Denver Post Owner Skewers Colorado’s Governor in Rare Front-Page Editorial

Denver Post owner Dean Singleton’s front-page editorial attacking Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter on Sunday appears unprecedented in its name-calling, at least in the newspaper’s recent history. The editorial criticizing Ritter’s executive order allowing state workers to join unions is only the third front-page editorial in the Post in the past decade, according to a newspaper database.

The Ritter editorial was decidedly more angry and personal in tone than the paper’s call to settle the disputed 2000 presidential election and a 2005 call to temporarily suspend state tax restrictions and rescue the state’s economy  by passing Referendum C.

This time, Singleton ordered up an editorial that referred to the governor as “Jimmy Hoffa,” “a toady for labor bosses” and “a bag man for unions.”

“The language used and the placement demonstrate a certain hysteria that stems from Mr. Singleton’s personal dislike of organized labor,” Ritter’s spokesman, Evan Dreyer, said Sunday. “I think the degree of the personal attacks is a bit surprising for a newspaper of this caliber. To stoop to this level is unbecoming.”

Dreyer said the governor “extended the courtesy” of telling Singleton and Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley about the executive order the day before it was issued last Friday.

“It was apparent two minutes into the conversation that Mr. Singleton was not happy,” Dreyer said.

Singleton did not return an emailed request for comment Sunday. In an email, Post Editor Greg Moore said, “I don’t have anything to do with editorials.” Moore declined to discuss the decision to put the editorial on the front page, which is almost always reserved for news.

In an interview Sunday, Haley said he wrote the editorial. He called the decision to do so “a collaborative decision between the publisher and myself.” Singleton serves as the Post’s publisher and apparently decided to put the editorial on the front page.

“The tone reflects how serious his (Ritter’s) decision is,” Haley said. “We think he is in danger of losing (support of) the business community. The business community is vital to his agenda. We think this is a turning point in his administration. We didn’t like the content of the executive order, and we didn’t like how it was done.”

Ritter released his executive order on Friday afternoon via emails sent to reporters.

Haley said the editorial was meant to “initiate some public dialogue.”

Some of that dialogue could be about the editorial’s personal shots rather than unions.

A source inside the Post newsroom said that most staff members were not aware of the tenor of Sunday’s editorial and only learned of its placement late Friday afternoon.

“I didn’t have any conversations with anyone about it,” said one staffer who asked to remain anonymous. “I heard Greg tell some people it was going on the front page. All I knew was Dean was pissed off. So pissed off that he put an editorial on the front page. Who does he think he is – Hearst?”

The language in the editorial was so raw that the staffer predicted some distress among people in the newsroom.

“You can be opposed to what the governor does,” he said. “But this name-calling stuff is embarrassing.”

Dreyer agreed that the language was not as professional as an editorial that opposed the governor’s order in the Post’s rival, the Rocky Mountain News.

“It’s fair to criticize the plan and the governor,” Dreyer said.

But, he added, there are ways to disagree without getting personal.

Dreyer took issue not only with the name-calling in the editorial, but with what he said were misrepresentations of fact. The executive order will not, as the editorial states, “drive up the cost of doing business in Colorado by forcing collective bargaining on thousands of state employees.”

The order requires no one to join a union, Dreyer said. It compels no one to pay union dues. The order does not allow workers who choose to join unions to strike. Nor does it let those in unions have binding arbitration of disagreements with the state.

“This is about improving the delivery of services to the public,” Dreyer said.

Critics counter that it is payback to unions by Ritter for having vetoed a law during the last session of the General Assembly that would have made it easy to establish unions in the state.

Singleton’s visceral reaction did not surprise journalism scholar John McManus.

McManus, an author and professor, runs a San Francisco-area media watchdog group called McManus says Singleton’s hatred of unions revealed itself in his handling of a series of newspapers he bought recently in the Bay Area.

“He established something called the Alameda News Group for the small papers he owned,” McManus said. “ANG papers were unionized.”

When Singleton purchased the much larger Contra Costa Times, McManus said, Singleton merged the nonunionized Times staff with the ANG to form the East Bay Area News Group.

“Then,” McManus explained, Singleton said, “We now have more nonunion than union employees. So we will no longer negotiate with the union because it doesn’t represent a majority of workers.”

That tactic seems to have worked, McManus said.

Whether Singleton’s angry front-page editorial will succeed in taking down Ritter is another matter.

  “The governor is an even-keeled, thick-skinned, moderate person,” Dreyer said. “We’re going to focus on what this plan truly is and what it does and doesn’t do.”