The founder and CEO of Colorado Confidential’s parent company is challenging a reporter who has publicly claimed that this news organization has direct links to the Democratic Party apparatus to either provide some “proof” — or back off.The latest development comes amid a controversy over how credentials are issued at Colorado’s Capitol – specifically which reporters and news organizations are allowed full access to cover the General Assembly in policy issues that impact all Coloradans.
This year, with the approval of legislative leaders, a handful of reporters who routinely work at the Capitol formed a new ad-hoc organization, the Colorado Capitol Press Association, to advise government leaders of which news organizations should be recognized as legitimate and which should not. Their motivation, they said, was a concern over the possibility that political activists posing as journalists may seek access to the House and Senate floors.
In the past, legislative leaders have accepted the recommendations of the Colorado Press Association, which has for many years accredited Colorado news groups. The move this year, by the five reporters who represent traditional media, including three print publications, radio and television, has been widely criticized by many journalists and journalism scholars – as, among other things, a solution in search of a problem.
Ultimately, the speaker of the House and the Senate president determine who is allowed on the floors of their respective chambers. However, so far the CCPA has recommended that two online Colorado news groups – including Colorado Confidential and State Bill Colorado — not be recognized as legitimate news organizations. At the time, one member of the committee said a majority of the group determined that Colorado Confidential is too closely affiliated with a “political organization.”
Last Wednesday, the weekly newspaper Fort Collins NOW also followed up on the evolving controversy. In the story, reporter Charles Ashby, who covers the Capitol for the Pueblo Chieftain and is a member of the CCPA, was quoted claiming – inaccurately – that Colorado Confidential, an online news group, coordinates coverage with the Democratic Party machine.
“It is our understanding that they are coordinating with Democrats, and other Democratic efforts, like [watchdog group] Media Matters for instance,” Ashby was quoted saying.
Ashby was subsequently contacted by this reporter. Specifically, he was asked to provide any written or oral documentation – or any other proof – to back up his assertion.
“I’m probably not the best person to ask,” Ashby said. Rather, he claimed, “someone else” on the five-member Colorado Capitol Press Association had been “assured that ColoradoConfidential.com was working in concert with the Democratic Party.”
Asked to identify that committee member, Ashby responded: “I’m not at liberty to divulge that. It came to me as an off-the-record [source of] information.”
In other words, Ashby refused to substantiate his published claim with any documentation or other verification.
Many lawyers would term Ashby’s position as a violation of the fundamental principles of due process – an assertion based on anonymous information of dubious reliability that provides no accountability, and thus, no opportunity to rebut it or explain it. Many serious journalists would dismiss such unsubstantiated posturing as bunk.
Colorado Confidential subsequently contacted, or attempted to contact, the four other members of the Colorado Capitol Press Association to determine who had provided Ashby with any documentation or information that would verify his claim.
Joe Hanel, the Durango Herald’s Capitol-based reporter, who has been identified as the Colorado Capitol Press Association’s official spokesman, said he did not possess any such “proof.” Hanel was initially the reporter who informed Colorado Confidential of the advisory group’s decision of a non-recommendation.
At that time, Hanel cited three foundations who donate money to Colorado Confidential’s nonprofit umbrella organization – the Washington-based Center for Independent Media – as the deciding factors. Those organizations cited were the Gill Foundation, the Service Employees International Union and the Open Society Institute. The foundations often provide funding to progressive causes and candidates –