initiative, leaving open the possibility that all stages of human development, from zygote through the end of pregnancy, could be considered by courts as “people” and receive legal protections under Colorado law.

That’s why Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains sees the fetal homicide initiative as another attempt to codify personhood in Colorado, according to Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Monica McCafferty.

Reporters should be racing to reach Dan Kennedy to find out more about Morse recall

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

On its website last week, ABC News reported that petition drives to remove CO state legislators from office, in retaliation for their support of gun safety legislation, are “being run by political newcomers who claim little or no experience working on elections.”

ABC News’ Chris Good wrote in an online story that “activists are relying on volunteers, and no campaign has raised more than a few thousand dollars.”

Good’s piece appeared three days after Colorado Pols posted a video apparently demonstrating that the Morse recall effort, at least, is not a grassroots effort but a sophisticated political hit campaign involving hired guns from outside Colorado.

It appears ABC didn’t bother to check out the video, which contains an audio recording of a man, who identifies himself as Tracy Taylor, the “owner” of a “national petitioning company.”

In the video, Taylor is apparently training workers to collect signatures to recall State Sen. President John Morse. “What we’re going to do is put it on the ballot and let people decide whether or not they want to get rid of [Morse],” the man identified as “Taylor” says.

The signature gatherers would be paid at least $1.oo per signature, he promises. (About 7,000 signatures are needed by June 3 to place the Morse recall question on the ballot.)

In the video, the man identified as Taylor says:

“This office belongs to Dan Kennedy, who’s a good friend of mine and has been in the petition business with me a lot of years. That’s how I got ahold of Brooke, who got ahold of you, because she knows Dan. So this is kind of our home office anyway, so that’s the good news for you guys. We get lots of work. This job is going to last anywhere from four to five weeks.”

You’d think local reporters would be racing to interview Taylor and Dan Kennedy of Kennedy Enterprises, given the appearance that serious money is behind an effort to oust a leading CO politician.

But neither ABC’s Good, nor a local reporter, has apparently bothered to do so.

So to fill the media gap, I called Kennedy Enterprises Friday afternoon, to verify the video evidence that Kennedy, who’s been accused of organizing shady signature-gathering efforts in the past, indeed hosted the anti-Morse training in his office–and to find out more about the role of Kennedy Enterprises in the Morse recall campaign.

“This is Tracy,” said a voice who picked up the phone when I called the phone number listed on the website for Kennedy Enterprises.

Is this Tracy Taylor, whose voice is featured on a video on the website ColoradoPols, I asked.

“I have no comment,” said “Tracy,” and hung up. (For what it’s worth, his voice sounded identical to the one in the Pols video.

My email to Kennedy was not returned, but perhaps a reporter who knows him will have better luck.

Meanwhile, evidence that serious money, not grassroots grit, is fueling the anti-Morse campaign arrived yesterday when the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee reported receiving a large donation of $14,294, which is enough to get an outside operative like “Tracy Taylor” to come Colorado.

The donation came from “I Am Created Equal.” One entity with this name is run by Laura Carno, who confirmed by email that the donation came from her 501c(4) entity, IACE Action. I’m scheduled to talk to Carno more about this later.








Gardner says he wants bigger GOP tent, so why is he excluding young immigrants?

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Just after the November election, a chastened Cory Gardner told Fox 31’s Eli Stokols:

Gardner: “Republicans have always talked about having a big tent, but it doesn’t do any good if the tent doesn’t have any chairs in it. Bringing Latinos to the forefront, bringing women in, is absolutely critical.”

So you’d think Gardner, who represents Colorado’s 4th Congressional District, would, over the ensuing six months, at least make room in the GOP tent for the children of undocumented immigrants, who were brought to this country through no fault of their own.

You’d think Gardner would get on board with Colorado’s ASSET law, which allows colleges to offer these so-called “Dreamers” the normal in-state tuition rate.

But on Monday, the same day that Gov. John Hickenlooper signed ASSET into law, Gardner told KNUS’ Steve Kelley, that he still opposes Colorado’s new policy of granting in-state tuition to the Dreamers, because Gardner does not believe the U.S. borders are secure enough, and that’s his first priority.

