We have some first-class TV reporters in Denver, but even they would admit that local TV stations are known to take what's in The Denver Post and regurgitate it.
That's not what Fox 31 did last night.
The station took information from a front-page Post article Tuesday and told us something the Post didn't report.
The Post's article, impressively researched, focused on Colorado state legislative candidates (15 Republicans and 7 Democrats), who have criminal records. It listed the candidates and their criminal records in a handy box, along with a response from every candidate. The easy-to-read format provided lots of factual information for voters in a limited space.
Fox 31 advanced the story a bit last night by reporting that one legislator, Republican Clint Webster, running for House 24 in Wheat Ridge, threatened to shoot a gun at his ex-wife. This tidbit had not been included in the Post, which reported that Webster was simply arrested "in 1991 after an incident involving his ex-wife and the Jefferson County sheriff's office."
But Webster's behavior was actually worse than both Fox 31 and the Post reported.
In 1991 Webster shot two bullets at his ex-wife and someone else, and he eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree assault and felony menacing.
Interviewed by Fox 31 last night, Webster claimed he only threatened to fire a gun at his ex-wife. But the police record shows that this is not true.
Asked why the information about Webster shooting at his ex-wife was left out of story, Post Political Editor Curtis Hubbard wrote that it was an "oversight."
"Reporting in the original story relied upon interviews with the candidate and the Jefferson County District Attorney's office," Hubbard emailed me. "Lynn [Bartels] missed the mention in a typed portion of the police report and couldn't make out a portion of the report that was hand-written.
We'll be running a clarification in tomorrow's paper that notes the Webster threatened to kill his ex-wife and fired two shots from a Colt semi automatic pistol at her and another person as they drove away from his house." [This is already on the Post website.]
Fox 31 should also set the record straight.
As I mentioned, Tuesday's Post article details not just Webster's felonies, but the criminal records of 22 legislative candidates (15 Republicans and 7 Democrats).
All the violent crimes were committed by Republicans.
Despite this, the Post article's introduction spotlights Democrat Dennis Apuan's 2002 conviction for nonviolent trespassing, which occurred during a nuclear weapons demonstration. It is discussed near the beginning of the article, after information about Brighton Republican Tom Janich's record of five arrests, from 1983 to 1989, one of which involved resisting arrest violently.
Asked if she thought her discussion of Apuan and Janich created a false equivalence between Democrats and Republicans in the article, Post reporter Lynn Bartels wrote:
"How people look at these crimes depends on their own value judgments, I believe," she wrote, adding that she included Apuan because his opponents "have been using his arrest record in their attempt to unseat him."
"I think someone who has lost a child to a drunken driver might argue that a DUI is more serious than a 20-year-old resisting arrest."
Bartels clearly has a point that the dates of some of the criminal records and how they are being used in the campaigns make comparisons more complex.
For this reason, you could make an argument that the Post should have just run the criminal records and the responses, without spotlighting any one of them in an introductory narrative.
But because it chose not to simply list the information, it's probably most fair to rank criminal records by their severity according to known judicial standards. So, even though I could see how fair-minded people could think otherwise, I think the criminal behavior of candidates like Wheat Ridge Republican Clint Webster (1992 felony, felony menacing convictions), Aurora Republican Gary Marshall (1992 misdemeanor child abuse charge), and Pueblo Republican Steven Rodriguez (1996 misdemeanor assault) deserve the Post's spotlight more than Apuan's trespass. Wheat Ridge Republican Edgar Antillon (perjury conviction in 2004, failure to appear in court 18 times) was included toward the end of the Post's narrative.
Moreover, journalists add value to reporting when they analyze patterns in the raw data. One of the more disturbing trends picked up in the Post's table of criminal records was a recurrence of domestic or spousal abuse. Webster's case of threatening to kill his ex-wife, and going so far as to discharge a weapon twice at her, merits attention for the egregious nature of the offense, but also for the fact that he was one of three candidates listed with a history of domestic abuse, along with Republican Bob Lane of Denver and Republican Steve Rodriguez in Pueblo. (ColoradoPols named other candidates with a history of abuse, including House Assistant Minority Leader David Balmer.)
But overall I like the way the way the Post reported this complicated information, and the hard work shows.
The Post made a wise decision to include DUIs, because, as Bartels pointed out, voters may care more about DUIs than a felony conviction, and voters have a right to know about them.
And I like the way Bartels asks readers directly to email her related information, if she missed anything. That's really smart and even-handed.