UPDATE: Today, the Chieftain's editorial board — made up of Bob Rawlings, his accused daughter Jane, Charles Campbell and Tom McAvoy — fired back at its critics, sort of.
"While Sen. Giron apparently believes she’s been treated poorly by The Chieftain, we maintain our news coverage of her has been fair and balanced," reads the piece, adding later: "As far as Chieftain executives signing recall petitions, that’s another freedom guaranteed ALL Americans in the Bill of Rights."
The actual complaint — that some of the paper's executives were involved in these causes, and that this was not disclosed to the daily's readers — remains unaddressed.
------ORIGINAL POST: Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 4:23 p.m.------
How the über-conservative Pueblo Chieftain does so well in a county where 55.4 percent of 2012 voters colored in the oval for Barack Obama is anybody's guess. But it does, with managing editor Steve Henson telling the Indy back in September that the paper enjoys "awful good penetration."
Henson also weighed in on a problem common to any newspaper with a perceivable political slant: the question of newsroom neutrality. Said the editor: "The news coverage is just about as balanced as [it] could be," and people "really work hard on that."
That sentiment took a blow in March, though, when the paper's general manager, Ray Stafford, used his work e-mail account to write Pueblo Sen. Angela Giron — Senate President John Morse's companion in recall — with the hope that she not support several contentious gun bills being considered at the time.
"We met on one occasion when you visited The Chieftain in the fall of last year, " he wrote, according to a good report from KRDO. "I am the General Manager and responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom."
And of course the last part, along with his signature of "General Manager, The Pueblo Chieftain, And gun owner," came off as a threat to use his position at the paper to influence coverage of the senator. However, by way of explanation, assistant publisher Jane Rawlings (daughter of publisher Bob) told KRDO: "As a way of identification, as he still is fairly new to the area, Ray Stafford told Senator Giron that he is the general manager of The Chieftain and in charge of its operation, including the newsroom."
If you look at Stafford's LinkedIn page, it seems that's true. In fact, it seems like he might well have wound up with a similarly gun-pimping organization: Stafford apparently worked for Freedom Communications, former owner of the Gazette, for over a decade.
Either way, Stafford fell from the news until Sunday, when ProgressNow Colorado — a Denver-based organization whose mission "is to build and empower a permanent progressive majority" — said it had "clear evidence" that Rawlings, Stafford and production director Dave Dammann signed recall petitions against Giron.
"The Pueblo Chieftain faces a major credibility problem reporting on the recall election in Senate District 3," said Amy Runyon-Harms, the group's executive director, in the statement, "with upper management at the paper clearly biased against Sen. Angela Giron — without disclosing that bias to their readers."
It's tough to check that claim because of the newspaper's paywall, but if Rawlings, Dammann and Stafford are involved in news-gathering — as Stafford said he is — the least the paper could do is disclose. Certainly, we encounter this issue often enough, and endeavor to keep participating parties away from all news involvement; when that's not possible, we try to let readers know.
We've reached out to Henson for comment and will update this post if we hear back.