By now, it’s no secret of the Aspen Daily News’ pro-Braudis Bias–a bias, in fact, so extreme that it is compromising the paper’s integrity as a so-called news source. During this election, the paper has eliminated the firewall between news and editorial in relentlessly attacking Magnuson in purported “news stories” (e.g., the performance art); fighting Magnuson’s statistics and calls for change with rhetoric (but no substantiation); and publishing push polls on its website seeking not insight but influence; while failing to challenge Braudis’ claims (whether it be DUI arrests, violent crime statistics, etc.) or putting a fraction of the scrutiny of Braudis’ past behavior or record.
Today’s Daily News endorsement of Braudis thus is anti-climatic. Even its condescending, at times nasty tone is not surprising. But what the editorial points out–aside from reinforcing its bias–is just how much the paper lags in quality from its cross-town rival. We are rapidly shifting from a two-newspaper to a one-newspaper town. For instance, statements like “voters here don’t fall for Magnuson’s rhetoric and fuzzy math, which he’s managed to paint with a sweeping brush that would have been best left in his studio” reinforce the paper’s pro-Braudis themes of the campaign, including its own tired rhetoric of Magnuson running for performance art. Seriously, this performance art theme is so tired, even a Red Bull followed by a doppio espresso wouldn’t wake it up.
On the contrary, The Aspen Times’s recent endorsement for Braudis gives a fair and balanced take on the campaign. It credits Rick for running an “aggressive campaign” but says “we feel we already have a solid, upstanding sheriff with a deep understanding of Pitkin County”. It moved well beyond the “art” theme by saying “At first many Aspenites thought Magnuson’s bid a joke, given his part-time occupation as an artist. But Magnuson took the race seriously.”
Let’s compare the two endorsements. In fact, I’ll judge the papers on three questionable phrases the Daily News used about Magnuson’s campaign: Use of “rhetoric,”; the “picture” the papers’ “paint” of the candidates; and “fuzzy math.”
Use of rhetoric: The Daily News has seven references (using words like “paint”, “brush,” etc.) to the tired old art theme and, of course, makes reference to its propoganda piece de resistance, the desert video. Well done! The Aspen Times, on the other hand, has two mentions of art: the quote above which dismisses the performance art take, and a dismissal of the Daily News’ so-called news story on the video. Advantage: Aspen Times.
Pictures of the candidate: The Daily News paints a beautiful, 17th century French-realist picture of the Sheriff. All that’s missing is the white horse. It gives detailed highlights of Braudis’ strengths and accomplishments (actually, it does a much better job than the supporters o n this board and even his own website), with at least eight claims of Braudis’ strength as leader–from claiming “we’re hard convinced to see that this area is different than any others when it comes to drug abuse,” to “providing aid for world leaders when they visit this town” (is it implying that Magnuson would somehow ignore a visit from the President?)
As for criticism of its portrait of Braudis, the paper offered only a vague reference to “increasing drug education.” Not too many paint blemishes there. For Magnuson, the painting looks much more like propaganda art–you may as well put the horns and tail on a caricature of Rick and call it a day. Aside from the mean-spirited references, it has nothing positive to say other than “it’s good that someone finally stepped up and challenged Braudis.” Hmmm… do they really believe that? Methinks they didn’t like any challenges to their white knight.
The Times, on the other hand, while endorsing Braudis had kind words for the Sheriff’s leadership, but acknowledged “his leadership scrutinized during this election may have pointed out some things that Braudis can do better; we think he could forge stronger bonds with the local schools, for example.” The painting was more realistic, yet conveyed some complexity, maybe an Impressionist joint a la Renoir.
As for Magnuson, the paper was critical as well, but offered balanced praise in “most of the credit for the debate – both the relevant aspects and the bizarre – must go to Rick Magnuson, the Aspen community safety officer who had the guts to challenge Sheriff Bob Braudis in the first place. At first many Aspenites thought Magnuson’s bid a joke, given his part-time occupation as an artist. But Magnuson took the race seriously; he probed Braudis’ record and questioned his policies, he proposed initiatives of his own, he forced Braudis to react, to defend his record and to run an election campaign for the first time in years.” This painting again was fair, in the same mode as Braudis. I’d put both in the Louvre. Advantage: Aspen Times.
Use of “fuzzy math”: The Daily News accuses Magnuson of “fuzzy math” and “tailor(ed) statistics.” Interesting…but they forgot to give one instance where Magnuson used fuzzy math. Go back and re-read Magnuson’s posts and press releases–if anything stands out, it’s how his numbers have held up. And he’s given dozens of stats. Impotantly, in all of Magnuson’s numbers, he used a method called benchmarking: comparing PitCo’s performance to national, state, and local metrics.
