Archive for October, 2013

USA Today Misleads with Hickenlooper Headline

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

by Michael Lund

Reporter Susan Page, Washington Bureau Chief at USA Today, and her editors apparently need our help.

So, here is a challenge I pose to readers: Please watch Page’s interview with John Hickenlooper and suggest a headline which fairly represents the content of our Colorado Governor’s remarks, while highlighting the most newsworthy and attention grabbing aspects.

My guess is that your best amateur efforts will exceed the misleading and misrepresentative headline waving over the video interview posted Monday morning on the USA Today’s online “Washington Download” program. I mean, did Hickenlooper actually give the NRA and gun-rights groups an endorsement for unilateral and uncontested access to Colorado voters, as the USA Today headline suggests?

The interview covered a range of timely topics, including the roll-out of the Colorado Health Care Exchanges, the government shutdown and its effects on Colorado’s flood recovery, and Hickenlooper’s prospects for re-election to the governor’s office and ambitions for higher office. Any of those topics could produce a worthy headline.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s accept that Colorado’s gun laws passed during the last legislative session and the resulting recall elections in El Paso and Pueblo Counties, along with the latest recall attempt initiated in Senate District 19, are prime topics to highlight in an attention grabbing and timely headline. A month after the recalls, they are still relevant and reverberating across our local media landscape and beyond. News from the recalls convey the controversy which the competitive, market driven media industry and consumers of news love.

So, in constructing our salacious headline, let’s focus on that section of the interview.

Just over half the interview deals with the topics around gun legislation and the Colorado recalls. Mention of the Aurora theater and Newtown, Connecticut shootings provide the context behind intitiating the gun safety bills. Visuals are edited into the interview provide a balanced depiction of the public demonstrations of support for both sides of the issue. Hickenlooper candidly and concisely speculates on the political challenges behind passing the common sense legislation, despite initial support from polls. Probing, difficult questions, answered directly, articulately and concisely by the interviewee. No softballs. That’s what we like to see.

It’s all good until Susan Page asks about outside money in the recalls, and it is this section of the interview that the sources the misrepresentative headline for the interview. I’ve transcribed the relevant portion below:

PAGE: And in the previous two recalls, there was a lot of money that came into Colorado from supporters of gun laws

HICKENLOOPER: And opponents.

PAGE: And opponents. But from people like Michael Bloomberg and others on behalf of the two senators who were recalled. That became a little bit of an issue in Colorado. Would it be smart if there’s this third recall effort, to try and limit the outside money and make it a Colorado effort?

HICKENLOOPER: Probably. I mean, Colorado is a state that people like to be resourceful themselves, and solve their own problems. They don’t really like outside organizations meddling in their affairs. And maybe the NRA gets a pass on that. But, probably not a bad idea. I do think that, again, getting the real facts out on some of these issues and making sure that – I mean, universal background checks is not the ogre, it’s not the evil, demonic taking of guns that it has been presented as.

When I listen to the interview, when I see the transcription, I don’t take away that “Colorado Governor suggests gun-control groups stay away.” I hear a much softer hypothesis– speculative dreaming, really, considering that limiting any groups participation in the recalls isn’t realistic or even constitutional, whatever the Governor might suggest. I hear speculation about an ideal of self-determination for Coloradoans, and getting facts to voters without distractions of political firefights, hyperbole, and loud well-funded special interests.

And most importantly, I hear our Governor correct the bias of the reporter’s leading question, by pointing out that both outside opponents and outside supporters of gun-control legislation were represented in the recall fight. Instead of exclusively calling out gun-control groups’ participation in Colorado, I hear Hickenlooper directly say, “And maybe the NRA gets a pass on that.”

Now there’s an accurate, attention grabbing headline that writes itself.

It’s bad enough that an otherwise decent interview with Hickenlooper is marred by the misleading headline, but it’s worse when our local journalists repeat and amplify the mistake. On Monday, the Denver Business Journal constructed a short article, apparently around the USA Today headline alone, and repeating the misrepresentation in three of the four paragraphs.

Then, to make bad journalism worse still, Kurtis Lee repeats the mischaracterization in his blog post headline for “The Spot” in The Denver Post, even after noting the same quotes from Hickenlooper I quoted above, and a statement from Hick’s spokesman, Eric Brown, which clarifies the Governor’s remarks. The headline is a stark misrepresentation of what the Governor said.

Let’s hope that accuracy prevails in future headlines regarding our on-going gun-safety debate in Colorado.


