Beauprez's gun policy mangled

July 29, 2006

by David Kopel

Last Wednesday, The Denver Post egregiously misrepresented Bob Beauprez's position on gun policy. The problem began when Post political reporter Mark Couch spoke to Beauprez spokesman John Marshall, and wrote: "For example, Ritter's past support of gun control laws offers a key difference, Marshall said."

Couch's phraseology was accurate. A July 24 press release on Beauprez's Web site claims "Ritter loves gun control." The Beauprez Web site also contains a copy of an article written by Tony Fabian, president of the Colorado State Shooting Association, which reels off a litany of Ritter's support - at the legislature and elsewhere - for restrictions on gun rights and on self-defense.

I spoke with both Couch and Marshall, and they agreed that Marshall never brought up Amendment 22, a 2000 referendum that imposed special restrictions on gun shows. Ritter and Beauprez had both endorsed Amendment 22, which requires an instant check for certain sales that take place at a gun show, even if there would be no check required for the same sale between the same buyer and seller if the sale took place at any other location.

Thus, while Beauprez and Ritter differ on many gun issues, they both supported the referendum, which passed with 70 percent of the vote.

However, Post political editor Geri Clausing made an addition to the article, so that it read: "For example, Ritter's past support of gun control laws – he supported instant background checks at gun shows - offers a key difference, Marshall said."

The insertion created the false impression that Beauprez differed with Ritter on Amendment 22. The ColoradoLib weblog (at coloradolib.com) quickly picked up on the story, and published an essay making fun of Beauprez for flip-flopping on Amendment 22. (The mockery of Beauprez would be entirely justified if Beauprez's current position really were what the Post had claimed.)

I called Clausing and asked her about the insertion. She said that she had made a mistake, and that the Post would run a correction if it were proven that Beauprez's position were not as the published article had described it.

Everyone makes mistakes, including me. However, this mistake was compounded because the false statement was inserted into a sentence which ended "Marshall said." Even if the statement were accurate (that is, if Beauprez really disagreed with Ritter about passing Amendment 22), the statement should not have been used in a way which put words in someone else's mouth. Rather, the statement should have been added to the story as a separate sentence, not implicitly attributed to Marshall.

Speaking of putting words in people's mouths, the Post editorial page twice (July 19 and 21) incorrectly claimed that President Bush opposes embryonic stem cell research because it destroys "potential life." To the contrary, as Bush has repeatedly stated, and the Post has accurately reported elsewhere, Bush's position is based on his belief that human life itself (not merely "potential" life) begins at conception.

Kudos to the Post for its July 18 coverage of Microsoft filing suit against 26 alleged software pirates, including two Colorado companies. The Rocky Mountain Newsman an Associated Press article on the story, and apparently localized it with a few paragraphs about one of the defendants, Denver's Microcomp Solutions Inc. In contrast, Kimberly S. Johnson of the Post wrote an entirely local story, which also supplied readers with background about a previous legal conflict between Microsoft and Microcomp.

Yesterday's News online (and almost certainly the Post, too, since these things are distributed evenhandedly by the Denver Newspaper Agency) included an advertisement - which misleadingly had the shape and form of a Windows maintenance dialogue box - announcing "Congratulations! You have been chosen to receive a FREE 42-inch Samsung or Panasonic HDTV. Click the 'Yes' button to accept."

If you click "Yes," you will be required to supply personal information, including date of birth, which will be sold to various marketing companies.

Then you must proceed through a lengthy series of "surveys," advertisements and come-ons for various products and services.

Finally, you are required to enroll in at least 10 programs, most of which are "negative options"; you give the company your credit card, and they start charging your card automatically (typically, once a month) forever, until you tell them to stop.

You still don't get the TV, however, unless you persuade two other households to get stuck with 10 negative options on their own credit cards.

The "FREE" TV Web ad did have some small text noting that there were terms and conditions, and after you click "yes," the company does offer the opportunity to read small-print disclosure of the requirements. So the News Web site ad is not legally fraudulent, but it is the kind of bait-and- switch that preys on naive consumers - and damages the most precious resource a newspaper has: its credibility.

Dave Kopel is research director at the Independence Institute, an attorney and author of 10 books.

 
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