Best of Utah 2014: Media & Politics | Best of Utah | Salt Lake City

Best of Utah 2014: Media & Politics 

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VIP Voters say the biggest sign that Utah’s progressed in 25 years is
Same-sex Marriage

Realtor Babs DeLay identifies Utah’s progress with the date Dec. 20, 2013. That’s the date printed on her and her wife’s Salt Lake County marriage certificate.

The images of smiling and laughing members of the LGBT community filling the halls of the Salt Lake County Government Building while patiently queuing or noisily celebrating their new matrimonial status made front pages and home pages of national and international news outlets at the end of 2013. Among those getting married was Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, who wed his longtime partner, Stephen.

Dabakis, who resigned due to health reasons March 24 as chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, was an instrument of change for the party, which before his tenure had been stifled into near-silence by the Republican super-majority. Dabakis never accepted that. When he isn’t loudly going head-to-head with Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, on the weekly KRCL 90.9 FM show Both Sides of the Aisle, he’s “exposing hypocrisy, offering alternative solutions,” says actor and LGBT activist Charles Lynn Frost, and “trying to make a dent in the Utah GOP entrenchment.”

While same-sex marriage was legal in Utah for only 17 days, attitudes toward it are shifting. Former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson points to “polls showing that the majority favors protections for gays and lesbians” as a sign of progress in Utah, while Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby says his favorite sign of progress is “the LDS Church supporting legislation to prevent employment and housing discrimination” against members of the LGBT community.

It’s clear that the impact of a federal judge striking down a state amendment that outlawed same-sex marriage extended far beyond the LGBT community. As The Salt Lake Tribune’s Sean Means says, “Judge Robert Shelby’s ruling striking down Amendment 3 prompted the most joyous Christmas for hundreds of couples and anyone who knows them—which turns out to be a lot of us.”

Best Veteran Newsprint
Moab’s Times-Independent
In the age of family-values blogging at the Deseret News and death-by-a-thousand-cuts at The Salt Lake Tribune, the fact that Moab’s Times-Independent continues to survive on a no-doubt-shoestring budget is something to be both admired and celebrated. The family newspaper has gone through its sagas and dramas, but its pages still boast solid reporting, well-written features and a bright, informative opinion page. Its offices exude the glorious smell of ink and paper, of old-fashioned values that, in these digital times, make journalists’ and readers’ hearts feel glad.

Best Advocate For Those With Depression
Elder Jeffrey Holland
At the LDS Church’s fall 2013 session of General Conference, amid the usual speeches enshrining conservative values, a talk by Elder Jeffrey Holland stood out for its compassion and empathy. Holland not only acknowledged his own battles with depression, but also spoke at length about how an LDS blogger disfigured by a crash had struggled with thoughts of suicide. Holland issued a passionate plea for LDS Church members to seek spiritual and medical counseling, a subtle reminder about the need to address Utah’s high suicide rates in the land of perfect families.

Best Friendly Face on Main
Dennis Gray
For the past couple of years on the corner of Main Street and 300 South, a man with a gray beard and beaming smile can be found asking, “How we doing today?” Dennis Gray’s got a simple message as he sells copies of the Salt Lake Street News, produced by homeless folks and the Salt Lake City Mission, to passersby for $2 an issue. The paper, he says, “gets people off the street.” Whether the day is sunlit or

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inversion-clogged, Gray cheerfully works long hours, and his polite, friendly manner earns him sales, conversation and our respect.

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Best Radio Show
Radio From Hell, X96
There’s no better way to describe the alternative morning show’s streak of wins in this category than to call it what it is: Two Decades of Dominance. No one, not even the second-place winners, ever comes close to dethroning Kerry Jackson, Bill Allred (right) and Gina Barberi and the four hours of daily entertainment and news they’ve given listeners since October ’93. We pity those who battle against “The Lords of Morning Radio,” for only they know the humiliation of losing ratings to a show that once featured a farting monkey.
96.3 FM, 6-10 a.m. weekdays,
2. RadioWest, KUER 90.1
3. Jon & Amanda, The Eagle 101.5

Best Quiche & Questionable Political Meetings
Mimi’s Cafe
There must be something about the fun and funky New Orleans kitsch décor of Mimi’s Cafe in Sandy that appeals to Utah’s attorneys general when they’re in the mood for a questionable breakfast meeting. In 2007, former Attorney General Mark Shurtleff met here with Rick Koerber, who was under investigation for fraud. Shurtleff’s office later declined to press charges, but the feds eventually charged Koerber with running a $100 million Ponzi scheme. Shurtleff also met here for a power breakfast in spring 2009 to try to silence a man wanting to recover money from a controversial developer who had fled the state owing creditors more than $2 million. While campaigning in 2012, former Attorney General John Swallow also had a breakfast fundraiser here that was not disclosed on his campaign records. That fundraiser was bankrolled by an ex-con businessman, and donors in attendance represented the telemarketing industry, which has faced near-constant fraud complaints. Come for the quiche, stay for the scandal-watching.
10470 S. State, Sandy, 801-572-5451,

VIP Voter Tom Barberi
Best Radio Personality

In 1991 we wrote: Utah’s top-gun DJ for nearly two decades still commands a following. Barberi lends his name to just about any cause, major or minor, and he remains the definitive Ute fan, a clever humorist, and nemesis to the Utah State Legislator. Author of one of the very few columns that gives reason to buy the Salt Lake Tribune, the only downside to listening to Barberi is the KALL playlist. Please, Tom, legalize adulthood—no more Barry Manilow! (Today we say: Tom—the father of Gina Barberi, herself a longtime radio winner—set the tone for talk radio in Utah. Except the DJs used to play music, too. Can you believe it?)

