Unlike former Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple, who penned a weekly column for years, Denver Post editor Greg Moore seldom writes pieces for the paper. But he made an exception Sunday with an item that attempted to explain the Post's approach to the claims allegedly linking mayor-elect Michael Hancock to the Denver Players prostitution operation. The results are likely to placate some critics even as they fire up others.
"Being Fair While Pursuing the Truth in the Michael Hancock Story" confirms that the Post began working on the story immediately after Complete Colorado published an item that included documents said to be from Denver Players; they featured the name "Mike Handcock" and Hancock's personal cell-phone number. But while former Denver Players owner Scottie Ewing, who'd been shopping the info in advance of the mayoral election, showed the sheets in question to Post reps, he initially refused to let his name be used in any story. As a result, Moore writes, "all we had were records containing a misspelled version of Hancock's name and his cell-phone number (which was widely available to just about anyone) provided by a convicted felon who demanded anonymity."
Greg Moore at the closure of the Rocky Mountain News press conference in February 2009.
So the Post held off reporting about the story even as other news outlets, including this one, referenced the Complete Colorado piece. Instead, the paper made requests for Hancock's cell-phone and bank records to see if they featured any smoking digits. According to Moore, Hancock's team agreed sans any quid pro quo. "We made no promises to the Hancock campaign to refrain from publishing anything in exchange for access to those records," he stresses. "We would never bargain away our right to publish."
Afterward, however, Hancock's legal crew declined to share the bank records and blamed escalating delays in providing the phone info on T-Mobile. "Admittedly, our patience was wearing thin," Moore concedes, and it snapped after former Post city editor Evan Dreyer, now part of Team Hancock, said none of the records would be provided -- a statement that prompted the Post to publish what it had learned to date.
Why did the paper do so, given that the evidence available had previously been judged sadly insufficient? Partly due to the sense that Hancock was "stonewalling," Moore writes. But by then, Ewing had agreed to allow his name to be used, and Moore maintains that "a person's willingness to put his name behind his allegations is a big step toward giving readers the opportunity to judge the credibility of the charge."
Granted, Ewing's decision to step forward -- which he'd done days earlier with several other media outlets -- only changed Moore's explanation for not publishing from "all we had were records containing a misspelled version of Hancock's name and his cell-phone number (which was widely available to just about anyone) provided by a convicted felon who demanded anonymity" to "all we had were records containing a misspelled version of Hancock's name and his cell-phone number (which was widely available to just about anyone) provided by a convicted felon." Moore concedes that "a week of hard reporting had only marginally advanced the story," resulting in a publication move that "was not an easy call to make."
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Of course, the front-page story finally convinced Hancock's handlers to provide the phone records, which showed no link to Denver Players. But even Moore sees this as falling short of definitively proving Hancock's innocence. "Each interview or document review left behind lingering questions," he writes.
The essay concludes with Moore acknowledging, "I can't say for certain that we will ever get to the bottom of what happened here." That's a truth as frustrating for people at the Post as it has been for the media consumers of Denver.