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More Messages: Who's Joking Now?

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Are the local dailies ideologically biased? And if so, in which direction? These questions get asked over and over again, and this morning provided ammunition for folks on either side of the political divide.

The issue at hand centers upon a dustup between Massachusetts Senator (and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee) John Kerry and President George W. Bush. Yesterday, Kerry made a comment that seemed to disparage the intelligence of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, but that he insists was a fumbled joke intended to needle Bush; nevertheless, Bush demanded that Kerry apologize to the troops, which the senator sorta-kinda refused to do. The Rocky Mountain News made the fallout from this exchange its top story in today's edition, printing a bold headline reading "At It Again" and photos of Kerry and Bush on page one, as well as more photos and an even more provocative banner -- "World War II: Bush-Kerry Rematch" -- atop its World & Nation section. In contrast, the Denver Post left any mention of this tale off its cover, printing a modest wire-copy report sans photos on page 12.

Does the Rocky's decision to offer blow-out coverage of this back-and-forth suggest that the tabloid allows its conservative editorial stances to bleed into the news pages? On the other hand, does the Post's choice to soft-pedal the incident imply that its more liberal editorial viewpoints color its news judgement? The answers lean toward "yes" in both instances. With the midterm election less than a week away, the Kerry-Bush tiff is a stupid distraction -- but it's also the sort of topic that gets people talking, which is why the Today show led with this morning. With that in mind, the Rocky probably should have teased the story on page one, but not overemphasized it, and used considerably more restraint inside. The Post, in contrast, would have been wiser to start the story on the cover in a less prominent, below-the-fold position rather than acting as if it was of little or no interest.

Of course, the actions of the Denver dailies in this instance don't prove anything definitively. However, the moves give readers one more reason to scoff at claims of objectivity -- and given the current state of the newspaper industry, that's not a good thing. -- Michael Roberts

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