What's Left?

The Post denies accusations of slanted coverage.

The Denver Post was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its treatment of the Columbine High School shootings and wound up as the lead dog in a joint operating agreement with the Rocky Mountain News -- but in recent years, the paper has been seen by many observers as flabby, boring and consistently less energetic and engaging than its crosstown quasi-rival. Since the June arrival of new editor Greg Moore, however, this reputation has started to change. Simply put, people are talking passionately about the Post again, and if a lot of that chat has been nasty, silence is infinitely worse.

Of course, not every prominent Post story has come in for a tongue-lashing from irritated subscribers. Investigative scribe David Migoya's series about health and safety questions associated with the meatpacking industry has earned praise from pretty much everyone other than executives at ConAgra, and deservedly so. But responses to Michael Riley's reporting about Mexico-born honor student Jesus Apodaca and Congressman Tom Tancredo, who have been linked in several immigration-related stories, and Susan Greene's profiles of senatorial candidates Wayne Allard and Tom Strickland have broken along ideological lines. Many of those to the left of center see the pieces as factually sound and ethically aboveboard, while plenty of conservatively inclined readers in this conservatively inclined state are crying bloody murder, accusing the Post of propagating not-so-secret left-wing positions.

The unofficial spokesman for the latter group is KOA talk-show host and News columnist Mike Rosen, who's spent a large chunk of his airtime during the past two weeks whipping the Post. "I've criticized the Rocky for some of its reporting in the past," notes Rosen, who wrote for the Post before jumping to the News. "But in general, I find much more to fault in the Post -- and that's certainly been true lately."

In reply, editor Moore, who spent a jaw-slackening two hours on Rosen's September 24 program, says, "I don't expect that people will always be happy with the issues we raise, but I'm comfortable journalistically with them. And sometimes it's the right thing to do to challenge people, even if you know they may be angry with us."

Although the Apodaca dilemma and its aftermath have certainly steamed folks on both sides of the political fence, it initially made little impact. August 11's "Immigrants Shut Out of Colleges" focused on worthy students like Apodaca, an Aurora Central attendee with sparkling grades, who are unable to afford college because they were brought into the country illegally and are therefore ineligible for in-state tuition. Riley sees Apodaca's tale as "key to a larger debate nationally. Four states have passed laws that would allow students like Jesus to attend schools with in-state tuition, and other lawmakers are proposing legislation on the issue" -- among them Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican who's no one's idea of a pinko. The Post editorialized in support of Hatch's immigration bill, dubbed the Dream Act.

Nonetheless, only one letter about Apodaca was published in August. And the sole staff member to take on the subject at either paper that month was Post columnist Al Knight, who, in an August 14 piece bannered "Limiting Generosity," argued that the law should be obeyed whether or not Apodaca is an outstanding candidate for college.

Riley admits that he received some unflattering phone calls and mail addressed to him personally after introducing Post readers to the Apodacas, whom he says he learned about from "a university source," not someone at the Mexican Consulate, as Tancredo, Rosen and other critics have intimated. (Even so, a September 30 story in the Dallas Morning News stated that the family is currently being "sheltered" by the consul office.) But the reporter insists that such communication was substantially outweighed by contacts from individuals who wanted to help Jesus. One donor even offered to pay his first semester's tuition at the University of Colorado at Denver -- a gesture far more selfless than Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell's September 26 sponsorship of legislation that would make Apodaca a permanent U.S. resident, since it was done anonymously, and with no expectations of a political boost.

In addition, Riley heard from an informant who said that two undocumented workers in the employ of an area drywalling firm helped install a home theater in Tancredo's home. The reporter was in the midst of researching this tip when he learned that Tancredo, a proud hard-liner on immigration policy, had asked the Immigration and Naturalization Service to cast its gaze upon the Apodaca family, whose presence in the city had come to his attention via the original August 11 package.

"Tancredo Presses to Deport Student," Riley's September 13 account of the representative's call to the INS, sparked an uproar that shows few signs of quieting. Shortly thereafter, Riley contacted Tancredo regarding the allegedly undocumented laborers who toiled at his home. In an effort to remove the political sting from anything the Post might do with this revelation, Tancredo denounced the anticipated salvo before congressional C-SPAN cameras on September 18, giving the News a chance to play catch-up -- something it's getting accustomed to on this topic. (The Rocky's September 14 follow about the Tancredo-INS tête-à-tête was particularly lame; it went out of its way not to credit the Post and stated that Apodaca attended "Aurora High School," not Aurora Central.) Riley's version of events came out on September 19, the same day as the Rocky's rendering. Also in the News was a Mike Littwin column that cited Tancredo's effort to preempt "a newspaper story" from the House floor without mentioning the Post. A trend, perhaps?

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