A Brewing Disagreement
Newspapers love advertising -- that's a universal publishing truth. But Out Front Colorado, Denver's best-known gay-oriented newspaper, was far from thrilled with an ad submitted by the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) committee of the National Lawyers Guild -- so much so that the biweekly refused to print it. In turn, the Guild issued a press release taking Out Front to task for its decision. Says San Francisco-based committee chairman Rob Petitpas, "They're selling out -- they're just selling out the community."
Not so, counters Out Front spokesman Roger Moore. "Out Front's owners determined that the content of the National Lawyers Guild's proposed advertisement was inaccurate and misleading, and rejected the ad on that basis," he says.
Why such a heated disagreement? In part because the advertisement takes on one of Colorado's most powerful businesses, the Coors Brewing Company. "The Coors Boycott Continues: Buy a Coors, Coors Light, Killian's Red, Zima, Keystone, Belgian White or Blue Moon and you're supporting anti-gay bigots," the ad begins. "A slick PR campaign has flooded our community with claims that Coors Brewing is now our friend -- that Coors has domestic partner benefits, sponsors LGBT groups and events (usually in return for having the Coors logo prominently displayed), and that there are gay members of the Coors family. Some of this is true, but what they leave out is that the Coors family continues to give millions of dollars to our enemies."
Petitpas didn't initially set out to prick Coors's sensibilities in its own back yard. Last year he was surprised by the company's presence at two Bay Area gay-pride bashes, especially since so many gays there and elsewhere were still participating in the long-running Coors boycott, now deep into its third decade. As pointed out in Westword 's "The Other Coors Spokesman" (September 2, 1999), homosexuals were first asked to steer clear of the brew in 1973, when uncloseted Bay Area politician Harvey Milk made a political deal with local Teamsters, who objected to the outfit's long-held anti-union stance. Thanks to Coors's support of causes viewed by many as homophobic, gays soon made the boycott their own -- and they've kept it alive longer than practically any other group. Twenty years after Milk was murdered by a disturbed associate, Dan White, in 1978, the late man's friends and fans celebrated his legacy by pouring cases of Coors into a gutter.
In an effort to help a new generation of gays understand why they should pick another brand of suds, Petitpas and his cohorts came up with the "Coors Boycott Continues" ad. The Guild eventually paid to publish it in cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, where it was seen by Jon Langoni, currently the proud holder of the title "Mr. Leather Colorado." Unlike Bruce Chopnik, who, as "International Mr. Leather," supported Coors in venues such as the aforementioned Westword article, Langoni has long believed that "it's a bad company."
Langoni was so taken by the ad's message that he contacted Petitpas and recommended that the Guild publish it in Denver. Petitpas was amenable and, at Langoni's suggestion, he contacted Out Front. The Out Front sales representative with whom he spoke raised no objections to the content of the ad, which was co-sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, Langoni and Pride at Work, a branch of the AFL-CIO. But earlier this month, on the cusp of the ad's scheduled publication, the rep called Petitpas with some unpleasant news. "He said, 'We're not going to run the ad,'" Petitpas remembers. "I asked why, and he said, 'We're just exercising our prerogative not to run the ad,' and that was it. He was nervous on the phone and basically just hung up."
This move caught Langoni off guard: "I'm shocked and amazed that a gay newspaper would discriminate like that," he maintains. Petitpas felt equally upset and fired off a June 13 press release titled "Out Front Colorado Censors Political Ad." The release affirms that the LGBT committee "is disappointed at Out Front Colorado's refusal to run its advertisement educating the queer community on the Coors family's funding of bigoted activities" and suggests that Out Front was motivated by dollar signs. How so? The Guild points to the Colorado Business Council, a gay business collective that features Coors's John Lind on its board of directors, whose April 2002 newsletter announced that Out Front would begin running a regular CBC column. "It seems clear," the release concludes, "that Out Front has a too-cozy relationship with this group, whose purpose is to maximize profits for its members, and has an interest in limiting awareness of any controversial activities."
Out Front publisher Greg Montoya declined to comment on this or any other claim, forwarding all inquiries to Moore, the paper's attorney. Moore avoided answering direct questions as well, choosing instead to read from a prepared text: "Out Front, along with all other newspaper publications, reserves the contractual right with its advertisers to change, amend, delete or reject the content of any advertisement. The National Lawyers Guild representative agreed to these conditions before submitting the proposed advertisement."