In many critical areas, like DUI stops and deaths, drug-related deaths, cost-per-service-call, solved cases for violent crimes (as we still don’t have Braudis’ #s before 2004), PitCo just plain lags other comparables. Benchmarking is standard practice in business, and done by anyone whose ever bought or sold a house. It’s humorous to me that no one–except for maybe Wharf Rat on this board–has shown any depth or critical thinking in delving into Magnuson’s benchmarking statistics, yet claim Magnuson’s numbers are inaccurate. Where’s the beef?
Instead, the Daily News tries to portray Rick’s use of performance metrics as his claiming the valley is “is a crime-riddled area where no one is safe…a South Compton in the Rockies, rife with shootings, stabbings and a skid row full of junkies.” Nice, florid rhetoric, but I don’t recall any of this language in Magnuson’s campaign. What Magnuson’s benchmarking did, simply, is point out that in the performance metrics that the Sheriff should be concerned about–public safety-related deaths that his policies affect (e.g., DUIs, drug overdoses), cost per case and management structure, etc.–the department is lagging national, state, and (more importantly) local agencies.
Ironically, the overall murder-rate, which the Daily News points out as a “metric”, is fuzzy-math of the grandest scale. Let’s benchmark this ourselves: what is the murder rate of Aspen and Basalt over the same time period? Zero. Does that make Aspen and Basalt infinitely more safe? Of course not. The data points out that murder is not a public safety risk in our valley.
The same Daily News fuzzy-math logic, of course, can be used to justify another ludicrous claim: that PitCo police are much more violent than Aspen police. Over the last decade, the Aspen Police have never killed anyone on duty; Pitkin County Sheriff’s office have killed one person. Did Rick bring this up? Of course not. Would anyone with half a cranium then claim that PitCo deputies are more violent than Aspen Police officers? Of course not. Again, the Pitkin Sheriff fatality was justified in self-defense, and the overall lack of violence in this local area shows this is just not a safety issue in our valley.
The point is that, honestly, the folk at the Daily News aren’t sophisticated enough to understand cause and effect, what statistics are relevant and which are not, or how to use metrics to measure performance (my guess is that they’ve never done any internal benchmarking themselves or have a performance-oriented culture…probably it’s a mom-and-pop shop stuck with high turnover and management techniques stuck in the 70s, but that’s just the management consultant in me postulating).
In this case, it’s hard to see how any police policies can affect murder rates. But it’s easier to see how deputy night shifts on the highways, officers trained on intoxilizers, cameras in the cars, DUI stops, etc. can affect a DUI-death rate–which again is 3x higher than the state’s and neighboring counties over the last five years. Or for that matter Braudis’ well-known and argued lack of drug education or enforcement of hard-drug laws can have an effect of drug-death rates–6x higher than the US for 2005, and 3x higher over the last five years.
Don’t be fooled when people claim “since life is so good here, Braudis is doing a good job.” Braudis is doing a good job on mountain rescue, serving subpoenas, showing compassion, and serving as a local icon. And he’s a good man. Those are truly important. And I think Magnuson would do well in these areas too.
However current DUI policies are questionable, drug education is nonexistent, and these deaths–five drug deaths in the last year in Pitkin County alone–are happening. Of course we don’t live in Compton (actually, LA’s drug death rate is lower than ours in PitCo, including suicides for the last five years, but I hesitantly bring this up because I know Wharf Rat will be all over it ::) ), but we also have a small fraction of the population, different demographics (in terms of money), and different risks. Yet these risks are real, they do affect people, and comparing our risks with other communities, and linking policies that can help them, show that there is much improvement needed.
In this vein, I wonder if Rick Carroll or anyone in the Daily News has witnessed a DUI fatality, or lost a loved one to an overdose. I’m sure, if so, they’d be less dismissive of these tragedies. If five locals died in a plane wreck, or fighting for our country in Iraq, I’m sure the Daily News would consider this a worthy news story.
The Aspen Times, on the other hand, gives Magnuson credit for, again, “(having) probed Braudis’ record and questioned his policies, (and) proposed initiatives of his own.” No unsubstantiated questioning of Magnuson’s statistics, or fuzzy math of its own. Advantage: Aspen Times.
Overall, the two endorsements to me sum up this election in a nutshell: one one hand, we have the “Braudis machine” made up of reactionaries, old loyalists, and people who want to bury their heads in the sand and not see change; on the other, we have people who truly have open minds and have welcomed this election as an extension of how democracies bring accountability to officeholders. And those of the latter may not directly support Magnuson, but they’ve appreciated what he’s done in bringing up critical issues.
In that, I applaud the Times in its journalistic integrity in holding our public officers accountable. As for the Daily News…well, you guys do have better comics.