When David Danforth founded the Aspen Daily News nearly three decades ago, he famously did so based on the notion that the real news was not getting out in a town dominated by the Aspen Times.
The rest is publishing history, but now Danforth’s flagship newspaper has made journalistic history of another sort by admitting overt bias in its news coverage in favor of the candidacy of Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis in his race against challenger Rick Magnuson.
The idea that the Daily is biased toward the Sheriff will come as no surprise to most readers. In the past week, for example, the newspaper published a story written by editor Rick Carroll about Magnuson’s performance art–the M-word in the desert–that all but stopped the challenger in his tracks. But what is new and unprecedented is Carroll’s admission that the Rag favors the incumbent–and makes no bones about it.
“We make no apologies about being pro-Braudis,” Carroll wrote in an email to me. “It’s no secret that the New York Times is against the war in Iraq and that the Washington Times has conservative views, etc.”
In other words, Carroll considers bias in favor of a candidate standard operating procedure for not only the Aspen Daily News but for some of the most important newspapers in the country. One can only ask what other candidates the Daily overtly favors in its coverage–and why.
The questions raised are immediately pressing because Danforth and Carroll will be moderating and participating in “Squirm Night” Wdnesday evening at the Red Brick Center on GrassRoots TV. Magnuson and Braudis square off from 6:30-7:30 PM in the only scheduled debate in the campaign.
Newspapers, of course, have a right and even an obligation to endorse candidates in their editorial pages–editorials are the place where newspapers traditionally take a stand. But for a newspaper to take sides in news coverage–and then to make “no apologies” for it in a print communication with a reader–raises questions that should be answered before the Daily does any more damage in this race.
Magnuson has faced an uphill battle from other media as well. Like the Daily, the Aspen Times took the Sheriff’s unexplained six-week absence into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center during the high summer season ”at face value.” And Bonnie Behrend, the news director at TV Aspen, wrote a letter to the editor extolling the virtues of the incumbent Pitkin County Sheriff, and thereby making her own objectivity in the race an open question.
Behrend’s letter, needless to say, was published in the Aspen Daily News under a headline that likened the Sheriff to the late actor John Wayne.