More on a ‘fake news’ fight between The Senator and The Sentinel in Colorado

More on a ‘fake news’ fight between The Senator and The Sentinel in Colorado

Last week I wrote how The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel’s publisher, Jay Seaton, decided not to sue a local state senator for calling the newspaper “fake news.” So how did Republican Sen. Ray Scott react? A blogger at the right-leaning Complete Colorado checked in with him. Turns out he got a flood of correspondence after the news went national. “Nobody went as far as a death threat, but I got hammered,” Scott said.

Here’s a sampling:

“Ray Scott is a pathetic, goddamn loser —leave our free press alone, you piece of shit Putin-loving commie!” One person penned.

“Colorado, why do you have a boneheaded caveman like Ray Scott representing you?” Another person scrolled across the outside of an envelope mailed from Minneapolis, Minn.

Meanwhile, publisher Seaton’s column explaining his decision not to sue did not calm the senator. “It was a ridiculous rant, by someone who knows they don’t have a case,” Sen. Scott said. He didn’t like seeing his name appear in the same column with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. “I’ve always been kind of bulldog,” Scott said. “Maybe I should sue him for defamation of character.” But he probably won’t do that. He’s exploring a run for governor.

But as the senator’s profile is sharpening, so is Jay Seaton’s. This week he got a profile Q-and-A from the Colorado Press Association complete with photos of him kicking a “fake news” newspaper box and standing triumphantly on top of it. The conversation, which ranges from the industry’s woes to his career from a commercial litigator to newspaper publisher, and of course his take on “fake news,” is well worth a read. The man is a staunch defender of the values of local news and his own paper— and it shows.

I’m often surprised to find some political journalists don’t seem to mind registering with a political party in Colorado. Since party membership is public information here, affiliation can invite criticism about bias from sources or political operatives, especially in an era of social media weaponization. It’s part of a long-going debate about whether political journalists should even vote at all. (Disclosure: I vote. And I’m registered as an unaffiliated voter in Colorado.)

In some states it’s easier for journalists. In South Carolina for instance voters don’t register by party. Everyone is technically an independent. But you can only choose one party’s primary to vote it, and if you do then that information becomes public. When I was a reporter in that state I recall political operatives would publicize the voting histories of certain political reporters if they took issue with their coverage.

But Colorado is a caucus state— and only registered Democrats or Republicans can participate in those early nominating contests. Well, until next year. Because of a new ballot measure voters approved last year called Prop 108 unaffiliated voters in 2018 will be able to participate in the party primaries for governor for the first time— without having to declare affiliation with a party.

Because you can only choose one party’s primary I got to wondering: Would (and should) your voting history become a public record? In other words, will someone be able to find out which party primary an unaffiliated political journalist chose to participate in?

For a piece this week in The Colorado Independent I sought to find out. And guess what: it turns out there’s a push from the Secretary of State, who is implementing rules for Prop 108, to make that very information public. There’s also some pushback against it.

Here’s what Secretary of State spokeswoman Lynn Bartels, a former political reporter herself, told me as I was reporting the piece when I raised that angle:

“I kept telling people— and this was a year ago— I’m going, all those reporters who were saying ‘I don’t want anybody to know what primary I participated in,’ it’s not going to work that way,’” she says.

But is there a genuine public interest in making that information public? Or do the government and the two major political parties just want that information for their own benefit? We’ll see how the rules shake out later this year. Read my whole story about it here, and please pass it along to your unaffiliated journalist friends. Or, hey, just any unaffiliated voters you might know. With about 1.2 million of them, they do make up the state’s largest voting bloc.

Boulder Weekly scoops Politico and gets a ‘not been previously reported’ line pulled from a story

Politico likes to break news— and does so often. And like plenty of publications it lets readers know when it has a story first. Or when it thinks it does. Which was the case last week when the publication posted this in a story about the Russian connections of a man named Ekim Alptekin who gave Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn $600,000 for Turkish lobbying:

“The revelation of Russian business ties to the man who hired Flynn — which has not been previously reported — threatens to complicate the White House’s struggle to escape the shadow of the FBI investigation into whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian agents.”

