A false character assassination that can’t go unchallenged

This newspaper accepts its role as government watchdog with grave intensity. Indeed, it is the reason this newspaper exists. It is our job to discover facts and report them in a dispassionate, truthful manner.

This burden was placed on newspapers in this country by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The language is absolute: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” After setting up the apparatus of government, the Framers in their very next act immunized the press from the powers of that government. 

They placed this right first under the Bill of Rights and they did it for a very good reason: When government controls the press, people living under that government cannot be free.

In order to give meaningful effect to the First Amendment, the federal government and every state have passed laws allowing citizens, including newspapers, to obtain from any level of government documents related to the workings of government. These are typically known as “Sunshine Laws.”

Over the course of time, the definition of “documents” has expanded from only paper to electronic files and databases. Under existing law in Colorado, government entities may produce information in response to an open records request in any form they choose. That is, if information is maintained by the government in an Excel file or a searchable database, the government may produce that information in the form of hundreds or thousands of pages of paper.

This practice happens far more frequently than you may suspect, including for example by our own school district. (And with that needlessly burdensome volume of documents comes a bill for 25 cents per page.)

In addition to the cost and burden, when taxpayer-funded entities control the manner in which they reveal public records to the public, they control the narrative.

Over the course of the last year, a bipartisan task force of government records custodians, citizens’ groups and news organizations collaborated with the assistance of the Secretary of State’s office on a law to fix this problem. The task force’s solution amends the Colorado Open Records Act, known as CORA, requiring government to produce documents in the form in which they are held by that government. If the information is held in a searchable format, it must be produced in a searchable format.

This bill, Senate Bill 40, was on Monday scheduled to come before a Senate subcommittee chaired by Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction. Scott, without explanation, canceled that hearing.

On Wednesday of last week, The Daily Sentinel opined in an editorial that Sen. Scott should give the bill a hearing and pass it on to the full Senate for a vote: “SB 40 deserves a fair hearing before the full Senate. We call on our own Sen. Scott to announce a new committee hearing date and move this bill forward.”

Our own Sen. Ray Scott responded on Twitter:

“We have our own fake news in Grand Junction. The very liberal GJ Sentinel is attempting to apply pressure for me to move a bill. They have no facts, as usual, and tried to call me out on SB 40 know [sic] as the CORA bill. They haven’t contacted me to get any information on why the bill has been delayed, but choose [sic] to run a fake news story demanding I run the bill. You may have a barrel of ink, but it just splashed in your face. 
@foolstask@fakenews.”

Setting aside for the moment the mischaracterizations and mistakes in Sen. Scott’s tweet, (though it is true we were not able to reach him about why he canceled the hearing) the concern for me is the allegation that the Sentinel peddles “fake news.”

True, this term has become part of the national vernacular as some kind of general pejorative, but I take this allegation from Sen. Scott very seriously. It attacks the very reason for our existence.

Again, the role of newspapers under our system of government is to hold government actors such as Sen. Scott to account.

A tried-and-true method for avoiding that accountability is to undermine the credibility of the speaker. When Sen. Scott asserts that The Daily Sentinel is “fake news,” he intends to diminish The Sentinel as a purveyor of reliable information.

It is important for newspapers to have thick skins, to absorb criticism when it comes our way and not respond to every slight, real or perceived. That said, there is a difference between criticism of a news story, editorial stance or perceived bias and what Sen. Scott has done. His tweet is patently, provably false.

Worse, he made his false statement knowingly for the purpose of diminishing the only real asset this newspaper has: its credibility.

Imagine the backlash if this newspaper publicly assailed someone based on no facts and invented things out of thin air for the purposes of impugning their character. We could be sued — and we’d deserve it.

I don’t think I can sit back and take this kind of attack from an elected official. We are brokers in facts. Words have real meaning in this business. Sen. Scott has defamed this company and me as its leader.

To borrow a phrase from another famous Twitter user, I’ll see you in court.

