Maes Bike Story

Media drove the Maes bike story, but parked for Hickenlooper Oct. 24, 2010

Both Republican Dan Maes and Democrat John Hickenlooper in the governor's race have made remarks about transportation policy that are far out of line with mainstream Colorado beliefs. The media have reported the remarks by Maes repeatedly, but have stayed relatively silent about Hickenlooper's.

Their selective reporting is a form of media bias.

In a July 2 column, Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi criticized Denver Mayor Hickenlooper's comments on transportation, including, "How do we wean ourselves off automobiles?"

In a July 29 article on recent events in the gubernatorial race, Karen Crummy and Christopher Osher of The Denver Post included four paragraphs reporting that the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association (CADA) was upset about Hickenlooper's remark "on the eve" of a CADA fundraiser for him. Lynn Bartels of The Denver Post had posted a blog item the day before with Hickenlooper's comment in the context of the city's B-Cycle bike-sharing program and reducing traffic.

For people who enjoy the freedom and independence that automobiles provide, the mayor's words sound awfully radical. My guess would be that only a fringe of the public wants to be "weaned" off of their automobiles by the government. [See WhoSaidYouSaid video above of some man-on-the-street interviews by Kelly Maher and Amanda Teresi; including a video clip of Hickenlooper from a longer interview at]

The National Journal, a respected political magazine and website in D.C., included Hickenlooper's remark in its July 29 daily political news summary, with credit to The Denver Post.

On July 26, Maes criticized the Denver B-Cycle program, connecting it to the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) and what he termed ICLEI's "greater strategy to rein in American cities under a United Nations treaty."

The Post devoted an Aug. 4 story by Christopher Osher to reporting those remarks. Commendably, the Post also included in that story a sentence on Hickenlooper's recent advocacy of automobile weaning.

After that, the even-handed approach vanished. The Colorado and national media forgot that Hickenlooper had suggested a strategy to rein in the automobile culture. And they made sure that everyone would know that Maes had criticized the bike-sharing program.

ICLEI does indeed promote bike-sharing programs as part of its environmental agenda. ICLEI, founded at a 1990 United Nations Conference, encourages local communities to help their nations meet UN climate change goals. And Denver has been a member of ICLEI since 1992.

But ICLEI is not connected to the B-Cycle program in Denver, according to city spokesman Eric Brown, as reported by 9NEWS.

B-Cycle itself is a non-profit with substantial sponsorships and support, according to its website.

The implication by Maes of United Nations control and his reported statement that, "This is bigger than it looks like on the surface, and it could threaten our personal freedoms," brought on the media onslaught [see below].

But what of the statement by Hickenlooper, who has been mayor of Denver since 2003? Given that Hickenlooper has been a major proponent of the FasTracks mass transit project (some $2 billion in the hole) and said in 2009 that we need to spend "tens and tens of billions of dollars" to combat climate change, his "wean ourselves off automobiles" statement should have also set off the media swarm.

Some of the potential questions: "How exactly do we wean ourselves off automobiles? For what purpose? In urban and rural areas?"

On the B-Cycle website itself is this…

"Mayor Hickenlooper has announced a far reaching and ambitious goal to increase the percentage of bicycling commuters from 1.6% to 10% by August 2018. Denver's vision is to change the culture of transportation – from moving automobiles to moving people."

My intern Shelby Lane searched the LexisNexis database of news articles for stories on Maes and bicycles; and on Hickenlooper and the need to "wean" ourselves off automobiles.

The Denver Post, having initially reported on both the Maes and Hickenlooper comments, dropped the Hickenlooper anti-automobile remarks into the memory hole, while running 12 stories that mentioned Maes and bicycles. (Including one column with a brief defense of Maes on the issue.)

The local television stations were not so obsessive, but cumulatively they had nine items about Maes and bicycles, and zero on Hickenlooper's automobile-weaning.

A similar approach was seen in national media, including MSNBC (three times), the Washington Post (twice), New York Times (twice), and many other national and international media. A full list is presented at the end of this article.

As for coverage that mentioned the far-out views of both Hickenlooper and Maes, we found a very few examples.

Reporting for The Guardian, a quality English newspaper in London, Michael Tomasky mocked various American Republicans, including Maes, but did include the Hickenlooper remark. A part-time produce clerk wrote an essay for the Journal and Courier of Lafayette, Indiana, which used the Maes and Hickenlooper quotes as a starting point for extolling bicycles and bemoaning automobiles (Aug. 21).

Finally, a Vincent Carroll column for The Denver Post on Aug. 11 provided the details of how Mayor Hickenlooper has changed street configurations in Denver to discourage driving. He further advanced the story by noting Hickenlooper's appearance in the anti-automobile documentary "Sprawling from Grace," in which Hickenlooper described a future "as young people move out here, and aren't growing up with cars…" [Carroll credited WhoSaidYouSaid with that find; read more here.]

So, in short:

Dan Maes wants a future in which Coloradans are deprived of bike-sharing programs endorsed by local governments if there's even a tangential connection to the United Nations.

John Hickenlooper wants a future in which increasing numbers of Coloradans do not drive automobiles, and where travel on government-operated mass transit is the norm.

The Maes vision would inconvenience thousands of people who currently use bike-sharing programs. The Hickenlooper vision could potentially impose radical changes on the millions of Coloradans who use automobiles as their primary mode of transportation.

Since Aug. 5, the media in general, and the Denver Post in particular, have given unwarranted and excessive coverage to Maes and bicycles, while imposing a virtual blackout on Hickenlooper's much more significant and extremist anti-automobile agenda.

Thus, in the crucial previous five weeks of this election season, you might have learned about Hickenlooper's anti-auto views if you read the London Guardian; or the Lafayette, Ind., Journal and Courier; or a column by Vincent Carroll. But you wouldn't have seen a word of it in the news section of The Denver Post, or most of the rest of the Colorado media.

If your core political belief is, to paraphrase Charlton Heston, "They'll take my government-supplied bicycle from my cold, dead hands!" The Denver Post and the rest of mainstream media have made sure that you know whom to vote against.


Media stories mentioning Maes' objection to U.N. bicycle-sharing program (retrieved from Lexis/Nexis database):
Colorado media

The Denver Post
Mike Littwin column (Aug. 4);
Susan Greene column (Aug. 5).
Ed Quillen columns (Aug. 5, Aug. 15).
Karen Crummy story on Maes' economic plan (Aug. 6).
Karen Crummy and Christopher Osher, primary results (Aug. 11).
Aaron Harber op-ed (Aug. 12).
Karen Crummy, Maes refuses to withdraw (Aug. 19).
David Harsanyi column, noting that U.N. is "a hive of petty tyrants" (Aug. 20).
John Young, sarcastic guest commentary (Aug. 22).
Karen Crummy, Hank Brown withdraws endorsement (Sept. 2).
Karen Crummy and Allison Sherry, support for Maes fading (Sept. 3).
Editorial, Maes should drop out (Sept. 3).

Pueblo Chieftain: Small part of primary results article by Pat Malone (Aug. 11).
Westword: Snarky article (Aug. 19).
Fox 31, KDVR: Eli Stokols reporting on new polls, and briefly supplying negative information about Republicans but not Democrats. (Aug. 9). Then on August 12, devoting a full story to some Democrats assembling on bikes in order to mock Maes.

Channel 7, The Denver Channel: Web story by Wayne Harrison. Three paragraph story on the bike topic.
9 News. In election results story (Dan Boniface, Aug. 11). Major story on bicycles (Christina Dickinson and Anastasiya Bolton, Aug. 5). In a Sept. 26 story by Lori Olbert on Maes' campaign finance reporting problems.
CBS 4: Website AP story on the bike issue.
KWGN 2: Website LA Times story on stupid statements by Republicans (Oct. 2). Oct. 6 AP story on Maes refusing to withdraw from the race.

National media
MSNBC Hardball with Christopher Matthews: part of long segment on crazy right-wing Republicans (Aug 4).
MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olbermann: part of long segment on crazy right-wing Republicans (Aug 11).
MSNBC The Rachel Maddow Show: part of long attack segment on Maes (Sept. 2).
Washington Post: article by Aaron Blake and Felicia Sonmez (Aug. 5); lead item in column by Eugene Robinson (Aug. 13).
Washington Times: Column by Wesley Pruden on "rough-hewn" GOP candidates (Aug. 16).
New York Times: Michael Barbaro, Bloomberg says he will help centrists (Sept. 19); Jennifer Steinhauer, news analysis of Tea Party anger (Sept. 19).
The New Republic: James Down and Alexander C. Hart, "The Year of the Nutjob" (Sept. 23).
Albany Times-Union: entire column by Casey Seiler (Aug. 8).
Hartford Courant: essay on right-wing nuts (Aug. 8).
Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette: Editorial on crazy tea party (Sept. 23).
UPI: Buck withdraws endorsement (Sept. 3).
McClatchy-Tribune newspaper syndicate: Jeff Kunerth, squib on bike sharing (Sept. 29).
Politico: small part of a detailed Colorado primary preview (Aug. 9); primary wrap-up (Aug. 12).
Los Angeles Times: divisions among Colorado Republicans (Aug. 9).
U.S News & World Report: blog column by Laura Chapin (Aug. 13).
The Australian: blast on Colorado Republicans by Chatherine Philip (Aug. 13).

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