The Message

Skin City

The Rocky Mountain News's home page features the usual items most surfers look for on the websites of mainstream dailies: links related to breaking news, business, entertainment and sports stories, etc. But a box labeled "Lifestyles" contains something unexpected: a photo of a bikini-clad babe to the right of a heading that reads "Calendar Girls." Folks who click anywhere near her mommy pillows are immediately whisked to a section headlined "2005-06 Swimsuit Calendar Wallpaper," which is dominated by snaps of eight bathing-suited women, two similarly attired men, and a pair of ready-for-wetness boy-girl couples in images themed to each month. September finds a twosome playing a mildly naughty game of touch football, while October spotlights a giggling gal in orange pretending to fend off a creature with a scaly green claw. If, nine months from now, Miss Halloween gives birth to a bouncing baby Swamp Thing, no one should be surprised.

What the hell?

The photos, which have cumulatively been downloaded over 5,600 times, were originally taken for a fashion spread that ran at the outset of swimsuit season. Shortly thereafter, Rocky editor/publisher/president John Temple received a batch of complaints that struck him as coordinated. "I felt there must have been a church or some other religious organization that felt that it was too sexual -- that young boys would look at them and be aroused in a way that parents didn't want from a newspaper," he says. At first Temple was caught off guard by the gripes, noting that he "didn't anticipate there would be any controversy." In retrospect, though, it made sense, since "we get complaints about bra ads." He personally e-mailed every critical reader, and he stresses that he took their concerns seriously. "I have a teenage son and two daughters, and the issue of objectifying young women is not something I'm completely insensitive to," he points out. Still, he regards the shots as "well within the bounds of good tasteŠ. They were meant to be fun, and I think they are."

The Rocky Mountain News offers swim-
suitable snaps like this for downloading.
The Rocky Mountain News offers swim- suitable snaps like this for downloading.

Temple approved using the photos as online wallpaper in the same spirit, and says he doesn't recall hearing about any objections from website visitors -- and no wonder. Given the prevalence of nudity in cyberspace, as opposed to the family-friendly Rocky, the only folks likely to be upset are those who consider the models to be overdressed.

Posting a Howl: Temple probably had a lot more fun dealing with inquiries about pinups than he did assembling his editor's note on August 5. In "Editorial Did Not Meet Standards of the News," Temple wrote that an unsigned July 16 opinion piece titled "Joe Wilson's Howlers" had "inappropriately duplicated wording from a Washington Post article." He also pointed out that a phrase from the Daily Howler website (www.dailyhowler.com) had turned up in the piece as well, prompting a July 21 correction. Finally, he revealed that "Deputy Editorial Page Editor Thom Beal, the author of the editorial, has resigned and said he regrets his actions. I personally apologize for this breach of our trust with you, our readers."

This admission is admirable, but it leaves out plenty of key details. As it turns out, the story took nearly three weeks to resolve and probably would never have come to light were it not for a local blogger and the tenacity of the folks at 5280 magazine, who kept pursuing the matter even after Temple essentially dismissed their concerns.

The aforementioned blogger is Lisa Jones, who regularly criticizes all things Rocky on RockyWatch, accessible at http:// rockywatch.typepad.com. According to her, the July 16 editorial initially stuck in her mind because "it was so nasty." She reacted by railing on RockyWatch, and shortly thereafter, a reader commented that the editorial was strongly reminiscent of a July 13 Wilson attack on DailyHowler.com. Jones soon discovered that the Rocky's headline nod to "Howlers" was appropriate. In a second entry on her blog, she juxtaposed a Rocky sentence that read "It's impossible to revisit here all of Wilson's stretches, misstatements and howlers" against this Howler assertion: "There's no way to revisit all of Wilson's stretches, outright misstatements and howlers."

Among those who saw the RockyWatch items was 5280 editor Dan Brogan, and he asked assistant editor Patrick Doyle to dig deeper. Doyle came up with some other passages that didn't smell right to him and contacted Temple about them. As Temple pointed out in his July 28 blog submission, the Rocky, alerted by Jones, had already printed a correction. Instead of defining the problem as plagiarism, though, the Rocky merely stated that the line should have been attributed to the Howler. Doyle's clues about other copying were more ambiguous than the one spotted by Jones, and not only didn't Temple buy them, but he hinted in his blog that 5280 had an agenda. He led off with, "In this business, when I hear from other local news organizations wanting to ask me questions, it's usually because they think they've got something on the Rocky Mountain News" -- a statement Brogan characterizes as "paranoid." Later, Temple wrote that 5280's "angle Šbecame clearer" after Doyle asked why the Rocky is so eager to accuse CU professor Ward Churchill of plagiarism, yet was unwilling to fess up about a staffer.

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