Messenger Shoots Messenger

Friday, October 11th, 2013

With the growing influence of alternative media platforms like Twitter, is this kind of “peer review” a growing trend?

Good thing?  Bad thing?

We’ll be looking for data points to track this trend.  Please feel free to contribute!  Send us your entries.

If journos are going to take CO secession seriously, they should report Gardner’s position on it

Friday, October 11th, 2013

In college, I led a petition drive to put an question on the student-council election ballot asking students if they wanted the university to stock suicide pills for optional use by students in the event of nuclear war.

The media had to take this seriously, because kids were actually voting on it, and it had its own internal logic, given the Cold War nuclear craziness around us at the time. But what college would stock suicide pills? Obviously, our core goal, even if we were also serious, was to promote our anti-nuclear agenda.

Same with the secession “movement.” At it’s heart, given the impossible odds of it happening, it’s, duh, a media stunt, offering right-wing conservatives the chance to bash moderate Democratic legislation.

But, it’s true that 11 counties will be voting to secede from Colorado, and so you can’t blame reporters for feeling as though they have to take the stunt sort of seriously, without overdoing it like The Denver Post has done.

But taking it seriously means finding out if serious conservatives actually support it. This week, the New York Times covered the secessionists, quoting county-level GOP organizers and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper as saying he takes it seriously. But, really, what else can the Democratic governor say?

More interesting is what serious Republicans like Rep. Cory Gardner would do on election day. As a resident of secessionist-hotbed Yuma County, he’ll be voting on it next month. And if you take secession seriously, Gardner would eventually be voting on it in Congress, too, if it’s gong to pass. Plus Gardner has long-standing ties to secession-organizer Sean Conway.

Will Gardner vote yes? (So far he’s been vague.) What about the GOP gubernatorial candidates? Where do they stand?

When something smells like a crazy media stunt, and reporters still have to take it seriously, they should at least give readers enough opinions on the matter so they can try to understand what’s really going on. In this case, getting the specific positions of Republicans, whose audiences goes beyond the way-right crowd in the secessionist counties, is key to offering a fair and accurate picture.

Hosts of Grassroots Radio Colorado (KLZ 560 AM), Jason Worley and Ken Clark

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

The answer is ….. Yes!

Reporters should ask Gardner to explain his statement that Obama is doing “everything he can” to stop America from abiding by “the rule of law”

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Rep. Mike Coffman said that too big a deal was made of his line about Obama is not an American “in his heart.” But reporters were right not to think so.

Here’s another case of over-the-top extremism that deserves to be picked up by the press, because it’s fundamentally disrespectful.

On KFKA’s Amy Oliver Show Friday, Rep. Cory Gardner leveled this attack on Obama:

Gardner: This is a president who is doing everything he can to make this nation no longer abide to the rule of law.

Oliver: Wow. What does that do to the rule of law?

Gardner: It weakens it tremendously.

Listen to Gardner on KFKA 10-4-13

I guess Gardner would advise me not to let people like Obama hang out with my teenage son? Unless I want anarchists hanging around the house?

Admittedly, it’s hard to know sometimes when the extremism threshold has been passed. But reasonable reporters should agree that this is an example.

Media omission: Dudley Brown backing Hudak recall campaign

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Yesterday, Fox 31 Denver reported that GOP Chairman Ryan Call doesn’t support the latest recall effort against Democratic Senator Evie Hudak, saying the recall could “undermine” Republican efforts to win elections next year.

But Fox 31 didn’t report who is backing the Hudak recall effort. That would be Dudley Brown, Director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, according to the RMGO website as well as Laura Waters and Mike McAlpine, who are apparently leading the petition-gathering effort.

On Peter Boyles’ KNUS morning show today, Waters and McAlpine thanked Brown for his in-kind support. They also said they did not vote for Ryan Call when he ran for GOP State Chair:

Laura Waters: I want to say a big shout out to Dudley Brown and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

Boyles: Oh, he’s our guy. We love Dudley.

Waters: Those guys have come alongside us. They are helping us by mobilizing their members and getting the message out that we need volunteers. And we could not be more thankful to Dudley and his group…

Mike McAlpine: I gotta echo what Laura says. Nobody is as tall as man who stands on principle, and that’s Dudley Brown. He is a rock star….

Boyles: By the way, who voted for Ryan Call to become the head of the GOP?

McAlpine: I’m looking around the room, no one is raising their hand, Peter.

Boyles: And what about you [to Waters]? Nobody’s hand is up.

McAlpine: [laughing]

Boyles: How did this guy get this gig?

