Dailies shrug off Libertarian confab

May 31, 2008

by David Kopel

Last weekend, the Libertarian Party held its presidential nominating convention at the Sheraton hotel in downtown Denver, and selected Bob Barr, who had previously served four terms as a Republican U.S. representative from Georgia. The best local coverage of the convention came from The Colorado Independent, while the best national coverage was provided by The American Spectator magazine.

The Colorado Independent is an online newspaper whose editor is Cara DeGette, the journalist sister of Denver's U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette. The Web site was launched two years ago as "Colorado Confidential," and is a project of the Center for Independent Media, a group that funds left-leaning online newspapers and bloggers.

Whatever the ideological leanings of The Colorado Independent, its coverage of the Libertarian convention outshone the Denver dailies. Over the course of the four-day convention, DeGette produced five pieces that examined key topics at the convention. One piece detailed the fight between Libertarian pragmatists and fundamentalists; the former wanted a platform that could appeal to the 16 percent of the U.S. population that is generally libertarian in outlook, while the latter wanted a platform that set forth maximal Libertarian goals. For example, the pragmatists wanted a platform promising to abolish the federal income tax and the Internal Revenue Service, while the fundamentalists wanted a platform demanding an end to all taxation.

DeGette also covered the Friday speech of Richard Viguerie, one of the most important founders of the modern conservative movement, who excoriated Democrats and Republicans in general, and John McCain and George W. Bush in particular. He accused Republican leaders of betraying conservatives, and, in regard to McCain, said that the lesser of two evils "is evil."

On Sunday afternoon, DeGette and Wendy Norris live-blogged the presidential and vice-presidential nominating votes. Barr, a candidate of the pragmatist wing, won on the sixth ballot. Wayne Allyn Root, another pragmatist, won the vice-presidential nod, after finishing third in the presidential contest, and then endorsing Barr.

Also providing excellent live-blogging coverage of the presidential vote was Robert Stacy McCain, writing for the weblog of The American Spectator, a national conservative magazine. The American Spectator's convention reports also covered the pragmatist-fundamentalist battles, the operations of Barr's well-oiled machine, and the suspicions of some Libertarians about Barr's collection of operatives wearing business suits.

In contrast, the Rocky Mountain News did not even have a story about the Libertarian Party presidential nomination on its Web site by 9 p.m. on Sunday, while The Denver Post merely had a short story from The Associated Press. The next day, the Rocky had a short article, while the Post, admirably, put a long article on its front page. The Post article detailed the concerns of many Libertarians about some of Barr's past positions, such as his previous support for the war on drugs. The article would have been even better if it had mentioned that among Barr's most enthusiastic current supporters are the staffers for the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug war reform group for which Barr is now a lobbyist.

On May 23, the Post ran an article noting that Gov. Bill Ritter has not yet signed or vetoed a bill that would outlaw discrimination against homosexuals or transgendered people. But the article failed to adequately research a factual argument by opponents. According to the article, Jim Pfaff, of the Colorado Family Association, warned that "the measure could mean that a wedding photographer would have to shoot the commitment ceremony of a gay couple regardless of the photographer's religious beliefs about homosexuality."

After summarizing Pfaff's warning, the article quoted a response from the bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jennifer Veiga. She called Pfaff's scenario "scare tactics," and claimed "These kinds of problems just don't materialize . . . "

To the contrary, this April the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ordered Elane Photography to pay a lesbian couple $6,600 in attorney's fees because the owner, acting on his religious beliefs, refused to photograph the lesbians' commitment ceremony.

A good article in the Post might have advanced public debate over whether laws forbidding discrimination against homosexuals violate First Amendment rights, or whether people with religious objections to homosexuality have no rights which the government is bound to respect. But the Post article retarded debate, by failing to report whether there was a factual basis to Pfaff's warning.

Kudos to the Rocky for its ongoing series, begun on May 19, providing short biographies of all the Colorado delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions. It's interesting to see what kind of people are chosen by their parties - including the Greeley Democrat who won a coveted delegate post by bragging about the time she dumped dog feces at the door of Republican U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. Too bad that both Denver dailies wasted space reporting the presidential predictions from astrologers gathered for a convention in Denver.


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