Working Paper 93-7, October 21, 1993(1)
By Jerry Bell, News Director KOA Radio
Dave Lougee, News Director, KUSA-TV, Channel 9
Clifford May, Associate Editor, Rocky Mountain News
(1) This paper is an edited transcript of a talk given by Jerry Bell, Dave Lougee and Clifford May for the Intractable Conflict/Constructive Confrontation Project on April 1, 1993. Funding for this Project was provided by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the University of Colorado. All ideas presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Consortium, the University, or Hewlett Foundation. For more information, contact the Conflict Resolution Consortium, Campus Box 327, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0327. Phone: (303) 492-1635, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: Rather than giving prepared talks, all three panelists in this session preferred to follow a discussion format. Heidi Burgess opened the discussion by giving some background and explaining why the Consortium became interested in the role the media plays in intractable conflicts. She explained that while the media is ostensibly neutral, they provide the lens through which most people view a conflict. Journalists' choices of images to focus on, questions to pursue, facts to report and to leave out can have a very significant effect on the conception their audience gets of a situation or a debate. Conflict resolution practitioners often charge that the media tends to focus on the most negative, most violent, most hostile (hence, most exciting) aspects of a story, and ignore the positive, conciliatory, or peace-building efforts that may be made in a conflict setting. At the same time though, the media has the potential to play a very positive role in helping people ??understand the issues in a conflict, to come to better understand other points of view, and to focus attention on positive, constructive efforts at conflict resolution. Burgess began with the question, "How do you decide what stories or events to cover, or what issues to focus on?"
Copyright 1993. Conflict Resolution Consortium. Do not reprint without permission.
Jerry Bell (JB): Let's talk, as an example, about the Gulf War. During the Gulf War I had to answer my phone every ten seconds. Some of the people who called asked, "Why are you covering those protestors so much? You are giving them way too much air time--90 percent of the people are behind the Gulf War!" Others would say, "All the people you have on the air are Generals or retired Generals! What about having some people on who aren't from the military--people who are against the war?"
My answer to these comments was two-fold. First, we kept track of everybody we had on the air so we could explain to people that we weren't being one-sided. Secondly, I said, "I'm not going to choose the news. What I cover is based on public opinion of what is popular to cover--that's the job!" We don't give 50 percent coverage here, 50 percent there. It doesn't necessarily break out that way, and it shouldn't.
Dave Lougee (DL): With the exception of some of the Amendment 2 responses, the most vehement, concentrated phone calling effort I ever received was during the Gulf War. Many people were opposed to the media publicizing any form of anti-war protests--it was really phenomenal. This opposition came from two different camps: those who simply said, "I'm not really interested in both sides of the issue." The other camp was one that had been co-opted into believing that it was somehow a risk to our national security to be publicizing protests, that somehow CNN was broadcasting them into Saddam Hussein's bunker, and that such coverage was going to have an impact on the outcome of the war and the safety of our fighting men and women. These feelings were vehement.
I think there's been a significant change since the days of the early 1970s during the Woodward and Bernstein years--back when the press could do no wrong. Now, everybody has a bone to pick with the press. Also, there is not a tolerance for view points from all sides of an issue. I really don't give the left any more credit than the right. Intolerance is equal on both sides. It is scary, actually.
JB: I agree. When you get an event like the Gulf War or an issue like Amendment 2, you experience that intolerance more keenly by being in a management position. We are the ones that get a lot of the phone calls complaining about our coverage. In a sense, I have always used that as a gauge. If the complaints are running about 50-50, I think we are doing a pretty good job.
DL: In talking about conflict resolution, I think the issue of abortion is the great conflict. I call it the "battle to the death" because there is so little middle ground. From the point of view of a person who believes in a woman's right to choose, the Operation Rescue types are just inane. For the religious--I don't want to call them the religious right--but for people who, because of their theological point of view, believe that abortion is murder, the "right to choose" is an irrelevant concept. Women who feel they have the right to choose do not consider abortion to be murder. There simply is no middle ground.
The media has done a pretty good job covering the abortion issue over the years, but the conflict, to some extent, is beyond the scope of the media's ability to heal. Voices of reason have been given a lot of air time and print space on the issue of abortion, but there are limits to what the messengers can do.
Clifford May (CM): This is purely impressionistic, but we are living in a time of increasing absolutism. People are reluctant to listen to an argument, follow the logic, and then counter it with their own. They do not want to engage in a real give-and-take debate. Instead, they put forward their demands and insist upon them being met. Part of the root of that is an inflationary spiral of the concept of rights. We are at a point where every desire is voiced as a right--and rights can not be debated. The argument that this may conflict with someone else's rights and so there has to be a middle ground to negotiate how rights can be exercised without interfering with others rights somehow doesn't play anymore.
DL:I've watched over the years as intolerance has grown in society. Now certain groups seem to be putting more demands on the media. I'm not sure the media can meet these demands.
I'll tell the story about my older brother who is a very liberal attorney. During the Reagan administration, every time we would get together during the holidays, he would berate me. He thought I was possibly lower on the food chain than he was, as he was a lawyer and I was in the media. He would also berate me for what he would consider to be the sins of the Reagan administration and the seeming indifference, not of the population in his mind, but of the media--toward those sins. He would rail off names such as Ann Buford, Rita LeVelle, Raymond Donovan, naming one cabinet member after another to make his point. Early on I made the effort to do research on these charges and on the basis of this research, I would point out to him how these stories had, indeed, led the evening news. I pointed out how they had been getting coverage all the leading news anchors. And yet, the answer from him was that during the Reagan administration, it didn't matter what Ronald Reagan seemed to do, that people collectively did not really care. If those sins were, in fact, as bad as some of the sins during the Nixon administration, at what point does the media's role stop in terms of trying to determine the public's reception of those sins? Also, to demonstrate the growing intolerance in our society I tell the story of the Ku Klux Klan rally, which took place in January of 1992. Collectively, the Denver media took a very hands-off approach to that event. There had not been a lot of publicity of the rally before the event--most of the publicity was very positive coverage about the planned peaceful celebration of the Martin Luther King holiday, and it was only anecdotally noted that a KKK rally would also be taking place. (The security was so large, that we could not completely ignore the fact that it was going to occur.)
Well, there was a day off from school, word got around the schools, and, consequently, a very diverse group came to the Capitol to attend the KKK rally. The police, frankly, did not have a very good game plan in place, and violence erupted. It happened in mid-afternoon--and the reporters in the early evening newscasts were in effect just reacting. But they were trying to give context and perspective, also. They tried to point out that there were 32,000 peaceful marchers walking from the Martin Luther King statue to Civic Center Park to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King and there were only 1500 people who were protesting the Klan and only 37 Klan members (who were at the Capitol). We tried to show that this was the real context.
We made a concerted effort in our 10:00 p.m. news that night to stress the peaceful context even more strongly. We led our newscast with an anchorman mapping out the three physical locations involved in the march and the protest, and showing that there were 32,000 peaceful celebrators of Martin Luther King's birthday who had nothing to do with the violence. Then we explained where another group of 1500 people were protesting the Klan and that they were the ones involved in the violence. This group was diverse--they weren't just blacks, but included all sorts of young people. And then there were the 37 Klan members. So we led with that story as context. A story about the violence followed, which probably lasted about 1 minute and 40 seconds; next we did a story about the peaceful demonstration. We did two more stories later in the newscast about the peaceful demonstration: one a music video using a James Taylor song that had just came out about Martin Luther King. The overall balance of that newscast swayed about 4 to 1 on the side of the peaceful protest, which is unusual, admittedly, in our business. But, we felt a social responsibility to put the incident into some context, especially given discussions we had previously about Sean Slater [the KKK leader].
However, the viewer response to that newscast was the same as the response we get to all our other newscasts--people said that it had just focused on the negative--because it is human nature to remember images of violence and intolerance more than peaceful images. There were some very articulate, eloquent community leaders, people whom I consider to be very thoughtful, who hadn't even noticed the effort we made to balance the presentation. All they remembered were those shots of the Klan getting on the buses and having rocks and bottles thrown at them. This was a very proactive effort on the part of one media institution to bring some balance and perspective. Yet, to some extent, it didn't matter.
JB: Sometimes the stronger, violent images, are the pictures that get on the front page and are the ones that stick in people's minds, because they are more unusual than someone peacefully carrying a sign in protest. But I frequently notice that people don't pay much attention to what is printed or broadcast. People complain about us a lot, but when we can research and document the fact that we did tell them about the peaceful side or the positive stories, we find that they didn't bother to read it. Often they are only watching the television newscasts and not reading a newspaper or something else. If you do not work at being informed, you will never be informed--and things will suddenly be a surprise to you.
Often violence is created by misinformation that travels. When people don't have an understanding of what's going on, they can get into trouble. For example, I've seen people plan an event in a vacuum not paying attention to the fact that there will be another group of people across the street from them who are going to be yelling terrible, racist things at them. Also, people are not going to stay in one little monolithic group--there's going to be a group that is going to break off at anything.
There are many examples where people don't want to absorb all the information--they want to believe what they want to believe. They don't make an effort to look at other opinions. Even if the media tries to show it to them, it doesn't make any difference.
Earlier we were talking about the KKK rally. The Anti-Defamation League was trying to convince the press to ignore the rally. They believe that the KKK leader's primary goal is publicity, so the media should just ignore Slater, and consequently he (and the Klan) will go away. I don't believe that and I don't think that is our job.
CM: I'm going to take a shot at this from a slightly different angle. Since we are talking about conflict resolution, is that not really what the entire American political system is designed to try to accomplish? In fact, if there has been one true glory to the American political system over the past 200 years, it's not that it has achieved a perfect society, but that it has created a good forum in which to have the fights that societies have. For the most part, with the exception of the Civil War, we have been able to fight these things out with rules and with limits. In other words, in the middle of the boxing match no one pulls his gloves off and pulls out a switchblade. We know the rules.
