MEDIA: Colorado TV news warps into ‘propaganda,’ cattle mutilation coverage, disinformation, and more

Your weekly roundup of Colorado local news & media

Image by køpper for Creative Commons in Flickr

A local TV station in Colorado this week found news of a video it aired had been warped into “right-wing ‘propaganda,’” which led the station to run another broadcast about it— this time citing a law enforcement officer who complained about the framing.

From KRDO in Colorado Springs:

According to large online conservative news outlets like The Blaze and Red State, it was a member of Antifa blocking traffic in a political protest that was seen in a viral video being thrown down and punched by an SUV driver last week in Pueblo. But that’s not what happened, according to the Pueblo Police Department, and Sgt. Frank Ortega says there’s concern about the video being used as “propaganda.”

Here’s what happened: Someone shot a video of a masked individual banging on the door of a moving SUV at an intersection in Pueblo. The driver got out and beat the masked person to the ground. The video quickly went viral, and KRDO reported on it, as local TV stations are wont to do. “It’s not clear what led to the altercation, but you can see a masked man wearing a backpack arguing with the driver of an SUV at the corner of 4th and Elizabeth streets,” the station reported on Nov. 22.

The video wound up on something called LiveLeak under the headline “Brave Antifa Blocks Car Angry Man Knocks Him Out.” Latching onto it, the conservative website Red State published a headline “An Antifa Member Tries to Block a Car and Assault Someone, It Doesn’t Go Well (Seriously).” That claim then retailed its way through other ideologically simpatico websites like The Blaze. The claim that the masked individual is an “Antifa protestor” apparently stemmed from the person wearing a black mask and a backpack, or, per Red State, “the typical getup.” The video clip rocketed around Twitter with an Antifa narrative as its co-pilot

Here’s KRDO taking it up from here:

Pueblo police tell us that the man seen in the SUV reached out to the department after seeing our story, and he gave officers a statement about what happened. At this point, no charges have been filed against the driver of the SUV, who can be seen accelerating slowly into the pedestrian before throwing him to the ground and punching him several times. The driver said he had “two to three” conversations with the masked man before things escalated. According to Pueblo police, the driver told officers the altercation started because the masked pedestrian was blocking drivers from turning west onto 4th Street if they weren’t using a turn signal. So, in a way, the pedestrian was protesting — but the video got picked up by so-called conservative outlets to push a warped narrative.

“They are positioning the video and putting it into the context that supports their cause, their mission, and their propaganda,” Sgt. Frank Ortega told KRDO. “It is unfortunate they are using video that is locally from here.”

Some on social media challenged the station for asserting it debunked the Antifa narrative by going off the word of police who themselves were relying on the word of only one of the parties involved. Still, that’s reporting— a heck of a lot more than some other sites did when spreading information with declarative claims that fit a particular agenda.

(Warning: Graphic language in this video 👇🏽 if your sound is on.)

As always, readers should be looking for attribution in whatever they read online. According to who? Is the source of attribution credible?

Weighing in on the saga, reporter Kara Mason, who is very familiar with Pueblo, said on social media: “Honestly, I saw this link and I was like ‘lol what. Antifa? Pueblo? Oh that’s gotta be fake.’ Then I recognized that intersection and I was like ‘oh yeah, no. That fight makes sense.'”

On cattle mutilations in Colorado and the strange life of a reporter who investigated them

If you’ve never spent much time looking into the circumstances of cattle mutilations and how finding lifeless, blood-drained carcasses in the American countryside has confounded farmers, ranchers, and law enforcement since at least the 1970s, it can make for a wild way to spend an afternoon. The phenomenon is a kind of creepier cousin to the crop circle in UFO lore but remains much more stubbornly unexplained. For whatever reason, Colorado is a hotbed of research.

Last week, The Colorado Springs Independent alt-weekly offered a journalistic history of cattle mutilations in Colorado. Much of the piece focuses on Dane Edwards, a Colorado transplant who ran the weekly Brush Banner newspaper in 1975. From the story by Heidi Beedle:

By the end of August and into September, Edwards was reporting on new twists in the cattle mutilation incidents: menacing aircraft and strange lights at the mutilation sites. Edwards collected reports from Elbert County, Elizabeth, Franktown and Simla of unmarked helicopters “buzzing” farmers and “chasing” people. “Several people reported having seen a flashing ‘strobe’ light,” wrote Edwards, “travelling from east to west at an extremely fast rate of speed and changing directions with a staccato effect in the sky.”

