What's Left?

The Post denies accusations of slanted coverage.

Predictably, the Post's home-theater article was far more thorough than the Rocky's, which focused primarily on Tancredo. But one sentence in it provided ammunition to those making claims of subjectivity: "The Denver Post is not naming the employees because of the possibility that identification might lead to legal proceedings against them." When asked about the line, which seems aimed directly at Tancredo, Riley says he didn't write it -- the announcement was edited into the piece -- and that neither worker requested that his name be withheld. Moore confirms that he was involved in "crafting" this passage, maintaining that "it's standard journalistic practice not to be a tool of law enforcement, and we're not going to do that. I always prefer to name people, but there was potential harm in doing it, and in my judgment, the story wasn't hurt by us not naming them. People can disagree with that, but at least we explained the process."

Defenders of Tancredo believe the Post was unreasonable to imply that he should have double-checked the immigration status of employees at a company he hired, even though he was under no legal obligation to do so. That's why Rosen feels "there isn't a lot of substance to the criticism" leveled at Tancredo by what he refers to as a "gang" of Posters that includes columnists Diane Carman and Tina Griego. This view is echoed by News media critic Dave Kopel, who called the home-theater story a "self-indulgent exercise in 'gotcha' journalism" in his September 29 submission. But as was the case earlier this year ("Pack Mentality," July 25), Kopel fell considerably short of full disclosure, neglecting to divulge that he and Tancredo were once colleagues at the Independence Institute, an area think tank; on one 1995 article, they even shared a byline.

Setting potential conflicts aside, Kopel's column failed to recognize that fairness and newsworthiness aren't always the same thing. Tancredo justified his singling out of the Apodacas in part by saying they were "brazen" to think they could show up on the front page of the Post without getting into any trouble -- a dubious assertion given that Riley's reporting suggests the perennially understaffed INS wouldn't have acted without pressure from a government official. But Tancredo's decision to use a sympathetic figure like Jesus Apodaca as a symbol of his immigration-reform crusade was just as brash, knowing as he must have that the Post would cover it in gory detail. In other words, the Post applied Tancredo's own standards, making any complaints about the paper's entirely legitimate reporting thoroughly disingenuous.

Granted, Tancredo isn't leading the whining parade. Indeed, he's eagerly taken advantage of the publicity his actions have garnered, even guesting on the Fox last week to trade weak witticisms with morning yuksters Lewis and Floorwax. On top of that, he announced that he was backing away from a previous term-limits pledge smack in the middle of the Apodaca mess, knowing full well that both papers would hammer him -- which they did. He seemed unaffected by these assaults during a September 26 turn on Peter Boyles's KHOW talk show, laughing good-naturedly when the host, by way of plugging a children's-book drive, joked that Tancredo's favorite tome as a kid was Mein Kampf. Maybe that's because Tancredo knows he's in so safe a Republican district that even if he grew an Adolf Hitler mustache and goose-stepped at every public appearance between now and November, he'd still be elected by a tidy margin.

Neither Wayne Allard, a Republican incumbent, nor Tom Strickland, his Democratic opponent, are as lucky. Pollsters say their race for the Senate is too close to call, which may account for the strong reaction to Post staffer Greene's September 15 profile of Allard. A sizable chunk of Allard's supporters saw the piece as a viciously partisan attack, and Diane Eicher and Joe Bullard, former Post employees who recently began sharing the Rocky's criticism beat with Kopel, agreed. Their extraordinarily vitriolic September 22 evaluation deemed Greene's roundup "one of the most biased locally written stories in recent memory."

Greene declines to comment about the Eicher-Bullard analysis but says she consciously tried to avoid taking sides when writing about either Allard or Strickland. "The bottom line is, I'm being paid to spend time with both the candidates and to call it like I see it -- and that's what the profiles reflected. I tried to capture who Wayne Allard is, and the same with Strickland."

Rosen thinks Allard got the short end of Greene's stick, and this time around, he lays out a rather persuasive case. According to him, most readers form opinions about articles from their opening sections, and by that measure, the Allard piece hit considerably lower than did the Strickland counterpart. For one thing, its headline was more damaging: "Colorado's Stealth Senator Keeps 'Em Guessing: Critics say Allard's Image Masks Far-right Agenda" is wholly negative, whereas "Strickland Touts Environmental Record: Opponents Blast Corporate Lobbying" is better by half. For another, the photo is worse. Strickland seems to be stiff but professional in a stock shot, but Allard is seen in a bizarre, open-mouthed close-up that makes him look like a circus geek who's just caught sight of an unattended chicken.

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