The Wrong Stuff

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

By contrast with Green's column, October 7's "The Columbus Conundrum," penned by Post reporter William Porter, didn't include anything false -- just old. The article, an attempt to wrestle with Christopher Columbus's legacy on the morn of a much-discussed parade in his honor, was based largely on remarks by Patricia Limerick, a professor of American history at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and probably the most cited local on historical topics; her page in the Golden Rolodex is mighty dog-eared. But a sharp-eyed reader who requests anonymity was made suspicious by the writerly quality of Limerick comments such as "Let Columbus be Columbus: Full of human frailties, and also full of courage and enterprise and a sense of injury and denied reward," and decided to do some investigating. It didn't take him long to discover that the quotes in "Conundrum" were lifted directly from a speech Limerick gave on ol' Chris way back in 1991.

Porter wasn't pulling a fast one on Limerick: In fact, she was the one who sent him the speech, which she said effectively encapsulated her views. But instead of letting readers know about the origins of her statements, Porter neglected to mention the speech and repeatedly used the word "says," implying that her observations were poppin' fresh.

Such omissions happen all too often in newspapering, especially in the field of entertainment writing, which overflows with moral temptations; publicists often send out pre-recorded interviews with stars that scribes are more than welcome to pretend they conducted themselves -- and some do. Also common is the recycling of quotations without informing readers when they were collected, as happened mere weeks prior to the Porter piece in a Brian Wilson preview by Mark Brown, the News's pop-music writer: Among other things, Brown failed to mention that ancillary quotes from onetime Wilson collaborator Don Was dated to a conversation Brown had had with him in the mid-'90s, when he was working for the Orange County Register. Brown, who in August wrote "Rock Critics Need a Mirror," an essay that chided his peers for their occasional ethical lapses, concedes that "I probably should have noted in there that I had been researching this article for a number of years in various forms."

Jay Vollmar

It's hard to say how Porter feels about the attribution issues his article raises. Reached last week, he called an item about "The Columbus Conundrum" printed in the corrections section of the October 12 Post "a clarification," but declined to go into more detail because he was on deadline -- and he chose not to return three more phone messages left on successive days. CU's Limerick doesn't have a problem with Porter, either, yet she chose not to be directly interviewed on the subject. Instead, in an irony she recognized, she e-mailed her reaction to the matter in general. "If I had to choose a top-ten list of reporters whose journalistic skills I trust, and to whom I would speak freely and with confidence that I would be accurately quoted, I'd put Bill Porter on that list," she wrote.

Post editor Glenn Guzzo may feel the same way, but he believes the October 12 "clarification" (that's what he calls it, too) was wholly justified. "What we have here is no distortion of the facts," he says, "but when it was brought to our attention that the attribution could have been clearer, we agreed." He's considerably more disapproving of the manner with which the Green column made it into print, checking off the various parties who dropped the ball in much the same way as did the anonymous author of the article about the debate photo. "The layers that this went through would have included Chuck and the person on the assigning desk who edited the copy before it went to the copy desk. Then it would have included one or two reads on the copy desk -- and there's an additional chance it would have been caught when the pages got proofed. So a minimum of three people, and under ordinary circumstances as many as four or five, could have caught this. But they didn't."

Oh, yeah: Guzzo also says that because of a greater focus on preventing bungles, the overall number of mistakes in the Post has been on the decline -- which theoretically will make newsstand buyers happy to part with those additional quarters. But the errors still slipping by have been doozies.

Stopping the violins: Since the announcement that Colorado Public Radio purchased KKYD-AM with an eye toward turning it into a full-time classical outlet ("The Missing Linc," October 12), speculation about the future of classical music on the Denver dial has been rife among aficionados of the style and radio observers in general. Take Post media writer Joanne Ostrow, who in an October 11 column titled "Classical Sounds Triumph" trumpeted the deal because of her assumption that CPR will eventually move the all-classical format to 90.1 FM, the frequency of mother signal KCFR, even though the network's head, Max Wycisk, has not yet promised to do anything of the sort.

The rest of Ostrow's sunny analysis seems based on the premise that one classical station is pretty much the same as another. But area buffs have long bellyached that CPR's approach to the genre is far less provocative than the one utilized by KVOD, which had been Denver's FM-based commercial-classical purveyor up until last year, when it was hijacked to the sonically suspect AM band. Moreover, these critics have also knocked CPR for an alleged lack of commitment to Denver's arts community -- a sin that KVOD never committed. And the manner with which CPR's musical programming is being assembled doesn't exactly scream "local," either. Last month the final phase of a classical-music satellite service jointly developed by CPR and Los Angeles' KUSC went online; its components include pre-recorded announcer bites that are electronically inserted into the musical flow at a studio in Boise, Idaho. Is that the kind of triumph you had in mind, Ms. Ostrow?

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