Kelley: Comments on Colorado, now. The Governor, last Friday, rescinded a bill, repealed a bill on notification of illegals. This all ties together, by the way, the Boston bombings and all of these are connected. Obviously, you deal with these things on a federal level, but as a state, now, we’ve repealed this notification thing. And then, in-state tuition for illegals in Colorado, you must have a comment on that.

Gardner: I think we’re actually doing everything backwards. The solution has to come from the federal government on border security with an immigration policy that actually works to identify those who want to come into this country legally, who want to work here legally. But we can’t start putting in place in-state tuition, whether it’s other things that are being in placed [sic] by the states, without actually addressing the root problem that will only continue more illegal immigration into this country. And so, that’s why we’ve got to have a policy that actually works, and I believe it starts with border security.

Gardner, who’s long opposed ASSET, isn’t the only GOP muckety muck who promised to be nice to Hispanics after the 2012 election collapse. Who can forget former GOP lawmakers Josh Penry’s and Rob Witwer’s clarion call for a more loving Republican Party or a dead one. They wrote of the Dreamers: “These kids grow up in households where parents work hard and attend church on Sunday. These are American values. But yes, some of these kids — through no fault of their own — were not born American citizens.”

If Kelley won’t ask a guy like Gardner about the substance of his promise to open the GOP tent to Hispanics, I’m hoping real journalists won’t forget next time they’re standing in front of Gardner and others like him.

National Journal reports that GOP attacks Romanoff on immigration but omits most of Coffman’s record on the issue

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

The National Journal reported last week that the National Republican Congressional Committee has released an ad attacking Democrat Andrew Romanoff for favoring “the strictest immigration laws in the nation” which Romanoff “passed as Speaker of the Colorado House.” Romanoff is challenging Rep. Mike Coffman, who’s seen as in danger of losing 6th Congressional District seat in Colorado.

The 2006 anti-immigration law cleared the Colorado Legislature with bi-partisan support, including the backing of Romanoff and Gov. Bill Owens.

But if Republicans attack Romanoff on immigration, reporters should obviously spotlight Coffman’s own record on the issue. the Journal’s Ben Terris did a pretty minimalist job of this, pointing out the following about Coffman:

When he first ran in 2008, one of his planks was to “deny amnesty and a path to citizenship to those who violate our laws. But this year, he had a change of heart and all of a sudden supports a path to citizenship.”

Terris should have written more about Coffman and immigration.

To begin with, Terris misleads us when he writes that Coffman supports a citizenship path. Coffman does not favor a path to citizenship for our country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, except for a subset of immigrant children who were brought here illegally by their parents. (Other reporters made the same mistake and corrected it.)

The truth is Coffman voted against the Dream Act, and based on his current position, he’d vote against it again. Coffman advocates a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants who enlist in the U.S. military, but not for those who graduate from high school or college. The Dream Act offers a military and education path to citizenship.

Coffman, you recall, introduced a bill mandating English-only ballots, even for areas with large numbers of Spanish-speaking voters who aren’t proficient in English.

Coffman has long stood with (and endorsed) Rep. Tom Tancredo, who symbolizes American extremism toward undocumented immigrants and immigration reform.

Coffman actually accused Obama in 2011 of rushing “illegal immigrants” onto the voting rolls to help Obama win the 2012 election, and Coffman has yet to provide evidence for this.

Coffman’s opposition to Obamacare, to common-sense tax policy (He opposed Ref. C.), and his hostility toward government assistance to the poor, like the expansion of Medicaid, are out of step with most Hispanic voters and are linked to the politics of the immigration debate.

To this day, the “On the Issues” section of Coffman’s website has this to say, and this only, about “immigration:” “Comprehensive immigration reform must first begin with the comprehensive enforcement of our immigration laws. We must secure the borders of the United States now.”

The list goes on, and reporters covering Coffman’s strange maneuverings on immigration should become familiar with it.