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Payback

Cabinet reject Linda Chavez is making the most of her public humiliation.

Linda Chavez lost her chance to serve as George W. Bush's Labor Secretary when the news broke that she'd once sheltered an illegal alien. But, since she dropped out of the running for the position on January 9, the onetime Denver resident has been cashing in -- or trying to, anyway.

Chavez, who heads Washington, D.C.'s Center for Equal Opportunity think tank, supplements her salary by delivering lectures, and in the January 23 Washington Post, she boasted that her speaking fees have zoomed skyward since Bush left her twisting in the breeze. And she may experience a similar income bump when it comes to her gig as a syndicated columnist. After Chavez announced her withdrawal, Richard Newcombe, president of Creators Syndicate, which disseminates her column and those of clients such as Ann Landers, predicted in the Chicago Tribune that the number of papers picking up her work would balloon from fifty to 400, thanks to additional name recognition. And while the numbers haven't hit those heights yet, they're on the upswing. Despite serious ethical questions surrounding Chavez, including her admission that she acted as an adviser to Georgie's campaign without informing either Creators Syndicate or the publications reproducing her jottings, Newcombe says that Chavez's base has grown to 71 papers, with more to follow. "We're finding substantially increased interest," he notes.

He may be right, but Bob Ewegen, deputy editorial page editor of the Denver Post, which has featured the column for years, has other reasons for sticking with Chavez. "We try to put together a diverse page, so Linda is something of a four-for-one for us," he says. "She's female, which we're short of. She's Latina, which we're short of. She's a conservative, which we're short of. And she has strong Denver ties, so we can almost palm her off as being local." (Chavez's family moved to Denver when she was in the fourth grade, and she later attended the University of Colorado.)

Still, these attributes don't mean her every column is worth grabbing. The Post reintroduced Chavez to its readership on January 28 with "Bush's Order of Business," only after passing on January 15's "As It Happened," an account of her Labor travails that Ewegen calls "a whiny, pity-me thing. It was really wretched."

For the most part, though, Ewegen regards Chavez as "a pretty crisp writer," and he expects that she'll turn up in the Post from time to time. "To some extent it sounds cynical," he concedes, "but you don't want an all-male page or an all-white page -- so having an articulate Latina conservative is a useful part of the mix."

Thin ice: Denver Post sportswriter Woody Paige capped his January 17 column, "Note to Webb: Tear Down Old Mile High, Already," with a rather puzzling paragraph. "On April 26, 2000," he allowed, "I wrote that John McMullen, who purchased the Colorado Rockies hockey team in 1982 and moved the franchise to New Jersey, left behind 'considerable unpaid debts.' After researching the Post's archives for the source of my memory, I have found no proof that McMullen did not pay off the Rockies' debts. I regret and apologize for the mistake."

On the surface, this reference is cryptic; after all, most corrections appear immediately after an error is published, not nearly nine months later. But it makes perfect sense, given the situation to which it alludes. You see, McMullen is suing Paige and the Post over the April 26 piece, which was headlined "Mr. Stan Man, Make Us a Dream Team." In the article, about Stan Kroenke, who had just purchased the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche, Paige expressed distress that John Elway and Pat Bowlen had failed in their bid to buy the teams -- but said he wasn't saddened that McMullen, their partner, had been "spindled, rejected and humbled." He went on to dub McMullen a "swamp-swill salesman" who had grabbed the Rockies and run "like a thief in the night," leaving the aforementioned debts in his wake.

McMullen reacted by filing a lawsuit on June 20, stating that the debt allegation "is completely false and without any basis whatsoever," and resulted in defamation and "false light invasion of privacy." The suit requests no specific penalty, arguing instead that McMullen has been "damaged in an amount to be proved at trial."

Tom Kelley, the attorney representing Paige and the Post, points out that the January 17 item "was not part of a settlement of some kind; no demand for a correction was made. But after looking into it, Paige and the editorial staff felt it was warranted." Meanwhile, Paige suggests that the delay between the Kroenke article's publication and his apology can be explained by his schedule; stories such as the Summer Olympics kept him on the road for weeks at a time, making it difficult to investigate McMullen's charges. "But I did months of research," he notes, "and then I did what I've done throughout my career. If I have been unable to find any information that supports what I wrote, I correct it."

Nonetheless, Sean Gallagher, McMullen's Denver-based lawyer, doesn't think the apology will have any effect on the case. The matter is slated to go to trial in Denver District Court on June 4, Paige's calendar notwithstanding.

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