The success of our system requires a lot of things. It requires a free press, absolutely and clearly, to both disseminate information, to frame the debate, and to allow the debate to take place. It also requires the specific division of governmental power between an executive and a legislative branch and an independent judiciary. Problems over recent years can be traced to the degradation of this system. The decline has been caused by two things. One is a lack of understanding of how the system is meant to function. The second is because various groups, which are intent upon achieving their goals, are very willing to twist, circumvent, pervert, and bend the system to achieve their aims.
Most specifically, the manipulation of the judiciary has occurred, both by conservatives and by liberals, to achieve ends that they cannot achieve through democratic means--in other words, through the electoral process. They go right to court and judges have been too willing to accept this role. Rather, they might say, "I know you people have a problem, but frankly, it is not within my purview to decide this. You must decide this out there. I don't see it in the Constitution, therefore, I shall, send it back to you." That is the concept of judicial restraint, which has been degraded in recent years.
JB: People often say in discussions about the media, "You put that on your radio station to get ratings," or "You put that picture on the front page of the paper to sell more papers." Half of the time, the answer to that charge is "yes"--at least to a certain degree. Yes, we do cover violence because it is news. It is an unusual occurrence. Bad things, in general, are news more than good things are news. The fact that every plane that landed and took off from Stapleton today did so safely is not news. But when one of them crashes, it is news--and it is going to be on the front page. We know that good coverage of that event is going to sell papers and get people to watch our newscast or listen to our radio station and we care about that.
We are commercial entities who are in the business of making money. That doesn't necessarily mean that we throw out responsibility, but, it does affect our decisions. People often suggest that there ought to be some other system that takes that money out of the equation.
Last summer I went to China for two weeks. The Chinese newspapers are put out by the government and every story has a rosy outlook. People stand in line to buy short-wave radios so they can listen to Voice of America and the BBC. It is not necessarily a bad thing that there is a commercial aspect to journalism. That keeps it going. We do balance our commercial media with public media--such as PBS and NPR--and we do have control through the FCC licensing process (at least in broadcasting). So if someone is doing something wholly outrageous, there is public redress for that. But, by-in-large, the control is exercised by the people who either watch, listen, or read our coverage. That is the choice that influences us the most.
DL: Something has gone wrong in the 30 years since the Civil Rights Movement. You would think that in this age of a global society there would no longer be any races of people who were foreign to us. When I was growing up, the Russians were portrayed as these other-planet people who didn't have two arms. Now, theoretically, children in school today learn that everyone has really a lot of the same issues and reasons for doing what they do, you would think we would have a more tolerant society. But we don't. When Klan members are growing up in Castle Rock in 1993, you have to ask yourself, why? Certainly we in the media have to ask what role, if any, we have played in that.
In the final analysis, I have a bit of a hands-off approach. I don't think the intolerance is caused by the media acting either proactively or negligently. It is something that is going on in society despite the media. The information to combat this intolerance is available, it just isn't noticed or believed. We used to think that ignorance played a very large role in the development of intolerance. But the amount of data available to everybody about themselves and the world they live in today is intense.
The one problem I had living in Boulder when I went to school here was that for five years I lived in a vacuum. Boulder is not the "real world" in the sense of cultural and ethnic diversity. In our own community in Denver, some blacks are preaching hatred against Asians. Some Asians are preaching elitism over everyone else. Whites continue to be no further advanced than they were in 1942 in some cases. Things don't seem to be getting any better. The media has continued to celebrate the healers, but intolerance is still extremely widespread.
Let's talk about the current Amendment 2 issue. There has been a tremendous amount of criticism of the media for taking an advocacy role on Amendment 2. We have been criticized for being very much out of step with the population on that issue--for supposedly ignoring the 53 percent who voted for the Amendment, or of taking the viewpoint after the election of, "They must have not know what they were voting for." To some extent I understand the criticism. But the media has marched on acknowledging that there is ignorance on this issue and has taken a hands-on approach in trying to bridge the gap on the gay-rights issue. Our television station took one of the two polls that was wrong about Amendment 2, because, as we later figured out, 10 percent lied about how they were going to vote because they didn't want to tell anybody how they really felt.
The debates within our news rooms have been fascinating because they reflect society--the people who are homophobic don't break down along the classic liberal/conservative lines at all. For instance the Reverend Leon Kelly, who is a black activist and someone who has taken some of the most progressive initiatives on gang issues, is a member of Colorado for Family Values [the anti-gay rights group that sponsored Amendment 2]. There have been some other black leaders within the Denver community who have been very much pro-Amendment 2 and against the gay rights issues. Along with the spiraling list of demands people make there seems to be a spiralling intolerance as well.
CM: Let me quibble with a few points that have been made here. One is, Jerry, I not only agree with what you said about defending the need of the media to appeal to the people, to the viewers, the readers, but I go much further. That is the best of all available worlds to us because it becomes a democratic process. Everyday people have to "vote" for the newspaper they like, they reach in their pocket and they take out a quarter and they "vote" for what they want to read. That is a good process. It assures that we stay in touch with the readers, because the alternative to that is for the government or the professorate or some other elite group to decide that this is "what you need to know and this is what want to we tell you. You will accept this and you will absorb this." It is simply not true that we are playing to the lowest common denominator; we are playing to some medium denominator. The Rocky Mountain News does not look like the National Enquirer. If we were to get very sensational we would lose more readers than we would gain. We don't look like the New York Post or the Daily News for that matter. We believe we are maximizing our readership. There is nothing wrong with writing a paper that is meant to be read by the people who actually live in the community that you are working for. I have no shame in that, absolutely no shame.
Also, I'm not entirely sure you are right, Dave, about the rising intolerance in society as a whole. I think that society as a whole is very different than it was 40 years ago. You will not find a bar or restaurant in Colorado where a black person or a Jewish person, or even a gay person cannot walk in and be served. People, generally speaking, are tolerant. But a lot of times the word, tolerance, has become a disguise for the approval of various things. People, overall, are more tolerant but a lot of groups are looking for more than just tolerance. Sure you have Ku Klux Klan members being born in Castle Rock, but don't forget that in the 1930s we had the Klu Klux Klan running this state. Now we have maybe 37 Klan members who manage to show up for a demonstration. The Ku Klux Klan and that sort of thing are a marginalized extreme that are sort of fascinating to us like the fascination would be with a freak show or the snake cage at the zoo. These type of groups are really an increasingly small and meaningless segment of society. But, in a certain way they do have a tremendous amount influence because they can capture attention, especially the attention of special interest groups who may be intolerant.
DL: That is an important point about news coverage tending to focus on the loud and the noisy people. For example, the people who are on the far left and far right tend to get coverage. There is a whole group of people who are in the middle that I talk to all the time who feel left out. These people function in life like you are talking about--they get angry sometimes when they are identified with one side or the other.
CM: The moderate are not likely to be as passionate about a subject as fringe groups so they do get left out in a certain way. This is very true, for example, on Amendment 2. I follow what you are saying, Dave, and I don't entirely agree with it and I don't entirely disagree with it. I think that homophobic people voted for Amendment 2, but I don't think that Amendment 2 won because everybody that voted for it was homophobic.
DL: No, no. I break down the voters for Amendment 2 into three groups.
CM: One of the large groups (and I would say this from our mail at the paper) is people who say they have nothing against tolerating gays, but they don't want to specifically have to approve of their lifestyle, because they don't. They don't want to have to specifically say that it makes no difference to them whether their kid is gay or straight, they don't feel that way. They don't want special rights for homosexuals.
DL: They were led to believe, by the backers of the Amendment, that that is what the Amendment says.
CM: Well, yes. Here is where you and I would disagree. I would say that there was at least a debate over whether special rights come into play when you pick out a group and specifically ban discrimination against them.
DL: Yes, there is a debate over that.
CM: Generally speaking, in my relations with the world, we have great latitude for discrimination. I can say, "You know that Dave Lougee. I don't like the way he cuts his hair. I'm not giving him a job or I'm not even dealing with him at all." You can say, "That Cliff, he is too short for me." We can say all sorts of things. I'm not protected under the law. When we specifically pick out a characteristic and, in this case, say your freedom of association will be illegal, you will not have freedom of choice in this issue, then you are in a circumstance of a debate over special rights.
DL: You said that was true for blacks, too, Cliff?
CM: Yes, absolutely. And I would say that we have come to a societal consensus for good, solid, historical reasons, that race cannot be a basis on which to make judgments about people in any meaningful way.
DL: The debate is over the inclusion of sexual orientation.
CM: The debate is whether sexual orientation is equivalent to race, creed, and color.
DL: Let's go back to the black debate, we are getting a little off the subject here. Do you consider the Civil Rights Movement to be about special rights for blacks?
CM: To some extent it did become that, yes. We decided as an American society, which was meant to be e plurabis unum (out of many one), to take all ethnic groups and make them equal. We cannot have one group or any ethnic minority left out. Then came into play the concept whether there needed to be remedies for historic discrimination. Society pretty much decided that there should be, although here again there is a debate about the media's role to make all of this argument available for the reader.
DL: I would argue that you will say that our role is only to lead people to understand their mistake on Amendment 2.
CM: No, no. All of this should be in the paper and on TV.
DL: Our role is not to say that people who voted for Amendment 2 made a mistake. Our role is toward that one-third of the pro-Amendment 2 voters who are homophobic--and I'm not putting a qualitative judgement on homophobia. Our role is toward those whose behavior is one of intolerance toward people who are homosexual and beat them up on Lincoln Street in Denver. Here is where the media has some role of healing as the messenger in society. Beating up someone is illegal and there is no debate over that--we have made a societal decision on that particular behavior.
