Social Studies

Glory Weisberg, longtime society columnist for the Cherry Hills Villager, was named after the American flag, and she's not averse to wrapping it around the beat she covers.

"After these terrorist strikes, there was a perception that people weren't really interested in attending gala benefits, because they weren't in the mood to celebrate," she says. "But I'm finding almost the opposite is true. The American idea of rising from the ashes and providing moral support and volunteerism is coming forward, and I'm seeing men and women rededicating themselves to the nonprofits they've championed in the past. Maybe the dollars are harder to come by now, but the individual tenacity has really increased dramatically. And that's what America's all about."

Society scribes at the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News -- Joanne Davidson and Dahlia Jean Weinstein, respectively -- don't put things quite the same way. They note that while some hat-passers have done well in recent months, others have experienced weak turnouts and donation shortfalls. But both say that since September 11, they've received numerous expressions of gratitude for providing an upbeat alternative to dispatches from Afghanistan. As Davidson points out, "I've had people come up to me and say, 'If it wasn't for your column, or for [columnists] Bill Husted and Dick Kreck, I wouldn't read the paper anymore, because it's nothing but war, terrorist attacks, yadda, yadda, yadda. I need some diversion.'"

Such distractions are in shorter supply than they once were. Following last April's implementation of the joint operating agreement that intermingled business operations at the News and the Post, Weinstein and Davidson saw the space allotted to swanky happenings shrink significantly. Weinstein's column went from appearing six days a week to four, and only her Thursday spread is as large as it was prior to the JOA. Davidson, meanwhile, still writes six days a week, but her space was reduced from between twenty and 32 column inches a day, including a photo, to twelve column inches squeezed into the slot above the TV-listings grid, with the only photo being her mug shot. In addition, Davidson is now able to publish just two half-page "party line" photo layouts per week, as opposed to the two full pages a week bestowed during the pre-JOA era.

Whether the word-count reductions and photo cutbacks at the dailies have made the Villager more important in social circles is a subject of debate. Weisberg, whose column is called "Gloryus Goings On," is among those who think it has, while numerous other observers of the scene who requested anonymity are more dubious; they suggest that ink from Davidson, who's been at the Post since the early '80s, and relative newcomer Weinstein are still the keys to an event's success. But there's no question that Weisberg is a frequent topic of discussion among society regulars: beloved by some, sniped about by others. Still, even those who find her overly demanding -- she's a person who likes to do things her way -- seldom dare leave her off the guest list.

Given the modest size of the Villager's estimated readership (30,000 weekly, less than a tenth of that boasted daily by the News and the Post), locals who don't rub shoulders with the city's swells may wonder why Weisberg has any pull at all. But the Villager, which is delivered each Thursday via third-class mail rather than tossed onto porches like many other neighborhood publications, happens to reach the right readership. "We cover Greenwood Village and Cherry Hills Village, which is where the primary benefactors for the major charities come from," Weisberg says. "When I drive through Broomfield and Boulder, I think, 'There are rich people there. Why don't they participate?' But for some reason, it's all out here in the southeast suburbs."

Weisberg, who received a degree in journalism from the University of Denver in 1964, began writing for the Villager just over seventeen years ago following a stint as a teacher in Littleton and Denver. She left teaching to raise the two children she shares with her husband, David, a computer consultant: Her daughter, Elizabeth, lives in Copenhagen, but her son, Steve, remains in the Denver area and often covers social events his mom can't squeeze into her schedule. At first Weisberg wrote about education issues for the Villager, but she wound up keeping tabs on the social whirl, in part because she frequently did volunteer work for area charities and knew many of the players involved.

Although her personal forays into the field haven't always been blockbusters ("I chaired one major gala five or six years ago that was a big flop," she concedes), Weisberg believes her efforts behind a keyboard have helped spread the word about innumerable admirable soirees. She's persistently positive: Judging by her sunny prose, all the events she writes about are worthy, all the causes just, and all the people pretty and noble and self-sacrificing. And like Davidson and Weinstein, whose coverage is equally bright and cheerful, she emphasizes her efforts to publicize bashes for causes that have traditionally been underrepresented in mainstream society reporting.

"There may be the perception that we're snobbish because we serve an upscale community," Weisberg says. "But there's not a degree of snobbery in my entire personality, and I've gone to extremes to champion minority events and to encourage everyone in those communities to get involved."

