The Message

Shattered Glass

According to Wayne Laugesen, a columnist for the Boulder Weekly, there are times when members of the press need to stop observing and start participating.

"Let's say you have a child who's standing, panicked, frightened and crying, on railroad tracks," he allows. "There's a train coming down the tracks, and you're there with a camera and a notebook, watching a tragedy that's about to occur. I think most journalists would say a reporter in that position should run to the tracks and save the child."

He's right, of course -- but that doesn't mean Laugesen's behavior in a situation he sees as similar to this scenario, if considerably less dramatic, would win universal favor. Specifically, Laugesen believed that an order directing local homeowner Paul Wenig to reinstall antiquated windows he'd removed from his historic residence needlessly endangered two children who lived there. Rather than simply writing about this tale, however, Laugesen thrust himself into the middle of it. Without receiving a go-ahead from Wenig, he gathered up seventeen of the old windows and systematically smashed them, then arranged for a bulldozer to run them over. In "A Case for Theft," his September 9 column for the Weekly, Laugesen proclaimed that "every broken window was a score for fatherhood, husbandry and God-given liberty. It was my own Boston Tea Party and a smashing blow against the city's latest attack on family, children, property rights and prosperity."

Boulder officials haven't ruled out the possibility of striking back. Deputy City Attorney Jerry Gordon notes that "we're evaluating whether or not any enforcement action should be taken" against either Laugesen or Wenig. In the meantime, Bohdy Hedgecock, Boulder's historic-preservation planner, says the city had been willing to work with Wenig to resolve the dispute -- something Laugesen would have known had he bothered to phone officials. "It's disappointing when a journalist only talks to one side in an issue like this," Hedgecock maintains. "He obviously spent a long time with Mr. Wenig and his contractor, but he never dug any deeper. And he didn't call us."

Maybe not, but a couple of weeks removed from his commando mission, Laugesen remains entirely guilt-free. "I believe in what I did," he says.

For Laugesen, the window caper is only the latest twist in an idiosyncratic career. He attended Kansas's Fort Hays State University circa the mid-'80s, and, en route to a degree, he applied for and won an internship at Newsweek. For the six months he was there, he worked under Washington, D.C., bureau chief Morton Kondracke, who's now executive editor of Roll Call and a staple on Fox News. "Mort was definitely my mentor," Laugesen says. "He told me the role of the journalist was to act as a watchdog of government, and that's what I've done."

Upon graduation, Laugesen served stints at Kansas's Salina Journal, Arizona's Mesa Tribune, Consumers Research magazine and the States News Service before coming to Colorado. After working for publications as varied as the Longmont Times-Call and Soldier of Fortune magazine, he hooked up with the Weekly, eventually rising to the role of editor. He subsequently left this post to devote himself to Windhover Media, a multimedia company that encompasses the Rosary Project, whose signature product is Holy Baby!, a DVD for toddlers that teaches seven basic prayers in seven languages. Between his Windhover duties, he regularly contributes to the National Catholic Register and writes a column for the Weekly on a freelance basis -- yet he admits that he's less certain than ever that his words have the power to make a difference.

"Back in 1987 or so, the readership was very responsive," he says. "When you uncovered a government atrocity, there'd be phone calls and letters and a mob mentality regarding it, and city hall would back down. But you see less and less of that now. People have become more jaded and more willing to accept abusive government behavior. Simply pointing out a problem no longer fixes it the way it used to."

These thoughts surfaced in a big way after Laugesen found out about the troubles that Wenig and his wife, Leslie Rosenburg, encountered while remodeling a house in Boulder's Mapleton Historic District. Wenig says they tried to make the structure energy-efficient by insulating it and installing a new heating system, but they feared their efforts would be undermined by the original single-pane windows, many of which no longer opened. Safety was also a consideration. Two-year-old Charlie, the older of the couple's two daughters, previously suffered hip dysplasia, a condition in which the top of her femur wasn't in her hip's socket joint. To help her leg heal, Charlie was fitted with a hip brace, and although she's improved enough so that she only has to wear it at night, her gait remains more uncertain than that of the average toddler.

In his column, Laugesen described Charlie as "disabled" and wrote that the hip "throws the girl off-balance, causing her to collide with windows and walls" -- the implication being that if she hit a low-level pane too hard, the damn thing might bust loose and behead her. Wenig concedes that this characterization is "slightly exaggerated. She's still falling a little here and there, but she's doing better." Moreover, historic-preservation planner Hedgecock says Wenig never mentioned potential hazards to his children during the initial round of discussions about replacing the windows.

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