Edwards allegedly began working with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, providing them with evidence gathered during the course of his investigations, after reporting that “agencies such as the FBI stated there is no evidence of federal crimes.” Edwards was frustrated with the response, noting that “it would mean that 21 groups of mutilators have operated in 21 states. Since it is a federal offense to commit interstate crimes that would open the door for their participation in the investigation.”

It wasn’t until Edwards began receiving threats at the Banner to “lay off the investigations of the cattle mutilations,” that Colorado Senator Floyd Haskell finally sought the FBI’s assistance within the mutilation investigations.

In October of 1975, the Gazette reported that the Banner, with reporting by Edwards, was “the only newspaper in Colorado known to have conducted a full scale investigation into the matter of mysterious deaths and mutilations of livestock in Colorado.”

That’s quite an honor to have — and it came with some occupational hazards. Edwards told The Gazette his “office had been broken into twice and things gone through. Blood was thrown on my glass storm door at my home.” He also criticized law enforcement for what he characterized as unimaginative probes into the mutilations, and the Brush Banner wound up firing him, The Indy writes. Edwards went missing, his car left at a truck stop. “While in the Banner’s employ Mr. Edwards expressed concern for his well being on various occasions,” his former paper reported.

The Indy actually ran a whole separate piece about this part. From the item, headlined: “The strange disappearance of Dane Edwards“:

Those of us who grew up on The X-Files can practically picture the stony-faced men in suits dragging Edwards out of his car and off to an unmarked grave in some remote stretch of Colorado’s eastern prairie. It’s a story that practically writes itself, and may prove that Edwards was onto something big. The truth was out there, and Edwards paid for it with his life. It’s a romantic story, but like many romantic stories, it is at odds with objective reality. Dane Edwards, despite his journalistic zeal and fervent desire to get to the bottom of this bizarre phenomenon, came no closer to cracking the mystery of the cattle mutilations than the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, FBI, or the dozens of true believers like investigator Chuck Zukowski.

Turns out, Beedle writes for The Indy, Edwards, who was already on a second assumed name, took his family to Texas and then Mexico, switching identities again. Beedle writes she even had “a limited email correspondence” with her subject who she refers to as “a uniquely American figure … A rogue in the style of Don Draper or Jay Gatsby, a man who fought the system when he could, and took advantage of it when he couldn’t.”

The Indy’s cover story is an offbeat read, and it’s timely with the recent news of five bulls found mysteriously drained of blood on a ranch in Oregon making national headlines. “Forty-four years after mutilations originally terrified American ranchers, explanations of this phenomena remain controversial,” Beedle concludes in the Indy piece. “The mutilators, whatever or whoever they are, have been able to keep their secrets this whole time, while conducting operations around the nation, without any defectors, leakers or whistle-blowers.”

Report for America could ✈️ send a journalist to Ouray, Colorado ⛰️

Last week’s newsletter reported how The Associated Press is beefing up its staffing across the country with help from Report for America, and how it means Colorado will get a new statehouse reporter.

This week, Report for America — it’s like Teach for America but for journalists — announced it will place 250 reporters in 160 newsrooms around the nation next year. The news “marks the single biggest hiring announcement of journalists in recent memory —and comes as a direct response to the worsening crisis in local news across the country,” the initiative, which launched in 2018, said in a statement.

Background on the project:

Report for America is a national service program that places talented, emerging journalists into local news organizations to report for one to two years on under-covered issues and communities. An initiative of The GroundTruth Project, Report for America addresses an urgent need in journalism at a time when news deserts are widening across the country, leaving communities uninformed on local issues and threatening our democracy like never before.

In Colorado, the newsroom getting one of these RFA journalists is The Ouray County Plaindealer, a 1,500-circulation community weekly on the Western Slope. Earlier this year, Erin McIntyre and Mike Wiggins, a journalist couple working at The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, left their newspaper together to buy The Plaindealer and make a go of it as co-publishers who also write most of the news. (They also sometimes act as paper carriers, janitors, ad designers, and sales reps. The paper is that small. Actually, it’s the smallest newsroom of any Report for America journalist to assist.)

“I want to own a paper with a reputation for punching above its weight,” McIntyre told me this week. “I think Report for America recognizes Mike and I have the desire to do meaningful work here, we just don’t have the resources. Becoming a host newsroom is a chance to change that. We’re seven months in to this crazy experiment owning a newspaper and we’re eager to better serve the community.”

