Post reverts to its one-time hysterics

Extremist rhetoric, deceptive reporting (by News, too) colored coverage of Ref C

Nov. 7, 2005

by David Kopel

Last Sunday's Denver Postbrought readers something they had seen only one other time since 1946: a front-page editorial. In the wonderful travel and Americana book Inside U.S.A.,published in 1946, John Gunther denounced the Post'slong tradition of front-page editorials. He wrote that the Post's"presentation of news was often murderously vindictive. Its favorite weapon was to ignore."

But as Gunther noted, the Postwas changing for the better, because in 1946 E. Palmer Hoyt became the publisher. His first decision "was to put doors back on the toilets. [Postowner Frederick] Bonfils had taken them off to keep his beloved employees from sneaking any time off."

Hoyt reformed the Postas he had previously reformed the Portland Oregonian.He insisted that news stories report the news without editorializing. He banished editorials from the front page, and created a separate editorial page.

As in the pre-Hoyt days, last Sunday's front-page editorial relied on hysterical, extremist rhetoric: "fiscal hurricane . . . an economic tailspin . . . impale Colorado on the stake."

For half a year, the Posteditorial and news pages have raged with self-righteous fury against the alleged deceits of the opponents of C and D. Yet every word about Referendum D in the Post'seditorial was deceptive.

The editorial repeatedly cited "C and D", but described only the effects of C (to let the state keep revenue that would normally have to be refunded to taxpayers). In fact, eliminating the refunds will be accomplished by C alone; D was an entirely separate measure for $2 billion of new state borrowing and debt, plus another billion to pay interest on the debt.

ThePostfalsely described "C and D" as "a five-year reprieve from the TABOR straitjacket." To the contrary, the only time limit for the D bonds was a requirement that no single bond have a term longer than 25 years.

C will permanently raise the constitutional limits on state spending, so that, after the supposed end of the "five-year reprieve," state spending (and, consequently, the reduction in taxpayer refunds) will rise by more than $25 billion over the next 25 years.

In overall coverage of C and D, the Denver papers subjected every argument of the anti-tax side to rigorous and aggressive scrutiny. Such scrutiny was entirely legitimate. But the papers were hardly so inquisitive regarding the claims of the tax increase advocates. Many of the stories by political reporters, including Lynn Bartels of the Rocky Mountain Newsand Mark Couch of the Postwere egregiously slanted for the pro-spending side.

For example, on Oct. 19, Couch wrote a "fact check" about a television ad by the Club for Growth, which claimed that an average Colorado family would lose $3,200 if Referendum C passed. The figure was a straightforward calculation, in which the estimated amount of forfeited refunds was divided by Colorado's population.

There are 16 different categories of tax refunds which Referendum C negates, including sales tax refunds, refunds for charitable deductions, and refunds for taxes on dividends. Couch wrote that "Opponents calculate $3,200 per family by assuming that each taxpayer qualifies for each of 16 special tax credits under TABOR. No taxpayer qualifies for every credit."

Couch's last sentence was correct, but the preceding sentence was patently false. The $3,200 figure was an average, not a maximum. To receive much more than $3,200 in tax refunds, a family might need to qualify for refunds under only a couple of the 16 refund categories.

An Oct. 21 story by Bartels listed the dire budget cuts Gov. Bill Owens claimed would be necessary if C failed, including four paragraphs on the elimination of $275,731 for the Office of Suicide Prevention. Yet Bartels' seemingly detailed list omitted all of the pork that would be cut, such as the more than $600,000 spent on taxpayer advertising for Colorado wine growers.

Perhaps the greatest deception of the Postand the Newswas amplifying the lie of the C and D proponents that the permanent spending increase and 25-year bonds were only a five-year "time-out." Stories propounding the "time out" fraud were far more numerous than stories reporting the decades-long effect of the referenda.

The passage of C and the defeat of D show that the traditional dominant media are still very powerful in Colorado, albeit not omnipotent. In 2000, the Denver papers successfully spread the myth of the "gun show loophole" - even though laws about gun sales at gun shows were exactly the same as laws about gun sales anywhere else. In 2005, the Denver papers successfully promulgated the myth of the "five-year time-out," and Colorado taxpayers will be paying for the deception for decades to come.

Disclosure: Just in case you never read the tagline on these columns, I work at the Independence Institute, which vigorously criticized C and D. That's why I didn't write about coverage of C and D during the campaign.

Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute, an attorney and author of 10 books. He can be reached at .

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