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Jon Caldara's Diversity War Against Colorado Public Radio

Our favorite photo of Jon Caldara.
Our favorite photo of Jon Caldara.
File photo

Jon Caldara, the feisty president of the Independence Institute, is continuing an ideological assault on Colorado Public Radio, arguing that the venerable broadcaster lacks diversity not of race, color or creed, but of thought. And while CPR initially defended itself against this claim, it's now declining to comment in the apparent hope that Caldara will shut up, go away, or move on to pester someone else.

"Wow! It seems CPR loves to have a community discussion about anything except CPR," Caldara responds.

Caldara fired the first shot in this currently one-sided war of words in a July 7 Denver Post op-ed — and while the headline referenced a video showing Donald Trump abusing a wrestler with a CNN logo for a noggin, which the president shared on social media, much of the salvo revolved around CPR. One section read, "Colorado Public Radio is a prime example of this media bubble. As newspapers dwindle, many of us see public radio as a replacement for reliable local news. I really like the crew at CPR; they are good earnest folks. But who can stomach the constantly self-congratulating promos on CPR that paint the picture of wildly curious reporters working hard to bring us all sides of the story?"

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He subsequently stated that "CPR values diversity — we’re told that lie repeatedly in every request for donations. And certainly, their newsroom staff represents the rainbow of genders, race and sexual orientation, as if that matters to objective reporting. But ideological diversity? None. Forty-three percent of Coloradans voted for Donald Trump. I’ve been told by several CPR reporters that not one person in their newsroom voted for Trump."

To that, Caldara added, "Yes, I can see the surprise in your face" — and indeed, the fact that the overwhelming majority of journalists are progressive in their personal politics, as has been confirmed in report after report after report, is about as shocking as a dead battery. Besides, there's a good chance that some of the journos who cast ballots for Trump last November are regretting it, given the amount of time he's spent bashing their occupation since taking office.

"It is a self-selecting profession," Caldara says, "and they seem completely unaware that the American voters sense that — and this election, I think, was largely a response to that."

Kelley Griffin, vice president of Colorado Public Radio News.
Kelley Griffin, vice president of Colorado Public Radio News.

But if Caldara is right, Trump should be sending valentines to folks like those at CPR. In his words, "I don't think public broadcasters, and particularly those in public radio, understand how much they've pushed people to vote for Donald Trump. They live in such a bizarre bubble that their daily touchy-feely intellectual attacks on conservatives and Donald Trump in particular have turned off so many people that it's one of the reasons he has so many supporters. The more they are oblivious to this self-serving bubble that they're in, the more they help Donald Trump, because people react to it. You can't listen to public radio without feeling the disdain for limited government and the out-and-out hatred for Donald Trump, and that's too bad. I'm probably the only Republican out there who religiously listens to CPR. Imagine how many more of us would be there if they actually worked to show all angles of a story."

His goal, then, is "to pressure CPR to live up to their stated love of diversity by hiring reporters who are fiscal conservatives. If there was even one good, libertarian journalist in their editorial meetings, you might find that they'd stop referring to leftist organizations as nonprofit, nonpartisan groups but always call ones like the Independence Institute conservative or right-wing."

A week later, on July 14, Kelley Griffin, vice president of Colorado Public Radio News, rejected Caldara's thesis in a Post opinion piece of her own. "Our hiring process prohibits us from asking about ideological preferences, much less hiring people based on their responses," she stressed. "Plus, it’s simply immaterial to being a journalist at CPR. Personal preferences and opinions are not the focus of any story we do [the italics are in the original]. Our job is to seek input from the community, thoroughly explore the most important issues impacting all Coloradans using a range of sources, and provide context on what those issues mean for our state."

Griffin pointed out that "this approach is reflected in a strict code of ethics that CPR News staff are required to follow, which exists to protect and support the integrity, impartiality and conduct of our journalists. This includes: Being free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know the truth; Striving to present the course or nature of news material in a way that is complete, accurate and fair; Showing respect for the dignity, privacy, rights and well-being of people encountered in the course of gathering the news." According to Griffin, "our reporting represents these principles, and I stand by the quality and impartiality of our work."

Jon Caldara during his "Freedom Minute" video about Colorado Public Radio.
Jon Caldara during his "Freedom Minute" video about Colorado Public Radio.

She apparently doesn't feel the need to expand on these observations, though. Instead of responding directly to an interview request from Westword, Griffin dispatched Lauren Cameron, CPR's senior vice president for communications. Following exchanges with yours truly over a couple of days, Cameron sent an e-mail in which she wrote that "after chatting, we collectively feel that her original written response is all there is to say about the subject. We simply don't feel there's much more to add at this time."

For Caldara, the story's been similar: "I’ve been e-mailing Kelley to arrange a face-to-face meeting, which at first she was open to but now refuses."

If Griffin feels unfairly singled out for such criticism, Caldara insists that she should actually see his efforts as a compliment of sorts — and in explaining why, he throws shade at the broadsheet where the two exchanged views last month.

"CPR has actually invested in local news coverage, to their credit," he allows, "and as the Denver Post becomes a newsletter instead of a newspaper and the TV stations spend all their time talking about the Broncos and how to plant your petunias, having local coverage, and particularly local political coverage, is crucial. I can see a time when CPR could become the news agency of record for Colorado, and that's a hell of a responsibility."

He'd be fine with Colorado Public Radio assuming this mantle, but with an important proviso: "I think it would be spectacular, but only if they would go to some AA meetings and confess that, yes, they have no ideological diversity — or at least that their idea of ideological diversity is just ridiculous."

Click to view a Caldara video about Colorado Public Radio.

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