He Got Blame

Bleeped words and dropped balls mark the media frenzy around the suspension of Dan Issel.

"In my opinion, the Rocky handled it exactly right, and we did not handle it right," Dale says. "We're not pleased with the way the paper came out that morning."

The pact linking Channel 9 and the Post gets plenty of use, with the organizations often working together on pieces and co-promoting each other's products. The 9 News logo frequently appears in the Post's pages, as do the bylines of staffers like business boy Gregg Moss and entertainment reporter Kirk Montgomery; in turn, the station regularly teases articles slated for the next day's paper in its 10 p.m. newscasts and interviews Post scribes from the publication's newsroom. Emblematic of the partnership was Channel 9's determination to let Willie talk to the Post about the Issel videotape while restricting the News's opportunity to do likewise. News staff writer Aaron Lopez sniffily reported Willie's unavailability on December 13 -- which, by the way, has a similar accord with Channel 4.

In addition, the Post and Channel 9 often communicate with each other when one or the other has something big about to break. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, however. Post editor Glenn Guzzo says, "Channel 9 is under no obligation to us," and news director Dennis notes, "We share a lot of stories, but we don't share every story. Sometimes we don't share a story with them until it's on the air, and sometimes they don't share a story with us until after it's been on the front page."

That's how things worked out with the Issel videotape, yet no one seems especially happy about it. Sports editor Dale, who works the day shift and wasn't around after the Nuggets game in question, refuses to hold Channel 9 responsible for the Post's air ball, saying, "That's only part of the breakdown that happened. People in the sports department knew about [the videotape] -- not everybody, but some people did know. There was a discussion down here about the story, and a decision was made to play it the way we did. But it wasn't the right decision." Even so, Dale admits that he would have liked someone at the station to have picked up the phone, and editor Guzzo gives the same impression: "This is once where they didn't think to call and we didn't know to ask."

For her part, news director Dennis explains that she was still dealing with the Issel story long after the newscast was over; those efforts ultimately paid off with an exclusive one-on-one interview between the coach and primary anchor Tony Zarrella, aired the next day. But, she says, "I do believe it was our responsibility to call our media partner, and we didn't do our part."

Dennis conveyed this sentiment by phone to Post city editor Evan Dreyer, who is as critical of his paper's performance as sports editor Dale: "It would have been great if they would have given us a call, but nobody called the Rocky Mountain News, and they still managed to get a story in the first day." He says the way things went down serves as a reminder for the Post and Channel 9 to "get much more formalized and regular about the whens and whys of how we share stories, so it becomes more and more second nature."

The repercussions of Issel's eruption were such that every TV station in town had to cover it, but they didn't have the benefit of the Channel 9 videotape; Dennis released it only to NBC and CNN, which she calls "our video distribution partners." That helps explain why the Issel situation got more prominent play on NBC's Today show than on Disney-owned ESPN, which buried the tale in the middle of the December 13 SportsCenter. Meanwhile, Bowman skipped from one local media outlet to another on December 13; he seemed jazzed at being quizzed by the Fox's Rick Lewis and Michael Floorwax in the morning and the denizens of KOA's Sports Zoo the same afternoon. But on the Fan, the official radio home of the Nuggets, morning host Sandy Clough not only declined to offer Bowman a forum, but got huffy and self-righteous about the stations that had -- a suspect stance if ever there was one. After all, if radio stations choose as a matter of policy to never again interview loudmouths desperate for a whiff of fame, they'll have a helluva lot of dead air to deal with. Besides, as Channel 9's Dennis succinctly puts it, "He was part of the story." The end.

The Post quizzed Bowman, too, but in December 13 and 14 stories by Carol Kreck, his jibe was printed as "Issel su---," a bit of self-censorship that might be even less defensible than Channel 9's rubbing out of "Mexican." Not only is "sucks" a word the Post has printed numerous times of late (a November 18 G. Brown piece featured the phrase "disco sucks!" and an October 28 Adam Schefter offering used it in a quote about Buffalo Bills quarterback Rob Johnson), but it's in the vocabulary of virtually every elementary-schooler in these United States, and most grownups, too. Indeed, Channel 4 illustrated a December 13 package about unruly fans with scenes of football addicts at a Broncos game joyously chanting, "Raiders suck!"

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