In a column McIntyre penned for her paper this week, she told readers about the RFA news and said a reporter will arrive in June. Whoever it is, she anticipates, will tackle stories about “affordable housing and the related socioeconomic issues stemming from our high cost of living here.” She also told her readers something else: The Plaindealer will have to raise money for half the cost of supporting the RFA reporter.

From the column:

This is called the “local share” and Report for America has a goal of encouraging local philanthropy to support journalism. This is the part where we need your help. We will be asking you to become involved in this project with upcoming events in 2020. We want the community to be invested in this venture and to benefit from the reporting. We’re also looking for a place for this reporter to rent for at least a year beginning in June. It’s a little ironic that we might have trouble finding a spot for the person who will be covering this story to live, but we know you understand. 

Watch this space for updates on how this pans out; it will be a fun Colorado case study to follow from this national initiative.

‘We were lied to’: An organization tried to mislead Denver media

Colorado Public Radio reported this week how “members of the youth-led climate activist group Sunrise Movement distributed a fake letter to attendees” at the start of a Wednesday Denver summit about sustainability. “The letter appeared to be on city letterhead,” CPR’s Michael Elizabeth Sakas and Lindsay Fendt reported, “but was actually written by the Sunrise Movement, who are known for using unusual tactics to make their point.” Basically, they faked a letter from the City of Denver saying the mayor was planning to declare a climate crisis and that the city sustainability office was apologizing for having a certain energy company as an event sponsor. (The language in it is pretty over the top for a government news release and you’d think anyone covering Denver closely might take a second look before publishing.)
Still, from CPR:
Andrea Czobor, a journalist from Denver, attended the summit and was handed a copy of Sunrise’s letter. At first, she was impressed that “this particular event somehow or somewhat renounced Suncor because of their practices.” “I fell for it,” Czobor said. “And being a journalist and having a background in understanding this type of document and understanding communication methods and how people spread misinformation so easily, I’m kind of shocked.” Czobor said she was disappointed to see that “people around here are actively spreading things that shouldn’t be.”

Members of the Sunrise Movement “stood by its disinformation tactics,” CPR reported, saying they were trying to follow the lead of another group that works with “progressive orgs to help fight neoliberal poliices (sic) through humor and trickery.”

From the CPR story, citing Sunrise Colorado coordinator Michele Weindling:

When asked if Sunrise felt this tactic was the right idea, for a movement that bases itself in the sanctity of facts and truth around climate change, Wiendling argued for its purpose. “It puts our representatives in an uncomfortable position where they can’t just divert attention away from the activists. They have to address what we’ve called them out for, and then they either have to agree and declare a climate emergency or they have to publicly backtrack that they’re unwilling to do so,” Wiendling said. “That’s more important than temporary disinformation.”

She also said the group’s relationships with media are “really important to us.”

How did that turn out? Here’s an editor at CPR:

And here’s an Associated Press reporter for the West:

Here’s Chase Woodruff, a Westword journalist who focuses on climate coverage:

Colorado Public Radio reporter Michael Elizabeth Sakas walked her social media following through the reporting process for how this saga played out. Click the link below to read her whole thread, including a copy of the fake city news release with a poll asking readers how they initially would have reacted to it:

What you missed on the Sunday front pages of newspapers across Colorado

The Longmont Times-Call reported Colorado organizations that help sexual assault survivors are “stretched thin” as reports riseThe Steamboat Pilot reported on the opening of lottery permits to raft on the Yampa RiverThe Loveland Reporter-Herald covered the Rocky Mountain Train ShowThe Gazette ran a freelance piece by David. O. Williams about Colorado ski towns struggling with suicide and depressionThe Summit Daily News reported on a program to help address working homelessnessThe Coloradoan ran a big takeout on the “progressive pivot” of the Fort Collins city council on climate change and housing issuesThe Durango Herald asked if low airfares out of the local airport were too good to be trueThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel profiled a local artist who created a giant clay potThe Boulder Daily Camera profiled a local music journalist posthumously inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of FameThe Denver Post reported how Colorado is re-thinking the safety of its dams.

Donations to some local news orgs will be multiplied this month

Want to help support some local news outlets across Colorado this month? “This giving season, the Colorado Media Project (CMP) is hoping to inspire more individuals to support homegrown, Colorado news,” the project writes. From now through Dec. 31, “your new monthly membership, donation, or subscription to 18 participating Colorado newsrooms below will be multiplied 12x — and one-time donations of up to $1,000 will be doubled — for a total of up to $5,000 match per newsroom.” Find out here which newsrooms are participating.