Moore continued: "The advertisement blurred the distinction between the constitutionally protected activities of some Coors family members and the Coors Brewing Company, which has over the years taken steps to [bridge] the divide between it and the gay community in the United States."
This last comment should please Coors spokeswoman Aimee Valdez, who emphasizes the company's recent efforts on behalf of gay employees and LGBT beer lovers. She notes that Scott Coors, the openly gay grandson of brewery creator Adolph Coors, has served as a volunteer emissary to homosexual consumers, and Mary Cheney, lesbian daughter of U.S. vice president Dick Cheney, once did so in an official capacity. And that's not all. "We've also had a non-discrimination policy in place since 1978 that includes sexual orientation, and we've had domestic-partner benefits since 1995," she says. "And we have an employee group called LAGER: Lesbian and Gay Employee Research. It's been in place since 1993, and its members have a voice to senior management on gay and lesbian issues." She also touts Coors's donations to Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and other like-minded associations, and mentions that Coors was a sponsor of last weekend's Denver PrideFest. (Coors also sponsored this month's Westword Music Showcase.)
Even so, people with the Coors name are still closely allied with conservative groups reviled by many in the gay-rights movement. Joe Coors, Scott's uncle, started the Heritage Foundation, an influential think tank that's a favorite of the Ronald Reagan faithful, and other family members, including Jeffrey Coors, have been involved with a multitude of concerns that tilt to the right -- among them the Free Congress Foundation and the Council for National Policy, which features members such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Oliver North and Phyllis Schlafly.
These connections and more are cited in the National Lawyers Guild ad, but they apply only to family members, not the company as a whole. Following a January 1997 exposé of Coors's politically oriented corporate giving penned by San Francisco freelancer Bruce Mirken, the company officially spun off the Castle Rock Foundation and the Adolph Coors Foundation, a pair of philanthropic institutions that had routinely been used to funnel dough to the Heritage Foundation and beyond. To Valdez, this is a key fact.
"Bottom line, the Coors Brewing Company is not affiliated with the Castle Rock Foundation or the Adolph Coors Foundation," Valdez says. "No Coors Brewing Company profits go into these foundations, and the foundations don't own stock in the Coors Brewing Company. They're separate entities."
Of course, the distance between Coors Brewing and the Coors family is hardly infinite. Although Coors is a publicly traded company, Valdez confirms that 100 percent of the voting stock is held by Coors family members, many of whom back groups that have agendas seen as unfriendly to gays. "But we're not going to legislate what any of our shareholders do privately," she says.
To Petitpas, this stance seems disingenuous: "I think it's a smoke screen. The company may have these wonderful policies, like LAGER, but part of every dollar you spend on Coors beer still goes to funding an anti-gay group. That's the simple reality. And if Out Front doesn't want its readers to know that, I've got to assume it's because they don't want to bite the hand that feeds them."
In his statement, Moore addressed this charge. After stressing that "Out Front does not endorse or condone the funding by individual Coors family members of anti-gay and homophobic organizations or individuals," he added, "This is not about the income or the economic condition of the Out Front newspaper." According to Valdez, Coors has previously advertised in Out Front, but Moore reluctantly conceded that no such ads ran in 2001 or 2002 to date.
Obviously, the National Lawyers Guild's release criticizing Out Front won't show up in that paper, either. But Petitpas, who's coordinating plans to leaflet the handful of San Francisco gay bars that serve Coors (Harvey's, a mini-chain of watering holes that does so, is named for Harvey Milk), hopes that Denver's LGBT crowd will still get a chance to eyeball the Guild's handiwork. So he's looking for another local gay publication bold enough to print it -- "and if I find one," he says, "I'll put over it, 'The ad Out Front didn't want you to see.'"
Man down: Folks familiar with military analyst Bob Newman, previously profiled in these pages ("Bombs Away," November 8, 2001), know him as a man who sees danger lurking around most corners and believes passionately in constant vigilance. But he was recently blindsided by an assault from an institution he considered an ally: the Denver Post.
Since February, Newman, who first came to the public's attention as a post-9/11 commentator on KOA, has written a regular column in the Post about the war on terrorism. From the beginning, it was something of an odd fit. The column ran in Section A of the paper, beside straight news reports, even though it was laden with bluntly expressed opinions that treated political correctness like a captured spy unwilling to spill any secrets; "Women Don't Belong in Foxhole," from March 14, was fairly typical. Only a couple of letters were printed in response to his commentaries, both of them negative, but Newman contends that his prose for the Post generated a steady stream of e-mail, "and the vast majority of it agreed with me. Sometimes they've been as short as one word -- frequently, 'Amen' -- and sometimes they've been very long. One said I should run for president." He laughs, then adds, "That guy needs to be talked to."
