Post misses boat on Hefley move

Even News barely notes role of rules in congressman's loss of ethics panel chair

Jan. 15, 2005

by David Kopel

Colorado Springs Republican Congressman Joel Hefley has been getting some unusually good press lately, because he chaired the U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which rebuked ethical lapses by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. As the Denver papers have repeatedly reported, Hefley will likely lose the chairmanship in the new Congress.

The reporting and related commentary have been extremely deficient, however, regarding how Hefley is being removed. Hefley is losing his position because of a straightforward application of term limits in the House rules. The Denver Post'sarticles and commentary have completely failed to acknowledge the existing rules. Rocky Mountain Newscolumnist Mike Littwin at least spotted the issue, although he mistakenly cited a nonexistent "four-year standard." A Jan. 6 Newsarticle accurately referred to "term limits," but provided no elaboration.

House Rule 10, Section 5(a)(3) says that no one can serve on the ethics committee for more than three out of five consecutive Congresses. If you are chairmen of the committee, you get one extra term, so you can serve in four consecutive Congresses.

Hefley served on the committee in the 105th, 106th, 107th, and recently completed 108th Congress. So, by a straightforward application of the rule, he cannot serve on the committee in the new Congress. (The rules are available at .)

Hefley joined the committee partway through the 105th Congress. He served for part of the first session, and all of the second session of the 105th Congress. The rules also state that only service for a full one-year session counts against the term limits.

Now of course the House Republican leadership of Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay could always ask the full House to change the rules on Hefley's behalf.

They recently convinced the House to change a different rule, so that the chairman of a different committee could retain his position.

But the Newsand Postchorus that the Republican leadership is taking away Hefley's chairmanship is rather different from the parliamentary reality that the leadership is refusing to give Hefley a special favor.

Every Friday and Sunday, both dailies include a Post-News Weekend Real Estate Guide. The section is mainly a vehicle for real estate advertising, but it includes "articles" that are presented in a deceptive manner.

Several of the articles are bona fide newspaper columns. There's a syndicated column, Gimme Shelter, by former Seattle Timesreal estate editor Tom Kelly. The Denver papers are among the dozens of papers nationwide that carry Barry Stone's Inspector's in the House column. Other columns come from Inman News, a Web-based real estate news service which sells the columns to newspapers and Web sites.

But on the same pages as the columns - and on the front page of the section - are articles that are laid out just like the columns. Except they're not real columns; they are press releases from real estate companies or public-relations firms.

Sophisticated readers will recognize that the "articles" are really just a form of advertising, but some readers might not. When a paper prints an article touting an "extraordinary" neighborhood, readers have the right to believe that a journalist (either a staffer for the paper, or an independent columnist or stringer) actually believes the neighborhood to be "extraordinary." The Newsand the Postbetray their readers' trust by printing advertising hype from real estate vendors as if the hype were genuine news.

A better model for weekend real estate sections is provided by The Washington Postand The New York Times.Those papers also write about interesting neighborhoods - but the articles are staff-written pieces which look at the pros and cons of particular places to live.

The Newsand the Posthave abdicated the real estate section to the Denver Newspaper Agency, which controls advertising content for both papers. It would be better for weekend real estate sections to include real content from reporters at both papers - as the weekend editorial pages include content from both staffs.

As for the industry press releases that now comprise more than half of the content of the real estate section, they should be clearly identified as such, and not deceptively mixed in among authentic columns.

"Sri Lanka taps the healing power of faith" was the headline of a Dec. 31 Newsarticle (from Cox News Service), praising Sri Lanka's Buddhist majority for its kindness to the Catholic minority, which suffered disproportionately from the tsunami. Fair enough, but the article went much too far in its idealization of the islanders' religious faith.

The article claimed that "in Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka, the country's name means 'holy land.' " Close, but not really. "Sri Lanka" means "resplendent land" in Sanskrit, the ancient language of India.

More seriously in error was the article's claim that "Faith is enormously important to Sri Lankans . . . but the particular variety of faith is of less importance." Despite the article's rosy claims of tolerance, Sri Lanka's Buddhist majority has persecuted the Hindu minority ever since the nation became independent in 1948. In 1972, Buddhism was proclaimed the official national religion. Since 1983, Hindu separatists have been fighting a civil war (currently, there is a tenuous cease-fire), trying to win autonomy from the central Buddhist government.

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