That’s from The Washington Post, quoting an April 25 Politico piece (emphasis mine).

But consider this April 5 Boulder Weekly story by Joel Dyer headlined “The Russian connections to Michael Flynn’s Turkish benefactor,” which, the report reads, “found a web of previously unreported connections between Alptekin, Russia and others with interesting ties to the Trump administration and even Trump himself — including Russian oligarchs, United Arab Emirates (UAE) real estate developers, Russian banking scandals and even Vladimir Putin having made appearances in Alptekin’s past business dealings.”

I reached out to an editor at Politico who told me their reporter hadn’t read the story in Boulder Weekly. “When it was brought to our attention, we removed the line saying that ties between the man who hired Flynn — Ekim Alptekin — and Russia hadn’t been previously reported,” he told me. “It’s worth noting that the ties our story particularly emphasized — between Alptekin and David Zaikin, coordinating lobbying through the Turkish Heritage Organization — were different than the ones first reported in the Boulder Weekly. But the Boulder Weekly did first report Alptekin’s past dealings with a Russian bank chaired by Vladimir Putin.”

It’s not often you see a city alt-weekly breaking international news. Keep an eye on ’em here.

Report: Layoffs hit The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs

The latest big news in the newspaper world was billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s newspaper chain laying off nearly 300 employees across the country from his portfolio of 51 daily and weekly papers. (Listen to me talk about it on a CJR podcast here). At the time I wrote how none of those papers were in Colorado. But the negative economic factors shaping the newspaper industry might not mean privately held non-chain papers here are immune. The Gazette in Colorado Springs, which is owned by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz, apparently laid off a handful of employees this week.

Pam Zubeck of The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly reports:

…word is spreading there’s been a layoff in the newsroom of at least four journalists, several of whom were long-time Gazette employees, which likely means their pay was on the higher end of the scale. Sources tell us that the layoff stemmed from a desire to improve the bottom line, a common strategy in any business

In December I wrote for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project about an expansion by The Gazette into statewide politics coverage with a new project called ColoradoPolitics.com, led by the paper’s new editor Vince Bzdek.

An excerpt:

The new writers, who are drawing considerably higher salaries than at their former papers, are being paid from a separate budget than The Gazette. Anschutz and Clarity media added “a substantial amount” of new money for the project, Bzdek says, but declined to say how much.

At the time I interviewed Bzdek for that story he told me the paper was making money. I sent him a couple emails about this latest development but haven’t yet heard back.

Speaking of The Gazette

The paper, which shied away from aggressive reporting on legalized marijuana issues since its notorious anti-pot “perspective series” in 2015, has embarked on a new five-part pot series. This time, the paper tasked its reporters with the coverage instead of its op-ed page writers and a contracted anti-marijuana activist. The first installation, written by Peter Marcus, came out Sunday on the front page under the headline “Capitol’s pot evolution,” and dealt largely with growing efforts to “normalize” marijuana in the legislature. The second was about how legalized marijuana saved a struggling town. Check back here for this ongoing series.

Another must-read series in Colorado

FRACTURED, an ongoing series at The Colorado Independent that “examines the science, politics and humanity of oil and gas development and explores its impacts on Coloradans around the state,” rolled out another installment this week. In “Showdown in Boulder County,” writers Dan Glick and Ted Wood of The Story Group offer a compelling look at a place in Colorado where fracking has moved into neighborhoods. Complete with a video “fractured Eerie,” the multimedia piece introduces readers to Colorado’s fracking issue from the bottom up though the stories of the people affected by it. The series will continue throughout the week.

Two ways to hold public figures accountable for what they say, Colorado style

Ever since KUSA 9News in Denver reported how GOP Congressman Ken Buck “tried to have it both ways on Republicans’ plan to repeal Obamacare,” Buck has been avoiding 9News, said anchor Kyle Clark this week. “He told us he didn’t support it, then, a week later, he said he had supported it,” which earned the congressman praise from President Donald Trump. Since then, Clark said, the station has been trying to “get a straight answer on the Buck and forth.” So politics reporter Brandon Rittiman flew to Washington and found Buck, who, Clark said, offered a “second provably false statement.” Rittiman tried to pin Buck down on where he stands on Obamacare repeal but didn’t get anywhere. Buck walked away. Watch the clip here.

