Kyle Clark of 9News mocked people “afraid to come into Denver because of talk radio fear-mongering” even as his own station hired security guards to protect 9News reporters covering Denver protests. For that Clark deserves some public criticism. Maybe even a little ridicule.
Anyone who enters public debate, as journalists do by nature of their profession, will be subject to public criticism. Fair enough. I criticize journalists all the time, and hardly a day goes by when I don’t roll my eyes at some badly written news article or opinion piece. And others routinely criticize my work, occasionally even with cause.
I also recognize that journalism is really hard and often underpaid work, that most journalists almost always do a great job reporting the news, that a free and independent press is essential to a functioning republic, and that I can learn valuable information even from journalists with whom I have deep disagreements.
In their treatment of Clark, some Colorado conservatives have stepped well beyond the lines of reasoned criticism into the realm of scapegoating and demonization. Not only is such treatment of Clark unjust, it is profoundly dangerous in this era of rampant conspiracy mongering and of prominent political leaders calling journalists “the enemy of the people.” Intellectual opponents are to be argued with; enemies are to be destroyed.
A big part of the background here is that, on October 10, a security guard hired by 9News, Matthew Dolloff, shot and killed a conservative protester, Lee Keltner, at a Denver event. Dolloff now faces second-degree murder charges. David Sachs and Andrew Kenney offer details about the case.
Due partly to faulty reporting by the Denver Post (quickly corrected), various conservative activists on social media initially spread the false claim that an antifa activist had murdered Keltner. This fit the “conservative narrative” perfectly: Violent leftists had again killed a red-blooded American patriot, showing that Democrats must be swept from power. With the antifa story debunked, some conservatives quickly found a new demon: 9News and Clark in particular. If you can’t find the enemy among antifa, why not look for one among the news media, seemed to be the attitude.
The attacks on Clark did not come out of the blue. For months Clark has been a target of conservative activists. For example, on April 16 the anonymous “Citizen Press” railed, “9News Next talking head Kyle Clark took a question for Gov. Polis out of context to attack the GOP in an apparent attempt to shame them into submission. Clark has spiraled out of control over the past month in his attempts to skewer Republicans and defend Governor Jared Polis’ draconian ‘Stay at Home’ order.”
It is true that Clark took the pandemic very seriously and promoted the “party line” of shutdowns. It is equally true that many conservatives downplayed the severity of the pandemic and substituted conspiracy mongering for facts. I don’t think either side came out looking especially great in that debate.
Why some conservatives have fixated on Clark is an interesting question. If you look at the journalism that Clark actually produces, you will find that almost all of it presents the news of the day in a thoughtful and context-rich way. Clark is a good journalist, one of Colorado’s finest. Occasionally Clark wades into political controversies, as with the politics of the pandemic. Yet Clark hardly is in the pocket of Democrats. He might be wrong about this or that, but he’s thoughtful in his approach.
No reasonable person can watch Clark’s scorching criticism of Democratic Secretary of State Jena Griswold over “allowing Planned Parenthood to edit a news release” and conclude that Clark is a Democratic partisan. The same goes for Clark hounding Griswold into an apology over saying the media should limit its election coverage. And for Clark absolutely hammering Democratic Governor Jared Polis over asking two newspapers to take down articles critical of Polis, even as Clark defends the conservative media outlet Center Square.
If you want to find hard-left journalists in Colorado, that’s not hard to do. I was shocked when a reporter with one of Colorado’s major media outlets retweeted a message endorsing the abolition of the Supreme Court. Some Colorado journalists openly oppose journalistic objectivity and enthusiastically promote a partisan agenda. But that simply does not describe Kyle Clark. Clark sometimes expresses a point of view, but it’s hardly a partisan one, as he criticizes people left and right, Democrat and Republican. He calls things as he sees them, not according to some party allegiance.
Clark and 9News have hardly ignored the violence associated with leftist riots. For example, on August 22, 9News reporter Marc Sallinger posted video to Twitter showing Denver shop keepers cleaning up broken glass. As Clark described the scene, a “shop owner arrives to see what rioters did to his place.” In that case, many conservatives were happy to share 9News’s work.
But various conservative critics of 9News and of Clark are not interested in facts or nuance or context. They are interested in finding someone on whom to paint a set of horns. Clark, with his youthful good looks, colorful jackets, popular television show, enthusiasm for baiting Twitter trolls, and sometimes-sarcastic tone, is on the surface almost custom-made as a caricature of the city-slicker leftist sneering down at rural conservatives. But he doesn’t actually play that part.
The recent attacks on 9News and on Clark regarding the Denver homicide ramp up the demonization. The popular Colorado conservative writer Michelle Malkin described the homicide as a “media-political assassination.” Prominent conservative activist Randy Corporon retweeted commentary referring to Dolloff as 9News’s “hired murderer.” Jeff Hunt of Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute claimed that “one of [9News’s] hires executed a Trump supporter.” The Denver Post published an op-ed by Daniel Cole that refers to Clark’s social media commentary as “bloody political bludgeons.”
Certainly the Denver homicide was horrible. Dolloff’s lawyer has pointed to self-defense; we’ll see whether the jury buys that (if the case goes to trial). We do know that, prior to the shooting, Keltner had readied a chemical weapon while arguing with another man right before he struck Dolloff in the head. On the other side, it’s definitely surprising that a security company hired Dolloff to work a political rally given his easily accessed left-leaning commentary on social media. As Sachs and Kenney note, “Dolloff was working for Isborn, who was a subcontractor for the security company Pinkerton, which was hired by 9News.” I suspect the lawyers will get a workout over this.
Yet the attempt by some conservatives to paint the homicide as some sort of sinister conspiracy between 9News and antifa is ridiculous. I have yet to see one of those conservatives point out that, besides having made left-leaning comments, Dolloff also was a hunter and a local rancher who sold his wares at the Tanner Gun Show. 9News’s motivation in hiring security is obvious: The station worried about the safety of its reporters. And obviously Dolloff had good reason to worry about Keltner’s aggressive behavior, regardless of what the courts decide about Dolloff’s response.
Some Colorado conservatives obviously get a bigger kick from dealing in wacky conspiracy theories and demonizing their opponents than from figuring out how to actually help govern the state. If polls and early ballot returns are any indication, Colorado Republicans are about to suffer another big loss. At this point they’ll be lucky to hang on to the once-safe Third Congressional seat. Meanwhile, Democrats hold all the major state-level elected offices and strong majorities in the legislature.
I understand the frustration of conservatives and Republicans. And I hope that Republicans can again create a robust statewide party, as Colorado genuinely needs strong voices for fiscal conservatism and economic liberty. But I just don’t see Colorado’s conservatives getting serious about political leadership. Instead, I see too many of them spout dangerous nonsense and treat people outside their political tribe shamefully. Conservatives who choose not to be serious leaders should not act surprised when most voters turn against them. Conservatives looking for their enemy should look first in the mirror.