Rocky article noted list of GOP talking points, but not its own previous uncritical reporting of them

A September 15 Rocky Mountain News article reported on Republican talking points distributed by the state House Minority Office about Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and labor unions. The News, however, omitted the fact that it has uncritically reported such GOP talking points on numerous occasions in its coverage of organized labor issues.

In a September 15 article by Chris Barge, the Rocky Mountain News reported on “talking points” that the Colorado House Republican leadership disseminated for use in response to Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's January 11 State of the State address and for an August 17 address to the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation by House Minority Leader Mike May (R-Parker). The News, however, did not note its own uncritical reporting of such talking points related to labor unions in its coverage of organized labor issues, as Colorado Media Matters has documented (here and here).

Among the Republican talking points in the News article: “Avoid saying, 'Gov. Ritter' or 'Bill Ritter.' He needs no help from us with name recognition, so try to stick with 'the governor' or 'our new governor.' ” Other Republican talking points detailed by the News included " 'Don't forget the property tax hike and union bosses' " and “The Democrats owe a lot to unions and other special interest groups who helped them get where they are today.”

As Colorado Media Matters pointed out in an August 30 item, the News in a series of articles by Barge uncritically repeated the GOP talking points that organized labor-related proposals reportedly being considered by Ritter would make Colorado a “union paradise” and that discussions between Ritter and labor interests amounted to a “pay back” for union support of his campaign. The articles did not report what constituted a “union paradise” or whether the GOP lawmakers were publicly opposing Ritter's discussion with labor in order to “pay back” anti-labor interests that had supported successful GOP candidates.

The News also shared with Republican lawmakers pre-publication information about the labor proposals it obtained through its reporting and published an article August 11 on the resulting Republican criticisms. On August 28 it published an article whose content and headline -- “GOP leader urges Ritter to 'come clean' on labor stance” -- echoed an article that appeared August 27 on Colorado Senate News, a website run by the state Senate Minority Office.

On September 10, the News again echoed Colorado Senate News by citing a July 1 Seattle Times article about recent wage increases for Washington state employees to imply that extending collective bargaining rights to state employees in Colorado would be too expensive for the state's budget.

From Chris Barge's article “Elephants able to forget,” in the September 15 issue of the Rocky Mountain News:

Republican talking point No. 1: “Avoid saying, 'Gov. Ritter' or 'Bill Ritter.' He needs no help from us with name recognition, so try to stick with 'the governor' or 'our new governor.' ”

That was the “general suggestion” for media interviews that GOP representatives got from their House Minority Office during Ritter's first State of the State speech on Jan. 11.

Ritter, a Democrat, had just assumed the governor's post.

That morning, Ritter's office released advance copies of the his speech. They quickly found their way into the office of the House minority.

There, staffers quickly scanned the text, identified themes they wanted to emphasize or take issue with, typed up their bulleted thoughts, and circulated their talking points to as many Republican representatives and senators as they could find, by then seated in the House chambers and listening to Ritter deliver the remarks.

Agree and disagree

Suggested were “points of response,” such as telling reporters that Republicans agreed with “the governor” on government efficiency, accountability and illegal immigration.

They then went into a list of seven points on which Republicans didn't agree, including “government not the solution” and “role of unions/special interests.”

The House Minority Office provided copies of the talking points and other documents this week in response to a Colorado Open Records Act request for correspondence regarding union issues. The Rocky Mountain News filed identical requests with the offices of the House majority, as well as the majority and minority Senate offices.


Republican talking point No. 2: “Don't forget the property tax hike and union bosses.' ”

This was the advice May received as his staff prepared him to deliver remarks to the Colorado Springs Economic Development Corporation on Aug. 17, alongside House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, a Democrat.

“We no longer have a Republican gatekeeper to help protect business from harmful proposals or from the influence of union bosses,” the talking points advised May to say. “We cannot afford to allow Colorado's economy and business community to be sacrificed for political gain.”

“I'm flattered to make the list of talking points,” Romanoff said in an interview.

“It sounds like they're spending more time pointing fingers and picking fights than solving problems.”

Words in their mouths

Here are some of the House GOP talking points in response to Gov. Bill Ritter's State of the State speech:

  • “I was pleased to see the governor recognize that illegal immigration is still a problem. This has not been the message from the Democrats in the legislature, so I hope that the governor will join us in our commitment to protect our citizens from the symptoms of our national government's inaction on this issue.”
  • “The Democrats owe a lot to unions and other special interest groups who helped them get where they are today.”