When it comes time for Weisberg to attend parties, however, she has a number of rules that sometimes raise the carefully plucked and sculpted eyebrows of hosts and attendees. Several social insiders point out that she often refuses to go to fundraisers -- even those of the hundreds-of-dollars-per-plate variety -- if her husband isn't also invited; she will turn down invitations when the weather or air quality isn't to her liking; and she insists that caterers prepare special meals to meet her specific dietary requirements.

Far from denying these claims, Weisberg owns up to each of them, albeit in a way meant to make them seem eminently reasonable. She notes that her husband travels so much during the week that if she didn't request admission for him on weekends, they'd never see each other. But she adds that she never holds it against party coordinators who would rather sell the extra seats to paying customers. "When a charity feel it's inappropriate for me to ask for two comps, I immediately tell them I would be more than willing to accept photos from them, and the programs and attendance rosters and some details about the decor -- all the details I would put in the article had I attended. Because I don't want charities to suffer because of my policy."

Furthermore, Weisberg is "a lifelong asthmatic" who's so negatively affected by pollution, cigarette or cigar smoke, chilly temperatures and assorted other smells that she'll bow out of covering events where she might encounter breathing difficulties. "It could be dangerous for me otherwise," she says.

The same goes for edibles. "I have numerous life-threatening food allergies borne out by tests at National Jewish Hospital," she allows. "And as I have aged, my allergies have become worse and more widely varied." For example, "meat protein puts out a chemical that's not good for my bone structure, and my doctors have suggested that I limit my meat consumption to approximately two meals a week, and in small quantities. And my other legitimate allergies span all seafood, eggs, chocolate and anything fermented, including wine and even vinegar."

Instead of burdening party planners with this information, Weisberg says, she gets the numbers of event caterers and contacts them directly. "I'll call the Marriott or the Hyatt or whatever and say, 'Please make me a potato or some pineapple.' I can understand that's an inconvenience when caterers are working with 1,000 people and then they find me, but it shouldn't pre-sent a financial burden. I'm a cheap feed. How much does a sweet potato and a can of beans cost? And anytime a charity feels that they don't want me to encumber them in this way, that's fine. I don't have to go to every event to cover it, which flies in the face of people who say I'm a pain in the butt because of my special menus. Plus, I almost always mention in my articles who the caterers are -- most people don't -- and 90 percent of the time, I'll fax them after the event and say, 'Thanks for putting up with me.'"

Not everyone sees doing so as a burden. Several of the society regulars contacted by Westword have complaints about Weisberg, but the rest value her contributions to the scene and aren't troubled by her idiosyncrasies. Says one of the latter group, "She's great about giving us the publicity that we need, and that's the bottom line."

This is especially true given the space situation at the dailies. The News's Weinstein says her publication frequency is likely to remain where it is for the foreseeable future, and although Davidson was recently led to believe that she'd get back most of the column inches she lost, she subsequently learned that expansion will be on a case-by-case basis. "She'll get more space when the events warrant it," says Post editor Glenn Guzzo. "January is not typically the month that will show up, but when we have major events that affect that part of the community, we'll make sure she'll have the space to do that." Guzzo adds, "In addition to society coverage, Joanne provides a substantial part of our coverage of nonprofits and charities, and that's very important to us."

Seconding that emotion is Weisberg, who admits to bristling at the society-columnist tag. "Back in the old days, the papers really did cover private events held by the Gateses, the Coorses, and a lot of families whose names are on street signs. But now we deal primarily with nonprofit fundraisers that are open to the public and really have nothing to do with so-called society. These are people who've devoted their lives to making their communities better, and their country, too. And they deserve a Gloryus salute."

This just in, unfortunately: After September 11, media navel-gazers declared the end of our collective fascination with trivial news. In the future, they predicted, newspapers and broadcasts that had been padded with piffle would have to get back to the business of telling us about matters of genuine importance, because America no longer cared about fun and games.

Wrong again, pundits -- and as evidence, consider this week's coverage of Denver Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. Simply put, the way the area press dealt with the possibility that Shanahan might desert Colorado for the top spot with the University of Florida Gators -- which, as everyone now knows, he didn't -- can be summed up in a single word: clusterfuck.

