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Do the Denver Dailies' Page Ones Display Political Bias?

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Locals who consider the Rocky Mountain News to be Denver's conservative paper and view the Denver Post as its liberal counterpart likely feel that the respective dailies' May 29 covers confirm their suspicions. The previous day, President George W. Bush and leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama both visited Colorado -- and when it came to the page one spotlight, the Rocky chose Bush while the Post went with Obama, as seen in the accompanying images.

Do these selections prove the existence of ideological slants? Perhaps they provide some evidence. But issues of news value and photo quality definitely muddy the water.

In terms of prominence of placement within the physical newspapers, editors at both the Rocky and the Post agreed that Obama's appearance at a Thornton school was more newsworthy. (Their coverage can be eyeballed by clicking here and here.) And this reasoning was sound. After all, Bush has appeared at Air Force Academy events numerous times in the past; given his dire approval ratings, armed service settings provide him with the rare opportunity to speak to large crowds without fear of heckling or protest. Moreover, the president didn't say anything particularly unusual at the ceremony, as coverage in the Rocky and Post made clear. Indeed, the main administration headlines from the day involved preview snippets from a new book by White House press secretary Scott McClellan, whose critical remarks about the man he once served drew a swift rebuke from his successor, longtime Coloradoan (and past Westword profile subject) Dana Perino.

On the other hand, the Bush appearance offered a much more interesting photo opportunity -- a sea of cheering cadets, as opposed to shots of Obama in a classroom. Setting questions of bias aside, the Rocky cover shot of Bush speaking on a cell phone while a delighted grad looked on was infinitely grabbier than the Post image of Obama sitting in a chair, looking professorial.

In the end, the Rocky managers went with the best photo and the Post team picked the bigger story. Ideology may have been a factor, too, but it wasn't the only one. -- Michael Roberts

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