In today’s Denver newspaper, Denver Mayor-elect Michael Hancock supplies the first affirmative rebuttal to charges leveled against him just before the election that he was a client of the infamous Denver Players prostitution ring while serving on the city council. Last weekend, Hancock landed on the front page of the Denver paper after an agreement between his campaign and the press to release records demonstrating his innocence broke down. According to Chuck Plunkett today, a new agreement was reached, and reporters spent all day yesterday reviewing unredacted phone records in the offices of Hancock’s attorneys.
While the evidence in the story today is still represented as “not definitive,” it’s clear that the Denver paper is satisfied that they were not viewing improperly edited records–and the phone records fail to corroborate the original allegation. Aside from this rebuttal, nobody has disputed with real evidence the accuracy of the records from the prostitution business formerly owned by Scottie Ewing, disclosure of which resulted directly in the resignation of federal judge Edward Nottingham, but there seems to be a growing consensus that it will take more than those records to truly imperil the future of a newly-elected Mayor. With this rebuttal consisting of at least equally defensible information, more evidence will be needed to link Hancock to the Denver Players in a career-threatening way.
We do not agree, however, with opinions that the Denver newspaper has in any way unfairly “hyped” this story. Their original front-page story, days after the scandal began on a conservative blog, was focused on the agreement Hancock had made with the press to disclose his phone records which had broken down. A subsequent story contained important facts which had not previously been reported publicly–that 9NEWS had pursued this story two years ago.
In both cases, the Denver paper was reporting new information to the public that was very much relevant to the unfolding story. Given the damage disclosure of these records has done to at least one other public official, and the precedent the Nottingham case set, it would have been a much greater journalistic error to have not reported everything they did. If the front-page treatment Hancock received after breaking his deal with reporters to give them unedited records seems harsh, there’s a simple lesson: don’t make promises to the press you can’t keep. Especially if that promise is what forestalls a bad story for you–the next one will be worse.
Bottom line: we have yet to see a story wherein less information is preferable to more information, provided of course that nothing is represented as fact that isn’t confirmed. By that standard alone, the Denver newspaper did its job, with the other media outlets who have worked and continue to work the story. Instead of bemoaning the fact that the press was asking questions, and baselessly attacking the messenger, Hancock might have spared himself all the bad press by doing what he did yesterday the moment this story broke.