Inside the News: Boebert 911 Calls Scoop Came From an Open-Records Request, ‘Authentic’ Rapport

  • Corey Hutchins is a journalism instructor at Colorado College and a contributor to Columbia Journalism Review, The Washington Post, and other news outlets. This column is produced with support from the Colorado Media Project, and is distributed statewide via the Colorado News Collaborative.

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Haven Orecchio-Egresitz is currently a journalist for the national outlet Insider but spent her career as a local reporter in Massachusetts.

There, at the Berkshire Eagle, Cape Cod Times, and Boston Globe, she cut her teeth filing open records requests and putting in the requisite work to persuade unlikely interview subjects to open up for stories that would provide necessary context for her readers.

That’s important background to understand how she landed a major scoop about a pair of 911 calls placed by a teenage son of Colorado Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert. The politician’s son had called authorities five months ago to report that his father, Lauren’s husband Jayson, had gotten physical with him.

That story has since blown up, aggregated far and wide with outlets attempting to match the reporting or advance it. The exclusive coverage came soon after news about Lauren Boebert filing for a divorce and citing irreconcilable differences with her husband.

The story of the 911 calls, reported by Insider, did not come Orecchio-Egresitz’s way from some opposition research dump or from a lawyer looking for leverage in the divorce proceedings, she said over the phone this week. It was good old-fashioned reporting. The reporter, who had produced an earlier Boebert scoop based on public recordings of phone calls regarding the family, read about the congresswoman’s pending divorce and filed an open records request with local authorities asking for calls placed to the home covering a specific timeframe.

What she got back from the records request was newsworthy. Here was the compelling lede of her Insider story:

Rep. Lauren Boebert’s son called 911 in December to report that his father, Jayson Boebert, had gotten physical with him and was “throwing” him around the house and that he didn’t know why. Minutes after the call ended — while Garfield County Sheriff’s Office deputies were on their way to their home — the teen called again to take the accusations back, with Lauren Boebert jumping on the phone to say her son “doesn’t need help.” Jayson Boebert denied to the deputies — and to Insider — that he had gotten physical with the teen.

As someone who has followed news stories about one of Colorado’s more attention-grabbing members of Congress, what I found nearly as compelling as the content of the calls was how the reporter was able to get Jayson Boebert to comment at length for the piece.

Here’s an excerpt:

“He overreacted. We’re back to being a family,” Boebert, who works in the oil industry, told Insider, adding that he was uncomfortable with his family being in the spotlight. “All I do is work and come home and try to raise everyone,” he said. He told Insider he disciplined all four sons by making them run laps and do push-ups — not by hitting them. Each one of Boebert’s sons went through a phase between 14 and 16 where they didn’t always get along with their dad, he said. 

Boebert said before his wife entered politics, the family spent a lot of time together when he was off from work doing recreational activities. Now that she’s “serving the country,” he spends a lot of time alone with the boys, he said. “Every teenage boy is going to want to test the bull,” he said. “We’ve gotten over it.”

Orecchio-Egresitz said she believes it helped that she is not a politics reporter.

“This was a criminal justice story, this was not a politics story,” she said. She said she left Jayson Boebert an earnest voicemail saying she had obtained some 911 calls, and offered him time to respond, making it clear that she was genuinely curious about his side of the story and acknowledging the sensitivity of it. But she was also vague enough in case she had the wrong number, she said.

He called back relatively quickly, and they talked the story through, “just being authentic and open,” she said. She told him she understood families can be complicated and explained why the story was in the public’s interest. He didn’t try to pressure her not to publish the story, she said. They talked about how she didn’t plan to name his son but would report details of the calls. She said he wanted to know if the reporter planned to release a recording of the calls, and she said she was discussing it with editors and hadn’t yet made a decision.

Orecchio-Egresitz said Insider ultimately decided not to publish audio clips of the recorded 911 calls, choosing to balance the public’s right to know with minimizing harm of a minor child of a member of Congress who is young and potentially vulnerable to bullying. “We didn’t need to further cause harm for a boy who is literally still a kid,” she said. “We wanted to minimize damage to him.”

