On November 30, Dow Jones columnist Al Lewis wrote a very funny piece about being called a "scumbag" by John Elway, who recently lost millions in Sean Mueller's Ponzi scheme. But while most of Lewis's columns run in the Denver Post, where he was previously a staffer, this one didn't. The move has spurred speculation aplenty in local journalism circles, and comments by Lewis and Denver Post editor Greg Moore will likely inspire more.
Here's the time line. On November 23, Elway and partner Mitch Pierce, who co-own a Toyota dealership in Ontario, California, asked a judge in the Mueller case to designate them the first to at least partially recoup; they lost around $15 million, and Mueller had $9.5 million in assets remaining when he was arrested and charged earlier this year. In reporting about this development for an item that the Dow Jones newswire made available on November 24, Lewis attempted to reach Elway and Pierce for comment but was unable to do so.
After publication, however, Lewis received an e-mail from Elway. It read, "Here's a comment for you. You are a scumbag!"
In "John Elway Finally Comments on Ponzi Scheme Losses," published on November 30, Lewis used this remark as a jumping-off point for some cuttingly amusing quips -- like, for instance, "I have never gotten a pro-football Hall of Famer so angry. I now watch my back in the locker room, worried Elway might sneak up and give me a wedgie." But he also referenced his earlier report, writing, "Elway and Pierce filed a court motion claiming this money was theirs. Their motion would have put them ahead of about 65 other victims trying to collect. But last week, a judge denied it, putting Elway in line with less famous folks who probably can't even throw a Nerf ball."
Juicy stuff -- and since the Post typically publishes Lewis's columns even when they're about national topics, the presence of a local hook would seem to make it even more appealing. But no: The paper passed on the piece.
Why? Says Lewis, who admits to being disappointed by the decision, "The editor told me they weren't going to run it because it seemed like it was piling on John Elway and it didn't break any new ground."
Maybe not -- but the next day, the Post published a brief about the court's denial of the Elway-Pierce motion to be compensated first.
Did Post staffers learn about this development by reading Lewis's column -- the one that supposedly didn't break any new ground? Corresponding by e-mail, Post editor Greg Moore writes, "That was old news that we had reported weeks ago and numerous times."
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As for the reason the "scumbag" column didn't appear in the Post, Moore notes, "I made the decision not to run it. It was based on one quote and the rest was a riff by Lewis that I deemed fun but not substantial. Our people were and have been writing more substantial stuff about Elway, his investments and future with the team. Easy call. And we don't run every thing Al writes. He is a syndicated columnist and that happens with a number of them."
Granted, the Post has covered the Mueller story extensively, and many of the details couldn't have made Elway happy. But from a sports perspective, most of the paper's Elway material has been extraordinarily flattering. On November 30 -- yes, the same day Post subscribers didn't see Lewis's column -- columnist Woody Paige wrote, "Broncos should turn to Elway to clean up mess," which portrayed No. 7 as the man to rescue the franchise from its 2010 tailspin.
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Such talk continued to build even before Coach Josh McDaniels's December 6 firing, and since then, it's been a major feature of the paper's Broncos reportage. Take today's edition, which includes another Paige column about Big John, "Elway could be back in business."
Speaking of which, Elway has opened a car dealership in Greeley -- as noted on his website, ElwayDealers.com, but little reported elsewhere in Denver, strangely enough. A few years back, he had his name on multiple dealerships in the Mile High City that heavily advertised in local media, including the Denver Post. He subsequently sold his interest in the businesses, which no longer bear his name.
In Moore's account, none of these factors was responsible for the Post passing on Lewis's column. Still, the majority of Denverites (with the possible exception of the most extreme Elway lovers) will likely enjoy it anyhow, whether they believe Lewis is a scumbag or not.
More from our Media archive: "Dow Jones subscribers know Al Lewis got the scoop on Tancredo, Rosen losses."