Brent Coles, Martyr?

Magazine claims media hype, ratings instigated Coles' downfall


IQ Idaho is raising hackles among some of its media colleagues in the valley with a feature story blaming the fall of former Boise mayor Brent Coles on a push for higher ratings.

The free monthly magazine scored an exclusive interview with the disgraced former mayor, who was forced out of office for misuse of public funds in 2003.

The article, "Raked Over the Coles," published in the September issue of the magazine, claims to put light on the other side of the story. While the now reclusive politician granted an interview, Coles didn't add much new information. Instead, the story is an extended rant against the media, especially KBCI Channel 2, for unfairly bringing down a public figure.

"After serving the City of Boise for the better part of two decades, his life was broken, his name tarnished and his political career destroyed for what in the end amounted to about a $4,000 mistake," writes Jeffery Boyle in the article.

"It's been a little less than five years since former Boise Mayor Brent Coles' life was devastated by an 'investigative report' by a Boise-area television news station. In retrospect, in a desperate attempt by Boise's local news caboose to ramp up ratings, KBCI Channel 2 ignited a media firestorm in what amounted to be a great deal of reporting and a monumental dearth of investigation," the article reads.

The story goes on to place the blame on disgruntled city employees who ratted out the mayor— which is attributed to an unnamed source—and touts Coles' attributes while decrying the media for losing its objectivity in its hunt for political blood.

The journalists who actually did the reporting have a very different view.

"We are pleased that five years later, people are still talking about the Boise City Hall investigation during the Brent Coles era. But to accept the conspiracy theory IQ magazine advanced, a reader would have to conclude that the investigators and special prosecutors at the Idaho Attorney General's Office, as well as magistrate judges, were all complicit and led around by a group of 'irresponsible' and over-zealous reporters bent on harming innocent individuals. Frankly, we find that notion as absurd and baseless as the other allegations made in this poorly sourced article," said a written statement signed by Jon Hanian, Michael Keckler and Jeff Ray, the principle reporters who broke the story.

"The editorial staff at IQ Idaho suggests that Brent Coles had a 'sterling' record with city finances. The fact is, Coles and two other people entrusted with those city finances were prosecuted, pleaded guilty and were sentenced by a judge after admitting they misused public funds. In exchange for their pleas, dropped. No amount of historical revisionism by this publication changes those facts.

"It should also be noted that IQ Idaho never attempted to seek out or get comment from any of the people who actually conducted this investigation before making sweeping editorial conclusions. Our investigation had nothing to do with ratings and everything to do with exposing a corrupt administration caught red-handed misusing public funds.

"The rest of the allegations made by IQ Idaho are so amateurishly researched, we feel it doesn't warrant a serious response. The record speaks for itself. We stand by our story."

Scott Picken, news director at KIVI Channel 6, was the news director at KBCI at the time the station began looking into Coles' activities. He takes issue with the accusation that the story was a blatant attempt to take down Coles while getting higher ratings.

"We took a lot of heat for what we were doing," Picken said. "As a reporter, I can't sit here and ignore relevant information."

Picken points out that, not only did the investigation lead to a criminal prosecution, it was not aired during a ratings period.

He does agree with the IQ Idaho's assertion that information was provided by disgruntled city employees but said none of them were police officers or Coles' press secretary, as implied in the IQ Idaho article.

The story also places heavy blame on Coles' chief of staff, Gary Lyman.

"According to our souce, Lyman's 'Rasputintype grip' on information and obsession with control led him to filter inportant information that should have been given directly to Coles. Lyman was said to have pushed the envelope on all kinds of issues. He rewarded friends and supporters and punished those he viewed as rivals or enemies. His actions offended many and polarized local politics," reads the article.

Picken is quick to point out that Lyman was hired by Coles. "There was no indication that Coles was dissatisfied at all with [Lyman's] performance," he said. "I don't understand how five years or six years after the fact, that an article could come out and say Gary Lyman was the puppet master."

The only former employee who was working for KBCI at the time of the investigation who is quoted in the article is former sports director Wayne Dzubak, who calls the reports a "feeding frenzy," and "a blatant, desperate attempt to improve ratings."

IQ Idaho states it was unable to contact the station's current news director, Yvonne Simons, but Simons said she was never contacted.

"For such a cover story, you would think IQ Idaho would employ some aggressive journalism of its own and make a couple of calls. But, it has not," Simons said in a written statement.

"Furthermore, we contacted IQ Idaho's lead reporter, Jeffery Boyle, who refuses to speak on the record with KBCI about his story. Our airwaves remain open, but he told our reporter he refuses to speak unless he has total editorial control of our final product. We offer that to no one.

"Furthermore, IQ Idaho failed to disclose that its only on-the-record source, Wayne Dzubak, who is a former KBCI sports director, was also an employee of their magazine," she said.

This is the first edition to hit the stands under the leadership of the publication's new editor, Cheryl Beeson, who recently took over the position after working for the magazine for just more than a year. Beeson's experience includes eight years at the Owyhee Avalanche, a weekly community paper covering Owhyee County. Lee Vander Boegh is another new addition to the publication's staff, taking over as managing editor after a two-year stint with the Idaho Press-Tribune.