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Only conjecture

Dear Editor:

Aspen is a small town. If you are a relative newcomer, like me, it’s hard to know the players. In my six years here, I have often thought that an Aspen equivalent to a baseball scorecard would be helpful. Knowing who is related, who works for whom, and who are friends/enemies with whom is more important and helpful here than in your average town. This is particularly true if you dare wade into the local political waters; even if just to moderate a public meeting that provides others the opportunity to express their opinions.

So I suppose one interpretation of The Aspen Times’ description of me as “aligned” with Marilyn Marks (“Red Ant Marches Quietly in Pitkin County Forum,” Aspen Times, Oct. 23) is that they are performing a valuable community service. But I think this might be something different.

My journalism professors taught me that a writer needs at least one on-the-record source to present information as fact in a hard news story. In the absence of an on-the-record source, a journalist needs independent verification of off-the-record information.

In the absence of either, the journalist must present the information with attribution: With apologies to Woodward and Bernstein…”Deep Throat believes Paul and Marilyn are aligned.” Something like that.

There is no such attribution in the story. Neither Marilyn nor I informed, or confirmed to the Times any such alignment, because there is no such alignment. This is conjecture presented as fact.

So what? You ask. What’s the big deal? It’s a single statement that is not even the subject of the story.

When the media defines an individual’s political views through conjecture woven into the fabric of an otherwise factual story, they cross what used to be a clear line of journalistic demarcation ” you simply do not represent opinion as fact. It’s a common tactic in today’s media, whether its Fox News’ McCain apologists or MSNBC’s Obama cheerleaders, it’s used, along with other tactics to subtly protect political influence ” encouraged by what some might call “alignment” between media and those seeking power most closely representative of their beliefs or interests. Individuals who think differently and get in the way of this alignment most often end up as collateral damage.

That reminds me, isn’t the Times the newspaper that recently reported on itself that Aspen’s current mayor has on occasion wandered uninvited into their offices to complain loudly about the paper’s coverage of issues he finds objectionable (“An Appetite for Peace?”, Aspen Times Editorial, July 25, 2008)?

Based upon this information, “Deep Throat” might believe The Aspen Times and the mayor are “aligned.” Such belief however, would only be conjecture.

Paul Menter

Aspen


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