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The Decade in Denver

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Happy New Year. Let's look back.

Innovative American publisher Ben Franklin wrote hundreds of years ago that publishing gossip, backbiting and censure "is frequently the means of preventing powerful, politic, ill-designing men from growing too popular. All-examining Censure, with her hundred eyes and thousand tongues, soon discovers and speedily divulges in all quarters every least crime or foible that is part of the true character. This clips the wings of their ambition."

Most of this past decade, I have been working as a daily late afternoon radio talk show host. The New Media and talk shows almost always involve some gossip, backbiting and censure and, in its lower form, an overabundance of sarcasm and scoffing. The Caplis and Silverman Show treasures diverse views and our mother's milk is current events -- especially the new and the fresh, and on special days -- the extraordinary. Big news stimulates big thinking and a need for the community to talk about it. Premises often should be reexamined.

The past decade saw surprising bookend events that punctured perspectives. 9/11/01 sickened most of us and has had US off stride ever since. CU Professor Ward Churchill was sick of America long before 9/11. How pathetic and self prophetic were the Big Fraud's words about "little Eichmanns" and "chickens coming home to roost." Churchill lost his job and then his lawsuit in Denver District Court.

The end of the decade saw the unexpected tumble taken by the quintessential melting pot American, Tiger Woods. A decade of lucrative deals and athletic dominance defiled. Cheating. Hypocrisy. Infidelity. Deception. Our national gait began to show a gimp a decade ago when Bill Clinton's deceptions led to the 2000 election debacle which opened the door to Bush/Cheney.

Cheating and incompetence ran wild this past decade. Katrina showed vividly the power of nature and the weakness of government. Enron, AIG, and Madoff made plain the evil that men do to each other. Political entanglements via lobbyists and campaign contributions stifled solutions.

Here in Colorado, we have absorbed it all and weathered it better than most. The great curses of the decade -- unemployment and obesity -- have hit us less hard than others. Our moment in the sun saw barely a cloud in the sky as Barack Obama used the Pepsi Center and Mile High Stadium to ascend from the Democratic Convention to the top of the free world.

So much of America's best and worst happen here in the Centennial State. The decade began with the aftershocks of the Columbine tragedy. Legal efforts at affixing responsibility never went to trial. No good answers ever emerged. Colorado's Columbine Commission, stonewalled by Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone, yielded little. Sadness upon school sadness followed. There was mayhem in Minnesota, murder on the Platte after that, followed by the atrocity at Virginia Tech. America's love affair with guns was unabated and sanctified by the Supreme Court.

This was the decade of Reality TV. VH1 and MTV more or less abandoned music for reality shows like Real World Denver. Among many others, there was Fear Factor, Big Brother, Wife Swap and American Idol. Everybody wanted to be a star in the worst way -- including John Mark Karr. The 1990s' biggest mystery -- who killed JonBenet Ramsey -- took a tawdry twist in the new millennium. Just when we thought Boulder law enforcers could not look worse, Boulder DA Mary Lacy proved us wrong.

Reality TV more or less began with Cops and extended to C-Span's Road to the White House. The decade ended with a top cop (Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden, who might have been the last man on Earth believing in Balloon Boy) and the White House decrying the TV genre and its wannabees.

The storybook life of basketball's original boy wonder crashed into reality in one of Colorado's fantasy mountain towns. When Kobe Bryant put his private part into a woman who wasn't his wife, his private life exploded. Prosecution followed and failed miserably. The reckless infidelity was obvious. A big star got caught speeding and paid huge fines. To his accuser. To his wife. Sponsors retreated and the public was wary. But no deficit seems too large for a comeback by a clutch sports superstar. We shall see with Tiger Woods.

Colorado's own Comeback Kid, John Elway, had to go through his own decade of transition. His father and sister passed away and his marriage to his college sweetheart disintegrated. The NFL had not only ended for him, his Arena Football Colorado Crush got crushed by the economy. The fairy tale Number 7's son went off to ASU to be a star QB but decided not to walk in his father's big footprints. Life went on for Big John who has a new bride. The Broncos still play but it has hardly been the same since Elway retired on top in 1999.

Life did not go on for one of Colorado's oldest and most important businesses. The Rocky Mountain News up and died just short of its 150th birthday. Denver's newspaper war ended badly but inevitably this past decade. Top notch press people were the primary casualties but the hurting is widespread. Newspaper competition kept people and politicians on their toes. Now, Colorado is flatter.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Talk radio and web sites like Huffington Post Denver have filled some of the void. But can they check the bad behavior of our leaders? Or do they only spread gossip, preach to their choirs, and declare ditto on demand? This country and Colorado desperately need a forceful, smart and potent First Amendment to thrive. As with all things American, in this coming decade, it is up to US.