Later, she caught up with Boebert’s press team.

“No one was trying to say it’s fake news or ‘this didn’t exist,’” the reporter said. “Everyone was acknowledging that this was fact. We thought we had enough.”

As the story unfolded in Colorado, some news outlets that closely cover Boebert credited Insider for the scoop while others did not. (The national outlet was until 2021 called Business Insider.)

When Colorado Springs TV station KRDO followed up and got a hold of the 911 calls through its own records request, reporter Spencer Soicher didn’t mention Insider, and the station chose to broadcast audio of the calls including the teenager’s voice. (The station chose not to name him or state his age.) While I’m told there was some newsroom discussion about whether to air the audio, I couldn’t get anyone at the station to chat about it this week when I pinged the relevant journalists via email. KRDO wasn’t alone; CBS Colorado also played select audio portions of the calls.

Notably, coverage of the story in the geographical area Boebert represents has been relatively thin as far as I can tell via news searches at the sites of local TV stations and newspapers in the sprawling Western Slope and southern Colorado district.

Boebert, a polarizing figure whose 2020 ouster of an obscure Republican incumbent caught some Colorado reporters off guard, nearly lost her congressional reelection in November, once again confounding the state press corps. (One Denver news anchor apologized to viewers on air for not having a good read on the race.)

The congresswoman’s divorce filings show she is seeking child and spousal support, as well as parental-decision making power and to be the primary residential custodian for their children, who range in age from 10 to 18 years old, Colorado Public Radio reported. It is not a stretch to wonder whether Insider’s reporting will affect how those proceedings eventually play out.

“The safety and well-being of my family are the most important things in the world to me,” Boebert told media in a statement about the 911 calls. “We’ve had some tough times and heartache. I’ve taken action to ensure there are better days ahead for all of us.”

As for Haven Orecchio-Egresitz, she remembers what it was like as a local journalist.

“I’d say that there were probably dozens of amazing stories I missed as a local reporter, no fault of my own or of my amazing, skilled, enterprising editors,” she said. “There were also plenty of impactful, community-changing scoops that our local newsrooms got to long before the nationals even knew how to pronounce the names of the small towns they needed to call up for comment.”

More from her about that:

Local journalism is the backbone of our industry, and it is more often than not local shoe-leather reporting that leaves us at the nationals scrambling to match or follow. 

If local reporters are missing big stories about their local reps once in a while, I firmly believe the fault most likely falls at the feet of the powers that be, those entities who leave our local newsrooms so wildly under-resourced that we didn’t always have the privilege to sit at our desks filing records requests or brainstorming unique angles on major stories with no real promise of a story because we were out scrambling to fill our pages — whether that be with a story about the newest farmer’s market, or another hellish June working overtime covering back-to-back high school graduations. 

I am grateful that I now work at a company that — for the time being, at least — is resourced to a point where we as reporters and editors have the time, space, and energy to dig a little deeper. 

“I am also grateful to all of the local reporters in Colorado and across the country who are out there working around the clock to hold the powerful to account while being underpaid, overworked, and struggling to find the work-life balance that I am lucky enough to now — finally — enjoy,” she said.  

A ‘major First Amendment rights controversy’ at a West Slope graduation

Last week, “a page was turned on what has grown into a major First Amendment rights controversy — one that has reverberated from [a] small Western Slope community to the statehouse to the governor’s office to a federal courtroom,” wrote Nancy Lofholm in The Colorado Sun.

At issue was whether graduating senior Naomi Peña Villasano could wear a Mexican/American stole during graduation ceremony at Grand Valley High School.

What was the big deal?

From The Sun:

There were fears leading up to the graduation ceremony that Peña Villasano would be removed from the football field where the ceremony was held, or that her diploma would be withheld if she disobeyed school rules and wore her ethnic stole.

In the end, in spite of Peña Villasano putting on and taking off the stole several times during the ceremony, it was anticlimactic. Two other students had already whipped out Mexican flags that fluttered in the wind after they received their diplomas. When Peña Villasano arrived at the podium there were no boos or heckling. Neither was there any eruption of cheers except from her family members.