Said Clark in his segment closing:

“Congressman Buck is baking himself a layer cake of provably false statements hoping he will never have to eat it. And he’s probably right. He’s making a safe bet that the Republicans who support him dislike us in the media enough that they’ll just look past his conflicting and false statements. He’s obviously not the first politician to try that tactic but every time voters shrug it off more elected officials are just emboldened to stray from the truth.”

The grab-and-gab one-on-one camera-in-the-face interview is one way to try and get clarity when you think a source might not be telling the truth. Another, as evidenced by The Denver Post this week, is the open records request for cell phone logs.

The Post’s Noelle Phillips reports:

Cell phone records for a Denver Police Department deputy chief under investigation for his handling of an internal investigation and an open records request call into question his accounts of how events unfolded, a Denver Post review has found.

“Deputy Chief Matt Murray told The Post in previous interviews that he was not involved in the arrest of a woman accused as a sexual assault accomplice to an officer because Murray said he was on a camping trip with his wife,” her story continues. “However, phone records obtained by The Post in an open records request show that Murray had at least three phone calls with the prosecutor involved in the case and four phone calls with the internal affairs division commander on the day the woman was arrested.”

Read the rest of that story here.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages

The Longmont Times-Call reported how a man who raped a newspaper carrier won’t be staying in the city. The Greeley Tribune looked at the disappearance of older vertical oil well technology. The Loveland Reporter-Herald explored how the city could redraw downtown development lines, removing 100 homes. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel covered concern over high-density development. The Steamboat Pilot & Today remembered the last passenger train in SteamboatThe Pueblo Chieftain reported the local police department hit a manpower zenith. The Boulder Daily Camera reported on a closed homeless shelter. The Coloradoan in Fort Collins recalled an Animal House college party in 1987 that shaped how the city views parties. The Gazette looked at the state of legalized marijuana at the Capitol. The Durango Herald checked in with La Plata County Republicans about Trump’s first 100 days. The Denver Post reported how a house explosion reignited setback talks for oil and gas wells.

How one reporter’s struggle led to new open records legislation

Last week I wrote about how reporter Nick Coltrain of The Coloradoan in Fort Collins won a First Amendment award from the local SPJ for his work this year that led to legislation to modernize the state’s open records laws. KUNC public radio reporter Bente Birkeland interviewed him about the proposed law and its background, and his work to uncover information a public university might not have wanted publicized.

For the personnel file: An ex-Colorado newsman was tapped to run a media giant

“Cox Enterprises Inc.— a national media, cable and automotive-services giant — has named Alex Taylor as its next CEO,” reports The Atlanta Business Journal.Taylor, 42, “started his Cox career as a reporter for The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel newspaper in Colorado. Cox owned the paper at the time but later sold it.” Cox, the A-Biz-J reports, “owns 14 TV stations, 60 radio stations and six daily newspapers. It also is the nation’s third-largest cable provider and owns a variety of automotive information businesses, including Kelley Blue Book and Autotrader.”

Now for some news on the local media front from CJR’s United States Project

My colleague Jackie Spinner wrote about how watchdog reporting in East St. Louis highlights the potential in under-covered areas. Justin Ray wrote about a study that shows residents of Flint, Michigan searched for water info before news coverage intensified. And Cassandra Willyard reports how after censoring stories, Gov. Scott Walker now wants to kill off Wisconsin Natural Resources, an 80,000-circulation, self-funded outdoors magazine. And I wrote about whether an independent alt-weekly newspaper in Montana can stay critical of its new owner after being bought by the local daily newspaper chain.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE.

Photo by The Public Domain Review for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

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About the Author

Corey Hutchins

is a journalist in Colorado, and Columbia Journalism Review's Rocky Mountain correspondent for the United States Project. Follow him on Twitter @CoreyHutchins and email him at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.

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