Goodness gracious in Greeley 

It started with a tweet.

👆🏽That’s Trenton Sperry, a page design supervisor at the Swift Communications-owned newspaper in northern Colorado. Journalists re-tweeted it and expressed condolences. Then, Greeley Tribune publisher Bryce Jacobson weighed in.

That sparked a round of social media threads with journalism folks weighing in from around the country.

Former Greeley Tribune content director Louis Amestoy, who was ousted this summer over a disagreement about what he believed were “unreasonable” story quotas for journalists, got in on the action.

Then, one of the Greeley Tribune’s former rising journalism stars, Tyler Silvy, who quit the Tribune for a paper in California this summer, piled on, quote-tweeting his former publisher, and saying:

There’s too much back-and-forth of this rather remarkable public airing of newsroom grievances to round up in this section, but here are some more links to Twitter threads that can get you caught up to speed— unless they have been deleted by now. On Wednesday, Jacobson published a column in the Tribune about a change in how the paper will cover sports. From the column:

While we’ve invested to serve this audience over the years with in-depth coverage of teams in Greeley, Evans and Windsor, we’ve consistently struggled to make the economics work — simply put, there isn’t enough support of our reporting to fund the cost of multiple writers and photographers on the ground covering sports in particular.

He didn’t say in the piece whether anyone who covers sports is leaving the paper but did say the paper will “welcome a new sports data journalist” who will “collect and aggregate sports scores and interesting sports news,” among other things.

News of the latest restructuring out of the paper rose to the level of coverage for the Greeley-based KUNC public radio station, which dedicated a segment to it on the show “Colorado Edition” and asked your humble newsletter writer to weigh in.

Old news makes new news 

When someone winds up in the local news after a bout of residential water damage it doesn’t typically make for a feel-good story. But this week, well…

From KRCC‘s Abigail Beckman:

When the pipes burst in her house near Colorado Springs’ Old North End, a local woman was heartbroken at having to tear out the original wood floor. But as Genesis De Leon pried up the floorboards and pushed away the dust, she found something intriguing underneath.

That “something intriguing?” Old local newspapers. Lots of them— likely used back in the 1940s for insulation under the floorboards. Headlines read “Real Collapse in Germany Far Off” and “Three Armies Surge Ahead.”

More from the local NPR affiliate in southern Colorado:

Brett Lobello, director of regional history and genealogy for the Pikes Peak Library District, says these papers are a way to see things otherwise buried by history. He points to the photo of Hitler. Underneath is the headline “Tokyo Calls the Tune.” Below that is the following question: “Is Hitler as worried about the speed of Japanese conquests as Britons and Americans are?” “That’s the place where…we’d never think about that because we know what happens,” Lobello explains. “But here, you’re sort of seeing that tension between the Germans and the Japanese. I’d love to read this one because we would never see this in a textbook.” He says these papers say a lot about the original homeowners besides the fact that they did a thorough job laying the papers for insulation. “Coming from the same house, the first thing that jumps out at me is you have your local news and you have your national news. You can sort of see that people aren’t relying on one venue for their news because everybody wants to be up on times,” he says.

Read (and listen) to the whole story here. And what is the homeowner doing now that she finds herself replacing her floor? Beckman reports: “She plans to buy a few current papers and put them under the new floors in her house for someone else to discover someday.”

How a high school newspaper came back to life

The independent weekly in Durango is helping revive The Quill, a student newspaper at the Animas High School in the southwest Four Corners region of Colorado.
Thanks to the benevolent collaboration of The Durango Telegraph, the Quill will be featured as a periodic insert in everyone’s favorite local indie paper. When we asked editor Missy Votel what motivated her to work with the Quill, she said “I think it’s important to give budding young writers a taste of the exciting world of journalism! Even though the means of delivering news is changing, news gathering, uncovering the truth and telling the often-neglected side of the story are more important now than ever. And who better to give a voice to than teens, who will (hopefully) grow up to be the vanguards of the so-called Fifth Estate.”

Launched in 2011, The Quill folded in 2016 when its faculty advisor, Jessica McCallum, switched teaching roles. “I wanted to bring it back because it was missing,” she told The Telegraph. “At a project-based high school rooted in adult world connections and engaged learning, the lack of a student media organization left a hole in our programming.” She also said, “There’s never been a more important time to be studying journalism in a democratic society. It prepares young people to critically read their world and express the issues important to them. As we all watch the media landscape transform, focusing on the pursuit of truth and clear communication is of paramount importance.”

True that.

*This column 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