Pack Mentality

A media column about secondhand smoke stirs up a cloud of controversy.

Then, last month, FCC agent Jon Sprague, who'd been involved in the previous busts, struck again, arriving at the Boulder home that was serving as a temporary station headquarters in the company of a Boulder police officer. A BURG spokesman says the twosome spent between 45 minutes and an hour grilling the person who answered the door. They asked questions about others who lived there (and called in the license-plate numbers of nearby cars) before asking permission to look inside. The house dweller refused to comply without a warrant, which neither Sprague nor his companion produced, and after threatening this person with a year in prison and fines ranging from $10,000 to $17,000 (the numbers apparently kept shifting), the law enforcers took photos, left a warning letter and departed. They subsequently headed to the Boulder home busted in January, but to no avail, since the BURG types had vacated the structure months earlier. But they left the owner with the very clear impression that their patience was wearing thin.

Most people would be intimidated by these warnings, but shortly thereafter, the BURGers were back on the air, operating out of a van that doesn't stay parked anywhere for long. And if the politically fired remarks of the BURG spokesman are any indication, they have no intention of going quietly into the night.

"This is censorship," the spokesman says via e-mail. "Not Big Brother, Mussolini, Stalin censorship.... They are not that open about it. But it is censorship, nonetheless. Clear Channel and all of its corporate brethren are very deliberately, and meticulously, and quietly, establishing control over the distribution of information. And the FCC is obviously aiding them. It's retarded.

"I don't have a problem with breaking rules," the spokesman adds. "I'm not hurting anyone."

Walking papers: For Dean Singleton, owner of the Denver Post, the joint operating agreement in Denver, which links business operations at the Post with those of the Rocky Mountain News, has been a veritable love fest compared to the one in Salt Lake City. In December 2000, the announcement that Singleton's company, MediaNews Group, planned to purchase the Salt Lake Tribune, which is locked in a JOA with the rival Deseret News, resulted in a lawsuit filed by the Salt Lake Tribune Publishing Company, whose principals believed they had an option to purchase the Tribune in 2002 ("Blood Feud," December 14, 2000). As the story played out, Utah's media writers witnessed legal maneuvering, name calling and a nearly unprecedented level of nastiness. Some people have all the luck.

On July 22, another important chapter of the tale was written: U.S. District Court Judge Ted Stewart told representatives of the publishing company that they must hand over management responsibilities at the Tribune to MediaNews on August 1. In an Associated Press report from that day, writer Paul Foy sketched out what would happen next, pending an appeal: "MediaNews chief executive Dean Singleton will fire publisher Dominic Welch and chief operating officer Randy Frisch..."

But something funny happened to Foy's article before it appeared in the July 23 Denver Post. Specifically, the word "fire" in the sentence above was replaced by much more benign vocabulary: "MediaNews executives say they will show up Aug. 1 to install new officers at the Tribune. Publisher Dominic Welch and chief operating officer Randy Frisch will be replaced as Singleton takes over as chairman."

Presumably, this sanitizing was done for Singleton's protection, but probably not at his behest, since he seems not at all squeamish about using heavy-handed verbiage in relation to this matter. In a July 23 Tribune piece, he said of Welch and Frisch, "Their time is up on Aug. 1, and they will be leaving. They will not be in the building. On July 31, they will be escorted out."

According to numerous on-scene reports, some members of the Post practically had to be poured out of the ESPN Zone last week following an open-bar party hosted by new editor Greg Moore; rumors of behavior alternately wacky and questionable have been zipping along the local journalism grapevine since well before the morning after. To say the least, the bash shows that Moore has a far different style from that of Glenn Guzzo, his proper, buttoned-down predecessor. Apparently, though, folks haven't loosened up enough to let Singleton be Singleton.

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