Off Limits

Soar losers: Another lousy week for former Denver mayor Federico Pena. Largely overlooked these days--reportedly on purpose--by the Clinton administration, the Transportation secretary nonetheless appeared on Ralph Nader's radar screen. The Green Party presidential candidate has called for Pena's resignation, along with that of two other top regulators, because of their failure to improve the country's highway safety.

But look out below. A much nastier attack in the October 7 New Republic focuses on Pena's supervision of the skies, specifically the "ValuJet cover-up." Written by former Rocky Mountain News scribe Michael Fumento and titled "Flight From Reality," the piece tracks fudged figures included in an April 23 transportation report that hyped the "Low-Cost Airline Service Revolution" and its beneficial effect on airfares. "These developments are, in large part, the outgrowth of President Clinton's effort to support new entrant carriers," Pena wrote in an addendum to the report. Except that Southwest, which was included in the low-cost lineup, is really fifteen years old; taking that airline out of the equation, the serious accident rate of the startups jumps to six times that of established carriers. "Virtually all of this discrepancy," Fumento notes, "was due to ValuJet's poor record." Two weeks after the report was released, ValuJet Flight 592 went down over the Everglades--taking much of Pena's stature with it.

Stink or swim: In a large ad for Denver published in USA Today last Friday, Mayor Wellington Webb--whose photo was much smaller than that of an enormous fish--touted the town's new baseball stadium, its new airport, its new downtown amusement park and its new library. Most of the space, however, was devoted to a project that has yet to break ground. "Denver has it all," the ad noted. "Except for an ocean. So we figured, why not build one of those, too?"

Well, maybe because the financing for Ocean Journey isn't looking too good these days--despite considerable support from corporate boosters. In fact, as that very edition of USA Today was rolling off the press, Denver officials were admitting that the city may have to bail out the planned $75 million aquarium with a multimillion-dollar economic-development loan; otherwise, the project's ground-breaking, already postponed from early September, might be swamped indefinitely.

Then again, truth in advertising apparently wasn't the point of the promo piece, produced by the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau as part of a "public-private marketing" partnership. (The city contributed $350,000 to this year's efforts.) The all-wet ad also hailed the coming "Pepsi Center," a "state-of-the-art, indoor sports arena...located alongside an extensive new downtown park in the Platte River Valley." Unless, of course, Ascent Entertainment makes good on earlier threats and takes its teams out of town--and perhaps out of state altogether.

At least the USA Today ad was a bit more timely than the bureau's brochures handed out at the 1996 Society of Professional Journalists convention in Washington, D.C., last week. Next year the SPJ will hold its annual confab here, dubbed "Denver '97: The High Road" and focusing on "journalistic ethics at the millenium." The tourism pamphlet, however, emphasized upcoming events several years shy of that, including the 1995 Olympic Festival and that just-opened "architectural marvel," DIA. ("I don't know where they got those," says Will Seccombe, who took his marketing post at the bureau last year, when those "lure" pieces were already out of date.) Fortunately, the local SPJ host committee, including Channel 6's Cynthia Hessin and the Denver Post's Fred Brown, were able to provide a more, well, journalistically objective view of the city. Taking off from the bureau's official tourist-attracting videotape, Brown rewrote the script to note, among other things, that travelers shouldn't be afraid of the new airport, because "the luggage consumption rate is well below the national average." The tape got rave reviews, in part for its honesty and in part, Hessin admits, because it existed at all. "It's unheard of for the host committee to be that organized," she says.

So should the city's salesmen incorporate the piece in their own spiel? "I don't think they'd want to," Hessin laughs.

Giving Denver the business: The lineup of local journalists changes a lot faster than the bureau's brochures. New Denver Post business editor Dan Meyers, hired from inside to replace short-lived import Jeff Copeland, who replaced long-timer Henry Dubroff, who moved to the Denver Business Journal, now has a new Sunday business editor--Julie Hutchinson, a former Boulder Camera columnist who moved over from the Business Journal.


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