The Message

At 10 a.m. on August 6, the western half of Chambers Road, one of Eagle's main thoroughfares, looks like a dusty set from The Last Picture Show. The county fairgrounds that parallel I-70 are deserted, and the undeveloped landscape beyond is too forbidding to provide many taste treats for the hawks lazily circling the sky overhead. Were they to fly a few miles in the opposite direction, however, these aerial predators would find a much more varied menu. How about a hunk of flesh from CNN's Jeffrey Toobin? Or the eyeball of ESPN correspondent Shelley Smith? Now, that's good eatin'.

Toobin, Smith and dozens upon dozens of their journalistic brethren, including yours truly, are in Eagle to watch Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant visit the county courthouse on the east side of Chambers. At 4 p.m., Bryant is to be formally advised of his sexual-assault charge -- a near-formality that's unlikely to last much longer than the average NBA time-out.

In the days leading up to Bryant's arrival, a few of the high-rent yappers from national cable channels suggested that a surprise or two might arise, but they displayed precious little conviction. And no wonder, since everyone here in Eagle County is confident that nothing of real substance will take place today. The media will be making the news as much as reporting it.

To that end, the commanders of the press have deployed regiment-sized forces to cover whatever does, or doesn't, happen. Makeshift broadcasting platforms draped in plastic sheeting line an entire block, with more than a score of satellite trucks and the like parked directly behind them. The courthouse is across the street, next to a media tent intended to shelter the invading horde from the blazing sun, which is rapidly pushing the temperature toward the 90s.

Inside the tent, Vail's Michael Cacioppo asks a photographer, "Ready for some action?"

"I don't know that there's going to be any action," the photog replies.

"Ready for some inaction, then?"

"They pay me to be ready."

Cacioppo is being compensated, too. He runs Captain Video, an audio-visual equipment supply company, and Eagle County has hired him to pipe pictures and sound of Bryant's brief time before Judge Frederick Gannett into the tent for those reporters who don't have reserved seats in the courtroom. Yet even without this gig, Cacioppo would be here. A Kansas City native who moved to Colorado in the mid-'70s, he's made his views known over the airwaves as a talk-show host and in public meetings across Eagle County as a particularly voluble citizen, often frustrating and sometimes amusing politicians of every stripe along the way. But his best soapbox is his current one: Speakout!, a newspaper and Web site (at that offers "News Reports and Opinions on Political Issues of the Day."

Although this slogan is accurate, it gives only the slightest indication of Cacioppo's unconventional approach. He doesn't think journalists should distance themselves from the stories on which they report in an effort to reach the mythical goal of objectivity. Far from it: He believes in speaking his piece and does so every chance he gets. As president, publisher, lead writer and jack-of-all-trades for Speakout!, he editorializes regularly in its pages and gives himself license to disagree in print with his two contributing columnists. Kimberly Blaker, whom Cacioppo describes as "far left," receives this treatment more often than does Joseph Prescia, a religious conservative whom, he says, "I mostly agree with."

Even more telling is Cacioppo's willingness to take public agencies to court over matters that may have nothing to do with gaining access to information -- the usual reason newspapers and government reps get into judicial faceoffs. He recently made headlines by suing the Eagle County School District over a ballot issue that increased its funding by just over $3 million per annum; in his view, the proposal violated specific language in the Douglas Bruce-authored Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, or TABOR, amendment. Doing so didn't endear him to the district's employees, whose raises were held up by the suit, but Cacioppo offers no apologies.

"I've sued the school district three times, and I may sue them for a fourth," he says. He began filing such suits long before founding Speakout! four years ago but maintains that "the press provides the checks and balances on power in this country, and if newspapers just go along and continue to take advertising dollars from government as a payoff to keep their damn mouths shut when the government is violating the law, then, in my view, the press is willingly complicit in the wrongdoing."

That's one burden Cacioppo refuses to bear. "I'm the watchdog; I'm the whistleblower," he says. And lately, there's been plenty to watch -- and plenty to blow.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts