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Public Eye


Coming soon to a TV news station near you: all the news that the government produces.

As part of its regular news show last Sunday, KKTV Channel 11 aired a "report" about the state of the walleye in Colorado. (For those who don't know their cutthroats from their rainbows, the walleye is a popular catch for Colorado fishing enthusiasts.)

Anyway, Channel 11's report showed how the Division of Wildlife stocks Colorado's rivers and lakes with walleyes, and included some very explicit and kind of gross video of DOW employees milking the eggs out of female walleyes, to be used for artificial spawning.

At the end of the report, the reporter concluded, "With the Colorado Division of Wildlife, this is Steve Davis for 11 News."

OK, Houston, we've got a problem. Since when does an independent station air a news story that has been written, reported and produced by a government agency?

For about 20 years, according to Davis, a public information officer for the DOW, a division of the state Department of Natural Resources.

Davis says that every week, PR flacks from the DOW prepare video "news" packages dealing with everything from fishing to hunting to camping, which are then delivered as part of the network news on nine Colorado stations, including five network affiliates.

The DOW reporters never offer opposing views, especially when politically sensitive topics like trapping and hunting bears in the spring are being discussed.

They do not include interviews with anti-hunting organizations, for example, when reporting on the launch of big-game season in Colorado.

"That's not what the stations want from us, they just want our side of the story," said Davis. "Technically under the bounds of state government we can't enter the political arena anyway, all we can do is present our side."

Locally, in addition to Channel 11, KRDO Channel 13 airs DOW-packaged "news." In Denver, the CBS and NBC affiliates also air the DOW's packages.

And, never an agency to compromise the integrity of competing stations, the DOW even offers on-air "reporters" who appear "exclusively" only on one channel. That is, Davis is Channel 11's "exclusive" reporter, and his colleague, DOW press flack Jeff Butler, is the on-air talent at Channel 13.

That way, neither DOW "reporter" appears on the other channel, potentially confusing the viewers. Sort of like how KKTV Weatherman Mike Madson would never deliver the weather on competing station KRDO Channel 13.

While the whole arrangement sounds a little bizarre, KKTV News Director Brian Rackham noted that the reporters always identify themselves as affiliated with the Division of Wildlife, and the pieces are designed to be more informational than hard-hitting.

All right. But let's look at it another way: Would Channel 11 allow local Economic Development Chairman Rocky Scott to compile an "independently produced" package, starring him, to "update" viewers on all the terrific stuff his organization is doing to attract relocating businesses to Colorado Springs?

Or how about City PR flack Eugenia Echols delivering a "news package" on all of the great things going on in city government?

Or how about anti-zoning County Commissioner Betty Beedy delivering an "objective" analysis on the results of zoning in the eastern part of the county?

Perhaps the Colorado Springs Police Department would also like a chance to weigh in with an "objective" undercover investigation that reveals, say, what a terrific jobs the cops are doing?

When you look at it that way, Rackham conceded that perhaps it's time to reconsider the entire concept. "It certainly is something we ought to look at."

Colorado Gov. Bill Owens sure has turned into a media tycoon of late. His criticism of veteran interviewer Barbara Walters' recently-televised "softball" conversation with John and Patsy Ramsey has resulted in a very public spat, complete with Walters accusing Owens of "acting like a little boy."

"I truthfully felt sorry for the governor," Walters said last week during an airing of her ABC show The View. "I thought, 'Oh poor governor. I mean, poor soul, he's sort of losing it.' "

"I just think that Barbara Walters is being a lot tougher on me than she was on the Ramseys," Owens retorted.

Now, it certainly is true that Walters' cluck-clucking approach over "poor" John and Patsy was enough to make people feel slimed. But, since when is the governor -- who has no journalism background -- an expert on media integrity?

At least since January. Then, Owens flexed his prowess over all things media during a press conference he staged for high school journalists. During the conference, the governor chastised one reporter for not being objective to suit his liking. Owens did not like the student's question about his position on same sex marriage, and rather than answer her question, took the student to task for it.

Given the governor's clear superiority, perhaps he should consider taking a leave of absence from his political duties so he can pursue a career in journalism.

Maybe Channel 11 will hire him.


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