Best Utah Faux News
The Beehive Bugle
Like The Onion, The Beehive Bugle knows how to deliver the satiriffic, one-two punch of a joke in its headlines. The site digs into faux local news, featuring both political pieces like “Rep. Jason Chaffetz Legally Changes Last Name to Benghazi” as well as important features like “Area Harlot Seen Holding Hands at 7-Eleven.” Religion junkies also will be satisfied thanks to pieces like “Dead Mormons Surprised to Find Selves in Same Kingdom as Awful Mormons.” Hark the call of the Bugle—it’s news you can use when you need a laugh.

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Best Sports Reporter
David James, KUTV 2
Nice work if you can get it: spending the weekends Talkin Sports on KUTV 2 and the rest of the week in The Zone (97.5 FM/1280 AM), well, talkin’ more sports. He may be living the dream of every couch-spud sports fan, but it’s still very much work, and David James puts in the sweat to make it look like no sweat at all. His command of stats and trivia, combined with his interviewing skills (it can’t be easy to find new ways to ask athletes to expound on how they handled a rubber ball better than the other guys handled the rubber ball game after game), make James The Man.
KUTV 2, 10 p.m. weekends,, Twitter: @DavidDJJames
2. Wesley Ruff, ABC 4

3. Dave Fox, KUTV 2

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Best Local Podcast
Geek Show Podcast

Securing this award for the fifth time in a row, the geeky roundtable of local experts proves that experience and passion keep listeners coming. Kerry Jackson, Jeff Vice, Scott Pierce, Shannon Barnson, Leigh George Kade, Jimmy Martin and Tony Eccles were already a mighty force to be reckoned with when it came to pop-culture news and reviews, and this past year, they added a new comedic voice to the mix. Jay Whittaker has joined the ensemble, introducing new phrases like “Dat Ass Doe” and “Serving The D!” to the local geek vernacular.
2. Hello, Sweetie!

3. I Am Salt Lake

Best Scoop
Robert Gehrke’s & Tom Harvey’s Swallow Coverage
Former Attorney General John Swallow closed out his first and last (sorta) year in office under a torrential downpour of scathing news reports about allegations of attempted bribery, accepting gifts and hanging on the beach with a convicted white-collar criminal. The dark cloud over Swallow and his office first formed at the beginning of 2013 when Salt Lake Tribune reporters Robert Gehrke and Tom Harvey broke the story of indicted businessman Jeremy Johnson’s allegations that Swallow had played middle-man in a plot to bribe Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to put the kibosh on a federal investigation into Johnson’s business. City Weekly has been writing about these kinds of shenanigans at the AG’s Office for years, but there’s no shame in saying that story was one hell of a scoop, and that the dynamic Gehrke-Harvey duo is a journalistic force to be reckoned with.

VIP Voters say their reporter crush is
KUTV 2 reporter Rod Decker

The competition for Reporter Crush among our VIP voters came down to a narrow race between (naturally) Hope Woodside and ... wait, Rod Decker? That old curmudgeon?

It’s apparently that very quality that has captured the hearts of Utahns for more than 30 years. “I’ve always carried a torch for Rod Decker,” says Holly Mullen, a former City Weekly editor and director of the Rape Recovery Center. “And he knows it, too.”

Butsy Burton, owner of The King’s English, agreed. “Rod Decker—he’s such a curmudgeon,” she gushed. Well.

The Channel 2 mainstay credits his unique delivery to high-school debate. “I think I high-school-debate on TV,” he says. “I’m loud and I argue. I don’t know if that would have worked in a bigger market.” But that brash style has served him well in his coverage of Utah politics and government.

Decker is renowned among his colleagues for being able to write a news script in his head and then reel it off, word-perfect, to camera. The 73-year-old has cut down his schedule to four days, but his news-gathering is still prolific. “My stories aren’t as good, pound for pound, but they’re good enough.”

He served two years in Vietnam as an intelligence officer in Saigon. He prepared reports estimating the numbers of Viet Cong from CIA reports and monthly hamlet evaluations that soldiers had to fill out in the field. “It was all entirely useless,” he says.

Decker joined the Deseret News as a columnist in 1972, but found the paper “very churchy. You couldn’t say anything that flouted church policy.” Eight years later, Decker left for Channel 2. Its owner, George Hatch, “wanted journalism to serve the community,” Decker says. Whereas local TV stations in other markets are dominated by the philosophy of “if it bleeds, it leads,” Hatch, Decker says, “was interested in us covering government and civic issues.”

More than a few things have changed over the years, he says—like drinking. The State Liquor Stores were dreary linoleum-floored rooms with bulletproof windows. To purchase liquor, you needed a liquor license and had to fill out a form. Under wine, the choices were simply a bottle of red, a bottle of white, or a bottle of rosé. An attendant would bring you what you’d ordered from a back room.

These days, Decker and his wife, juvenile judge Kristine Decker, live less than two miles from where Decker grew up as a child in Federal Heights, and Decker has no plans to change that. “I’m a Utah boy, I like it. I don’t want to move.”

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