Back in the day, there were only a handful of reporters who could claim membership in Douglas Bruce’s official “I Will Never Talk To You Again” club. Now, with one fell swoop, the just-censured Colorado state lawmaker has added every reporter and photographer and for that matter everyone else employed by the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.Bruce’s stance, to cut off communications with the state’s two largest daily newspapers, conjures up past astonishment by former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens and former Senate President Ray Powers — Republicans who couldn’t fathom a public official, or candidate for public office, refusing to talk to the press.
But let’s take this sequence of events in order. Today Bruce, a Republican from Colorado Springs, became the first lawmaker in Colorado history to be censured, after he kicked a newspaper photographer in the knee. The incident occurred last week on the floor of the House of Representatives just hours before Bruce was sworn into office.
This week, during a long-winded effort to rebut the censure, Bruce has continued to blame the Rocky Mountain News photographer he kicked, as well as a Denver Post photographer, who Bruce claims goaded the other one into taking his photo during a public morning prayer.
Amid the business of the censure resolution, Bruce attempted unsuccessfully to get his blame-the-media-for-the-unfairness-of-it-all screed entered into the House’s permanent record. There’s a lot there, including a complaint that Bruce’s predecessor, Bill Cadman, was not disciplined over a famous incident, detailed on Sunday by Colorado Confidential, in which Cadman three years ago threatened to ram his fist up the ass of another lawmaker. (Distinction: Unlike Bruce, Cadman didn’t employ any physical contact).
But here’s the pertinent part of today’s formal announcement by Bruce:
“For your information, I have also decided to refuse permanently any interviews with the Post or News. This will limit my public communication options, but 20 years of Post and News distortions, libelous editorials, etc., is enough.
“They can’t set me up again if I refuse to talk to them. Problem solved. You may be used to such media behavior in Denver, but it has never happened to me before in 21 years. Now I am forewarned.”
Indeed for the past week, the dailies have sometimes been reduced to quoting the public official as he is being interviewed by other not-yet-banned media outlets: As the Post quoted Channel 9 News: “The media up here [in Denver] is much more aggressive and much less courteous than the media in Colorado Springs.”
Over the years, Bruce has cut off other Colorado journalists — notably when they report his activities beyond the scope of his own crafted message. In other words, the pattern is, if Bruce doesn’t like a reporter or what he or she has written about him, he often refuses to talk to the reporter anymore.
In addition to this reporter, other known members of the “86’ed by Doug Bruce Club” have included former Post scribe Rich Tosches, who also once worked at the Colorado Springs Gazette and currently writes a column for the Colorado Springs Independent. John Hazlehurst, who currently works for the Colorado Springs Business Journal, also claims to have been a member.
In my case, specifically, Bruce, the anti-government author of the 1992 Taxpayer Bill of Rights, didn’t like an investigative story dating back to 1994 that explored the California native’s past life. Among just two of the findings: In 1980, running as a Democrat, Bruce lost a bitter race for the California State Assembly. Three years later the Internal Revenue Service successfully sued Bruce in a case where he tried to deduct money he spent on his then-girlfriend, his girlfriend’s son and her dog, claiming them as business expenses. Bruce also was angry that a photo of him from his high school yearbook accompanied the story.
In 2000 Bruce, who had since become a Republican and moved to Colorado Springs, ran for the state Senate against Ron May. His refusal to speak to local reporters — and thus be accessible to the public he professed to want to represent — stunned the governor at the time, Republican Bill Owens. Then-Senate President Ray Powers, the Colorado Springs Republican whose term-limited seat Bruce was trying to win, termed Bruce’s refusal to be interviewed ridiculous. (May, who went on to win the senate seat, was also notoriously press-shy.)
“It’s foolish on [Bruce’s] part if he wants to refuse to be interviewed,” Powers told this reporter in 2000. Public officials and candidates, he said, should never think they can pick and choose which general distribution newspapers they will and won’t talk to.
“None of them write positive stories, and you have to expect you’re going to get your hits and your political cartoons, because you’re a public figure,” he noted.
Owens underscored Powers’ remarks.
“Candidates as well as elected officials have an obligation to be accessible,” said the then-governor — noting that he had never 86’ed a newspaper or refused interviews because he didn’t like what they wrote about him.
“If I did that, I wouldn’t be able to talk to any newspaper in the state,” Owens said. “Using [that] framework, I’m surprised Doug Bruce talks to any media outlet.”
Cara DeGette is a senior fellow at Colorado Confidential and a columnist and contributing editor at the Colorado Springs Independent. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org