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OFF LIMITS

Prose and cons: Back in '93, local Independence Institute activist David Kopel co-wrote an op-ed piece with a fellow named Theodore H. Fiddleman that accused the federal government of a "coverup" in the Branch Davidian debacle. The only "coverup" that can be proven so far is that Theodore H. Fiddleman doesn't exist. The name is a pseudonym used by Paul Blackman, chief researcher for the National Rifle Association's research and lobbying arm.

Readers of numerous letters to the editor across the nation haven't known, of course, that "Fiddleman," instead of being "a freelance writer from Arlington, Virginia," is really the grinder-in-chief of the NRA's propaganda mill. The charade was uncovered in July by the Washington Post, and there was much hemming and hawing by Blackman and his allies. Kopel, who merited only a small part in the Post story, doesn't hem or haw. He knew Blackman was Fiddleman, he says, and he defends his pal.

"The NRA didn't have an official position on Waco," Kopel tells Westword, "and Blackman didn't want his critical analysis of it tied to his employer. The conspiracy theory that Blackman was trying to hide himself is the opposite of what was going on. I don't think he's at all trying to cover up anything." In fact, says Kopel, that op-ed screed clearly stated that it was from the Golden-based Independence Institute, "so people knew it was coming from a place with an ideological point of view." Besides, as Kopel points out, people like Samuel Clemens used noms de plume. Is he equating Theodore H. Fiddleman with Mark Twain? Well, sort of. "I think it's entirely appropriate to use pseudonyms in many situations," says Kopel.

But when Kopel was a prominent assistant attorney general under Gale Norton a few years ago, he bravely used his own name to blast the federal government for its phony drug war. He also has been an outspoken critic of handgun control. "There were a number of times my employer probably wished I'd used a pseudonym," he says. "The AG ended up getting a lot of grief from her friends in law enforcement over that."

Speaking of handing out grief, didn't Kopel's dad, former legislator and now election commissioner Jerry Kopel, recently denounce Channel 9's Paula Woodward for using pseudonyms to uncover a scandal about phony voter registration? David Kopel wriggles out of that irony, too. "My dad's point is that it was illegal to register under another name," he says. "If it were illegal to write an op-ed piece under a pseudonym, we wouldn't have done it."

Meanwhile, he and Blackman are writing a book on the Waco fiasco and are circulating pages from it on Capitol Hill. "No," he promises, "it doesn't say `By Kopel, Blackman and Fiddleman.'"

And the Independence Institute is sprouting way beyond the printed word. Its longtime director, John Andrews, left for Texas after losing the governor's race to Roy Romer in '90. Then he came back to Colorado. Now he's all the way back. As director of public-affairs programming for TCI (the planet's largest cable-TV purveyor), he's executive producer of a syndicated thirty-minute TV series called Damn Right!, targeted for America's "young majority." A demo reel, aired in June at a PBS conference in Chicago, features skits with the Damn Right! Players, camcorder segments from viewers, an animated Mallard Fillmore cartoon and a panel discussion with editors of Spin, Spy and Inc.. The show is hosted by David Asman, an editor at the Wall Street Journal. Andrews was quoted in Current, a public-health communications paper, as saying the show seeks a "fresh, light, outside-the-Beltway perspective" for its 30- to 49-year-old audience. Sounds more like a cross between Saturday Night Live and Night of the Living Dead.

 
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