JB: The people who may not approve of the homosexual lifestyle but are tolerant of it became increasingly polarized in the Amendment 2 debate when they heard people from one side saying, "People who voted for this thing are hateful." "Colorado is a Hate State." I would get calls from people saying, "I don't hate people and I resent it." I watched this dynamic. In talking about resolving such a conflict, this is a real interesting dynamic. People in this middle group had no spokesperson. I found this large group to be unbelievably frustrated with the media. I would have conversations with them and ask them how to present such a stance. The difficulty is finding the mouth piece for their stance. On talk radio people would call in and voice this frustration. This large group was livid. They felt that our coverage was calling them hateful. It was a real dilemma for me to respond to them and to try to find a way to fix this.
DL: That is a good point and corresponds to the debate that Cliff and I started to have. There was a tremendous intolerance for people's view points on that issue.
I want to go back and rebut you on the issue of intolerance. Maybe it's a bit of a semantical issue. In 1934 it was ok to burn a cross in downtown Denver. Today people know that they will probably face some ostracization from society if they were to do such a thing, but there is a far more dangerous and subtle form of intolerance. The amount of hateful, anonymous letters I get are far more than in 1934; I don't know what you guys get. But I would say that yes, sure we've made some steps forward, but I guess it's kind of like the value of a dollar. How much is it supposed to be in 1993? What is the inflationary increase in tolerance supposed to be each year on issues? It seems to me that we have flattened out. Denver, for instance, has a some very subtle forms of discrimination that are, in some ways, far tougher than the issues in 1934 because you can't get your hands around them and you don't know how to confront them head on. The Amendment 2 issue--your paper has done a good job of bringing this out--has confused the viewpoints of a lot of people. Not that their viewpoint is confused, but their view is that they are confused. The media has a role to fulfill in making sure that everybody's views and thoughts and confusions are portrayed.
CM: Well, the degree of tolerance is a hard thing to quantify. With the Amendment 2 issue I had a very interesting experience that I have never had before. I wrote a column early on suggesting a compromise solution. That compromise solution, to put it very quickly for those that don't know, was simply that we have an Amendment that says what anybody does away from the workplace on his or her own time--that doesn't impact on the workplace, on the economics or even the reputation of the employer--should not be grounds for employment or termination decisions. That would obviously include homosexuality, but it would not be limited to homosexuality. It means that if on the weekend I want to go bungee jumping, ride with a motorcycle gang; if I want to be part of some little cult, I can do it as long as I am doing it very privately. This clearly would prevent discrimination against homosexuals without giving any special rights, because everybody would have protected private sphere rights.
An interesting thing about this in terms of the middle ground is that the last Channel 9 survey poll, which mentioned this particular alternative sponsored by the House Minority leader, Sam Williams, found that 54 percent of Coloradans right now support that alternative. The coincidence of these figures is remarkable and telling--54 percent is exactly the same percentage of Coloradans that support gays in the military. Why is that? Again I think it has to do with the concept of special rights and tolerance.
Is this compromise measure likely to pass in the legislature? No, I wouldn't bet money on it. Already the one Republican sponsor, Bill Owens, who was on it before Sam Williams, has pulled out. Why? Because of the extremes. Although 54 percent of the people may like it, he knows that Colorado for Family Values and the religious right are very opposed to anything that will chip away at Amendment 2. In fact, if you look at the legislature as a whole, with the exception of somebody like Sam Williams, most people, whatever their view on Amendment 2, are ducking it entirely. They are proposing no solution whatsoever. They are not in support of Amendment 2, they are not for appeal of Amendment 2, nor are they for a compromise to resolve Amendment 2. Therefore, they are avoiding the issue because they think it is a no-win proposition. Through this inaction they are implying (and this is destructive to democracy) that it is best to leave it to the courts to decide.
So, we have decisions like Judge Bayless's, which, I would argue, tromps on the concept of judicial restraint. The issue is whether sexual orientation is akin to ethnicity. Judge Bayless preceded from the premise that it is, and then tried to adjudicate. That question should have been the starting point. All of his precedents in law are cases based on race, but the question of whether race is a precedent for sexual orientation is unsettled. After all, if you happen to be gay, it is not like you and your parents and your grandparents have all been discriminated against since you came off the boat from Lesbos. This is not that sort of situation. This may be different.
DL: I would like to shift the conversation a little bit. You talked earlier about subverting this great system that we have. In my opinion, the initiative process has gotten totally off the track of what it was supposed to be. It was supposed to be an area of last resort for citizens to get something on the ballot. Now it is the ultimate form of special interest politics. People are against special interest politics, but if you have enough money to mount a campaign and get signatures you can put anything on the ballot. You may not get free air time on our news, but you can certainly buy plenty of time on the radio stations and in the paper--you can affect a change in society.
CM: But it still does go to the vote of the people. Getting it on the ballot is not akin to getting it passed.
JB: It still does go to the vote, but depending on how strong the opposition is and their ability to do the same, it is not necessarily a level playing field.
DL: The problem is that there is not a process for regulating the chaos, as we saw with the gambling initiatives this year. If they all had passed they would have all been counter to each other and the courts would have had to deal with them.
JB: That is one of the areas that, in terms of conflict, where we have gotten away from a representative government. That is because people are frustrated with the representative government. But whether this initiative fix is the right fix, I have some real strong doubts about how it plays out.
DL: Amendment 2 is a good example of this issue. People really didn't know what they were voting for and many still don't understand the Amendment. If such a thing can be allowed on the ballot, a person should know what they are voting for. There were so many, many people in the middle that are not hateful people who really did not think that they were voting against a class of people.
CM: Except what argues against that is your poll and mine, which says that people would essentially vote the same way today after all the debate.
DL: Well, there are different factors that play into that. It is not necessarily the same 53 percent. There are people who voted against Amendment 2 who will vote for it now because of the Barbara Streisands and the guy in New York that went after Mo Segal. There is that three percent of independent Westerners that say, "Don't tell me what to do."
Guy Burgess (GB): It is interesting point that the U.S. Constitution can't be amended without at least a two-thirds majority in Congress and the ratification by three-quarters of the states. That is partly structured to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. The majority by a simple majority can take away rights of the minority. We don't have that with the initiative process.
JB: That was exactly the point I was trying to make--this can occur with the initiative process. It has in this state. I came to Colorado from California, which is initiative crazy. There is a guy in southern California who says, "Give me a million dollars, I'll get your initiative on the ballot." That is his business. That is why, for example, a couple of years ago on an important insurance issue, there were five different measures on insurance--the voters were totally confused. It was a job for the media just to try to sort out what everything meant and by the end of it people were pulling their hair out.
The other thing that happens when you get initiative crazy is that there are so many issues to cover that everything gets lost. One may not get explained or get paid attention to. One can just slide through somehow, or it can get confused with another initiative. I see that more and more in terms of special interests and it is creating problems. This puts things askew like Amendment 2 did. The question is, what is the media supposed to do about that? I don't know what more we could have done. We told people about the people who were behind the initiatives.
CM: We probably didn't take Amendment 2 seriously enough. I plead guilty to that. We all thought it was just some silly thing that was going to fail. We just didn't pay enough attention to it.
Going back to Jerry's point about the ballot issues. Even if we had been able to print out 14-page supplements every day and had a staff of 500 on all 14 ballot initiatives, there was too much information for the voters to process. It was an overload issue. To ask the electorate to go on with their lives, earn their incomes, take care of their families, and to read all 750 words of all 14 ballot initiatives is perhaps too much to ask.
JB: We talked to voters when they came out of the polls. A lot of voters walked in there and read whatever that little snippet was on the ballot. That is what they voted on. The only other input they may have had were thirty-second commercials. Or they may have had what I call a generic emotional response to one side or the another. We have seen this in campaigns and political commercials, for example the Matt Noah commercials. You can say just about anything you want in a political commercial. This election round, your paper and others, analyzed the ads as to whether they were true or not.
There are situations where an opponent doesn't have the war chest to go against a lie, so it is just out there. The thing that I find so many times when I go out and speak to people is how willing they are to believe everything they see and hear--especially if they see it on television. I find this scary. We are all occasionally wrong.
CM: There was a debate (I can't remember where Channel 9 stood on this) over the fact that Colorado for Family Values wanted to broadcast a commercial on Amendment 2. At least some of the TV stations refused to broadcast it.
DL: We refused some of those ads. Some stations refused some of the ads; I don't think any station refused all of them. But it was that stock footage out of the San Francisco Pride parade that some stations, including ours, did refuse.
CM: There are some real questions about whether they should be doing that. After all, this was news footage.
CM: It happened to be a tremendously powerful ad for their case. I think a lot of people objected to it because the ad was too powerful.
DL: I think the objections came from departments other than the editorial departments. The objections came on issues outside of that. Those individuals involved their personal feelings about the video tape. They found it personally objectionable beyond their own standards. Why it is objectionable gets to some of the issues involved. That was a good debate and it happened over Matt Noah, too, but in a slightly different context, because he was a political candidate and had different rights in his debate.
JB: But part of that plays into this whole thing about some sort of conspiracy (I'm reluctant to bring in the word, "conspiracy," but I will because I hear it all the time). This is the first charge heard when the issue is really just one of taste and decency. But once a decision is made to refuse a distasteful or indecent ad, the charge may be leveled that there is a conspiracy to hide certain information. Some groups like Colorado for Family Values may say that your station does that. This feeling sort of ferments. The issue passes, people protest, it gets coverage, and the feeling of a conspiracy may grow from that.