Jay Seaton is the publisher of The Daily Sentinel. Email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


COMMENTS

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The use of the term “fake news” by anyone It is just another way to censor one group or another. I completely agree that a strong 1st amendment should be backed up by an equally strong and open press. My problem with the GJ Sentinel is that is has indeed tilted left of center rather than playing everything straight down the middle as any reputable and honest paper should. Maybe not so much in its own reporting as its heavy reliance on the Associated Press for the vast majority of its news filler in the paper. It’s editorial page is unequally tilted to the left with its heavy use of syndicated columnists from the Washington Post
A local newspaper should first and foremost be local with the majority of its articles initiated and written by local journalists and editorials from local or regional writers who understand the area, the pressures we face, and the issues important to us regionally. So as much as the Sentinel editors are taking Ray Scott to task I am in turn calling on the Sentinel to do its job and reduce its reliance on the colored nature of the Associated Press’s reporting. 
If Sentinel readers want the vast majority of our reporting by an organization that is not based on the Western Slope or representative of its residents we do not need a subscription to the Sentinel, we just need an internet connection.

Opinions are beholding to those who cannot read without bias and draw their own conclusions regardless of whether those stories are provided by AP or “community” journalists!  Most importantly, it is about time Scott is taken to task as well as Tipton for ridiculous party line agendas that do little to nothing for constituents in Mesa County.

Go get em Jay!  It is quite refreshing that the moderate and sometimes left faction of this community is represented from opinion writers, guest writers, and articles that genuinely could help the community move forward and not rely totally on the boom and bust of the energy industry!  In this case, just another politician of whom voters continue to drink the kook-aid from and he takes exception to the fact he will be held to the fire!

YOU can’t get in touch with Ray Scott???  If the major newspaper of the Western Slope cannot get in touch with Ray Scott, what do you think the constituent/pee-ons have to put up with?  I literally badgered Yeullin Willett and Dan Thurlow to have a town hall meeting. Dan is coming March 11. Willett has not agreed to appear with Thurlow or set up a time for his own town hall.  I have emailed Scott with everything I email to other representatives, and have NEVER received even a “by your leave” response.

Scott responds to no constituent I have ever encountered. Now, as the “assistant majority” leader in the Senate, he probably thinks himself too powerful to be voted out of office and is now seriously considering being a candidate for Governor.

To disparage the local newspaper based on real provable facts is one thing.  Pointing a finger and chanting an insult is immature, even on Twitter.  We have enough of that on the East Coast. 

Ray Scott…you forget your roots.  You forget who put you in office in the first place. You ignore too many of us, too many times.  If the DS decides to sue for defamation, I will be in court supporting Seaton and the Daily Sentinel. I was going to cancel my subscription due to finances, but now I will continue and I encourage Western Slope voters to support our local newspaper.  This silly childish Twittering is so unprofessional and unproductive. But then Scott has performed well for his big financial supporters.  He will want for nothing under the present day political culture even if he loses his seat.

Thank you for calling him on this. Ever since the ‘birther’ movement began, people who wanted to get a false narrative in front of the public could simply by making things up and saying them over and over again—no one took them seriously! Sadly, we now know that those proclaiming the loudest about ‘fake news’ are most often the ones creating it. I’ve heard a term, gaslighting, to describe this behavior. Again, thank you. Perhaps the media will save this country.

Bravo, Mr. Seaton. And Sen. Scott; you are on notice that false statements from public officials such as you will not go unchallenged. -Jack B., Grand Junction

Thank you, Jay, for your well-explained stance and for holding Ray Scott accountable for publicly lying to his constituents and failing to substantively respond to questions on a political issue under his control. I

Mr. Fullerton, are you reading the same paper as I am? The Sentinel runs weekly columns from Charles Krauthammer and George Will, two conservative syndicated columnists from -What!- The Washington Post! Locally Rick Wagner and Greg Walcher provide the conservative view, while Jim Spehar and Bill Grant lean more left. That appears to be quite balanced to me.

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