Listen here: Waters and McAlpine on KNUS 710 AM Peter Boyles Oct 08 2013


KLZ has become a regular news breaker, this time with Buck saying on the radio that he’s “absolutely against raising the debt limit, period, end of story”

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

KLZ radio’s afternoon drive show, Grassroots Radio Colorado, deserves to be recognized as a regular news breaker. That is, for the five of us who are already following next year’s election.

The show broke news again in an Aug. 27 interview with U.S. Senate candidate Ken Buck, when Buck said he’s “absolutely against raising the debt limit, period, end of story.”

Buck reiterated the point later in the interview:

Buck: “I’m not going to vote in any way to allow a[n] increase in the debt ceiling.”

Listen to Ken Buck say he’s “absolutely” against raising the debt limit

Strangely enough, Buck used a question about the budget bill to state his position on the debt ceiling, but it’s hard to believe that Buck confused the debt ceiling with the continuing-resolution budget bill.

In any case, all of Colorado’s congressional candidates should be answering questions from real reporters about the debt limit, as we approach next week’s Oct. 17 deadline for the U.S. to extend it or begin defaulting on our country’s debts.

With the stakes so high (stock market gyrations, U.S. credit-rating downgrade, economic slowdown), it’s a topic all congressional candidates and Members of Congress should address publicly.

Last month, Buck told KNUS radio’s Jimmy Sengenberger that it’s “legitimate” for the U.S. House to shut down the government to stop Obamacare.

Partial transcript of Ken Buck’s interview on KLZ’s Grassroots Radio Colorado Sept. 27.

Ken Clark: [talking about Ted Cruz and his 21 hour speech on Senate floor] it wasn’t technically a filibuster.   And then you had the vote on cloture today, okay?  Where do you stand?

Buck: Where do I stand?  I am absolutely against raising the debt limit, period, end of story.  This country has too much debt.  It has too much spending.  We have taxed our people enough.  We have not – we have overspent, not overtaxed.  So, we need to get back to – actually, here’s a concept for both of you.  You ready for this?  You sitting down?  Thank you, very much.  How about let’s pass a budget in the United States Senate.  Would that be a  —

Clark:  What if – what if — ?

Buck: [facetiously]  Okay, we lost somebody!  We’ve got a fainter, over here!

Clark:  What’s a budget?

Buck: We got –.  No kidding!  What’s a budget?  And Mark Udall –

Clark:  I’ve never heard of it.

Buck: Mark Udall and Barak Obama have not passed a budget in a house of the United States Congress that they control now, for six years.  How on Earth is that possible?

Co-host Jason Worley:  But they’re pretty good at voting against Obama, which makes you laugh –

Clark:  But, wait a minute!  I thought it was all done by Continuing Resolution.

Buck: Yeah.  And that’s the problem.  All we do is this ‘stop and start’ kind of nonsense, and we need to actually plan on how we’re going to reduce this deficit over the next ten years, and have a plan in place.  And that’s what I would focus on.

Clark:  All right.  Very good.  So, how would you have voted on the cloture pay?

Buck: Well, I’m not going to vote in any way to allow a[n] increase in the debt ceiling.

Listen to Ken Buck say he’s “absolutely” against raising the debt limit.


How far has talk radio has sunk since Alan Berg’s days?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

Toward the end of the Creative Revolution Theater Company’s inspired production of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio, Barry Champlain, who’s the talk-show-host character in the play, tells his radio audience, “You’re like little children under the blanket, afraid of the bogeyman, but you can’t live without him.”

It’s a great line, among many in the play now showing in Thornton, and it’s a big reason why people listen to conservative talk radio. They’re scared, and they feed on their own paranoia.

Talk radio is also a place where people find a community of like-minded voices who validate each other’s beliefs, whereas in the real world, off the airwaves, in the mainstream media, they often fall into the lunatic-fringe category.

Bogosian’s play, based partly on the life and murder of Denver talk-radio host Alan Berg, depicts a talk-radio world, different from today’s, where calls are more personal and raw, and the talk-show host mostly berates callers.

“Are you as ugly as you sound?” Champlain asks a caller at one point during the play. Later he tells another caller, “Yes, the world is a terrible place…everything is screwed up, and you like it that way.”

Today, talk radio is mostly right-wing Republican not nihilistic or truth-telling, and certainly not liberal, like Berg was, if you heard him in Denver in the 1980s.

Talk-radio hosts will still beat up on callers or at least disagree with them, but they seem more desperate to please them, to legitimize their craziness, and hope they call back, to keep their audience from shrinking further. And to try to build political power for the Republican right.