During a flurry of court activity leading up to the ceremony, lawyers for the school district had argued that allowing Peña Villasano to wear a stole “would diminish the experiences of the class of 2023 and impinge upon the community’s local control of the graduation ceremony.” They further argued that such rules exist to avoid “opening doors to speech that could offend others during a solemn, important ceremony in many families’ lives,” Lofholm wrote.

More from the story:

Garfield County School District 16 Superintendent Jennifer Baugh had told Peña Villasano that if she were allowed to wear her stole, with symbols from the U.S. and Mexico flags, other students might try to wear symbols like Confederate flags or Nazi pins.

That didn’t happen, but some students complained they weren’t able to wear a fresh-flower lei or a gold stole from Colorado Mountain College.

“While reporters and photographers focused on Peña Villasano before, during and after the ceremony, and a contingent of local law enforcement stood by, some of the other 76 graduates grumbled that it all took away from a day that was supposed to celebrate an entire class,” Lofholm wrote.

While it all went smoothly, it might not be over. The student’s brother, who is a deputy district attorney in California, told The Sun he believes the school district’s policy is illegal and more litigation is necessary.

“First Amendment speech can’t be stopped at the schoolhouse gate,” he said.

Four Corners Colorado newspaper company expands into New Mexico

What do a pair of rare two-newspaper towns — one in Colorado and one in New Mexico — have in common?

David Cook.

He’s the publisher of The Aspen Daily News and also the newly minted publisher of The Tri-City Record in Farmington, New Mexico. In both roles, he’s running newspapers that compete with beleaguered chain dailies that have been groaning under corporate cutbacks and blunders.

From The Durango Herald:

The Fourth Estate extended its reach into northwest New Mexico this week with the launch of the Tri-City Record, a daily website and five-day-a-week printed newspaper.

Ballantine Communications Inc., owner of The Durango Herald and The Journal in Southwest Colorado, started the publication as a mission-driven effort to fill a gap in local news reporting created after the Farmington Daily Times was acquired by media giant Gannett in 2015.

Running the operation is Cook, a graduate of Durango’s Fort Lewis College who Ballantine recruited to spend a year checking the community’s pulse and trying to get a read what readers in the northwest corner of New Mexico want from their local news. He learned they wanted more of it.

“One of my slogans as a newsman is that I don’t care how people digest the content, I care that they digest the content,” Cook said in the Herald piece. “I don’t prioritize medium. I prioritize that everyone has access to it.”

As for the Gannett-owned local daily that currently exists in Farmington, Ballantine CEO Carrie Cass said in the Herald story: “Their paper doesn’t have sufficient local news to provide the residents with the kind of information they deserve, so we need to fill the gap.”

News that Cook, who also owns The Aspen Daily News, is running a new newspaper across state lines made its own news in Aspen — to an extent. Don Rogers, editor of The Aspen Times, wrung out two separate columns about it this week. “The typography is different, but a knowledgeable reader will see similarities to Cook’s paper in Aspen,” he wrote about the new Farmington paper.

And he praised the effort.

“Our unholy but sacred quest, local journalism, needs all the experiments people like David Cook and Richard Ballantine, patriarch of the clan that’s owned The Durango Herald since 1952, have the stomach for and backbone to try,” Rogers wrote.

More Colorado media odds & ends

🗺 This newsletter is in out-of-the-country mode, meaning content might be lighter than usual.

➡️ Martin Carcasson, who founded and directs the Center for Public Deliberation at CSU, writes that journalists can “reinvigorate their role and expand their impact on their community by situating themselves more in terms of being facilitators of public deliberation.”

🗣 “I’m proud to be ‘woke’ — and you should be, too,” wrote Colorado First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, who represents media organizations and journalists, in a column this week in The Miami Herald. “As a member of the woke majority, I do not believe that the sun orbits the Earth, that people ‘learn’ to be gay or that they can be ‘de-programmed’ from being their true selves, that whites are superior to people of color, that men are superior to women or that we can continue destroying our ecosystem without suffering the consequences,” he wrote.