DL: Why that video was effective for Colorado for Family Values is the same reason that a lot of the images in the news coverage since the passage of Amendment 2 have led to further polarization. If you take the 20 percent who voted for Amendment 2 that are homophobic (I'm not using that word pejoratively), because they simply don't think they know any gays, haven't been around any gays, and may have some biblical concerns among other things, there is ignorance (again, no pejorative sense here). Since they think they don't know any gays so they presume that gays are not a diverse group of people. They presume that gays are, in fact, an homogenous, crazy group like the people running around naked in the streets of San Francisco in that stock footage tape, or like the woman who screamed obscenities at the police in the State Capital the day Will Perkins came to address the legislature. While the media has done stories about many mainstream gays, those are not memorable images. Therefore this kind of footage leaves an impression that the gay population is some kind of behaviorally extremist, monolithic group.
JB: It is the same thing as how people refer to the media.
DL: That's right. And unwittingly the media plays a role in that. Yet, I'm not sure what the answer is.
GB: I have a somewhat larger question. Will you run a commercial ad for something that is patently false?
JB: No. There used to be a broadcast standards person at radio stations. Now we do that through the function of many people. To advertise a product that doesn't work or a phony product would be bad decision making because we need to have credibility for our advertisers. Our advertisers don't want to be associated with someone who is flim-flamming something, so we are real sensitive about that. There are cases where you just don't know--it is just somebody that wants to buy an ad and we'll take their money. If there is a problem we may not know until we get calls about the product.
DL: The answer is no. The problem is that there are not many times when you know that something is patently false. Many competitors will call up and claim that some one's claim is patently false.
GB: Are you in a position where you could refuse political ads that are clearly untrue or misquote somebody? The trickier question involves things taken out of context.
JB: If it is a candidate issue it is real difficult, there is some latitude in the law but not a heck of a lot. On amendments and things like that you pretty much have free range.
CM: Newspapers are unregulated, unlike TV, and we can turn down anything we want to. We don't consider that censorship. We consider that editing and we do turn things down. We are careful about what we turn down because we are not in the business of not publishing, we are in the business of publishing of things. I personally think that the restrictions on TV should not be there, that the broadcast range is large enough you should be able to make the decision and defend those decisions.
JB: I disagree. There is a reason why it is there and the concept is good. It gets back to the issue that we were talking about--a group or person trying to circumvent and abuse the system. The regulation was formulated so that everyone has equal access. Someone may have an unpopular view, but it allows the minority to have access to the media and to express their views. If we had overall reign we could block many things.
CM: Next year there will be 402 channels available in Denver. I'm not lobbying for deregulation of the television industry necessarily, although I think regulation is kind of a misnomer.
JB: It's not well-written regulation.
CM: It is not meaningless, but it is not that relevant. I don't think you need to do it that way. First of all, you are likely to present those minority views and if you don't, another station will.
DL: To make Cliff's point here, television and radio was once regulated because of the limited band. With cable there is no limited band any more. If you want to get on TV with your opinion all you have to go is out to Channel 12 in Broomfield.
CM: What insures that a newspaper, will let minority views get represented? I don't need the government to do that. It happens anyway. Actually the only other difference in regulation is that newspapers and TVs have a different approach in terms of their audience and it's a markedly different one. Every time I add another article on another subject to the newspaper, I feel that I'm expanding my audience because the newspaper is like a department store where people can pick and choose. You have the opposite scenario. You know that every time you take something of interest to only a thousand people, 10,000 probably change the channel. It is dangerous for you to do that.
DL: It really is. It is an inverse media industry from yours.
Heidi Burgess (HB): I want to go back to something Jerry said quite a while ago about how the noisy extremists get the press and the quiet center does not. The implication of this is that the people who are more likely to come up with consensus answers, to come up with the moderate views, are less likely to be covered. This would seem to me potentially one of the reasons the press is often seen by people in our field as being inflammatory. Is there something you can do to counter that?
JB: That's the question exactly as I was bringing it up, which in the Rocky Mountain News case no one surfaced editorially to try to identify with that middle. But that is a real problem for radio because we are dying for someone to come and be that vocal voice for the middle, but the middle by its own nature, is silent. There are not many people in our society, who are willing to take leadership roles. That is why they are in the middle, they are not motivated.
DL: That is what happened in the case of Amendment 2. In our newsroom, after discussing the issue, we realize that there is a huge group with such viewpoints out there. These people feel like: a) they have been ignored, and b) they are being called haters. We took a stack of letters expressing this anger and called some of the people that had written, but not one of them would go on television because feared being outcast.
CM: This is hard. For example, if there is an abortion protest, on one side are the pro-lifers and on the other side the pro-choicers, but there is not a group coming out and saying, "I think that life actually begins at the end of the second trimester and in fact if it doesn't, I think that is a good place to call it quits and say no abortions after then. My group is pro-choice on the first two trimesters and pro-life after." This group doesn't exist.
Well, you do have that. You have it in editorial pages. You have it in columns.
DL: That happened during the Gulf War, too.
CM: But it is hard. Groups do not form around such issues. Such people won't become passionate enough to take this type of action.
JB: The passionate people are the ones on the extremes and they are the ones that make noise and they are going to be covered.
DL: And it is important that loud minority voices do get covered. Obviously, it is not an absolute issue. There is not tyranny of the minority.
JB: That really is true. But that creates the perception of the media as being inflammatory. People on talk radio get inflamed, that is the genesis of talk radio. As a talk radio host, I do surveys. If there's a flat line between like and dislike, that is a lousy talk-show host. It has to be one way or another. Generating the controversy is one of the ways our society has to resolve problems--by stimulating the debate. When people hear something that just hits them in the gut, that may be the something that turns them into an activist for their side.
CM: We all sort of like the idea of conflict resolution but that shouldn't lead us to the belief that the proper resolution to every conflict should be to split the difference between the two halves. Sometimes one of the extremes may be right.
DL: I look at conflict resolution as just getting people to listen to each other. But that is where I see a tremendous problem. Part of the premise of democracy is that while the majority rules, there is a process. There is a process of the balance of power within our government and presumably in the process there is a balancing of facts from which comes a judgement from the people. But that doesn't necessarily happen. Maybe people are on overload. Maybe there is just too much data so people are trying to latch on to answers more quickly than ever. I don't know. There were 44 million newspaper readers in 1940, and there are 44 million today. People are getting more of their information from TV which dismays all of us in the media. TV news--and radio news--is not set up to do that. No one form of information is set up to give people judgement. They need to have the facts and the context that a newspaper can give better than TV and they also need to have the sense of humanity and emotion that TV can give better than newspapers.
JB: Channel 9 should get credit for the forums that it did regarding race issues. It was a real good example of an attempt to talk about a problem. As I watched the first forum, I was almost sick to my stomach by the end of it, not because of the effort that was made, but because of what I was hearing. None of the groups ever broke through that intolerant level.
DL: Actually there is a larger issue that happened before the forum. We had chosen some people in the community to participate and one of them was an unpopular black. The black leaders of the community boycotted his presence, demanding that his voice not be heard. There was a presumption that the white management of Channel 9 had chosen him to give, what they would call, the Oreo viewpoint. But after sitting down with the community leaders, we found this to be really a personal issue between that person, Ken Hamblin of Denver (who preaches the evils of the NAACP and the Urban League), and all of the conventional black community leadership. To some extent I understood how they felt, but on the other hand, their own intolerance was not high on their list of concerns. The leader of that effort is now on the police review board.
JB: But even that aside, during the program itself there were a lot of disturbing things said such as, if I recall correctly, some of the comments from black people in the audience about Jews.
DL: There was no listening that night.
JB: It was an attempt to bring people together but became merely everyone's time to scream and present their issue.
DL: It was an open public forum. For the second program we decided not to have a public forum because during the first there had been no listening, hence there was no debate.
JB: It was a very interesting attempt in terms of what we were talking about concerning healing following the Martin Luther King Day Parade incident.
DL: It was an eduction for us in a very cynical way.
Audience member: I would like to go back to your comment about Colorado being the "Hate State" and how people who called you felt badly about their state being called that.
JB: They resented being referred to as a hateful person; they did not believe that they were hateful.
Audience member: The term, "Hate State," was probably initially identified as belonging to some group. Some group thought up this moniker. But then as the term continued to be used, that identification with the group disappeared. So, after a while it is not televised as someone's opinion but rather as if now it is suddenly the truth. To what extent do you always have the obligation to identify the source?
JB: A lot of times if the source is identified it will be simply, in this particular case, a gay rights activist saying, "You know we are going to keep going on with this boycott because Colorado has proven that it is a Hate State." That's the tape bite.
DL: That's a terrific question. The outcry nationally about Colorado passing Amendment 2 was pretty spontaneous. When Newsweek runs an article on it as did other magazines, this contributes to an aggregate sense of the state. We didn't use the term "Hate State" a lot in our own language.
JB: But certainly the people we were covering used that terminology. That was part of the rhetoric.
DL: When Billy Crystal goes before a "billion" people on the Oscars and makes jokes about our place...
JB: You would think it would make our legislators want to deal with the subject. Probably we would have had a much more potent boycott had it not been for the "gays in the military" issue that sort of side-tracked a lot of that community's energy. My sense of this is that the ball was rolling, there was an emotion, and then all of a sudden that emotion got tracked onto another very big issue. That will happen sometimes. That's not to say, for example, that the emotion and power will not come right back if we get a court decision that is different from that which a lot of people are expecting. That level of emotion is still there.
DL: I was on the outskirts of a discussion which I thought was a classic debate on the issue of tolerance. I was listening to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists debate whether or not to move their March conference from Denver to another location (which they ended up doing). This organization had two competing standards. One, as a minority group they wanted to show a certain amount of solidarity with gays as another minority group and to be sensitive to what they considered to be another minority's rights. Yet, as journalists, to determine not to hold the convention in Denver and not be part of the debate is a very dangerous message to send. A terrible, terrible one. I sat in on part of a conference call when they were in Miami debating the issue and the intolerance of journalists on that issue was incredible. It was a passionate debate.
