by David Kopel

December 16, 2001, Rocky Mountain News

In a new book, Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity has Corrupted American Journalism, William McGowan argues that pervasive political correctness seriously interferes with accurate newspaper reporting on issues involving race and sex. The Rocky Mountain News'  coverage of an alleged crime involving a homosexual teen-ager in Rifle provides a good example of what McGowan calls "the sanctity of the gays-as-victims script."

"Gay rights group seeks charges in Rifle beating," was the News headline for a Dec. 5 story. Yet while the headline announced that there had been a "beating," the real story is not so clear.

Last February, teen-ager Kyle Skyock left work at 11 p.m. one Saturday night in Rifle, along with four other males. The next morning, he was found by the side of the road with serious injuries. Initially, the Rifle police investigated the case as a major assault, but later appear to have concluded that Skyock's injuries may have resulted from his intoxication.

The Skyock case has become important to the national gay rights group the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which claims that local authorities are not prosecuting the case because Skyock is gay.

The News story made it clear which side the paper is on. The Dec. 5 News story did acknowledge the point of view contrary to the HRC,  but in a very offhanded and incomplete way: "Police say Skyock was drunk and fell."

Actually, it's not just police who say Skyock was drunk. His own family admitted that he was drunk, as the News reported on Aug. 25. In that same story, the News reported a doctor's finding that Skyock was "incredibly intoxicated." On the morning he was found, his blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit, so he would have been very, very drunk seven or eight hours before, when he was supposedly attacked. Yet the Dec. 5 News story turned Skyock's intoxication from an undisputed fact into a mere allegation by the police. By omitting how extremely drunk Skyock was, the December story omitted a crucial fact weakening the HRC's theory that Skyock must have been criminally attacked.

The Dec. 5 News reported that "Skyock, 17, says four boys who had asked him to a party instead beat him up and left him for dead in February." But, as The Denver Post reported on Feb. 17, Skyock originally said he had no memory of the events leading up to his injuries. Surely this fact is important for the reader to be able to assess Skyock's current credibility.

The December News article concluded that Skyock "Suffered a fractured skull, burn blisters, a black eye, three broken ribs and a bruise to his stomach in the shape of a two-by-four."

The conclusion certainly makes it appear that the Rifle police are engaged in a cover-up, since nobody gets "burn blisters" by falling down. But according to a doctor who examined Skyock, it's not certain whether those "burn blisters" may have been bed sores, or other skin irritation from lying drunk on the ground for eight hours. The two doctors who examined Skyock the morning after he was found disagreed about whether Skyock's injuries were more consistent with a fall or with an assault - as the News reported on Aug. 25.

More political correctness could be found in the News' Nov. 28 story on Randy Pech, the Colorado Springs highway contractor who has been suing the federal Department of Transportation over contracting rules which give preferences to minority-owned companies. The News called Pech "the poster boy 'angry white male'." Yet nothing in the article gave any evidence that Pech was "angry" - much less an archetype for angry people in general.

When the News writes about women, racial minorities or homosexuals who claim that they were the victims of discrimination, it doesn't slam them with mean-spirited stereotypes. A woman who was angry because she lost a government job because she is a lesbian would never be called "a poster girl for 'enraged lesbian feminists'."

The Denver University Pioneers ice hockey team is one of the best in the nation. Yet the coverage from both of the dailies is sometimes skimpy. Last weekend, the Post and the News both sent sportswriters to cover the Pioneers' two-game series with the University of Minnesota, with whom DU was tied for second place in the national poll. Usually, though, neither the Post nor the News cover DU away games. Instead, they tend to run thin stories from the Associated Press.

Folks wanting more thorough reporting on the Pioneers should Web surf over to U.S. College Hockey Online ( ). DU's sports Web site is also worthwhile ( ).

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