When Phil Anschutz’s media company decided to add a Denver version of its Gazette newspaper, it presumably did so, at least in part, assuming that the added endorsement capacity would help its preferred candidates.
Last week, however, opponents of Kelly Brough, who lost the Denver mayoral race to former state Sen. Mike Johnston, used the Gazette’s selection of her in an attack ad. It’s not possible to say whether the ads had a significant impact on the outcome, but one element of the Gazette-focused hit is worth noting: the group linked Brough to “January 6 insurrectionists” due to the fact that the outlet has an editor who attended the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The employee in question is Wayne Laugesen, who, as opinion page editor, is closely involved with the Gazette’s endorsement process both for Colorado Springs and Denver. He indeed attended the insurrection, along with his wife Dede, who used to work for the Trump campaign. Laugesen says he was in Washington D.C. for business and attended as a journalist covering a news event. At the time he said those who broke into the Capitol were “probably Antifa.” That claim, made by many Trump supporters, has been widely debunked and he did not provide evidence for it. Laugesen did not respond to a request for comment. This article will be updated with any response received.
The mailer citing Laugesen was sent by a pro-Johnston super PAC and contrasted Johnston’s liberal endorsers with Brough’s conservative supporters.
“Kelly Brough is backed by Republicans, developers, wealthy Trumpers, and January 6 insurrectionists. … Brough has been officially endorsed by the Denver Republican Party [and] the right-wing Denver Gazette, which has an editor who rallied with insurrectionists on January 6.”
The mailer was just one of a flurry of independent attack ads that hit the mailboxes of the city’s voters during the last two weeks of the election. Outside groups supporting Johnston substantially outspent their pro-Brough counterparts, largely due to a trio of billionaire donors, Reid Hoffman, Kent Thiry, and Mike Bloomberg, who together gave almost two and a half million dollars.
Brough backers drew most of their funding from corporate interest groups, but a few prominent individuals chipped in as well, including beer baron Pete Coors and Phil Anschutz, the aforementioned owner of the Denver Gazette.
The mayoral runoff wasn’t the only contest in which the Denver Gazette’s endorsement, and specifically Laugesen’s attendance at Jan. 6, played a role. It appeared in the first round election as well. Lisa Calderón, one of the most progressive candidates in the initial field of seventeen, sent a fundraising email to supporters in January calling out the Gazette for a survey it sent to mayoral candidates, presumably to determine its endorsements.
“Surprising no one given their history, wrote Calderón, “the Denver Gazette sent a mean-spirited, right-wing editorial “survey” was sent to Denver mayoral candidates to apparently influence the outcome of the election.”
She then listed some of the survey questions she found objectionable, including,
“The ranks of the chronically homeless on our streets are dominated by people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Do we already spend enough?”
“Describe race relations in our city. Does City Hall focus enough, too little, or too much on racial equity?”
The survey is a compilation of conservative talking points thinly disguised as journalistic questions from members of the right-wing Denver Gazette Editorial Board. This is the same billionaire-owned entity that endorsed Lauren Boebert and whose editor attended Trump’s Jan. 6 rally.”
Calderón placed third in the April election, just over 3000 votes behind Brough for the second finalist spot. She finished well ahead–over 10,000 votes–of the fourth and fifth place candidates.
The news article behind the linked in Calderón’s email is the same Colorado Springs Independent piece, “Gazette editorial writer attended Trump protests,” cited by the anti-Brough mailer.
UPDATE: While Laugesen declined to comment prior to publication, Chris Reen, CEO of Clarity Media Group, which owns the Gazette publications, emailed this statement the following day.
“The entire statement made by Mike Johnston’s IE [independent expenditure committee] in a campaign flyer was dishonest and inflammatory,” said Reen. “Referring to us as a “right-wing newspaper” was meant to be a cheap shot and a pejorative, and while we certainly consider ourselves a common sense, free market editorial page – I’d argue that our news and journalism is the most balanced and objective in the state.
The contention that we have “an editor who rallied with insurrectionists on January 6th” is not only patently false and irresponsible, but borders on libel. I can only assume they are referring to Wayne Laugesen, our Colorado Springs Opinion Editor, based on previous inaccurate reporting. Wayne is not only not a “Denver Gazette editor“, he was in DC on separate business on January 6th and covered it as a journalist only after his managers told him what was happening in real time and asked him to do so.”