The battle between Colorado Springs City Manager Lorne Kramer and Sean Paige, the editorial page editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, started, well, a long time ago. After all, the Gazette's editorial philosophy is libertarian, meaning that in the newspaper's worldview, government and taxes are inherently evil.
But last week, Kramer lost his patience with Paige's relentless attacks on city government. In response to several unsigned editorials that have appeared in recent weeks, Kramer fired off a letter to the editor of the daily. In it, he chastised Paige for violating basic ethics of journalism.
"It is one thing to espouse a libertarian philosophy, but it is quite different to distort or omit facts to perpetuate an antilocal government stance," Kramer wrote.
Then he launched a salvo, suggesting Paige's
"untamed ego" might be the underlying problem.
"I understand the difference between editorializing and reporting," Kramer noted. "Legitimate opinion columns are based on facts and not one person's jaded personal bias. But Paige's lack of respect for facts, or perhaps his untamed ego, has resulted in a void where accountability needs to reside."
Kramer went on to cite several errors or distortions he says have appeared recently. One unsigned editorial assailed the city over an airport runway reconstruction project, which, as Kramer pointed out, is actually being funded entirely by the Federal Aviation Administration. Kramer also took Paige to task for referring to the City Auditorium as an enterprise, which it is not. (Paige wants the city to sell the historical downtown building.)
Finally, Kramer fought back against Paige's criticism of the city over increased costs for a parking garage under construction. Costs for most construction jobs have escalated across the board over the past year, Kramer noted, both in the private and public sector. Singling the city out for increased construction costs was unfair, and misleading.
Given that most people have no idea who writes the unsigned editorials espousing the editorial voice at the Gazette, the city manager says he decided it was important not just to correct the "misinformation" being published, but to out Paige as "the writer of this nonsense."
"Sean Paige is accountable not only as an employee [of the Gazette] but as a journalist who has been entrusted with a level of credibility that he needs to value, earn and nurture through factual observations and old-fashion [sic] research on his topics," Kramer wrote. "His attacks go beyond disagreement; they are personal and cynical at best. Apparently the ego gratification and sense of power that come from wielding a pen is too much for him to resist."
The city manager e-mailed the letter to the Gazette, as well as to city employees, firefighters and police officers. He did so, he says, because he suspected that the newspaper either would not publish his 870-word letter, or would cut it substantially.
Last Thursday, the Gazette published the letter, and, indeed, it had been edited. (One notation that did not appear in the daily was a portion of the above quote.) But, astonishingly enough, Paige devoted that day's entire unsigned "Our View" editorial to assaulting the city manager's letter to the editor.
In the 975-word editorial titled "Shoot the messenger: Personal attacks no substitute for real answers," the Gazette attempted to slice and dice Kramer, point by point. The anonymous writer of the editorial presumably Paige then went after Kramer himself, accusing him of throwing a "tantrum," misusing public resources, and being an inept manager.
"If Kramer thinks he can intimidate this page, or prevent us from giving readers our unvarnished opinions about what's going on inside city government, he's mistaken," the editorial concluded. "Worry less about how we do our jobs, Mr. City Manager, and focus more on doing yours."
This week, Paige stood firm: "It's unfortunate that the city manager chose to personalize things rather than deal with the serious issues we've raised in the Gazette's news stories and editorials," he said in a phone message. "The fact he used city resources and facilities to launch his attack only deepens doubts about how he's doing his job. My intent is to keep the focus on the issues; I hope he'll do so in the future."
Paige has been the editorial page editor of the daily for four years. Before moving to Colorado Springs, he worked at the Washington Times. Before that, he served as a personal aide to George H. W. Bush's controversial chief of staff, John Sununu, and in the early 1990s, he was press secretary for former GOP presidential nominee Alan Keyes who once termed homosexuality "the unbridled sort of satisfaction of human passions [that] leads to totalitarianism, Nazism and communism."
Last Friday, Kramer said he had gotten plenty of encouragement from people who reported they were "shocked" by the Gazette's personal attack on him the very day his letter to the editor appeared. He says he does not intend to respond to Paige's outburst. He declined to comment when asked if he has sought legal advice.
"I'm not at war with him, or the Gazette," Kramer said. "I was disappointed they didn't print my letter in entirety, but I was amused they spent a whole [column] attacking me. One of the things I tried to get across is ... I firmly believe that government should be held accountable, but that professional journalism even in editorials should be based on facts."
Speaking of amusing, here's a good anecdote that should add clarity to this whole squalid affair: Last Friday, John Leavitt, the city's senior communications specialist, admitted that he wasn't aware that the Gazette had attempted to eviscerate his boss the day before.
"You'd think of all people in the city, I'd be picking up [the Gazette] every day, and wondering, "What nasty things are they going to say about the city today?'" Leavitt noted, not a bit contritely. "But then sometimes, I'll take look at their little headline and say, "Naaaah I'm not going to read that.'"