The Rocky Mountain News's October 16 endorsement of George W. Bush was hardly a shock, since the paper's editorials tend to tilt rightward. Not so the Denver Post, whose editorial page generally slants to the left of center -- except on October 24, when the broadsheet formally backed Bush via an essay that went down as smoothly as a blender full of bugs on Fear Factor. The piece complimented W for his "decisiveness" in fighting terror, but denigrated pretty much everything else he's done for nearly four years. It also offered numerous bouquets to Bush's competitor, Senator John Kerry, who was feted in an adjacent column written by Bob Ewegen and Julia Martinez, two members of the Post's editorial board. Mr. Spock and Data could spend the next century analyzing this logic and still not make heads or tails of it.
Because presidential endorsements are inherently high-profile, the Post's decision to issue one that basically contradicts much of what it's stood for during the past year-plus couldn't help but garner plenty of attention, both nationally and locally. Editor & Publisher, a journalism trade journal, noted that the Post was one of only three major newspapers that flip-flopped to Republican Bush after touting Democrat Al Gore in 2000; the others were Ohio's Columbus Dispatch and the Houston Chronicle. In contrast, 24 papers that went with Bush in 2000 are championing Kerry four years later. Closer to home, a sizable percentage of the Post's staffers reacted to the endorsement with confusion and outrage, as did even more subscribers. A squib by editorial-page editor Jon Wolman that appeared on the October 26 letters section pointed out that the Post received over 700 communiqués from readers in the wake of its endorsement, and every one was negative. That's more unanimous than pre-invasion elections in Iraq.
Wolman spoke with many of these aggrieved parties, and he says, "I've asked them to think of the newspaper as reflecting the range of opinions that are there in the community and then make up their own minds."
As for who made up the Post's collective mind when it comes to Bush, the most likely candidate is Dean Singleton, the paper's owner, and a personal friend of 43's. Singleton will neither confirm nor deny the theory that he overruled a pro-Kerry majority on the Post's editorial board to win the day for Bush: "I'm not ever going to talk about how the editorial board makes any editorial decisions," he declares. However, he acknowledges a division among boardmembers. "The editorial board being split is not very different from the country being split," he allows.
Similar rifts have occurred at other major newspapers this year. For instance, Editor & Publisher reports that the editorial board at the Cleveland Plain Dealer favored Kerry, while the paper's publisher, Alex Machaskee, was a Bush man -- and when neither side would bend, all concerned agreed to make no endorsement at all. The Post, for its part, published the Ewegen-Martinez offering in what Wolman characterized in print as an extraordinary step "to ensure that the full range of views was represented in our pages." Martinez wouldn't comment on the column, while Ewegen says the piece speaks for itself.
Kerry did likewise during the October 17 match-up between the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders, personally making a conference call to four members of the Post editorial board, Martinez and Ewegen among them. Singleton didn't participate because, he says, he was on the sidelines of the contest in Oakland at the time and wanted to see the game. It was a real thriller: The Broncos won 31-3.
Singleton doesn't express disdain for Kerry, but neither does he hide his affection for Bush, to whose campaign he donated $2,000 in 2003. Furthermore, he makes it clear that dictating the Post's presidential nod would be within his authority. He says he plays "no role whatsoever" in endorsement decisions made by the overwhelming majority of papers owned by MediaNews Group, which he heads, because company policy puts that power in the hands of the publisher. The exceptions are the Post and the Salt Lake Tribune, because he's officially listed as the papers' publisher and sits on their editorial boards. That would make the final decision at the Post and the Tribune his.
In its current edition, the Salt Lake City Weekly argues that Singleton has taken advantage of this privilege twice of late at the Tribune. Anonymous sources cited by the Weekly credit Singleton with pulling the trigger on an endorsement of Ellis Ivory, a mayoral candidate who's on the board of the Deseret Morning News. (The News shares a joint operating agreement with the Tribune and was instrumental in helping Singleton take control of the latter.) Singleton won't talk about the particulars of this matter other than to note that he was "consulted" on the endorsement. He's met Ivory, and although he doesn't know him well, he says, "I have enormous respect for him."
Oh, yeah: The Tribune endorsed Bush in a somewhat backhanded fashion, too, and ran its piece in the same issue as a Kerry salute from a dissenting member of the editorial board, George Pyle. On the question of whether Singleton ordained the Bush recommendation, Pyle told the Weekly, "The editorial page belongs to the publisher, and how he finally comes down is up to him."
Jim Nolan, spokesman for the Denver Newspaper Agency, which handles business operations for the Post and the Rocky, says that some subscriptions were canceled following the presidential endorsements at both papers, "but the numbers are well within the range of what we've seen historically in past presidential elections." What's new is the almost apologetic nature of the Post's endorsement of Bush -- not that Singleton sees things that way. To him, "Our editorial tried to say, ŒLook, there's no reason for this to be divisive. There are two candidates, and they're both qualified to be president. We happen to lean towards Bush, but the republic will be in good shape whatever happens."
Whether the same will be true of the Post's editorial reputation is another matter.
Home rule: Endorsement squabbles are no stranger to the Daily Camera, which serves Boulder, arguably Colorado's most liberal major city. In 2000, many observers were stunned and/or appalled when the paper advocated Bush over Al Gore. Camera management explained that its relatively new parent company, E.W. Scripps, made a single presidential endorsement for all of the publications in its chain -- and the only Democrat to receive Scripps's nod in the previous half-century was Lyndon Johnson.
