Last week, 18 current and former local elected officials signed a letter threatening punitive action against Aspen Times parent company Ogden Newspapers unless they respond to specific demands within two weeks.
The letter follows The Times’ firing of recently promoted editor Andrew Travers, the removal of Roger Marolt’s June 10 column, and the editing of other content critical of Vladislav Doronin and his purchase (via Aspen City Holdings ) of the Gorsuch Haus hotel project and property, for which the billionaire developer sued the paper.
The letter’s demands include the reinstatement of Travers as editor, the republication of Marolt’s column, “public clarity” of the Times’ settlement with Doronin, and penance for their rocky transgressions in the form of a membership. confessed to the version of the signers of the Times press freedom letter. Publisher Allison Pattillo and Ogden CEO Robert Nutting.
In his June 24 response to The Aspen Times, Pattillo doesn’t mince words. She rightly calls the letter a “frightening precedent” that specifically threatens “…retaliation against The Aspen Times unless the newspaper agrees to its coverage and personnel demands.” Given the elected roles held by most letter signatories, these demands clearly constitute government-sanctioned threats against a private company operating entirely within the law.
In case you missed it, that’s the scary part.
In the historic wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, one would expect our elected officials to have a keen awareness of the Bill of Rights. Instead, these liberally inclined current and former leaders delivered a missive to Ogden that reads like a Mafia shakedown, or perhaps its contemporary cousin, an attempted woke culture “cancellation” against a new come from Roaring Fork Valley who don’t toe the line.
Quoting the letter: “…we are individually considering separate responses…including: directing our individual organizations to remove the advertisements and notices from the newspaper; encourage local businesses to do the same; refusing interviews with Aspen Times reporters; or calling for a boycott of the newspaper.
Signatories to the letter include: the five Pitkin County commissioners, Francie Jacober, Greg Poschman, Kelly McNicholas Kury, Patti Clapper and Steve Child; Mayor of Aspen Torre and Council Members Skippy Mesirow and John Doyle; Snowmass Village Councilors Bob Sirkus and Tom Goode; and Basalt Advisors David Knight and Elyse Hottel; and former local elected officials Adam Frisch (who is running for Congress), Auden Schendler, Bill Stirling, Gary Tennenbaum, Leslie Lamont and Mick Ireland.
The five Pitkin County commissioners and three Aspen City Council signatories constitute voting majorities of their elected councils. Is the letter, which threatens the Aspen Times with government-sanctioned penalties unless Ogden meets its demands, then an ill-regarded quasi-judicial policy of Pitkin County and the City of Aspen? If so, how does such a letter threatening government-sanctioned sanctions, privately written by so many publicly elected figures, not also violate, if not the letter, certainly the spirit of the Colorado open public meetings?
What if, for example, the mayor of Aspen Torre, along with Doyle and Mesirow, decide (as the letter threatens) to order employees of the city of Aspen to stop doing business with The Aspen Times? The City of Aspen charter vests authority for the management of these day-to-day affairs in the designated City Manager. The elect have no role in day-to-day operations for a reason. The charter assignment of administrative duties to the manager exists precisely to encourage governmental professionalism and to protect city staff and community members from such politically motivated actions aimed at punishing political and social enemies of elected councillors. .
If Ogden refuses to meet the demands of the letter, can Upper Valley business owners expect visits from their elected leaders and underlings “encouraging” them to boycott The Aspen Times? What risk could these business owners take if their answer to such “encouragement” is no? Emboldened by the righteousness of their cause, what other politically motivated actions could the majority of the Aspen City Council informally delegate to its professional staff?
Mick Ireland, another Aspen Daily News columnist and former Pitkin County Commissioner and Mayor of Aspen, recently wrote a column critical of current Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo for encouraging local businesses to carry his brand of vodka while invested by virtue of his elected position of jurisdictional authority. authority over these companies. Doesn’t he see the hypocrisy in signing a letter with incumbents that threatens tough tactics like the ones he accuses DiSalvo of, only worse?
Worse how? DiSalvo is simply looking to sell vodka. These 18 letter-signers are openly threatening sanctions by using government resources and powers as punishment against a legally operating private company whose actions they simply find wrongful. If The Aspen Times is the first to deserve such extra-legal government punishment, who is next?
There is no doubt that Ogden Newspapers mishandled the Doronin trial and its fallout, for the most part. If he wants to, I’d like to see Andrew Travers get his job back. But Roger Marolt has moved on to the lighted side of Aspen’s free press boulevard. Each of Ogden’s actions has been worse than the last, but no one needs their elected officials to “protect” them from the press to understand and react to their missteps. Ogden will adapt or suffer the consequences of both the economic marketplace and the marketplace of ideas.
So what is really behind the decision of so many leaders to overturn the fundamental principle of freedom of the press? Threatening government-sanctioned punitive action against a private company because of its “broken” sense of trust is either the most naive act of overzealous community protectionism, or a brazenly opportunistic effort to openly intimidate and potentially “cancel a new and potentially influential source of independent thought. , who, once the dust settles, might see the world differently than they do.
I guess it’s the latter.
Contact Paul at [email protected]