If you just scanned yesterday's Denver Post, with the headline "Nothing incriminating found in Hancock cellphone records: No links to prostitutes found," you might think that Mayor-elect Michael Hancock had officially put the allegations of whoremongering and cover-ups behind him. When we first read the Post story we thought this might have been the tipping point that moved the story back in Hancock's favor.
Then 7News rejected an offer to review the very limited amount of records based on the ridiculous conditions that the Hancock campaign demanded. When CBS4 joined them in their rejection of the investigative handcuffs the Hancock campaign required for access, we knew new battle lines had been drawn in this full blown media war.
Just the fact that CBS4 waded into this battle publicly, and not at all favorably to Hancock, is big news. They have been by far the most skittish outlet about reporting details of this story at all. Here's how CBS4 responded to the campaign demands:
CBS4 News Director Tim Wieland rejected the offer Tuesday afternoon.
“We do have an interest in reviewing the unedited phone records,” wrote Wieland. “However we will not conduct a review under the unusual conditions you have outlined.”
This aggressive posture from CBS4 has transpired while the Denver Post/9News team agreed to wear the handcuffs in the name of access, making it appear as though they've decided to back off the story a bit.
It seems to us almost like a long distance race at this point with outlets taking turns charging this story forward. The big question to be settled is if, or when, the Michael Isikoff of this race, Deborah Sherman of 9News, will take the lead and bring the investigation to a close, one way or the other.
As for the current state of the story, the conditions set forth by the Hancock campaign are so ridiculous and constraining that they just make Hancock look as guilty as his decision to reject access outright did:
• Reporters will be able to review Michael’s complete, unedited and un-redacted cell phone records for March, April, May, September and October in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
• Any reporting/writing will only involve numbers related to Denver Players/Denver Sugar and the allegations that Michael Hancock solicited prostitutes.
• Reporters will share with us the specific phone numbers and names they are looking for just prior to sitting down and reviewing the records.
• If there is a match, reporters will point out those numbers on the spot, with the understanding that no one leaves the room/contacts that number until the records review is complete.
• The records review will occur at the offices of Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck. There will be no photocopying, reproduction or republication of the records.”
The demands give the distinct impression that either Hancock has the world's worst communications team or he is still hiding something. In the court of public opinion, having your high-priced and politically connected lawyers so transparently attempt to tightly control an investigation's scope, and the reporting of that investigation, does not help towards building an image of innocence and transparency.
Beyond the media narrative developing over this scandal, there are also some unresolved disagreements between major outlets over basic facts of the investigation. Even though the Pony Tailed Poet, Mike Littwin, may have been literally in the driver's seat for part of the investigation, there are great investigative journalists working this story. We doubt they'll drop it until these central facts are determined.
Below are a couple of key unsettled basic facts about the story, as well as what Donald Rumsfeld would call "known unknowns" that we think could shake up or kill the story.
1. Does a law enforcement agency have Michael Hancock's name and cell phone number in their file? 7News's sources say so. The Denver Post has sources that say otherwise.
1a. Does one outlet have DPD sources while the other federal? The Denver Players investigation has been handled by both the DPD and the feds.
2. What phone numbers can be connected to the Denver Players network? The Denver Post and 9News had a set of 150, but 7News rejected the Hancock demands partly because they refused to share their list of phone numbers with the campaign, claiming it could reveal their sources and research methods.
1. Will Denver Players or other escort services produce their own phone records? Phone calls are recorded on the call records of both ends of the conversation.
2. What does Deborah Sherman have and will she be allowed to release it?
3. What maneuvers are being made behind closed doors to quash the investigation to protect people much more powerful than Michael Hancock who were Denver Player customers?
4. What are the details of the negotiations that occurred over the weekend between the Hancock legal team and the Denver Post/9News?
5. With the transition coming, and a potential shake up at DPD, will a disgruntled DPD source come forward with more information?
6. Will the Hancock campaign be able to produce conclusive evidence or sufficient access and openness that satisfies all the major outlets, thus killing the story?
As our loyal readers may have noticed, we have not made a claim about the ultimate veracity of the allegations. That is because there are still too many unanswered questions. For us, it's too soon to be sure either way.