It must be asked: Who pushed Ritter out?

Kid-glove treatment by the Denver Post on Gov. Bill Ritter’s decision not to run again, makes me miss the Rocky Mountain News as never before. And it increases my gratitude for the feisty skepticism still alive and well in talk radio and the blogosphere.

In three days of coverage on the Ritter story by the Post, Monday night to Wednesday morning, online and in print, I haven’t seen a single mention of the Governor’s ethical and legal exposure over close aide Stephanie Villafuerte changing her story on the 2006 campaign controversy over leniency to illegal aliens.

Doubly odd since the Post itself, with suddenly-invisible reporter Karen Crummy in the lead, doggedly drove this issue and forced Villafuerte to pull her nomination for US Attorney. Triply odd since reputable news organizations such as Examiner.com have reported on the growing talk of possible impropriety in her personal relationship with Ritter.

The Post, last man standing among Denver’s major daily papers, owes the public extra vigilance in that role. Instead, for some reason, it has morphed from watchdog to lapdog in this latest chapter of the Ritter melodrama.

Thankfully, Peter Boyles of KHOW in the morning has stayed on the Villafuerte angle. Dan Caplis & Craig Silverman, KHOW in the afternoon, have a different but equally probing take, speculating there was a Ken Salazar / Barack Obama coup to force the vulnerable Ritter out and hand the nomination to Salazar. Jon Caldara observed in an email this morning that sometimes “family priority” is code for a straying spouse trying to make things right. But not a hint in the Colorado’s print journal of record, the Post, on any of these plausible and relevant possibilities.

Did Bill Ritter really jump by his own volition, as a sympathetic Lynn Bartels piece in today’s Post has it? Or was he pushed—by powerful Democrats here and in Washington, or by looming revelations of scandal? A truly free and independent press needs to be asking those questions.

“Don’t wet on my leg and call it rain,” LBJ used to say when someone tried to gull him in obvious fashion. (Actually he said it in more earthy terms.) Politicians try to do that all the time, of course, to each other and to us. They can’t help themselves. That’s where the First Amendment and the watchdog media come in. If there’s no entity left in Colorado to do that with ink and paper in l’affaire Ritter, at least we’re fortunate that some in the new and alternative media are staying in the hunt.

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