Owens, Cooke Snub Independent Media
by Ari Armstrong, October 30, 2006
Near the end of Governor Bill Owens's October 27 press conference in opposition to Amendment 44, supporters of the measure began to shout, "You say drink, we say no, hey hey, ho ho." Nevertheless, all the scheduled speakers, who had the benefit of a microphone and amplification, were able to finish their speeches. But Owens made the most of it, stating that the shouting audience provided a reason to vote against the measure. "Look at this audience that isn't allowing free debate in the state of Colorado," Owens said. Smart politics. But Owens's sorrowful cries of victimhood would be more credible had he not intentionally shut me out of the press conference and snubbed my questions.
My web page will probably be the only place where people can listen to the entire press conference, easily and for no fee. I went out of my way to promote "free debate in the state of Colorado." I went out of my way to solicit the opinions of the governor and other speakers. Owens went out of his way to shut down free debate and stop the citizens of this state from hearing the answers to legitimate questions.
"I'd like to hear from the press, please. Steve [Saunders of 7 News], did you have a question?" Owens asked. Saunders asked his question and both Owens and Colorado Attorney General John Suthers answered it.
Then Owens asked, "Anybody else have any questions from the press?"
I raised my hand and said, "Mr. Suthers, will you please explain the rel..." In the middle of my question, Owens interrupted and said, "Thank you very much. I appreciate you all being here. Thank you very much." On the audio clip, my voice can be heard in the background as Owens cuts me off. (I had placed my recorder on the podium before the press conference gathered.)
Owens had to have noticed that I was taking photographs throughout the conference and jotting notes in my notebook. I was standing to the side of the "major" journalists, and slightly higher up the stairs, throughout the event. I was obviously there to cover the event. The difference is that I was obviously not there with a major media outlet such as 7 News. Owens is on a first-name basis with the news reporters from major television stations, but he wouldn't give the time of day to an independent writer with a smaller audience and a point of view.
Thankfully, immediately after the press conference I was able to approach Suthers and ask him my question. Suthers listened to my question and offered a serious answer. I still think he's wrong, as I explain elsewhere, but at least he responded with a real argument. That's more than can be said for Owens.
I tried to ask Owens to explain why he rejects Milton Friedman's view on the subject. Friedman, the Nobel-winning economist and author of Capitalism and Freedom, believes marijuana use should not be criminally penalized. He argues that the drug should be treated similarly to alcohol. The irony is that the Republican Party, whose members often claim to support "limited government," is inspired by Friedman and other conservatives who believe marijuana prohibition is morally wrong and practically unworkable. Why does Owens reject such reasoning in favor of big and intrusive government? I also asked this question of Mason Tvert and Allen St. Pierre. They were, of course, happy to answer. (I discuss Owens's mockery of Friedman elsewhere.)
Owens twice cut off my question, then offered a flip retort, then walked away. That's what Owens really thinks of "free debate in the state of Colorado." He wants "free debate" only to the extent that it consists of his one-sided monologue. His refusal to address my question may be heard on another audio file.
I also approached Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County (also recorded). I asked, "So you support the individual right to keep and bear arms, correct?" Initially, Cooke seemed perfectly willing to grant an interview. He answered easily, "Yes, I do." Then I continued, " And you grant that guns can be very dangerous and deadly in the wrong hands?" Then, once Cooke figured out where I was going with my questions, he became hostile. "Who are you with?" he asked. I told him. He demanded to see my "credentials." He did repeat his answer to my first question and briefly answer a second question, but he refused to offer any sort of substantive reply. He ended the exchange, "I doubt that you're a legitimate reporter, yes."
Of course, I claimed to be a columnist, not a straight-news "reporter." But the fact is that Cooke had no reason to doubt my claims and every reason to believe them. His demand to see my "credentials" was obviously a pretext to avoid my tough questions. (Again, my "credentials" weren't a problem until I asked my second question.)
Apparently, Cooke did not recognize me from an Independence Institute dinner, where we sat at the same table and shared pleasant conversation. Neither did Cooke recognize me from a debate over immigration held earlier this year. As I photographed Cooke and took notes about his talk, nobody bothered me about "credentials." Nor did Cooke demand to see my "credentials" as I took the following close-up photograph of him at that event:
I don't have a formal press pass. I've never inquired as to how to get one, and nobody has ever cared before whether I have one. Yet, of all journalists, I am the one offering the best, most complete, and most substantive coverage of Owens's conference. Obviously I write from a point of view, but I make every effort to include the best arguments of those on the other side, and at least I don't try to hide my perspective behind superficially neutral "news" stories. And too often writers with official "credentials" produce sensationalist, unsubstantive, "he said, she said" pablum for the "major" media.
I suggest that if Sheriff Cooke wants to put on his official uniform, take time off from his official duties, and appear at a press conference to promote a policy that imposes legal penalties on nonviolent citizens, he should be prepared to answer questions about his views.