ROOTING FOR THE NEWS

The romantic mirage of small-town life is bucolic contentment. This is one of life's sadder delusions. In remote Arizona, the disputes are loud, frequent and messy. Worse, the intimate potholes of your life fascinate your neighbors. Your debts, your love interests, your spouse's shingles-it's all grist at the local coffee shop. Until you walk in.

If it's peace of mind you seek, you're better off in Phoenix where your big-city anonymity guarantees you tranquillity, at least until you're the victim of a drive-by shooting, when your anonymity gets you a toe-tag labeled John Doe."

All of which is a long, winding, dirt road to Prescott, where the locals are in an uproar. Again. Folks are fussing over their devastated gardens-and what to do about them-or they're arguing about Kathy O'Halleran. The cultivated flower beds are under attack from meandering javelinas, while O'Halleran has started her own newspaper; it's unclear which, the pigs or the paper, is raising more hell.

Just as the Catholic concept of God is split into three parts-the Father, Son and Holy Ghost-so, too, is the javelina. A wild pig in some picky biological sense, spiritually the javelina is an unholy trinity that looks part bat, part porcupine and a good deal Jack Russell terrier with tusks.

The javelinas are making short work of Prescott's gardens. When the pigs come across a fresh row of bulbs, they bury their snouts in the furrows and bulldoze their way into gladiola Saturnalia.

One faction of enraged gardeners, unfettered with regard for its neighbors' opinions, has hit upon a controversial solution. After visits to Prescott's Animal Park, the yard tenders are lacing their flower beds and vegetable patches with tiger manure. Proponents claim that when the javelinas get one whiff of the tiger droppings, the rats in pig-drag retreat on the run.

Well, you can only imagine the comments regarding tiger therapy. Listening to a couple of hoe-heads argue the efficacy of a big cat's nightsoil certainly puts more pressing matters-global warming, youth gangs, co-dependency-into perspective.

As heated as the tiger-javelina controversy is, the belly-roars over Kathy O'Halleran are twice that.

A single mother of two, a journalist for 15 years, O'Halleran has more fight in her than a reception after an Irish wedding. She finds herself in the middle of a small town where the newspaper situation is skittish, at best.

The Prescott Courier was once a daily newspaper of some reputation. Its former editor, Charlie Waters, now toils at the Los Angeles Times. Today, the Courier is directed by Jim Garner and as one critic put it, I liked him better when he drank more and attended church less."

Garner's a sober journalist, whose most recent incarnation is not that of a muckraker. In fact, he has treated investigative journalism as if exposes were hung around the neck with a wreath of tiger dung.

Still, the absence of hard-probing stories in Garner's newspaper is not what has truly soured the disaffected in Prescott; they think the paper is mean.

When questioned, observers point to the coverage of the campaign to unseat Senator John Hays as proof of the Courier's wicked ways.

They labeled him a tax-and-spend liberal," said Jonne Markham, who managed ex-Senator Hays' ill-fated campaign.

A conservative rancher, John Hays is as much a tax-and-spend liberal as Jesse Helms is a taxi dancer in a homosexual nightclub. But by the time the Prescott Courier finished linking Hays to the Reverend Al Sharpton, Gennifer Flowers and Chappaquiddick, John was toast. He was replaced in the Senate by the dirt-eating, Bible-memorizing, gingham-dress-wearing Carol Springer.

Jonne Markham refused to discuss the Courier.
Jonne's daughter, Janet, does not suffer the discretion malaise.
She said her mother was so angry at the Courier she began marking up the mistakes in Garner's workÏafter it was published-and mailing it back to the editor to show the old goat what a knucklehead he was.

The work kept Ms. Markham occupied. Just last month the Courier ran a story about the death of a statewide figure.

Famous Tribal Chairman of Navajo Nation Dies," said the April 17 headline.
Unfortunately, the deceased party, Dewey Healing, was a Hopi, not a Navajo.
This is more than just the copy-editing equivalent of referring to Gloria Steinem as Peaches."

The Hopis and Navajos are bitter enemies. In fact, Dewey Healing is specifically remembered for suing Navajo squatters and beginning the most publicized Indian-relocation battle since the infamous Trail of Tears." The 30-year-old litigation is still unresolved.

Identifying Dewey Healing as a Navajo is on a par with identifying David Duke's momma as a Watusi; everyone concerned is insulted.

Into this Gilbert and Sullivan journalism walked Kathy O'Halleran. She went to work at the Courier's cross-town rival, the mighty yet weekly Prescott Sun.

The latest owner of the Sun, Gordon S. Schrader Jr., hails from Iowa, where his family operated newspapers. To his credit, Schrader allowed O'Halleran to practice hard-nosed journalism.

From January of 1990 when she arrived until January of 1992 when she quit in a huff, Kathy O'Halleran wrote a remarkable series of stories that gave the locals a charge: She uncovered an illegal hazardous-waste site near a school in Chino Valley operated by the Arizona Department of Transportation; she publicized bid irregularities involving solid waste and the City of Prescott; and she wrote about the sexual harassment of a police dispatcher.

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