By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
The September 30 edition of this column included mention of "The Building of the Pepsi Center," a hype-filled supplement in the September 26 Denver Post, a publication that's a "founding partner" of the arena. Now a much more extreme variation on this ethical theme is shaking the Los Angeles Times -- and one of the people who helped set the events into motion was Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz. The story so far: On October 10, the Times published "Taking Center Stage," a 164-page love letter to the Staples Center, a new, $400 million arena built by Anschutz and company as the home for another of his properties, the Los Angeles Kings hockey team, as well as the NBA's Lakers and Clippers. Because the Times is (you guessed it) a founding partner in the Staples Center, the paper's objectivity would have been questionable under the best of circumstances. But the scent of "Stage" became considerably more pungent when it was revealed several weeks later that the Times had agreed to share monies generated by the Staples Center mag with, believe it or don't, the Staples Center/Anschutz.
To their credit, a number of "Center Stage" reporters, none of whom knew anything about the financial arrangements until long after the October 10 issue was on the streets, presented a letter to Times editor and vice president Michael Parks requesting an independent investigation into the matter. In addition, Otis Chandler, 71, the former publisher of the Times and great grandson of General Harrison Gray Otis, who bought the paper in 1882, ripped the current management at the Times for the way they have "abused and misused" the editorial department in a five-page harangue he insisted be read aloud to the staff. With the controversy out in the open, the Times is now in the unpleasant position of having to cover its own gaffes, ensuring many more mentions of the Staples Center in future news articles. Anschutz sure seems to have gotten his money's worth.
Closer to home, the Rocky Mountain News finds itself in an awkward place owing to the involvement of one of its business columnists, Dean Bonham, in news-making litigation spurred by the on-again, off-again sale of the Pepsi Center, the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche earlier this year. After it was announced that Wal-Mart heiress Nancy Laurie and husband Bill Laurie had agreed to purchase this package from previous owner Ascent Entertainment for $400 million, Bonham, whose Bonham Group specializes in sports marketing consultations, told Ascent stockholders that really rich Denverite Donald Sturm was willing to pay at least $40 million more for the properties than the Lauries had offered. Shortly thereafter, the initial deal fell apart, and Sturm subsequently bought the Nugs, Avs and Pepsi Center for $461 million -- a deal that was still wrapped in red tape at press time. To complicate matters further, Bonham sued Sturm in September, claiming that he deserved a 1 percent finder's fee or a contract to manage the newly purchased holdings for his part in putting Sturm together with his new toys.
With Bonham's name showing up in reports about the suit in both the News and the Post, the appearance of a conflict was a definite possibility. But Rob Reuteman, the News's business editor, says he'd moved to prevent that from happening months earlier, when Bonham first began speaking out against Ascent's pact with the Lauries. "I told him, 'Okay Dean, you no longer can write about Ascent, because you've become part of the story.' And he said, 'Fine.' Then, when some of the people involved started blaming Dean for the teams being re-auctioned, we decided to instantly identify him in all the stories as a weekly columnist for the News." Reuteman concedes that "this has been a little weird for him and me. But I think by being totally honest with the readers, we resolved any kind of ethical questions." Bonham, too, says he's put extra effort into keeping everything aboveboard. Because his columns are made available to 400 papers in the E.W. Scripps chain, which owns the News, he says he seldom writes about Denver topics (although a column last month concerned the naming rights for the new Broncos stadium) and adds that when there's been a new development in his lawsuit, he's contacted reporters at the News and the Post on the same day so that he can't be charged with favoritism. "Even if the News hadn't told me not to write about Ascent, I wouldn't have," Bonham notes. "Because I couldn't be objective about it."
That kind of thinking might not occur to Post sportswriter Adam Schefter, who continues to cover the Broncos even though he's co-written books with star running back Terrell Davis and coach Mike Shanahan (see "Ball Carriers," September 16). In a November 3 article, "Broncos Starting to Feel the Money Pinch: Salary Cap Hardship to Force Major Changes," Schefter quoted from the Shanahan tome Think Like a Champion: Building Success One Victory at a Time without mentioning his involvement in it. Obviously, readers should consider the source.
When Diane Carman wrote "Payoffs: A Plague in Politics," a column published in the October 28 Post, she wanted readers to take a fresh look at Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, whom she suggests may have been doing political favors when he attached a rider to an appropriations bill that directly benefited Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, whose political action committee donated $5,000 to his campaign last year. But she stirred up more ire than she bargained for when she underlined her view of Campbell with the line "A pimp's a pimp, after all, even if he looks good in a headdress." Almost immediately, an aide on Campbell's staff called the Post to complain that this characterization was racist. Carman responded by mentioning the accusation in her October 30 column. But while she wrote that she deeply regrets "whenever my message is misinterpreted," she did not apologize; her conclusion was, "My conscience is clear."