Examples? When University of Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley arrived in town on January 7, he was shadowed by roaming packs of television types who acted like horny teenage boys on the scent of Pamela Anderson. Channel 2 footage of Foley's cab recalled O.J. Simpson's halcyon days as a fugitive, as did the helicopters that reportedly hovered over the Bronco's Dove Valley facility. (Kudos to the FAA for lifting its restrictions on station choppers in time for this important story!) The late local newscasts were equally Shanahan-fixated, with Channel 31's Ron Zappolo repeatedly breaking format to editorialize about the coach's possible exit. After weatherman Bob Goosmann noted that Denver's January 8 high temperature would be warmer than Miami's peak, Zappolo even suggested this information might convince Shanahan to stay. He was probably joking, but given his previous hysteria, it's hard to say for certain.

The next morning's newscasts offered more of the same. Take Channel 4, which breathlessly revealed that Foley had not yet filed a flight plan for the day, implying that he had no plans to leave Denver. (Foley did manage to depart shortly thereafter.) Following this faux scoop, the station cut to a.m. sports guy Mark McIntosh at Broncos HQ, where so little was going on that he was left to talk about the empty streets around him: "There's not much traffic, everything's moving smoothly..."

Granted, such excess isn't unique to Denver. In the January 8 Orlando Sentinel, columnist Mike Thomas noted that in covering the resignation of Florida coach Steve Spurrier, which set into motion the Shanahan frenzy, his paper ran seventeen Spurrier photos, a plethora of stories and columns, and even "a chart listing every quarterback Steve coached." But rather than siding with "hard-news purists" in his newsroom, Thomas defended the expenditure of space, telling those who complain about too much college-football coverage, "That's life in Florida, love it or leave it. And part of a newspaper's job is to reflect the reality of the community, even if it must stray from the bounds of proper perspective."

Thank goodness, at least one Denver TV figure seems to have things in better balance. Shortly after interrupting breakfast between Shanahan and Foley at the Inverness Hotel, Channel 7's Mike Nolan appeared on AM-950/The Fan, and when host Mike Evans asked if he found the entire exercise a bit silly, Nolan said, "I'm too old for this." Evans laughed, but Nolan seemed serious, lampooning local news judgment with this mock broadcast intro: "World War III has just started, but first, let's talk about the Broncos."

Sorry, Mike, but that's too real to be funny.

Tale of the tape: Like many Denverites, I have Columbine fatigue. I found the parade of interchangeable the-healing-has-begun profiles that clogged newspapers and broadcasts even eight or nine months after the 1999 shootings at the Jefferson County high school more exploitive than enlightening, and even though Westword's recent scoop concerning Eric Harris's diaries was certainly a legitimate story, the presentation of it on our Web site, with the killer's yearbook photo flashing on each page every five seconds, couldn't help but make me feel queasy.

As such, it would be easy to assume that I would cheer the Denver Post for its restraint in relegating the most recent spate of Columbine-related reports to its B section, even though the Rocky Mountain News splashed the tales across its front page, and major networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN gave them high-profile airtime. But I can't.

The latest developments, spurred by a tape recording made by Brian Rohrbough that appears to show that representatives of the Arapahoe County sheriff's department are hiding facts surrounding the slaying of Rohrbough's son, Daniel Rohrbough, isn't simply another weepy rehash, but evidence of what could be a coverup among public servants that should chill and anger any resident of this region. It's a story with implications that extend well beyond the narrow boundaries of the case itself, and Columbine fatigue or no, it deserved to be on page one.

New year, same story: While discussing News veteran Gene Amole's announcement that he was dying during an appearance on Peter Boyles's KHOW talk show late last year, the Post's Chuck Green seemed to assume that he's on the cusp of becoming the king of Colorado columnists. But he's already the monarch of mistakes, and he didn't wait long to make his first major error of 2002. In his January 2 column, for which his only research seemed to be reading recent articles by the Post's David Migoya, Green wrote that Denver police chief Gerry Whitman "still faces a major challenge to reverse a disturbing trend in a system that has tolerated bad cops, including convicted felons, in the ranks." The problem? Migoya's pieces reported that while some cops were charged with felonies, they'd only been convicted of misdemeanors -- which the Post confirmed in a correction on January 3.

One Green column, one Green gaffe. The Chuckster could be well on his way to a record-setting year.

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