The Message

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A draft of the Denver Post's ethics policy, finalized earlier this year, was nearly as tough as Ridder's words; it effectively put the kibosh on driving a car featuring a candidate's bumper sticker. The present version allows much more wiggle room, to the relief of staffers who thought the original restrictions were draconian. For instance, employees are advised to "take great care" before joining a political advocacy group in order to "avoid conflicts of interest." Nonetheless, the only person directly associated with the paper who donated to a candidate for national office of late was Singleton, who dropped $2,000 into Bush's coffers in August 2003. He says the Bush donation, as well as those to Allard and Campbell, were motivated mainly by "friendship." He characterizes the amounts he gave as "tokens. I'm not a major contributor. I've given for personal reasons."

Singleton insists that he wouldn't have done so if he controlled the Post's content. "I think it would be improper for anybody who covers the news or makes day-to-day editorial decisions at the Post to make political contributions," he says.

Judging by the PoliticalMoneyLine records, most Colorado journalists agree with this general philosophy -- but Morley Ballantine, who edits the Durango Herald, appears to be an exception. Since 2001, she's dished out $12,500 to Emily's List, an organization that aids female candidates who are also pro-choice Democrats. She has also made separate contributions to prominent women running for office in other states, such as Washington's Patty Murray and Maryland's Barbara Mikulski. Ballantine, who in July received an award for her work in support of abortion rights from Planned Parenthood, didn't return calls seeking comment.

Business-siders, by and large, are freer with their cash than are their editorial counterparts. In 1998, former Post publisher McKibben, who's presently on the payroll of mega-billionaire Phil Anschutz, donated $500 to the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Bill Owens, who won the Post's endorsement. As for Kirk MacDonald, who heads the Denver Newspaper Agency, which has overseen business operations for the Post and the Rocky Mountain News since the joint-operating agreement linking them was put in place, he's given $4,000 to Republican senatorial candidate Pete Coors, $1,000 to Ken Salazar, Coors's Democratic opponent, and $1,000 to the Republican National Committee over the past eighteen months. Because MacDonald has no role in determining editorial material at the Post and the News, he says, "this is not a gray area. Any perceived conflict would suggest a lack of understanding of the JOA. In the context of the JOA, I'm like any other private-sector CEO who makes contributions not only to political candidates, but to charitable organizations and non-profits." For instance, MacDonald also supports the National Sports Center for the Disabled and the University of Colorado's Webb-Waring Institute, on whose boards he sits.

Another noteworthy local media giver is Roger Ogden, president and general manager of Channel 9, the Post's broadcast partner. Rather than targeting a specific candidate, however, Ogden allotted $2,000 for the National Association of Broadcasters Television and Radio Political Action Committee (TARPAC). Other area media donors to this committee include two representatives from Channel 2, news director Tom Sides and vice president and general manager James Zerwekh, whose contribution was made in late 2003, prior to his arrival in Denver.

The website describes TARPAC as a bipartisan group; it's devoted to goals such as "preventing expansion of low-power FM stations into commercial radio stations' third adjacent channel of interference protection," "fighting increased content regulations and excessive fines for indecent content," and "opposing a 1 percent gross revenue tax on all radio and TV stations that would subsidize candidates' political ads." Because these are topics on which television operations might report, "donations to them should be disclosed, too," says blogger Petrelis. "I don't think there should be a distinction between them and candidates or causes."

In the same way, Petrelis prefers not to differentiate between local outlets and their corporate masters, and the connections aren't tough to trace. Only one employee from the Rocky Mountain News -- a copy editor who gave $250 to the Democratic National Committee in 2003 -- turns up on PoliticalMoneyLine in regard to the ongoing campaign, but oodles of folks from E.W. Scripps, the Rocky's parent company, are represented. So, too, are many big shots and assorted underlings affiliated with Gannett (Channel 9), Tribune (Channel 2), Viacom (Channel 4), McGraw-Hill (Channel 7), Fox (Channel 31) and Clear Channel (KOA, KHOW and six other Denver-area radio stations). Some of them have nothing to do with editorial decision-making; others do.

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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