Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Republican Party executive coordinated Gazette opinion pieces

Posted By on Wed, Aug 7, 2013 at 5:17 PM

Daniel Cole, executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Daniel Cole, executive director of the El Paso County Republican Party.

A couple years ago, local Republican politico Daniel Cole was writing columns for the Gazette mocking those offended by Rep. Doug Lamborn's use of the term "tar baby." Months ago, he was running the campaign of future City Council President and longtime Republican state senator Keith King. And on June 3, Cole fully submerged himself into party politics when he joined the El Paso County Republican Party as director of operations.

But it took Cole being promoted to Republican Party executive director last week for the Gazette to finally decide that after four months, maybe he wasn't the best person to coordinate the daily newspaper's "Community Conversations" section. Not that the daily paper ever disclosed his role regardless.

For an example of the work Cole did in managing the point-counterpoint project, here's an April 5 column called "COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS: Colorado’s new gun control laws" featuring the writing of former Colorado Springs local Laura Long (who also briefly worked for the Independent's Give! campaign). Last Friday, Long tweeted:

click to enlarge screen_shot_2013-08-07_at_3.38.35_pm.png

Former County Commissioner Jim Bensberg also confirms that when he wrote a column in July, he "worked with Daniel Cole directly. He submitted the 500 word op/ed to the Gazette, but I’m not sure if he worked with [editorial page editor] Wayne Laugesen or [systems editor] Pula Davis."

And though Cole's gig was unpaid — he tells the Indy in an e-mail that there's "a lot that's more important than a little bit of money" — his dual roles created a clear conflict of interest, says Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute and author of The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.

"Readers should be able to tell who is responsible for every section at their newspaper," McBride writes in an e-mail. "So the fact that there was this shadow supervisor coordinating a section of the paper where the community gets to have a voice in the marketplace of ideas goes against the principle of transparency. ... These days, because the marketplace is so crowded with voices and opinions, a news organizations needs to be completely and proactively transparent about how it works in order to maintain credibility."

For the newspaper's part, Laugesen says that, despite the undisclosed eight-week-long overlap in roles, action was taken as soon as it was deemed necessary.

"Daniel Cole contacted the Gazette shortly after his appointment Wednesday as executive director of the local GOP," he wrote. "We agreed he should no longer help coordinate our Sunday Community Conversations feature, given the high-profile and political nature of his work. An email went out to all six editorial board members Thursday explaining the conflict. ..."

In a follow-up, Laugesen wrote that the Cole had an interest in helping the daily find opinion writers "long before" his work with the Republicans. As for the rest of the content: "The Gazette's editorial pages are a forum for writers on the right, the left and all points between. We keep a spread sheet and maintain a rough balance of 60/40, excluding in-house editorials, with 60 percent of space going to right-of-center content and 40 percent to left-of-center content."

Ultimately, the party's executive director tells the Indy he doesn't think his mixed allegiances changed the paper's content one way or the other.

"I’ve never pretended to be without views of my own, but that didn’t prevent balanced commentary," he said in an e-mail. "Jefferson wrote that 'error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.' For the conservative argument to overpower the liberal, I didn’t have to be biased. I needed only to give both sides the opportunity to speak freely."

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