Many people seem to think of the media as some monolithic thing separate and apart from societal debate. But it is not. There are many presumptions about reporters. Television news reporters in Denver, I suspect, are probably more than 50 percent Republican.
CM: Television reporters?
DL: News reporters.
CM: Really. That is not true in the industry as a whole.
DL: I have no basis for saying this empirically. It is just a guess of mine. I don't know it to be true.
JB: We actually conducted a little survey in our news room. We ended up breaking out about the same as the state, a third, a third and a third--a third Republican, a third Democrats, and a third independents.
DL: There is a tremendous number of independents . . .
CM: Nationally, newspaper reporters overwhelmingly are Democrats.
JB: Another argument that we hear from people is why they don't hear more voices, particularly from the conservative viewpoint. I'm thinking of what we air. I can't believe it when people call up and ask me why we don't have more conservative viewpoints--Paul Harvey, Steve Kelly, Mike Rosen. Newspapers and national television shows have people like George Will. Even on PBS there is adequate representation from that view.
DL: My experience is that the extreme left and the extreme right have blinders on about these issues.
JB: You get the same thing from both sides, but I hear it more from a conservative side. One thing we hear often is the objection that we, the media, elected Bill Clinton.
CM: There is some justification for that. Look at newspapers around the country, you'll have trouble naming six that have conservative editorial pages, even the large newspapers.
DL: The definitions of liberal and conservative are changing.
JB: It is not like it is not there at all. It just kind of sticks in my craw that there are these complaints when it is not hard to find a representative conservative viewpoint. The biggest guy in talk radio all over the country is Rush Limbaugh who is conservative as hell.
DL: In the case of radio, it is just silly to say that there is not a conservative voice. Your radio station is a very conservative outlet for the most part because your audience is older and the older audience is more conservative than the younger audience. That is the challenge your industry is facing.
JB: Yes, I think that is our biggest challenge. To survive economically we don't want to move away from what we call "the fifty to dead" demographics. We do that for news, that's traditional. We are doing pretty good with the other demos. But the things that we do to counteract that are small, subtle stylistic things. The music we use on our programs for intros is almost all rock. The way we write stories and our use of language is hipper than most talk radio outlets. That is part of the selling. It doesn't necessarily change the information. It is just the style and the presentation.
DL: I think that the media has a challenge in getting younger people involved. There is a tremendous amount of ignorance amongst younger people. Even what MTV has done the last year has been commendable. I grew up watching Walter Cronkite at the dinner table every night and discussing issues with my family. Had ESPN and MTV been available to me at that time I'm not sure which route I would have taken at the age of 14 and 15. The more galvanic skin response of MTV would have probably sent me in that direction.
CM: That is a problem and that is something I'm not sure the schools are addressing. I'm not sure people are getting the virtue of debate in and of itself.
DL: That is probably true.
CM: I'm not sure they are understanding the need to educate themselves, to read newspapers, to deal with logic, to deal with facts in different ways.
DL: Schools are conducted, what, 95 percent in the lecture form? I don't know how the lecture form of education promotes debate.
JB: A large part of this is the information explosion. You can get all kinds of information, packaged all different ways. We were talking a little about people being inundated with it. A lot of people don't vote, they don't appreciate how strong a thing that is. It is the same thing with information. Again I refer to my experience in China. I talked to people who spent years in labor camps in China because they were caught listening to the BBC and in certain cases, people were killed for that or for talking.
CM: Or engaging in debate.I got back from Russia just a few days ago where I spent a week. Part of what has happened there is the stultification of the concept and the skills of debate.
DL: Well, it has happened here, too.
CM: It is happening here, too. There are still people who can do it, but there has been only assertion for 70 years. No one has had to actually say, "Let me make an argument. Follow me through these steps and see if you understand what I'm saying and then come back at me with an alternative." It is all assertion.
DL: Let's talk about the uncomfortable topic of political correctness. Political correctness is a misused term. Political correctness on one hand is a convenient term for the far right to classify everything they don't like. On the other hand, as a journalist, our principles are to embrace and enhance debate, but there is a lot that is off limits to discuss in this day and age. There are ramifications for discussing certain things for having a certain viewpoint. One is at great risk. There have been competing principles. It is not getting better and there are great dangers attached to it.
JB: And subtlety. People in society react this way because of things like MTV. One of the unique things about MTV is an image lasts about 1 second or 2 seconds. That says a lot about how we are living in the U.S. I am amazed when we do a focus group study and discover many people who are bankers and lawyers who don't read a newspaper and rely on our little radio summary or whatever for their news. I frankly find that real scary, but that's the reality. Because of wanting it quick, people in our society tend to think more and more in black and white terms and aren't willing to see the grey areas of commonality. This is reflected in how we handle stories. There are a lot of good guy/bad guy stories. But, sometimes there really isn't just a good guy or bad guy.
DL: I'll give you an example where maybe there has been a subtle restriction of discussion and this is probably more of an issue for Cliff's industry than mine. There are facts about cultural communities. There are collective communities in major cities where, for example, Asians and Hispanics gather. Take the Asian community, which has some very specific cultural issues that have their own unique characteristics to them. Yet, there is a great resistance to discuss those characteristics in any way, shape, or form, since any such discussion can quickly be characterized as being racist. Or an organization can be boycotted within moments. I'm not suggesting that people are kowtowing to boycotts, but there is a subtle form of restriction of the process of discussion now that is dangerous, very dangerous. Time did a cover story on political correctness last year and it is becoming perceived again as a creation of the right. It is becoming a classified term.
JB: But I think also is an example of numbing. If someone is short, we could say he is vertically impaired. At some point we need to say what we mean instead of trying to come up with an euphemism. If somebody is trying to make a statement that it is okay to be short, why not just say it is okay to be short. Instead we change the terminology and sort of avoid what it is we are trying to say.
DL: A related nuance is that in the last five years, if you were accused of sexual assault by a child, you didn't get due process. In 1986 and 1987 there were all these missing children. We in the media did in fact create a frenzy to some extent on that. There became a theory (apparently it has some basis in fact) that kids do not lie, for the most part, about sexual assault. Yet, their mothers and fathers do. About three or four years ago there was the case in Minnesota, where many children had been sexually assaulted. This created quite a frenzy. But, how many people have been wronged in the last few years during divorce cases by being falsely accused by their spouse of sexual abuse? Yet, because of the kind of frenzy over the issue, they wear that scarlet letter the rest of their lives. Only just now has there started to be a rebound on the issue. There was an intolerance of dissenting viewpoints on that issue for a few years and we did play some role in that.
Audience member: Yet there was intolerance for the other position, which was you didn't come out of a marriage saying you had been beat up for the many, many preceding years.
DL: But that is a different. I was talking about sexual abuse of children.
Audience member: You mentioned something about divorce cases.
DL: The lies that have come out of divorces cases.
Audience member: But it does seem that we sort of shift wildly.
DL: It is a pendulum shift, that's right. Just like for a while, for women who were beaten in marriages, there was no attention.
JB: That's a really good point because there are those shifts that do occur and they are part of the debate.
CM: And out of those wild shifts usually comes some form of political correctness.
JB: Well, or one side gets shut out of the debate.
CM: Over time this may be a healthy thing because inside every truth is a lie and inside every lie is a truth and eventually if you just keep going through it you kind of get a hold of reality.
DL: In the Woody Allen and Mia Farrow issue (after you separate out a celebrity weirdness associated with that whole case) the public response facilitated a kind of healthy debate about the issues attached to the case. While nobody knew the facts in that case, there was not just an assumption of right and wrong. You didn't find 98 percent of Americans saying that Woody Allen must be guilty. There was more of a process.
[Dave Lougee has to leave at this point]
JB: We haven't talked about the Rodney King case. Clearly there were a lot of conflicts simmering before the riots. When a catalyst--the jury's decision in this case--caused the conflicts to explode, people then said, "Why weren't we talking about this as a society? What was going on here? Now Los Angeles is burning. Now we are going to talk about and start maybe attempting to deal with these problems." The question will be asked, "Where was the media?" Why weren't we talking about the tensions between blacks and Koreans or just the overall tension there? That is a real interesting question. In minority communities there are more and more specific papers and publications developing to serve those communities because in large part those communities don't feel that they are being served by the mainstream media. When something gets covered in their neighborhood, it gets covered because somebody shot somebody, but there are many other things going on in that neighborhood that aren't getting any attention.
There is a skew on what is occurring. Any number of people have proven this. Carol Simpson with ABC news tells a story. She went one time into the file category and looked under "Black." There were pictures of people sitting on door steps and at crime scenes. There was very little depiction of anything like professors or other positive things happening within the black community. The file portrayed a very strong stereotype--it was mostly violence and prisons.
That is a real interesting issue in our society in terms of how we deal with things. This tied in a little to the Martin Luther King thing and a couple of other things. How good a job is the media doing covering minority communities?
It also ties into the question of hiring. This is a real interesting thing which, as a manager, I have to deal with. I just recently had a job position open. I advertised it nationally. I got 400 tapes. Only two of them were minority applicants. It presents a problem in terms of choice because their materials were inferior to at least one-half of the others. But it is something that we deal with.
I wonder at times how well we cover these issues. We made one attempt last year. It was a story that we did about kids in a black community in Denver who get stopped by the police all the time even though they have no criminal record and are maybe even straight A students. But they live in Five Points and if they are out at a certain time in Five Points, they get stopped and hassled because of who they are. That was one attempt that we made to deal with issues that create friction. I would be lying if I sat here and told you we were doing a good job on that front.
