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Why won't the Gazette disclose its owner like it should?

Editor's Note

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Local tourist-focused businesses, as well as Manitou Springs residents and area elected officials, were taken by surprise by the March 13 front-page, above-the-fold Gazette article stating that The Broadmoor might permanently shutter the century-old Pikes Peak Cog Railway that is Manitou’s largest attraction and a significant source of revenue for our entire region. (See “Missing Cog”)

The story, by Wayne Heilman and Rich Laden, failed on numerous fronts. But the fact it neglected to mention that the Gazette and the Cog Railway have the same owner, billionaire Philip Anschutz, is a clear case of journalistic malpractice.

Also, the article’s pro-Broadmoor spin was evident: Not a single word from disillusioned entrepreneurs or elected officials furious about how they learned about this blow to our community. Just look at the comments following the article on gazette.com to see how people really feel.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics clearly states: “Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.”
The SPJ Ethics Code continues: “Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.”

It’s not hazy; it’s not up for debate. Disclose. Always.

The failure to do so is inexcusable, as is the Gazette editorial staff’s decision to ignore fundamental standards of journalism. It could have been an editing decision; regardless, Editor Vince Bzdek must be held responsible.

And it’s not an isolated incident. When the news is good, the Gazette often has highlighted their joint ownership. For example, reporter Laden did manage to remember that the two had the same ownership in a Jan. 30 story about The Broadmoor’s latest AAA five-diamond rating. Laden gushed about the honor and mentioned more than once that it was also The Broadmoor’s 100-year anniversary.
But many Gazette articles about the Strawberry Fields land swap (between the city of Colorado Springs and The Broadmoor) neglected to mention the reporters covering this controversy were paid by one of the parties in the dispute. They did remember the conflict of interest on some occasions — usually in stories that followed City Council’s decision to approve the swap.

The Gazette’s reporting on the swap also was often biased. For example, the daily paper never mentioned that, according to polls, more than 75 percent of city voters opposed transferring public parkland to The Broadmoor for the exclusive use of their paying guests. That is why Team Anschutz fought so hard to prevent a public vote on this issue.

In a Gazette online page about the hotel, the newspaper describes The Broadmoor as “a member of Historic Hotels of America of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Its visitors have included heads of state, celebrities, professional sports stars, and businessmen.” No disclosure of the joint ownership. You’d think of all places, it would be there — but you would be wrong.

Anschutz’s influence is felt throughout the paper: on the editorial page; in the paper’s persistent anti-marijuana crusade (even going so far as to present opinion pieces as factual news items, starting on its front page); and in the Gazette’s decision to endorse U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn for re-election in 2014, when a majority of their editorial board said they opposed supporting the congressional candidate.

That bias was never more apparent, and never more unfair, than in the newspaper’s decision during the 2017 City Council election to defame opponents of the land swap and then not allow candidates Richard Skorman or Jill Gaebler to respond.

It’s not just about the Gazette’s credibility.

When the monopoly daily — still the largest news organization in the Pikes Peak region — skews its reporting, it damages the reputation of all other local news organizations, including this newsweekly as well as our sister papers, the Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Pikes Peak Bulletin. (See what we did there? We let our readers know all three papers have the same owner, John Weiss. Easy, and in just a few words. Try it. Consistently, not occasionally.)

In next week’s Independent, we will offer Vince Bzdek the chance to explain — in his own words — how the Gazette will clearly and responsibly inform readers when they cover properties also owned by Philip Anschutz.

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