Failing to get the poop on Ensz

Post, News come up short on dog-feces-in-mail-slot story

June 17, 2006

by David Kopel

The Denver Postscooped the Rocky Mountain Newson June 8 with its report that Kathleen Ensz has been charged by the police with depositing dog feces at the office of U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. Postcolumnist Jim Spencer followed up with a funny column a few days later.

It was unfortunate, though, that although the Postreported on complaints by Musgrave about Democratic Party dirty tricks, the articles improperly made Musgrave's charges appear ridiculous; in both articles, the alleged perpetrator, Ensz, was identified only as an emeritus professor at the University of Northern Colorado.

In contrast, the Newsarticle on June 9 stated that "The Musgrave camp identified Ensz as current vice chairwoman of Senate District 13, an elected position within the Weld County Democratic Party." The Newsalso reported that "Ray Peterson, chairman of the county party, said he was unsure if that's true."

While doing better than the Postat identifying Ensz, the Newsshould not have left readers hanging about whether Ensz actually is a Democratic official. A bit of Internet research on Ensz would have led Newsand Postwriters to the Weld County Democratic Party Web site, which states that Ensz is indeed the vice chair (see http://www.weld countydems.org/candidates/CO/ S13.html).

Thanks to national columnist Michelle Malkin and her weblog ( for the link to the Web site overlooked by Colorado reporters.

But overlooking a Web site is less egregious than flagrantly misstating what the Web site says. That's what Newscolumnist Paul Campos did in his column of June 6, "Rose-colored view of history," when he identified University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, creator of the InstaPundit weblog, as among the writers who "specialize in defending the Bush administration" and are "Bush administration dead-enders."

If Campos had been reading InstaPundit in the preceding month, he would have found Reynolds criticizing Bush again and again and again, on topics such as "the tin-eared approach of the White House" on immigration, softness toward Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship in Egypt, past fiascos such as "Harriet Miers and the Dubai Ports deal", energy policy, Bush's failure to reform the CIA, and the fact that "Homeland Security is still a joke."

(Disclosure: I've co-authored several magazine and law journal articles with Reynolds, including a Connecticut Law Reviewarticle arguing that the federal partial-birth abortion ban would be unconstitutional even if Roe v. Wade were overturned.)

Another law professor criticized by Campos is national talk-radio host Hugh Hewitt, who appears in the afternoons on KNUS-AM (710). Campos, to his credit, appeared on The Hugh Hewitt Show,and got the full Hewitt treatment - a polite but intense interrogation in which Hewitt forced Campos defend some of the hardest-to-defend things that Campos has written in opposition to the Iraq war. The interview transcript is available on www.radio blogger.com.

Post columnist Diane Carman is usually meticulous with her facts, but in her June 4 column, "Lexus lanes might drive new habits," she repeated an urban legend: "General Motors ripped up the streetcar lines across America to create a bigger market for cars after World War II."

This enduring myth dates back to a 1974 report written for a Senate subcommittee by Bradford Snell.

In that report, Snell misdescribed an antitrust case, United States v. National City Lines, in which General Motors was fined $5,000 for forcing its own bus company subsidiaries to buy GM products.

Snell's urban legend about streetcars was debunked by UCLA economist George Hilton in the same Senate subcommittee report in which Snell created the myth, but the myth gained new life after being repeated in a 1996 PBS documentary.

Further debunking of the urban legend can be found in Cliff Slater's article, "General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars" (published in 1997 in Transportation Quarterly,and available on the Web).

In fact, trolley ridership had been declining ever since 1920, and most trolley companies were becoming economically unviable, regardless of what General Motors did with its bus companies.

The June 2 Web edition of The Nation,America's leading hard- left political magazine, fulminated about a USA Todayreport that the Colorado Rockies try to recruit players with character: ". . . there are only two African-American players on the Rockies active roster. Is this because \[Rockies CEO Charlie] Monfort doesn't think black players have character?"

In fact, if the Rockies had the exact average of Major League Baseball, they would have 2.5 African-Americans on the roster. That the Rockies are one-half player short of the average is a weak reed on which to hang an accusation of racism.

 

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