CM: So does that mean that you take those two minority applicants and on the basis of their race alone, you make sure you hire one of them?
JB: Well, we ended up doing a training program to address that.
CM: We have the same frustrations.
JB: It is frustrating but also a legitimate complaint from a community when they ask, "How can you cover us? You are coming at the story with a whole set of values that are different from where we are coming from. You don't know us." Sometimes it is hard, when we go in there, we'll see one thing where somebody else might see something different.
CM: I think that is a reasonable debate, but I don't necessarily accept its truth.
GB: There is another issue that is implied by your comments. As you get a proliferation of magazines and local and community newspapers, and a zillion TV channels there is a newspaper charged with covering an entire city and trying to balance all of the competing interests and trying to sort through all of the various stereotypes. But there is a danger when you go to a media that is based on very local sources--they can tell everybody what they want to hear and reinforce stereotypes. There is no institutional mechanism where these things have to be reconciled.
JB: We are seeing that. I'll give an interesting example. KDKO, the black radio station in Denver, had serious financial problems--the IRS was going to shut them down. They held a press conference saying that it wasn't about the radio station being shut down, it was that those who advertize in the newspapers don't spend any money on local, more community-oriented media. That's why they felt this radio outlet had failed and stated that the community should demand such support because the community had resources and wealth. It wasn't a thing of maybe they didn't do a good job or maybe that they had very ineffectual management. They portrayed it as failing because of outside sources. It was a very interesting approach. But I disagreed with it vehemently. If I'm an advertiser and KDKO has a 1000 people listening to it an hour and KOA has 35,000, depending where the rate is set, that is how I'm going to make my decision. A lot of the companies that they berated do have programs to help the community. Instead of blaming the outlet for its failure, the blame was put somewhere else.
HB: I would like to go back to your earlier statements about the Rodney King trial. We had a session about a month ago with the Chief of Police of Denver and some other policemen. We were talking a lot about what might happen when the next Rodney King verdict comes out. The observation was made (I'm not sure whether I agree with it or not) that there was not that much coverage of the trial before the verdict came out and that is why it took everybody by surprise and was some of reason for the Los Angeles riots. The image of this group of people, which was mostly police, was that there is more coverage this time around. I have been listening to Dan Kaplis with great interest and the perception is that this time it is not going to be such a surprise and so hopefully there won't be violence.
JB: No one envisioned such an outcome. It did not get a lot of attention. What was going on was presented but it was not highlighted. There was a real assumption about the case because of the coverage of the video tape and the beating.
CM: No, it did not get sufficient attention. The press is partly to blame, but not the press alone. For example, when the trial was moved from Los Angeles to Simi Valley, there wasn't much outcry from minority activist groups or from the minority lawyers, which perhaps should have happened because that would have been covered had they done so. But since they sort of took it in stride and didn't see it as a potential problem in the making, the media had no way to react. The media can't do it on its own. The media has to stick the microphone and the notebook in front of someone's face and get the reaction.
HB: Well, the media is doing it on its own now. I'm just reflecting on the coverage. It seems like you are choosing to cover the second trial.
JB: Well, to a certain degree we are. To a certain degree it's a circumstantial thing, which is Kaplis is working for someone else out there in LA and we can piggy-back on that. If we didn't do that we would use our regular network coverage of it.
But, I think that the key thing is that given what happened the first time, there is keener interest. There is a sense of trying to convey the information this time around so that maybe we don't have that same result as we had the first go-around.
There were a lot of societal issues involved in that first reaction that were much deeper than the case and it kind of exploded. To some extent these issues have been dealt with. I have seen some good pieces about going back into the community. CBS's 48 Hours did a wonderful job of going into South Central and talking to people in the community about what was happening in their community now. There was a lot of resentment from black store owners who were trying to rebuild, who were scared about what had happened to them in their own community.
There are so many dynamics in the situation that it is really hard to make sense of it when you look at it from a purely logical point of view. It doesn't make any sense--someone is so mad that they burn down their own house. That is sort of what happened there. That is really angry. Is it just because of the verdict or is there a lot more stuff that is pent up? The question, then, is if that was pent-up stuff, why had it gone unnoticed? Why was it not dealt with before? People outside of the media ask if it is the responsibility of the media to go in there and look for that and cover those things better? I don't know, I don't have a real answer for that.
GB: Buchanan had a column in the Washington Post last week that surprised me a bit. He talked about how the Rodney King tape also contains a segment of Rodney King attacking the police officers and then trying to wrestle with them while they were trying to get handcuffs on. I've never seen that.
JB: That's a real interesting point, because I never understood why the whole tape wasn't shown until the trial. I don't know the answer to that. If I were in that position I would run the whole thing. I don't understand how the release of that tape took place--how a selected portion of it was released and nobody knew about the other footage. I have wondered if that was part of the reason the trial turned out the way it did--King was shown at the trial to be this out-of-control person. There was a lot of that we didn't get initially. I don't understand why only the one portion of the tape was shown over and over. That is clearly an example of censoring--for lack of a better word. That should not have happened; the other part of it should have been available as well. Dave and I always have time considerations, but people will listen and watch something as compelling as that. We would make time for something like that, just like we made time to air the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill hearings.
Audience member: Are you saying that if the public had been made aware?
JB: I'm just saying it is dishonest.
Audience member: Are you saying that if the public had been aware of that part of the tape, maybe the results of the trial in Simi Valley might not have been so explosive and so misunderstood?
JB: Well, I don't know that. But I do know that societal debate happens long before things, unfortunately, get to court. Society debates guilt or innocence whether we like that or not. It just happens. The public debate on this thing was based on only a portion of the tape--there was a portion missing. I just think, flatly, that's wrong. I don't know that it would have changed anything. On something like this, it's a distorted presentation since the other part is not in there, while the jury got the whole presentation.
JB: In fact, when the jury members were interviewed many of them later made that point: "Hey, look. You didn't sit here and hear this evidence. You didn't sit here and see all the things that we saw. You are making judgements of just a reel of tape that has been played over and over again. We had weeks of the trial, plus other things that you haven't seen. And we made our decision." For many of them it was a pretty agonizing time. But people didn't want to hear what they had say about that aspect of the trial.
CM: If there had been great suspense about the verdict in that trial and great debate over how it was going to come out, some of the emotion could have been vented in that debate. It was a tremendous shock and that clearly contributed to the sudden outburst. There were many other things that contributed to the violence--the unpreparedness of the L.A. police force and tremendous opportunism. It had a snow-ball effect once it began. But, the fact that people were unprepared for the results was part of the problem.
GB: It was just so surprising. If there had been some possible way to have predicted that the system might have reached this conclusion, it might not have resulted in such violence. Otherwise, it looked like it was a total breakdown of the system.
JB: I really would like to know what the answer is on that tape, though.
HB: I still haven't seen the beginning of the tape.
JB: I don't think that has been shown anywhere but the courtroom and I don't know why that is.
HB: It seems to me certainly that after the court case it should be made public.
CM: Of course, there are other things that the media probably didn't explore enough. One is the extent to which the criminal justice system bent over for the defendant's rights. Across the board, the number of people charged with crimes who actually get convicted is very, very tiny. There were two murder cases in New York recently that demonstrate this point. Both involved the murder of Jews. The defendants had the murder weapon in pocket, had blood on them, and they were both let off. One was Meyer Conte and one the murder of that kid in Crown Heights, the Australian rabbinical student. In both cases the defendant was let off and there was not another suspect. These incidents didn't spark riots. Defendants have the edge overall in criminal cases. Presumption of innocence starts that process. All it takes is one juror to say "no," to have reasonable doubt.
JB: From the other side--the legal standpoint on the Rodney King case--there is probably interest on both sides in terms of prosecuting. Even if you know of the existence of that other portion of that tape, you don't want to expose it to the media and to the public debate and have it massaged around because it could give the other side a chance.
CM: The defense should want to, though.
JB: To some point, but then again, maybe not.
CM: I don't know why the defense would not.
JB: There are reasons why people might not want to be forthcoming with what they have until they get to trial, and unfortunately with the court system, there is such a delay sometimes. But what is always interesting to me is the issue of pre-trial publicity. When this issue comes up, that would be one case that I would cite--obviously it didn't have an effect on the outcome. Also another case I would cite is a local one--the James King trial. Everybody in town pretty much thought that one was a slam dunk too from what they had read and heard about it. But in a lot of cases there is manipulation of information prior to the trial of what people want to talk about and what they don't. It is strategy.
This demonstrates the argument about pre-trial publicity. You hear this a lot in criticism of the media--that people can't get fair trials. My response is that juries are a lot smarter and fairer than people think.
CM: Or, at least they are not as influenced by the media as people think.
JB: I would guess that at least 90 percent of the people who sit on a jury and are charged with that responsibility take it very seriously, with the idea that some day, for one reason or another, it might be them. It is a favorite whipping boy for trial lawyers to try to prove that pre-trial publicity is destructive, hurts their case, etc. There are many cases that show that not to be true. Bad lawyers are the real problem in a lot of cases.
CM: Well, good lawyers, too. One arrow in their quiver is to claim that pre-trial publicity has made it impossible for their client to get a fair trial, therefore the case should be dismissed, the venue should be changed, or that they should have the right to appeal and try it again. It doesn't mean that they believe it. Lawyers are not required to believe all the things that they say.
