Post Mortem

An unpublished column helps wrap up Chuck Green's story at the Denver Post.

On May 12, two days after his departure from the Denver Post, longtime columnist Chuck Green told KHOW talk-show host Peter Boyles he hadn't resigned from the paper, as the Post had reported, and insisted that after 34 years of faithful service, he'd been sent packing without even receiving "cab fare" ("Three the Hard Way," May 16).

Today Green is presumably whistling a different tune -- but he's letting his lawyer do the whistling in public. Attorney Dan Caplis confirms that he was retained by Green after the columnist left his place of employment and notes, "Chuck has reached a settlement with the Post. He and Susan [Green, his wife] are looking forward to a new life."

This agreement quashes rumors that Green was planning to sue the Post -- a courtroom spectacle many journalism scenesters would have gladly paid to witness -- even as it imposes silence about the details (and dollar amounts) upon both sides. Public reaction to Green's disappearance has been nearly as quiet: No major Colorado media figure in recent memory has gone away with less fanfare.

The Dogfather in happier times.
Susan Goldstein
The Dogfather in happier times.

From the beginning, the Post downplayed the turn of events, placing "Columnist Green Resigns From the Post," a May 12 article by staff writer Dave Curtin, in the Denver and the West section rather than on page one. Moreover, the piece's tone felt tentative, as if everyone involved was unsure how candid to be. Curtin claimed that Green "took pride in being both loved and reviled by his readers" and pointed out that Chuck's columns generated "tens of thousands of e-mails and letters over his career" -- a phrase that emphasized his popularity without touching on the dodgy issue of quality. A few paragraphs later, outgoing editor Glenn Guzzo took the same tack. "Our surveys always showed Chuck as the best-read columnist in Colorado," he said, echoing statements made on numerous occasions by Post owner Dean Singleton. Guzzo added, "He'll leave behind a loyal following, and we'll miss him very much."

Since then, little evidence has appeared to support these assertions. In a previous Westword profile ("The Dogfather Speaks," July 6, 2000), Green acknowledged that he wouldn't win a popularity contest at the Post. "I don't give a shit about what my colleagues think," he said then. "Most of my colleagues despise me. I'm probably the most unpopular person in my own newsroom." He may have been right: According to several Post sources, at least a handful of his peers greeted word of his exit with cheers and applause.

From an institutional standpoint, the Post may have subscribed to the adage about not saying anything if you don't have anything nice to say. The paper paid repeated tribute to Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole, who perished on the very day Curtin's Green retrospective appeared, offering up a front-page photograph, a lengthy obituary, an unsigned editorial and a praise-filled column by veteran scribe Peter Chronis. But honors of this sort have been withheld from Green, who all but nominated himself as the new dean of Denver columnists during a KHOW appearance last year after Amole announced he was dying.

The contrast between the Post's treatment of Amole and Green has been just as sharp when it comes to letters to the editor. Three heartfelt notes prompted by Amole's death appeared in the Post on May 16, just three days after his passing became widely known, but no correspondence about Green saw print until May 26, and the missives published were few in number -- just two relatively brief mash notes. Post editorial-page editor Sue O'Brien said last week that reader response as a whole was weak: "We've received very few letters. There were six to eight, all told. And most of them were one-line nasty-grams that were absent a phone number or address, which is one of our requirements. I've been stunned at how few of them we've gotten."

There might have been considerably more had the column Green wrote for the May 10 Post been published. Instead, it was spiked for reasons incoming Post editor Greg Moore spelled out earlier this month. "Quite frankly, there were some inaccuracies, and some facts that were not in the column," he said. "It just didn't hold together."

Based on a copy of the column obtained and authenticated by Westword, Moore was putting it mildly.

The inspiration for the column was a May 8 "senior farewell assembly" in the gymnasium at Highlands Ranch High School. Toward the end of the event, a student identified as Bryan Lupton, age eighteen, reportedly tossed one of two rabbits he'd captured previously that day onto the gym floor, breaking two of the creature's legs in the process; it had to be euthanized. Lupton was subsequently suspended for the remainder of the school year, banned from the school's May 23 graduation ceremony, booted off the baseball team and charged with cruelty to animals. He has a June 19 court date.

This story was a natural for Green, who's written frequently, even obsessively, about pets like Gus, a keeshond whose losing battle with cancer was chronicled for more than a year, as well as furry or feathered beasts suffering at the hands of humans. As part of researching this particular tale, Green called Bruce Caughey, communications director for the Douglas County School District, who authored a press release about the rabbit-throwing incident. Caughey says he wasn't in the office the first time Green phoned, "and when my secretary asked him what he wanted, when he wanted it, and when I could get back to him, he apparently felt she was putting up a shield for me. His response to her was, 'Haven't you people learned anything from Columbine?'"

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