Bill Menezes on the closure of Colorado Media Matters
In "On Watch," a September 2006 Message column, former Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post journalist Bill Menezes explained his mission as head of Colorado Media Matters, the first state-based spin-off from Media Matters, a Washington, D.C. organization. He described CMM as "a progressive research organization that is aimed at reporting and correcting misinformation in the media that promotes a conservative point of view." At around the same time, the Center for Independent Media, another D.C.-based operation, branched out here via Colorado Confidential, a website with a similarly progressive slant -- a story told in another Message column, October 2006's "Blogs 2.0."
Two years later, Barack Obama won the Colorado vote on the way to the White House, and Democrats experienced significant gains statewide -- unstated but presumed goals of both outfits. Rather than getting the chance to celebrate this victory, however, the sites have taken major hits. Colorado Independent, the current incarnation of Colorado Confidential, laid off a significant chunk of its staff in early November, and Cara DeGette, its most prominent staffer, moved on in January. As for Colorado Media Matters, it closed up shop on Tuesday following a decision by its parent entity to do its business under one roof. "The model going forward is going to more centralized, concentrating the people power and the assets for more efficiency," Menezes says. The result: Four CMM staffers lost their jobs immediately, and Menezes will likely follow suit after serving as a consultant during the transition over the next couple of months.
Despite the plug-pulling, Menezes is proud of CMM's efforts, and he believes they were quite successful. "We tracked what we did with a variety of metrics designed to take both quantitative and qualitative measures of our work, which isn't unusual for a non-proft -- you need to show your backers that what you're doing is effective," he says. "And we did have an impact on a number of cases. There were specific topics the media covered where we saw descriptions that were factually inaccurate and promoted misinformation, and by doing items and engaging with the media -- talking to the reporters and the editors involved -- we could track how those things changed over time."
As an example, Menezes mentions criticism of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Ritter during the 2006 campaign over his plea-bargaining rate while serving as district attorney. "We did an item showing that his record was on par with the average nationally," he points out. "And the newspapers, which had only been noting the attacks, started noting this fact, too. And Mark Couch [of the Denver Post] looked at DAs around Colorado, and he found that Ritter was average in comparison with them, too. In fact, he had a lower plea-bargain rate than [Republican] John Suthers did.
"Another one of our big hits was when we caught [Republican gubernatorial candidate] Bob Beauprez saying that 70 percent of African-American pregnancies ended in abortion" during an appearance on Colorado Public Radio, Menezes goes on. "By recording it, we were able to show that this was the type of dialogue he was engaged in, and that turned out to be a huge flashpoint in the campaign. That's when the wheels started to come off."
More recently, CMM found a Rocky Mountain News blurb featuring the casual assertion that now-President Obama held dual citizenship with both the United States and Kenya -- a false claim. "[Rocky editor, president and publisher] John Temple, who very often resisted the type of corrections we used to put forth, had to devote his weekly column to talk about and apologize for this mistake" -- the topic of the August 2008 More Messages blog "The Rocky Mountain News's Obama-Kenya Mea Culpa." In Menezes's view, "That's the kind of behavior I don't think we would have seen three years ago."
So what happens to all the material CMM compiled? Menezes emphasizes that archives on figures such as KHOW's Dan Caplis, a frequent CMM target, will still be available -- and given that Caplis is reportedly considering a run for the U.S. Senate, he's glad about that. He also insists that the new Media Matters setup will allow continued media monitoring in Colorado and other locales around the country. It's hard to imagine that these efforts will be as rigorous without a full-time, dedicated staff on the ground in these parts. Nevertheless, he insists that Media Matters isn't abandoning Colorado. Instead, the organization will continue keeping an eye on doings in the state using a "hybrid version" of CMM and Media Matters' longtime national approach.
For his part, Menezes isn't sure what he'll do once his consultation gig is finished. "Maybe Kris Olinger will give me a job as a talk-show host," he jokes, referencing the director of AM programming for Clear Channel Denver, who oversees Caplis, Bob Newman, Mike Rosen, Peter Boyles and other frequent CMM targets. More seriously, he hopes to stay in Denver, where he's lived for fifteen years -- and where, for nearly three of them, he took part in a progressive experiment that made the occasional splash but was ultimately done in by the expense of running it and the sense that a big part of its mission had already been accomplished.