JB: Well, that becomes formulated in the public debate in terms of things that do go to court. These issues are not always necessarily of a criminal nature. Often lawyers claim to look at how publicity is running and what a different side chooses to do for legal tactics. They then can say that there is a distorted picture painted by the media. In a lot of legal cases that is because as the media covers a case, one side may do a lot more talking than the other. That's their choice to do that, but the media does get a skew that is heavy to one side even though you may try to balance it as best as you can. Before a case comes to trial, his newspaper, my radio station, Dave's TV station, we are digging and trying to do everything that we can on that story. More times than not, one side has more information to give than the other. The way we look at it is that we asked the other side for information and they made a choice not to give it to us. So does that mean that because they don't want to talk to us, we don't run the story? That is part of what people bring up in arguments about the media being distorted. Sometimes, the coverage is a little distorted just by the nature of how it is gathered.
HB: Going back, not so much to criminal trials, but to intractable conflicts, do you ever choose not to run particular quotes or comments because you see them as too inflammatory?
JB: If, for example, someone said following the shooting of the doctor outside of the abortion clinic, "I think we ought to load up our guns and do that here in Colorado," I don't think I would run that.
CM: Well, it all depends on who said it though. If the Governor said it, you would run it.
JB: Well, that's true.
CM: If it was just somebody in the crowd, you wouldn't. But if the spokesman for Right to Life said it, you sure as hell would run that. For the most part, the most inflammatory comments are the most likely to be covered. What you try to do is balance them with something from the other side.
JB: Yes, if the Governor said that you would have two or three people who would be saying, "The Governor is nuts, we ought to start a ballot to get him out of office right now"--that would be part of the story. The remark itself would be controversial.
CM: But if the reporter said that what the governor said was nuts, we better not run it. That reporter has lost his job. He may get a job with the press secretary, but he's not going to get any work as a reporter.
JB: No, you're right on that one. I was trying to think of some life and death kind of issues--they would be the only scenario you might look at that, depending on where it was from.
CM: Rarely. But for most part, giving a good quote is a talent. And those who can do so will make good press and certainly will make radio and TV with a good sound bite more often than those who can't give good quotes.
GB: This is question involving what we call the "contradictory experts problem," where there is an issue, say one involving a fair degree of scientific uncertainty like the health effects of plutonium in the soil around Rocky Flats. These are cases in which you can get two experts on any topics to say opposite things. Even if the preponderance of the scientific viewpoint may be one way, there may be a lone renegade who might be right. You've got two guys with Ph.D.'s saying opposite things. What is the public supposed to think?
JB: That there are no absolutes.
CM: They are supposed to think that there is a debate on this subject, assuming that these are both bona fide experts in their field. Now what happens is that you have experts in the field and you have somebody who has a Ph.D. in something else and they often get in the argument because the reporters don't know how to qualify that because they don't really know the difference. There are a lot of junk degrees.
GB: Science magazine worries about junk science a lot.
JB: It is a legitimate concern about who is an expert. Are you an expert because you say you are? Or is it because you keep doing research?
CM: But, overall I think the answer to that is that the news story shouldn't decide who is right in the debate, they should simply frame the debate assuming it really is a debate. If it is one guy who is simply a renegade, he's probably not getting much of a hearing. On the other hand, if he is a maverick, he may be getting a hearing even though plenty of people argue with him. Then the editorial page may want to come in and say, "Look weighing these two arguments to some length, we come out on this side." That is the proper thing for the editorial page to do, but usually it is not the reporter's job to do more than frame that debate.
JB: There is a real danger, too in labeling certain people cranks because sometimes they end up being right. I'll give you an example of that right now--oxygenated fuels. Since the day we started that program there have been people who I would consider to be very credible people, who have said this is a joke and it doesn't work and it may in fact be more harmful. But, these are the things that are institutionalized within the state--the state decided it was going to do this. They are under the gun from the feds to clean things up. They have instituted a program and there is a vested interest of people who are part of that program to keep it going and to dismiss those that disagree as being cranks or unknowns who don't know what they are talking about or as being in the minority. I have yet to see any credible statistics that show that the program works. We have less CO2 days, but other arguments can be made--cars burn fuel cleaner than they ever did because they are built better, so this would have happened any way.
CM: This is a very hard question because the experts are disputing each other's methodology. It's very hard for a lay person to look at the evidence. Yes, there is the vested interest argument, but those people say that is not they are saying what they say. They argue that they believe oxygenated fuels actually are working.
JB: Experts are often trotted out and a lot of times their credentials aren't checked. Global warming is another topic a long these lines. There's a growing faction of people who don't think that global warming is occurring. I don't know who to believe. The only thing that I can do is present the sides and then say to my audience, "You are going to have to either accept or reject one or the other and make your own opinion."
CM: But where it becomes difficult, and it is a matter of judgment ultimately, is when you have to distinguish between those issues on which there is a legitimate debate, such as oxygenated fuels, and perhaps such as global warming. We don't just refer to global warming as something that everyone knows is happening and agrees is leading to catastrophe, but frame it within the context of the debate and those things on which there is no debate. Take for example the issue of human evolution, which some people say is the way we come about as a species, others dispute this and say we were created. You don't give creationism the same level of coverage as you do evolution. You just don't do that. This is a problem for editors because frequently reporters make presumptions, assuming that they and their audience all agree, for example, that a woman has a right to choice. But not everyone does agree with that.
JB: You qualify.
CM: Well, yes and understand that there is a debate.
JB: And by stating that this is somebody's opinion as opposed to fact. That is a lot easier for the newspaper to do because you can read the word. When they've got kids in the back of the car and they are driving they don't always hear all those words. They'll call and we say, "No, this is what the copy said, we didn't state this as a fact. This is what it said." Again, this goes back to the thing I was talking about--grey areas and the reluctance of society to acknowledge that every issue isn't necessarily black and white. A lot of people want that, its bedrock for them, it can only be one way or the other, it can't be both, it can't cross over.
GB: The information overload problem--everything is simple.
JB: Yes, and with issues like oxygenated fuels or global warming when the audience hears those things, they want to know, which is it? One day we hear this ingredient causes cancer in rats and then the next day we hear you can extend your life for five more years if you do this. What is truth? There may be no way to know that, there is not a way to really say what is true, but because of that, should we not talk about it? The answer for us, is to talk about it and present things if there is some credibility behind the study. There was one the other day about people who use electric razors having a greater chance of getting leukemia. It turns out that any kind of electric device emits radiation of some kind--there is probably some validity in that. Should you stop using your electric razor? Should you stop using your cellular phone because it's going to give you brain cancer? The information is out there and people have to make choices. One day you hear one thing, then its the next. There is just not absolutes on these things.
CM: Various groups, of course, pressure the media very hard to use a certain language and frame the debate as they see fit. For example, osteopaths, who have written me recently, say they don't want to be referred to as osteopaths, they consider that pejorative, they want to be known as Physicians, O.D. as opposed to Physicians, M.D. Again, they make it an issue of sensitivity. Our answer is that we give our readers as much information as possible, not as little. There was tremendous pressure on the media for a long time to not report that the incidence of heterosexual transmission of AIDs was low, comparatively. AIDs was meant to be portrayed as a disease that doesn't discriminate on any basis. In fact, that does not happen to be the case empirically. Certain behaviors, not orientations, tend to promote the transmission, whether that be anal sex or the use of needles. Certain groups are more prone to those behaviors so the incidents of HIV is greater in certain groups. That's a truth that took a long time before it could be said.
JB: I agree with you on that one. I came here from San Francisco, where the first politicized line was that AIDs was going to end up becoming a heterosexual disease, it was going to sweep the country, and everyone was going to have it--it wasn't going to be just a gay disease. As you just mentioned, there are other means of transmission. In San Francisco, early into the debate about the disease, a couple of investigative reporters laid out a very harsh case about certain habits and things within the gay community that the community needed to do to stop the spread of AIDs. The reporters were literally run out of town for their report, but since then, all their recommendations have been adopted in San Francisco. But they were pretty universally ignored at the time of their report.
For a long, long time in media, because, by our nature, we want to heal and help people and give them information, we were spreading good information but there was a hysteria level about it. There were bad consequences. For example, people dining in a restaurant with a gay waiter would fear that they could get AIDs from that waiter. This sort of thing happened even though the media was also saying that type of transmission wasn't possible, but the issue lent itself to that kind of hysterical reaction.
Because of the stigma connecting gay people and AIDs, there was a campaign mounted saying that everybody was going to get AIDs--everybody was at risk. The preponderance of experts were telling us that. Consequently, that focus occurred in the media for years. Editorially, we were going on the air and saying, "Hey, you just think this is something that is happening in the gay community. Wise up. Scientists are telling us in five more years the disease will equally affect heterosexuals--it is going to be everywhere." But, in fact, what they told us has not happened. It is not to say that people who are heterosexual don't get AIDs--that happens--but not at the phenomenal rate that experts were talking about. There are a myriad of different reasons for why that is. But the initial campaign was very wild and it created a lot of conflict in society--I think it still does. Now the perception seems to be, that we were lied to, which is also dangerous. Part of the initial campaign revolved around precautions to prevent the spread of AIDs. If people think they have been lied to they might become lax about safe sex. It is perceived by many as a gay disease--exactly what this campaign wanted to prevent. Some have the perception that gay behavior is responsible for this scourge that is killing people or that people are dying because somebody that was gay gave blood. A lot of this type of blame is being placed on the gay community because the original information wasn't accurate.
Having dealt closely with this issue from the beginning, I have seen the resistance. For example, in San Francisco they had gay bath houses called "lorry holes" where people had sex through walls. This was common-place because San Francisco had became a mecca for the gay community. Some people had multiple sex partners up into the thousands. There was heavy, heavy resistance during the initial outbreak of AIDs to curb any of this behavior. Massive denial prevailed. So when the article that I was talking about came out about what needed to be done, the gay community didn't want to deal with this disease and what it was presenting, because they had gained so much politically. The health director of San Francisco lost his job because he padlocked the doors to the bath houses--but he was doing the responsible thing at the time. He needed to stop the activity, but politically he was literally run out of town.
