by David Kopel

October 7, 2001, Rocky Mountain News

"Report card errors stun schools" announced The Denver Post (Sept. 25), as it touted an announcement by Cherry Creek Schools' PR specialist that the state had produced school report cards with ridiculous errors. A Denver School Board member chimed in that the errors were "obscene." But Gov. Bill Owens' office quickly produced a report - which the Post ignored - pointing out that many of the alleged errors weren't really errors.

One error claimed by Cherry Creek Schools, and repeated as true by the Post, was that report cards showed "a true absurdity: teachers earning more than administrators." In fact, no report cards showed this. Before printing the claim as if it were true, the Post should have at least examined a report card that contained the alleged error.

Likewise, the Post claimed that "At Golden High School, students posted almost identical scores as two other Jefferson County high schools - Green Mountain and Wheat Ridge - on the CSAP. But Golden High only got an 'average' on the state report card, while both Green Mountain and Wheat Ridge earned a 'high.' " If the Post article had reported the actual CSAP scores from the three schools, it would have been obvious why Golden was ranked lower: overall, it had more students performing at "unsatisfactory" levels. For example, 9 percent of Golden ninth graders were "unsatisfactory" at reading, compared to 5 percent at Wheat Ridge and Green Mountain.

The Rocky Mountain News on Oct. 2 ran a full-page map of Afghanistan, with text boxes providing basic information about the country and its neighbors. But the text should have been checked against more recent news events; it claimed that "Only three countries - Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates - recognize the Taliban." Actually, Saudi Arabia and the UAE had withdrawn their recognition of the Taliban several days before the News map was published.

The News and the Post continue to describe the terrorists who perpetrated the Sept. 11 attacks as "terrorists." Not all journalists agree, however. Reuters has forbidden its reporters to call terrorists "terrorists." Reuters' purported reason is that it doesn't want to take sides. But describing someone accurately isn't taking sides; it's just telling the truth.

A terrorist is "a person who uses and favors violent and intimidating methods of coercing a government or a community" (Oxford English Dictionary). Osama bin Laden's organization is plainly a terrorist group by this definition, and this fact does not change even if one thinks, as a small but vocal American and European  minority does, that bin Laden's terrorism was a justifiable response to America's policies and way of life.

In my last column, I criticized the failure of news organizations to use "terrorists" to describe the Palestinians who bomb Israeli restaurants and murder schoolchildren. My comment generated a lot of positive e-mail from readers, as well as a very thoughtful, long e-mail that asked if the same definition should apply to Israeli attacks on civilians. Sure. In 1946, some radical supporters of Israeli independence from Britain (which was finally granted in 1948) bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing more than 100 people. This was an act of terrorism.

It doesn't matter whether one favors or opposes Zionism or favors or opposes Palestinian demands to destroy the state of Israel. Journalists ought to always tell the truth, and that includes calling things what they really are.

For journalists who prefer politically correct euphemisms, however, pundit Andrew Sullivan suggests some substitutes for "terrorist." "Compassion-challenged advocates" and "casualty facilitators" are my favorites.

If you read a restaurant review in the Post or News, you might actually be reading a paid advertisement for the restaurant, rather than an objective review.

In the Post's Sept. 28 entertainment section, there was an authentic restaurant review by Post columnist Bill Husted. Less than an inch and half under Husted's real article, and adjacent to a beer review by Post writer Dick Kreck, was what appeared to be another restaurant review. It was the same length as a full-size restaurant review. It covered the same type of content as a normal review - except there was not a single critical word anywhere in the article. The article had a picture of the author, just the same size as the picture of Husted, and the author had a byline. At the end of the article, there was an e-mail address for the author, at "DenverNewspaperAgency.com."

The e-mail address and differing type face were subtle tip-offs that the article was actually an advertisement. Real Post writers have e-mail at "denverpost.com." The "DenverNewspaperAgency.com" is  for the corporation that handles the advertising (but not the news content) for the Post and the News.

This same faux review also appears in the News' Friday entertainment section each week; but there it is generally segregated well away from genuine reviews and runs amid other advertising.

And finally, for all you people who keep complaining about the Saturday Rocky Mountain News: I agree that the broadsheet format makes the News look funny, and the problem is aggravated by the use of two different sizes of newspaper. But pay a little attention to the content, would you? Most Saturday newspapers, even The New York Times, are awfully thin, as the paper saves money and energy for the big Sunday edition. The Saturday edition of the News is equal to or better than most big-city Sunday newspapers, and it's plainly the best Saturday newspaper in the country - with more news and vastly more features than you can find in any other Saturday paper.

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