The missive he received on June 18 from Jeanette Chavez, a managing editor at the Post, was considerably less laudatory. Recalls Newman: "It was a form letter saying 'We're re-evaluating all of our content, including columns, to make sure we're using our space effectively, and as a result, we've decided we will no longer publish your column. Your last column will appear this week, and it should be on a regular topic, not a goodbye or valedictory column.'"
Instead of meekly accepting this verdict and marching into the sunset, Newman phoned Chavez, and when that conversation failed to satisfy, he shot off e-mails to a number of high-level Post types, including new editor Greg Moore, who climbed into the saddle just eight days before Newman was disappeared. Moore's failure to respond to his message fueled Newman to speculate about what was behind his canning -- and one of his theories is particularly incendiary. "This is just a suspicion, and I have no hard-core basis for this," Newman admits. "But I'm wondering if this could have been a racial thing. I'm a Caucasian, military, middle-aged white guy with a conservative slant, but a member of no party, and because of that, I've been a victim of racism before."
Moore, who's African-American, reacts to such conjectures with impatience and undisguised annoyance. "It's very simple," he says. "I'm looking at a lot of things at the paper, and I think we have a lot of columnists." (He's made that point internally, too, leading insiders to believe that other changes will likely be made in this area. Expect some of these shifts to turn up soon in "The Scene," the weekday entertainment/lifestyle section, where Moore has already ordered that the highest-caliber stories be given the biggest play, with no guarantee that they'll deal with subjects traditionally put front and center on certain days -- such as food on Wednesdays, fashion on Thursdays.)
Did questions about quality doom Newman? "His column, in particular, I didn't think added very much value at the paper," Moore says. "And since we have no contractual obligation to him, we made our decision, and we wish him well.
"He wrote me a note accusing me of having racial motives for this, which is silly," the editor adds, explaining that he didn't answer Newman because "I'm not going to engage in that level of debate with someone who's not on our staff.... I have a staff of people here to deal with things like that, and he's just not worth the effort. He had an opportunity to write a column here for a while, and that opportunity has ended -- and that's it."
Newman, though, has no intention of simply fading away. His "Newman Report" is a regular feature on KOA's Colorado Morning News, and he hosts an outdoors show Sundays at 3 p.m. on the Zone, KOA's sister station. "That lowers my blood pressure," he says. He's also guested on numerous Fox News talk shows, including ones hosted by Bill O'Reilly and Greta Van Susteren, and last week, he and KOA's Alex Stone won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award in the investigative-reporting category for last year's broadcasts questioning the security at Denver International Airport. But he remains miffed at the way he was shown the door at the Post.
"It was so weird and unprofessional," he says, "that it can't help but make me curious."
Net results: Worries over proposed fees for Internet radio providers ("Digital Dilemma," May 2) weren't magnified by a June 20 ruling from James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, but neither were they squelched. Earlier this year, a Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel, or CARP, recommended that Internet-only commercial outlets pay performance royalties of .14 cents per song per listener, with Internet simulcasters of standard commercial broadcasts owing half that amount. However, Billington ordered all commercial stations to pay the lower rate -- .07 cents per song per listener -- and reduced or tinkered with other portions of the fee structure.
Billington clearly was trying to balance the demand for royalties established by 1998's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) with the fears of smaller Webcasters, who argued that these charges, retroactive to 1998, would smother the industry in its bassinet by forcing hundreds of Internet businesses to fold. On the surface, he succeeded, since industry groups like the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) complain that the rate is too low while their opponents hold the opposite view: The headline on the SaveInternetRadio.org Web site the day after the ruling screamed, "Internet Radio Now In Serious Jeopardy." Interested parties have thirty days to appeal, and it's likely that both sides will, further dragging out implementation and giving congressional representatives a chance to intervene legislatively.
As this maneuvering goes on, Denver's Howard Michalski, who runs the radio.wazee music site at www.wazee.org, is trying to remain philosophical. If the rates are unchanged, he feels he can survive as long as his audience doesn't grow -- but if it gets even 50 percent bigger, he might have to close up shop.
"I think most Internet-radio people agree that we'd be willing to pay something fair," Michalski says. "But we want it to be our fair share -- and if it's not, this industry may not develop the way it should."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Denver, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.