Off Limits

Post toasted: The Rocky Mountain News wasn't going to beat the Denver Post on this scoop: Post editor-in-chief Dennis Britton had won the 1998 Edgar O'Malley Award for newsroom leadership--specifically, the paper's handling of the Summit of the Eight, the Oklahoma City bombing trials and the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

Just one problem: The Edgar O'Malley Award doesn't exist. Instead, the whole thing was another awkward episode for The Official Newspaper of the Fraud, which just last year was rooked into printing a story falsely reporting that John Elway wore a nipple ring.

In the latest bit of subterfuge aimed at the Post, an unknown prankster recently sent both Britton and publisher Ryan McKibben impressive Federal Express packets notifying the paper of Britton's big win. The handouts came complete with a press release detailing the stunning victory, a fact sheet describing the nonexistent Edgar O'Malley Award (said to "spotlight the pivotal role of editors whose decisions have great impacts upon their communities") and glowing comments from the judges. This, for example, from non-existent Brother Basil Valente, described in the letter as a nominating-committee member and journalism professor at St. Bonaventure University: "The Post's imaginative, informative and thorough reporting made [the Summit of the Eight] something all readers could relate to." If that bit of bluster wasn't enough to tip off Post bigwigs that they were being bamboozled, the fact that the judges also applauded the paper's attractive, "less-is-more" graphics might have provided another clue.

Instead, the award packet was passed on to crack reporter Sheba R. Wheeler, who proceeded to crank out a puff piece that was even funnier than the press release cooked up by the merry prankster. The first sentence of Wheeler's story informed readers that Britton had been recognized for "guiding the metropolitan news median [did she mean "media"?] into the top tier of U.S. daily newspapers." The reporter even managed to snag an exclusive interview with Britton himself, whom she quoted as saying, "It's real exciting to think that a group of judges who have nothing to do with Denver, nothing to do with the Post and nothing to do with Colorado think that we succeed..."

It's real funny, too, and it could have been a real hoot if the story had only made it into print. Alas, the Post was spared the humiliation of yet another public screwup (the paper's latest snafu: running an incendiary quote about Pat Bowlen uttered by one of the Post's own sportswriters and attributing it to a Broncos spokesman). The prankster's game was up when an eagle-eyed editor questioned whether St. Bonaventure has a journalism school (it does) and then learned that the school has no Brother Basil. The story was killed. But, hey, we'll send Britton an award if he wants one. Just name it, you lovable lug.

The big payback: If voters approve the idea of building Pat Bowlen a new football stadium, the lawyers and bond houses already salivating at the mere prospect of the $350 million project won't have to wait long to start collecting their fees. Though the sales-tax-revenue bonds being used to finance Coors Field aren't expected to be paid off until the year 2001, the football stadium district could begin building The Great Patsby a new playhouse--and hiring the city's silk-stocking crowd to devil the details--long before then. How will they do it, since the sales-tax revenue that would pay for a new stadium won't be available until after the debt is retired at Coors? Why, it's easy, my good fellow--by issuing a "bond anticipation note" to cover interim costs that could soar to $200 million or more. Such notes function much like short-term construction loans--and when you add together the interest payments on the note, the inevitable attorneys' fees, and the cost of insurance and other sundries, the hurry-up-and-build approach could end up costing taxpayers an extra $20 million.

Of course, only a cad would quibble over such a trifle. And Broncos financial consultant Lee White--the man who calculated the $20 million figure, which he calls a "worst-case scenario"--says the cost of waiting to build the stadium until the tax money is actually available would be even greater. "If we waited to construct it until the tax was available, the cost would escalate faster than the cost of waiting," says White, a bond expert who serves as a member of the Denver Public Schools board when he isn't busy with his other job, helping Patsby find lenders to cover his share of the stadium project. "The likely increase in a $300 million project is far more expensive than just going ahead and building it now. It's actually the right thing to do."

Of course, so is making Patsby pay more of the total cost. And here's a thought: How about making him put up his $100 million contribution (that's American dollars, not Canadian beaver pelts, hoser) first so Joe Six-Pack can save some interest on that construction loan?

Maybe Patsby can pencil in a meeting on the subject as soon as he gets done carting his Lombardi Trophy around town to show it off to all his fab chums. The most recent stop on the grand tour of the rich and well-connected: the downtown offices of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, whose boardmembers had specifically asked Patsby to tote the gleaming Super Bowl icon along when he motored in from Cherry Hills Village for a meeting on stadium issues. "We asked him to bring it because we wanted to see it--it was fantastic," says chamber chairwoman Gail Klapper, her adrenaline still pumping at the memory. Following the inevitable photo session and laying on of hands (on the trophy, not Patsby), Bowlen and his pals talked business for a few minutes. But, assures Klapper, "it was more social than anything."

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