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Talking Points

Is there a problem between reporters and DIA's media staff? Depends on whom you ask.

For the News's Peggy Lowe, Wednesday wasn't much better. She says she started phoning Cannon's office early in the morning, eventually leaving three messages before he called her back at approximately 5:15 p.m.

The cause of this delay could have been prioritization; while not addressing Lowe's case specifically, Cannon concedes that he responded first to broadcast media, because "in a situation like this, we're trying to get information to people as soon as possible. Tomorrow's paper doesn't help us much when we're trying to get the news out today -- and if I give a print reporter an interview at 8:30 in the morning, everything may have changed by the afternoon, and we'll need to do it again." But this approach completely disregards the Internet, to which untold thousands of people turned after the World Trade Center was hit. Because of Cannon's decision, Lowe says, she had to file updates for the News's site several times on Wednesday without being able to include anything fresh from DIA spokesmen. On top of that, she says, Cannon eventually told her, during their 5:15 p.m. exchange, that no flights would be coming into DIA that evening -- but fifteen minutes later, she received an update from Hudson revealing that a couple of cargo flights would indeed be landing then. "So Chuck waits six or seven hours to call me back, and when he does, he gives me wrong information while I'm on deadline."

Lowe also had a tough time getting anything out of Bourgeron when the latter arrived at city hall to brief Mayor Webb and the Denver City Council on the latest developments at DIA. Because Lowe was present, the group quickly decided to transform the large meeting into several smaller sessions ("to get around Colorado's 'sunshine' law," Lowe says), with Bourgeron promising to fill Lowe in afterward. "I basically had to stalk her around city hall to get any comment at all," Lowe says, "and when she finally comes out, an hour and a half later, she wouldn't tell me anything, even about things that were already in AP stories up on all the major Web sites. She was still acting as if this was all supreme secrecy, and if somehow the press knew about it, national security would be at risk." This reticence to part with facts continued the next morning, Lowe says; she found out when the airport was scheduled to reopen not from a DIA representative, but from a police officer at the roadblocks.

Bourgeron, a veteran of two decades in Denver government who's been at her present post for over three years, can't comment on this account, since she wasn't present at the checkpoint at the time. But she defends her office's conservatism when it came to dispensing updates. "One of the obligations we have to our media partners is to make sure, for the sake of their reputations and ours, that we provide the most accurate information possible," she says. "And accuracy is sometimes tough to come by during a crisis. There were even reports that a plane had crashed in Denver -- and that was only one of hundreds of rumors we had to deal with. And our goal was to help the media reach the maximum number of people with information that was as accurate and timely as it could be."

An opportunity to do so came via an invitation from Denise Washington Blomberg, staff producer at Channel 12, to have a DIA spokesperson appear on a special live edition of the public affairs program Colorado Inside Out. But Washington Blomberg, like Lowe, had an awfully hard time getting through. Attempts to reach someone on September 11 ended when an airport operator curtly informed her that the press office wasn't doing any interviews -- a statement that baffles Bourgeron and Cannon, who say they never received Washington Blomberg's messages. (In place of someone from DIA, Washington Blomberg booked Denver manager of safety Ari Zavaras, a likely mayoral candidate who recently secured the public-relations services of C.L. Harmer, widely viewed as among the most effective people on the PR scene.) Washington Blomberg didn't get a call back from DIA on Wednesday either, when she again tried to line up someone from the airport for the regularly scheduled edition of Colorado Inside Out. The following week, Bourgeron did appear on a Channel 12 show, Spontaneous Combustion, a satirical discussion program hosted by Aaron Harber; the episode first aired on September 20. But Washington Blomberg jokes that she personally "is still batting zero at the airport." She adds that, based on twenty years of working in Denver media, "I think DIA's got to be the most insulated government office in the city, and probably in the state."

Technical difficulties involving DIA's fiber-optic lines also plagued TV outlets trying to report live from the airport; Channel 9 news director Patti Dennis confirms that her station had communication problems, and sources say at least two other stations ran up against this obstacle, to the astonishment of all concerned. Eyebrows went skyward as well following the release of a September 11 DIA media advisory stating that no new developments were expected between that evening and the conclusion of a briefing slated for 8:30 the next morning (the briefing was eventually cancelled).

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