Things changed on October 17, when the Camera threw its weight behind Kerry The paper was able to do so after Scripps's old approach was scrapped during a meeting in May, when editor Sue Deans says only three of her peers voted to keep the tradition alive. She's not sure if the heat taken by the Camera in 2000 was a major factor in this decision, but she was happy to avoid controversy this time around. "It would have been sort of a conflicted endorsement for us to endorse the president based on what I've seen in our editorials about him," she maintains.
A disconnect like that apparently doesn't bother the folks at the Post.
Site reading: The message contained within an October 14 e-mail sent under the signature of Representative Marilyn Musgrave wasn't exactly subtle.
"Dear friend of the family," Musgrave began. "Radical homosexual-agenda leaders have declared me Public Enemy #1 and are spending over a million dollars on vicious, false TV ads to defeat me." Then, after decrying commercials funded by Coloradans for Plain Talk that showed a mock Marilyn robbing a corpse and picking the pocket of a soldier in combat, she wrote that the survival of the anti-gay-marriage movement she spearheads depends upon her raising $450,000 over the next two weeks. To make contributing to this mission more convenient, she added, "I set up this special web page for you to use your credit card." The link following these words took recipients to www.musgrave2004.com, where they could demonstrate their agreement "with Marilyn Musgrave's conservative agenda" by way of Visa, MasterCard or Discover.
Predictably, the donation portion of Musgrave's site works great -- but the area marked "News Room" is another story. For weeks before and after the e-mail went out, the section consisted of a single link to a Musgrave press photo and a slogan reading "More Content Coming Soon."
This divergence speaks volumes about the role of the Internet in Election 2004, Colorado division. For all the talk about the web's transformative impact on the race, only a handful of campaigns here appear to be taking full advantage of current technology. Every major candidate and ballot measure is represented by a site, but the ones affiliated with underdogs who appear to be struggling for funds, as well as heavy favorites such as Musgrave (whose office didn't respond to calls for comment), will leave members of the click-and-surf generation thoroughly underwhelmed.
Two of the best sites belong to combatants for the U.S. Senate, Republican Pete Coors and Democrat Ken Salazar -- and the closeness of their contest and the gusher of dollars flowing to them is probably the reason. The Coors effort, www.coorsforsenate.com, is available in English or Spanish and features tons of easily accessible data. For example, the "On the Issues" page features an eleven-item drop-down list that takes visitors to explanations about Coors's stances. Coors spokeswoman Cinamon Watson says that since the site was launched, "we've continued to update content and change information, and we send out a newsletter with information about events." She estimates the number of people who receive Coors e-mails at "over 10,000."
If anything, Salazar's bilingual site, www.salazarforcolorado.com, is even more elaborate. Features include streaming video of his TV spots (but only the nice ones), and a "Truth Watch" area that allows Salazar's minions to refute Coors' attack commercials. "It's very important to respond quickly and make sure there's an answer to a charge," says Salazar spokesman Cody Wertz. "The website lets us do that -- and it also helps people who are undecided learn more about Ken."
Still, the most technically impressive site is www.fastracks.org, the online booster for the well-funded FasTracks rail-expansion plan. The home page features flashing slogans and a highly interactive map that lets computer users pinpoint where trains would run in their neighborhood. "Education about the plan was the most important thing we had to do, and the map's been a great tool in providing it," says FasTracks Yes! press secretary Jan Rigg. "You can pull up the corridor where you live and even zoom in and out."
The sites touting 7th Congressional District representative Bob Beauprez and his opponent, Jeffco DA Dave Thomas, are considerably less interesting. The Beauprez offering, at www.beauprezforcongress.com, is fine visually but lacking in substance, whereas Thomas's counterpart, www.davethomasforcongress.com, is garish and ham-handed. The low point is a section dubbed "Bob Beauprez's Lies," which feels far more frantic and hysterical than Salazar's "Truth Watch." Its air of desperation doesn't reflect well on Thomas's chances.
The weakness of Thomas's online venture is surprising, given the enthusiasm for the medium expressed by his press secretary, Dayna Hanson. A recent CU-Boulder graduate, Hanson credits former presidential candidate Howard Dean with "changing everything with the way he used the Internet. He really grasped that grassroots approach to motivating people and making them feel that they have a voice. This election, we've really seen the power behind the blog."
So why doesn't Thomas's site include a blogging place? "It did, but we took it down," she concedes. "We had so much happening on our front page, and it wasn't being used that much."
As Hanson's admission suggests, the Internet revolution is not yet universal. Ed Graham, spokesman for congressional candidate Stan Matsunaka, Musgrave's Democratic opponent in the 4th Congressional District, sings the praises of the www.stan2004.com site and says that approximately 15 to 20 percent of the donations his campaign has received have come through this portal. Yet Dave Pearson, campaign manager for Representative Tom Tancredo, who's running for re-election in the 6th Congressional District against long shot Democrat Joanna Conti, thinks the web's influence has been overplayed, particularly on the local level.
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"Websites are a reality these days, and you have to have one," he says. "But it isn't an exceptionally effective tool. After all, there's a finite number of people who'll take the time and energy to see what your positions are on your website, especially when you're talking about a congressional district. If it's a national candidate, you might get hundreds of thousands of hits, but on our level, the numbers are much more reduced." While that will probably change in the future, he believes, "I don't think it's quite here yet."
Given this philosophy, it's no wonder that Tancredo's campaign address, www.tancredo.org, is so undistinguished. Among the casually assembled jumble of facts collected there is a lengthy listing of events that, according to its intro, the candidate may not actually attend. Then again, the site bests the donations component of Musgrave's online headquarters in at least one respect: On top of Visa, MasterCard and Discover, Big Tom also accepts American Express.
Musgrave had better hope haters of the radical homosexual agenda left home without it.