Gadfly's Web site rough, effective

Zinna's Jeffco Exposed needs work, but attempted trick shows some are rattled

Jan. 1, 2005

by David Kopel

Remember the story about the little girl with a curl right in the middle of her forehead? "When she was good, she was very good. When she was bad, she was horrid." The same can be said about the citizen activist Web site Jeffco Exposed ( www.jeffcoexposed.com ), which has shaken Jefferson County's government, and may topple a county commissioner.

The Web site was started in late 2003 by Jeffco resident Mark Zinna, apparently in retaliation for what he felt was unfair treatment by the county government on a business deal. Zinna attends almost every Jeffco government public meeting, and his Web site has become a venue for county employees who want to leak information about government misconduct. Earlier this year, somebody faxed Zinna libelous materials, apparently attempting to injure the reputation of some county employees, and perhaps also to undermine Jeffco Exposed by tricking it into printing false information and making it vulnerable to a libel suit. But Zinna didn't bite. (This puts him ahead of Dan Rather in journalistic acumen.) Instead, Zinna traced the faxes back to the stores from which they were sent. Zinna says the stores' surveillance tapes appear to show the tapes being sent by Jeffco Commissioner Rick Sheehan, his wife, and Assistant County Attorney Cynthia Beyer-Ulrich.

The Denver papers have covered the story of Sheehan's crew apparently sending a libelous fax, and of the other county commissioners calling for Sheehan's resignation - and Sheehan's countercharge that he is the victim of a conspiracy.

The Denver Post,however, refuses to print the name of Zinna's Web site. For example, on Dec. 21 and 23, the Postcryptically referred to faxes being sent to "a website publisher" and "website operator." Other Postarticles (Dec. 22, 24), at least gave Zinna's name, but not the Web site name. In contrast, Rocky Mountain Newsarticles do include the Web site name.

But the only journalistic explanation of why Jeffco Exposed has become such a big deal in Jefferson County government circles came in an Aug. 5 feature article in Westword.As Westwordnoted, Zinna "relentlessly pursued claims of office sexual harassment that eventually led to the resignation of two county supervisors," and helped win the reinstatement of Susan Johnson, a county accountant who was unfairly fired.

More recently, Zinna videotaped Arvada Mayor Ken Fellman stealing campaign yard signs that belonged to State Senate candidate Jessica Corry. (Disclosure: Corry also writes for the Independence Institute).

Jeffco Exposed would be a lot better, however, if Zinna upgraded the childish graphics, and moderated his often venomous tone. Criticizing Jeffco Exposed, the Evergreen Canyon Couriercalled the Web site's humor "sophomoric," but actually the humor doesn't rise to that level; instead, the incessant name-calling makes it more difficult to follow the content.

Zinna's Web site also includes various allegations of personal misconduct unsupported by any published evidence. That Zinna has not been sued for libel does not prove that his charges were accurate; many libel victims decide not to give the allegations additional publicity by bringing suit.

Jeffco Exposed is a good example of new media shedding light on old institutions, and improving public accountability. If the writing style rose to the level of a good high school newspaper, rather than an enraged 10-year- old, the Web site would provide a good model for citizen activists in other counties.

On Christmas Eve, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Mosul, Fallujah, Tikrit, and Baghdad, and answered questions from troops. The Newsand the Postprinted an Associated Press summary of the trip (Dec. 24), which noted only the Mosul appearance. Like most of the rest of mainstream media, the two newspapers never reported - although the AP later did - this question from a soldier (as found in a Department of Defense transcript of the visit): "Everything we did good, no matter if it's helping a little kid or building a new school, the public affairs \[office] sends out the message, but the media doesn't pick up on it. How do we win the propaganda war?"

Rumsfeld answered that the American media have told him that the only news they will report from Iraq is bad news. They do not report on the fact that 140,000 refugees from Saddam have returned to Iraq, "voting with their feet because they believe this is a country with a future." The troops applauded long and hard.

While failing to report on the troops' dissatisfaction with the American media, the Denver papers, like the rest of the mainstream media, used tons of ink a few weeks ago when a soldier in Kuwait asked Rumsfeld a question (which had been planted by a reporter) complaining about the insufficient number of armored vehicles in Iraq.

When running a Dec. 24 AP story in which this episode was mentioned, the Postmistakenly printed a falsehood: "Rumsfeld cut off their complaints by saying, 'You go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might want or wish to have.' "

As the transcript of Rumsfeld's Kuwait Q&A session shows, Rumsfeld did not "cut off" the soldier (not "soldiers") who asked the question. He gave a 17-sentence answer, of which the "Army you have" observation was the ninth sentence. Kudos to Powerlineblog.com  (named "Blog of the Year" by Timemagazine) for supplying the full transcript and pointing out the AP's falsity.

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