The Wrong Stuff

A mislabeled photo, an error-filled column, a missing attribution: The Post is on a hot streak.

Although approval of the joint operating agreement linking the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News hasn't been finalized, no one at the Post doubts it'll happen. As proof, note that on October 24 the paper announced it was doubling the newsstand price of its product, from 25 cents to 50 cents on weekdays and 50 cents to a buck on weekends -- the first of many hikes to come. Bet your purse feels lighter already.

What'll these extra coins buy you? A nap, according to the News's Lynn Bartels, who in an October 1 column described the writing in "a how-to tome for incoming lawmakers" by the Office of Legislative Legal Services as "so technical and boring it reads like the Denver Post."

In truth, though, the Post has been far from dull of late -- but often for reasons having more to do with screwups than with excellence.

Its showiest recent blunder took place on October 12, when the paper identified a front-page photo of Al Gore and George W. Bush taken at their first presidential debate on October 3 as a shot from their second faceoff, held on October 11. The Post tried to make amends the next day with an extraordinary article detailing how this howler happened: The Associated Press accidentally sent clients the outdated image followed by numerous warnings against using it, all of which Post staffers managed to miss. So it's hardly a shock that they also failed to notice that the blue tie Gore wore during debate number two had managed to turn red. Betcha their faces did, too, after readers spotted the gaffe.

Running a close second in the boo-boo department was an October 18 column by the Post's Chuck Green, long a reliable source of yuks. His salvo, titled "Bini Trial a Betrayal of Truth," was an attack on the justice system over the "just-completed trial" of Joe Bini, the Denver cop who was largely responsible for incorrectly sending a SWAT team to the home of Ismael Mena in September 1999, thereby directly contributing to Mena's fatal shooting. Green wrote, "Bini's jury was not allowed to know that his carelessness caused the death of a father. They were not told -- because the judge wouldn't allow it as evidence -- that Ismael Mena died as a result of Bini's malfeasance. Jurors were not told that Mena was killed by mistake. They were not told that Mena is dead."

Actually, there was another reason they didn't receive this information: The jury didn't exist, and the trial didn't happen. Sure, Bini had been scheduled to go to trial, but on October 5, five days before the proceedings were to begin, he cut a deal, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor -- official misconduct -- in exchange for the dropping of three felony counts against him. And while Judge Shelley Gilman, during a September 1 hearing, had indeed forbidden prosecutors from presenting evidence at trial about the shooting of Mena, jurors weren't privy to that information because no jury had been seated -- except, I suppose, in Green's imagination. He was in such high dudgeon when he wrote the sentence "Truth is the first casualty of war" that he italicized it. But in this case, truth was seemingly the first casualty of too much time spent at the Denver Press Club.

The sad task of telling Green that his column sported more than its fair share of fiction fell to yours truly. I got in touch with him via his cell phone on October 18 as he was driving to a funeral, which only added to the guilt I was already feeling. After all, my previous profile of him ("The Dogfather Speaks," July 7) apparently had made him so self-conscious about chronicling the cuddliest or most tragic members of the animal kingdom -- as he's done so memorably in the past -- that he'd shied away from the subject for months. Nonetheless, I forged ahead, asking if he'd received any calls from folks revealing that the Bini trial had taken place only in his own private world. Green mumbled that he hadn't yet checked his messages and said he'd get back to me. After perusing the correction the Post printed the following morning, I phoned him again to ask if he would be addressing the issue in his column. "Frank Scandale, the metro editor [actually, Scandale is the assistant managing editor -- but we know what you mean, Chuck], said the correction would take care of it," revealed Green, who insisted that he couldn't recall "more than four or five" such faux pas in "fifteen or twenty years" of writing a column. "But I prefer to do something in my own column so I can be sure my readership sees it."

Green didn't give me a preview of his mea culpa then, but it was worth the wait: In his October 20 column, he asked "for a renewal of faith from readers" after his little stumble, adding a request to "renew that handshake deal we've enjoyed for more than 30 years -- I'll do my darndest to make sure you can trust what you read in this corner of the Post." Hope that means a return to the pet parade. Who let the dogs out? Woof! Woof!

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