So the talk-radio world you see in Bogosian’s Talk Radio, free from right-wing Republican talking points, is actually more interesting, even if it’s a bit dated, than what you hear on the radio now.

The play’s simple plot, like the 1988 movie with the same name, centers on Champlain’s response to callers during a single night’s show, as he gets more wasted, drinking whiskey and snorting cocaine.

Partisan politics doesn’t come up at all, as Champlain abuses everyone from a woman who likes “I love Lucy” to a man upset about dog poop in his neighborhood. Champlain dismisses on a black man who says he likes Jews and bigot who says he hates them.

I don’t know a lot about theater, but I can tell you that Champlain is performed with such complete and thorough passion and believability by actor Michael Occhuizzo that you’re left thinking he needs to get a job on a Denver talk-radio station as soon as possible.

I’m half serious, because talk radio, if done right, is much like a form of theater or reality entertainment–if it doesn’t get dragged down by the formula of faux politics and ginned-up paranoia that radio-station corporations seem to want today.

The best talk-radio hosts are artists/actors/entertainers themselves, as well as intellectuals, like Berg, driven to the talk medium as their form of expression.

As Champlain tells his audience in his last drunken lines of the play, before he leaves and ostensibly gets gunned down in the parking lot:  “You’re pathetic… I guess we’re stuck with one another.”

Do your best to catch one of the play’s last performances this Thurs., Fri., and Sat. at 7 p.m. It’s staged in a former retail space in the North Valley Tech Center in Thornton, an eerie, mostly vacant place that conjures up the strange world of talk radio, in Berg’s time and today.

Talk show host should have questioned Brophy’s winning formula

Friday, October 4th, 2013

I like it when conservative talk radio hits on this question: What’s the winning formula for a GOP candidate in Colorado?

On KLZ’s Grassroots Radio last Friday, gubernatorial candidate Greg Brophy talked about why he’ll triumph next year, and it made for provocative radio.

“Number one,” Brophy told Worley, “you’ve got to be able to hold the base together. I can do that. I’ve never let anybody down on the Second Amendment, life, or taxes. So, I can hold the base together just fine.” Listen to Brophy on KLZ radio.

That sounds like Brophy’s formula for winning the GOP primary. Maybe that’s why it was number one on his list, but Worley didn’t ask if Brophy thought he could “hold the base together” better than the other GOP candidates.

What about the strengths of the other Republicans in the GOP field: immigration and winnability (Tancredo), election fraud (Gessler).

Can Brophy win over the GOP base on those issues? Does it matter? What’s the priority?

And from the GOP base’s perspective, for the primary, it’s not just a matter of whether Brophy has really “never let anyone down” on guns, life, and taxes, but whether Tancredo has? Or Gessler? Or Kopp?

After talking about how to hold together the GOP base, Brophy described what you have to think would be his general-election approach:

Brophy: “But then you also have to be able to reach that middle of the road voter in the metro area, and I can do that too, based on my experience and the fact that I’m a farmer, and not your typical Republican – more like your typical Coloradan. I’m an avid cyclist – everybody knows that.”

I’m not sure everyone knows Brophy is a cyclist, but here’s a suggestion Worley might toss at him to boost his cycler profile: Brophy could take a page from Hick and make political ads showing Brophy riding around Denver’s bicycle trails, pedaling past Tancredo, Kopp, and Gessler, panting on their bikes as Brophy zips by, maybe with a pink gun in the water holder on his bike.

Don’t miss Fox 31 Denver’s series on Obamacare

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Proving again why he’s become the face of political journalism on local TV in Colorado, Fox 31 Denver’s Eli Stokols has produced, with Thomas Hendrick, a week-long series, called “Prescription for Change,” that beautifully illuminates the myths, pitfalls and benefits of Obamacare–as well as the details of how the new health care law affects you.

I can’t guarantee it, but I’ll give you my kids’ cat if you can find better local TV news coverage of Obamacare anywhere in the country.

Find the series, along with other Obamacare coverage, on Fox31 Denver’s website here.

Many local TV news reporters would love to be given the opportunity to actually practice journalism like Fox 31 allows Stokols to do.

But the management at most TV stations around the country wouldn’t dare touch this type of in-depth, informative reporting on a policy issue like Obamacare, because they think it’s boring on the tube. Stokols proves them wrong again in this series, and, thank you, Fox 31 managers and Stokols for doing it.

Scandals, investigations, and consumer reports, yes, you see that on local TV. And that’s good. But beat coverage of politics and policy issues? Fox 31 Denver continues to air coverage that you rarely see on TV.