by David Kopel
November 4, 2001, Rocky Mountain News
With just a week to go before the election, the front page of The Denver Post's Denver and the West section ran a news article purporting to analyze the strategy used by proponents of a Denver ballot initiative to raise sales taxes to pay for day care and similar services. ("Kid tax game plan shifts: Children of all income levels would benefit," Oct. 29). But the 33-paragraph article amounted to a commercial for the tax increase, with tax proponents given extensive space to describe the benefits of their proposal. Tax skeptics were accorded only three paragraphs.
The article was accompanied by a large color picture of a hug between a mother and toddler, at a pre-school that would be eligible for some of the tax money. The article was also accompanied by a much smaller box, containing one paragraph of pro and con statements about the tax. Thus, out of approximately 70 inches of newsprint devoted to a story promoting the sales tax, both visually and textually, contrary viewpoints received less than 4 inches.
As usual, Westword continues to lead the dailies with Columbine coverage. Westword's Oct. 25 issue contained another fine article by Alan Prendergast, "More Whoppers from Jeffco." The article detailed the Jefferson County sheriff's department's response (written by a Jeffco county attorney) to new inquiries from Westword. Prendergast offered strong evidence that the sheriff's office is misstating the truth about the timeline in Columbine events, in order to cover up the failure of Jeffco deputies to confront the killers while the murders were taking place. How come it's Westword, and not the dailies or the TV stations, asking the hard questions about Columbine?
Both the Rocky Mountain News and the Post covered the controversy when an employee at a Circuit City store called the police after some Arab-Americans attempted to buy a police scanner radio. But only the News bothered to interview the employee to get his side of the story; the employee explained that he thought he overheard the customers say that they wanted to monitor air traffic. By speaking with the employee, the News also uncovered conflicting stories from Circuit City and the employee about why the employee "resigned."
Working off an advance copy of the Oct. 22 issue of Time, the Post (Oct. 14) reported that the FBI was investigating a Colorado trucking school, Careers World Wide. The school was alleged to have trained 25- 35 drivers who spoke only Arabic, who all used the same interpreter, and who never asked for help obtaining jobs.
Yet the report was almost entirely false, as the News pointed out at length (Oct. 17), and the Post acknowledged in short pieces (Oct. 16 and 17). The school never trained anyone who couldn't speak English. All of the school's pupils with Arab names were checked, "and none of them are questionable," the FBI said.
As many media critics have noted, Time is frequently inaccurate Newspapers should check the fact themselves, rather than relying on any version of Time for any story.
"Some panic-struck Americans have gone so far as to . . . stock up on fresh water" book reviewer John C. Gannon complains in the News (Oct. 19). Given that the American Red Cross has always urged Americans to stock up on three-day supply fresh water (a gallon per person per day), and given that the News has repeatedly published stories with such recommendations (including some stories before Y2K), how come it's suddenly a ridiculous sign of panic to do what the News and the Red Cross tell you?
But this week's prize for inconsistency goes to The Scene section of The Denver Post, which ran a six-part series of excerpts from
Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, a book by a local author. In a nutshell, the series argues that the root of evil is modern
Americans' (alleged) obsession with buying consumer goods. Ironically, the Lifestyles section and the rest of the Post are both
saturated with ads urging people to buy consumer goods. Indeed, the economic reality of most major daily newspapers is that they exist
primarily as vehicles to deliver audiences to advertisers of consumer
goods. The news content lures readers to open the paper, and the advertisers pay the lion's share of the paper's production costs, in exchange for access to those readers.
The Society of Professional Journalist seems determined to prove that bias and political correctness aren't dead yet. The new guidelines for covering the war tell journalists that "When writing about terrorism, remember to include white supremacist, radical anti-abortionists and other groups with a history of such activity." No need to mention terrorist environmentalists like the Unabomber or Earth First, or terrorist leftist groups like the Weathermen, however.