These type of things happened because we weren't dealing with the reality. At the time it was politically insensitive to take such actions. There was a lot of risk involved. People want to keep their jobs.
GB: One of the things that we found somewhat surprising is that if one looks at the literature on public policy dispute resolution the media is not in there. No one thinks the press plays any role. That is obviously preposterous.
JB: Well, definitely in public policy it is not uncommon, the case of Amendment 2 is a really good example. It is not uncommon to hear people who make policy decisions discuss things that they heard on the radio, saw on TV, or read in the newspaper.
CM: I think it plays a very central role.
GB: I'm surprised that the interest level in this meeting was low. We had a much greater attendance at other things, part of it is spring fever, but part of it is a sense that this isn't as important as it is. Recording this and making sure this is featured prominently in the books and the materials that come out of here will be very useful.
JB: It is such a huge thing to deal with, it is hard for a lot of people to look at. It was frankly hard for me to look at and say, "How do we fit in and is there really anything that we do or don't do?" I don't know that if in my daily role of making decisions that I'm thinking in the spirit of looking broadly at impacts. By the nature of our business, especially with the radio, it's up-to-the-minute, we have to get it on now and a lot of the thinking comes later.
Audience member: I'm really impressed with all three of you and your level of concern for issues, of putting many sides before the public, and, in fact, treating the public like human beings with intelligence who must, from time to time, learn that there aren't many black and white issues. There may be some, but for most things, we just have to wait and see and watch and learn. There is the perception that the media--national television can skew its crime shows and NBC in the General Motors case--can make something seem true, when in fact it may be a bold-faced lie.
JB: Well, we cringe every time something like that happens, but it is like any other business--it will happen. It also brings up my greatest point. By its nature, what I do in reporting requires an incredible amount of skepticism. I'm sure that there is not a week that goes by where I will read something in the paper and say to myself, "I don't know if that is exactly what it should be." Because of the pace of our society it seems that we are willing to believe everything that we see or read. A basic trust level exists. Sometimes people need to find out a little bit more about the issues, for example, they need to hear General Motor's response.
CM: I have two points about that issue. One is willful deception, as in the case of the General Motors incident, which was people taking short cuts to an end. It is no different from the accountant who embezzles. The other point is the non-willful distortion of an issue that comes about simply because the reporter or editorialist is not clever enough to understand or frame the debate properly. Reporters do what they are called upon to do, which is to extract some kind of order from the chaos--that is a hard thing to do. Any time you "storyify" reality, any time you take a conflict situation and condense it into 14 inches, the difficulty lies in what you are leaving out. You may leave out the most important factors--it happens all the time. The thing you can fall back on--and reporters should fall back this--is to get at least two sides to the argument. You should ask yourself, "Have you presented the sides fairly no matter what?" Both sides may be lying, but at least if they are set against each other they may expose each other. Also, there may be a third side that is more coherent. That has to be the basis for the craft of reporting.
HB: I received an interesting article called, "The Media as Mediator." It came from the National Institute for Dispute Resolution. It is written by some people from South Africa, so they have obviously very different problems than the ones you are faced with here.
JB: This is a slightly different context, but the general manager of the radio station in Dallas, Texas who was on the air with David Koresh when he called the radio station, was a former boss of mine. When you mentioned a mediation role, this case came to mind and the fact that when presented with a situation like that, it is an incredibly dangerous position to be in. They are getting crucified in Dallas for the role that they took. At the time, they were trying to talk this guy into letting the kids out of there--they didn't know what they were dealing with. But, they ended up, in a sense, trying to mediate an unbelievable dispute. Maybe that was not the role they should have been playing, but on the other hand there were other things that played into it.
The immediate reaction at KOA if that were to happen would be, "Gee, aren't we lucky he called us? People are going to listen to this interesting stuff." But then you get into the next issue, which is what if we said something and he took a gun and he mowed twenty kids down? That's going through your mind, too. The radio station in Dallas is getting roundly criticized from many circles for the role that they took. They made some split second decisions, such as saying on the air things that would be said in a negotiation: "We want you to keep on preaching your ministry;" "Why don't you let the kids out," etc. All of a sudden, they are off the map and people listening are going, "Wait a minute. This guy is wacko. Why are you telling him that?"
CM: Well, then they may be getting away from their legitimate role.
JB: Yes, but I'm just bringing it up in terms of the media trying to mediate a dispute. I suppose, in an editorial sense, it is possible. But, it is not our role.
CM: I don't think the media should be mediating a dispute so much as providing the information and debate so that the political process and public opinion can come to a resolution.
HB: The argument that this article is making is that the media acts as a mediator of every dispute that it covers by providing the information that it provides. It also argues that, by and large, the media doesn't realize that they are playing that role. If they did realize what they are doing then they could probably do it better. That is a real interesting argument. You are not playing the same mediator role as the normal mediator but you are framing the argument and that is a very large portion of what mediation is--framing the argument. The way that you frame it will lay out who are the important players. If they get covered in the paper they become important players.
CM: One interesting point gets back to your earlier points about crass commercialism of journalism. Crass journalism reinforces rather than interferes with this philosophy of journalism. We are attempting, as much as possible, by presenting the spectrum of views, to be inclusive, to let no one feel that they are outside the realm, that everybody, no matter what they believe themselves, should want to read about an issue and to understand it. This means that we reach more people who are potential customers for our advertisers. The retailers that want to reach our readers don't want to only reach a certain group of people--they want to reach the whole spectrum.
But, in terms of intolerance, we get back to the fact that certain groups of people will form a boycott--for example, on Amendment 2. People called and asked how we stood on Amendment 2. Well, we opposed it. But, if we hadn't opposed Amendment 2, we would have been boycotted by the gay activists. We have one cartoon, "For Better or Worse," that has a gay character. We have had hundreds of phone calls from people wishing to cancel their subscriptions to the paper because that cartoon series has a gay character. Our response to such reactions was that Colorado for Family Values had gotten a very fair exploration of their views in our paper, probably more than any paper in the state. When asked if that didn't count for something, their answer was, "No." But why people weren't people calling in to say, "I'll buy two copies for every one that is boycotted"?
JB: We were allegedly boycotted--that is about the best way to put it--for what our conservative talk show hosts were saying. The decision was made to boycott the news room and not to send us press releases about any activity. It made our job twice as hard. These programs are an opinion part of the station's programming. There is a separation between opinion and news. But that separation isn't always made, which is another interesting thing. You have that with newspapers, too. The Rocky Mountain News on its editorial page, has more of a conservative slant than does The Denver Post, so the presumption by a lot of people who read the paper is that the slant filters into the news columns as well. It is a supposition that people make, even though it is not necessarily true.
Audience member: If it were true, it would be a travesty--the idea that a reporter would put together an objective news story only to have an editor change the news, but write an editorial to goes along with the story as well.
JB: But to some degree it happens. It may be more subliminal. On a number of occasions in reading a story that the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post both covered, I wondered if the reporters went to the same event. This is because of individuals. I've seen this happen even with headlines--one paper might call something a success and the other, a failure. This doesn't happen a lot, but it does happen.
CM: Well that can be a matter of interpretation, too. It may not reflect political points of view. Our editorial page people do not influence our reporters, even when they would like to. There are fights over points of view, but the editorial page really doesn't have that type of influence.
JB: I know it doesn't, but the perception can be that it does. The perception is that KOA is a conservative radio station. We have a conservative talk show host who is on for a very small portion of our total time. News programming and sports programming is on a lot longer than he is. We get tagged with that conservative label often. In the same way that you are rejecting that, I would say, show me, at least in terms of the news content, where we are one way or another. Proof of this happened when I was talking about the Gulf War. I took phone calls from both sides complaining about our coverage. I'm sure that the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post and TV and radio stations have similar audience reactions. A lot of people do not hesitate when they hear something that irks them. I frankly welcome calls telling me that something was perceived as wrong or that the way we worded something wasn't as good as it could have been. A lot of times things just get missed in the process. Things will slip in--it's not necessarily an intentional thing. Perhaps somebody in the haste of pounding out the daily copy inadvertently puts something in that could be misleading.
GB: I find it interesting that two of your talk shows are conflict resolution talk shows--Tom Martino and Andrea van Steenhouse.
JB: I never thought of it that way. Tom is for sure. There is such a public demand to resolve conflicts.
CM: How many people does he have listening on a given day?
JB: I don't know. It is not necessarily that he has the largest audience. The Colorado Morning News has an audience of about 250,000 people a week. That is our circulation. Tom's show probably has a larger audience in two hours than three or four radio stations have for their combined total day programming.
CM: How about Mike Rosen?
JB: Pretty much the same thing when you look at the differential level of audience. He can have more people in a day listen to him than some other radio stations in town will have for a whole week.
CM: Does that mean that 250,000 people at one time listen to his show?
JB: It's not like the papers where you can keep count. In our business we do a survey that has a large margin of error to supposedly tell us how many people listen to us. That is what we sell ads on. It is not all that far off. But in terms of how many people listen to us, the impact level is not all that different from the amount of people that you reach. It varies time period-wise. When Mike and some of the other shows like Tom's are on, a lot of people are at work, so the audience total number drops. Morning is the best time slot. In the last survey--this doesn't sound like a lot--but 11 percent of people that listened to the radio in the morning during the last 3 months are listening to our morning show. When you get into the double digits that is really high considering there are 35 radio stations to choose from.
Audience member: So controversy sells?
JB: Yes, in the talk format it does. It sells, because in order to talk and have a discussion, if you don't hit emotion, there is no discussion. We want to be on the cutting-edge and deal with issues of controversy. That is how that format works. It thrives on controversy.
CM: But, that is true of the media in general.
JB: You put a story on the front page because they are the ones people are going to talk about.