💦 Two Colorado College journalism students who graduated last week produced for their practicum “River Runs Out,” a satirical gameshow documentary about the Colorado River,published at Rocky Mountain PBS.

🆕 The Craig Press and Steamboat Pilot & Today have hired Jordan Bastian into a “newly created role as the newspapers’ special sections/magazines and digital engagement editor.” The paper also brought back former Steamboat Today Editor Keith Kramer, “who led the newspaper from 1989-97” as a part-time copy editor and reporters coach.

📺 9NEWS journalist Steve Staeger said he is “taking part in Drag Eye for the Straight Guy this year,” supporting Project Angel Heart.

❌ Last week’s newsletter misspelled the name Ballantine Communications.

➡️ A new Colorado bill signed into law this week “prohibits family courts from ordering children to participate in reunification programs that isolate them from a trusted caregiver,” ProPublica reported. “Lawmakers credit ProPublica’s reporting for exposing the need for reforms in the family court system.”

🔥 Denver journalist David Sirota, who founded The Lever and whose mere name tends to cause blood to fill the eyes of Colorado’s establishment politics-and-media class, said this week he is struggling with bouts of burnout. “I finally think I know why,” he said. “It’s because society now accepts — rather than is offended by — lying, if lying serves one’s political tribe. This acceptance undermines the entire point of the work of journalism.”

❓A reader of The Denver Gazette wondered who makes up its editorial board.

📚 “Some of the more than 60 residents at a Douglas County libraries meeting Wednesday called certain LGBTQ books in local libraries obscene and pornographic and demanded that they be removed from public view,” wrote Andrew Fraieli for Colorado Newsline. “But this sentiment was challenged almost 2-to-1 by other residents at the meeting who said removal of the material was akin to book-banning and that the issues being raised were not concerned with protecting children but rather avoiding sexualities and gender expression.”

🤦‍♂️ A Denver TV journalist said he took “one of the more restricted press tours of my career… and it was of Casa Bonita. We got a tour. We weren’t allowed to record it. We were only allowed to film cliff divers and sopapillas.” His colleague Kyle Clark said he hadn’t seen Denver media “get worked over for free publicity like Casa Bonita is getting since the IKEA opening.” But boy were they gluttons for punishment. Just look at this “line of press waiting to get the first glimpse inside Casa Bonita.”

🤖 To what extent to do you think this “travel” story in Drift was written by artificial intelligence?

📢 “It’s almost as if, in this graduation season, we could all learn a valuable lesson in the exercise of free expression,” wrote columnist Mike Littwin in The Colorado Sun.

💻 In The Washington Post this week, Perry Bacon Jr. listed States Newsroom, which has a presence in Colorado with Colorado Newsline, as one of seven news outlets “reimagining political journalism in smart ways.”

💪 Colorado writer Ari Armstrong said this week that YouTube wrongfully removed a video interview he conducted with a book author.

📱 A story in Al Jazeera titled “Should AI be stopped before it is too late?” contained this line: “Individual US states like Illinois, Colorado, California and Virginia have, however, taken the initiative to regulate certain kinds of AI, like facial recognition and biometric data management.”

☀️ Columbia Journalism Review’s well-trafficked profile of Defector contained this line: “Defector Media is not America’s first news cooperative; it hit the scene as the model was gaining momentum. In 2018, when the Denver Post was being gutted by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund, ten journalists quit and launched the Colorado Sun.”

I’m Corey Hutchins, co-director of Colorado College’s Journalism Institute. For nearly a decade I’ve reported on the U.S. local media scene for Columbia Journalism Review, and I’ve been a journalist for longer at multiple news organizations. Colorado Media Project is underwriting this newsletter, and my “Inside the News” column appears at COLab, both of which I sometimes write about here. Follow me on Twitter, reply or subscribe to this weekly newsletter here, or e-mail me at CoreyHutchins [at] gmail [dot] com.