Dailies' strengths, weaknesses ID'd

News best for full picture on Iraq war, but for crucial legal issues, Post is tops

by David Kopel

July 3, 2004

Want to learn about legal issues affecting Colorado? Read The Denver Post.Want to learn about Iraq? Read the Rocky Mountain News.During the last month, the Newshas failed in legal coverage, and the Posthas likewise failed on Iraq coverage.

On June 24, the Supreme Court delivered one of its most important sentencing decisions ever: a person's sentence may not be increased beyond the normal range solely on the basis of "facts" which a judge believes to be true, but which a jury has never found to be true beyond a reasonable doubt. The Postgave the decision appropriate front-page play; an excellent article by Howard Pankratz explained that the decision may, at the least, nullify dozens of sentences in Colorado. Next year, the Colorado legislature may have to redraft Colorado's sentencing laws.

The Newsmissed the story when it broke. The only Supreme Court story in the paper on June 25 was an Associated Press article about another decision, in which the court declined to make retroactive a certain decision about the death penalty. The capital punishment decision was important to approximately 100 convicted murderers in other states, but had no impact on Colorado. The day after, the Newsdid catch up and run a Colorado sentencing story; perhaps the front page of the previous day'sPostalerted the Newseditors that they had missed something.

The June 25 Newswas even more legally inept in its story "Coors' idea of lower drinking age draws fire." The Newsaccurately reported that Senate candidate Pete Coors' idea was criticized by the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness and Prevention (which is part of a self-described "alcohol prevention" organization).

But the Newsarticle gratuitously tagged on two paragraphs stating the Coors Brewing Co. has been sued by the mother of a 19-year-old in Nevada who killed himself while driving drunk, after illegally consuming Coors beer. What the Newsfailed to mention was that the lawyer dropped the suit in early June.

The abandonment of the suit had been reported in two sentences in the June 4 Newsbusiness briefs. The Post(June 3) offered readers a more complete explanation: the Nevada attorney dropped the case after Coors threatened him with sanctions, since judges can impose financial sanctions on attorneys who file obviously abusive or meritless suits.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (who opposed the Iraq war) recently revealed that Russia informed the United States that Saddam Hussein was planning terrorist attacks on the United States. The News(June 19) made this important story a Page 1 headline.

Amazingly, the Postcompletely ignored the story. How can Postreaders make an informed decision about the merits of the Iraq war if the Postwon't let them know that if the United States had not deposed Saddam, the Iraq war might have begun on U.S. soil?

The news pages of the Denver dailies have been full of stories touting a lone paragraph in a document from the federal 9/11 commission staff (not the commission itself) asserting that there was no convincing proof of collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida. Syndicated columnist William Safire has been doing a good job of exposing the tendentious and misleading nature of claim made by the staff.

On June 25,The New York Timespublished a story about a recently seized document from the Iraqi intelligence service, which shows that Saddam and Osama bin Laden did begin collaborating in the early 1990s, to work jointly against the Saudi regime. Neither the Newsnor the Postran this story.

Early June saw the publication of Stephen Hayes' new book, The Connection: How Al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America.Hayes details the relationship between Saddam and Osama - including the participation of Iraqi Lt. Col. Ahmed Hikmat Shakir in the main planning meeting for the Sept. 11 attacks, which was held in Malaysia in Jan. 5-8, 2000. And then there's the fact that Saddam gave refuge to some of the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

The Posthas refused to acknowledge the existence of Hayes' book, except in a single letter to the editor. At the News, the news stories have likewise refused to recognize Hayes' book, or to include his perspective on Iraq stories. A couple of articles in the Newsopinion pages have let readers know about The Connection.Neither paper's book section has reviewed The Connection.

Reviewing Michael Moore's new propaganda film, Fahrenheit 9/11, the Post'sLisa Kennedy fell for Moore's claim that the Bush family's relationships with Saudi business seemed to "explain the disquieting fact that a number of Saudi nationals (including members of the bin Laden family)" were not prevented from leaving the U.S. several days after the Sep. 11 attacks.

Newscritic Robert Denerstein knew better: "the Sept. 11 commission has debunked Moore's argument that Bush helped engineer the departure." Instead, former national security aide Richard Clarke has stated that he himself made the decision.


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