MURDERING THE TRUTH

While it continued to ignore information that supported McDonald's report, the Republic launched a counterattack against McDonald and the Boys Ranch on its editorial page. A lengthy Republic editorial called for Boys Ranch director Bob Thomas to be removed in the wake of a DES report confirming several instances of child abuse at the ranch.

The editorial made no mention of the DES finding that Johnson had not been abused by Boys Ranch staff.

The Republic's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist, Steve Benson, also harpooned Thomas and McDonald in an accompanying cartoon, which showed the men branding juveniles as though they were cattle. Benson tossed ex-Arizona State University football coach Frank Kush into the sketch, showing Kush, now the Boys Ranch's administrator, pulling tight a rope wrapped around a youth's neck.

As the Republic and the Boys Ranch faced off, McDonald was trying to convince Dunwoody that her son's death had been an accident. McDonald was successful.

The day the Republic's initial story ran--August 28--McDonald was on the phone to Dunwoody, who was infuriated because the Republic had published information she believed had been divulged "off the record." She was particularly angry that the newspaper reported--correctly--that Lorenzo had been abused by his stepfather, who remains Dunwoody's husband.

A week later, Dunwoody prepared a handwritten letter that withdrew the permission she gave the Republic a month earlier to review her son's confidential state files. The letter was faxed to McDonald's office.

"They used me and my son's death to continue their story about the ranch. They lied to me in that they promised they would not use my husband's name. They took everything out of context," her letter states in part.

She concludes the letter by begging a Maricopa County court "not to let them have my son's file or any of the boys [sic] files."

McDonald submitted Dunwoody's letter in opposition to the Republic's lawsuit seeking DES records on the ranch. The letter failed to keep the records private, but it did keep the names of Dunwoody's relatives from being released.

A brief note attached to a copy of Dunwoody's letter indicates there was extensive discussion between McDonald and Dunwoody before she wrote her letter condemning the Republic.

"I hope I wrote the right thing in this letter," her note to McDonald says. "I am so tired and sleepy. I have not slept since this happen [sic]. If I misspell some words, forgive me on that. Thank you for helping me."

The Republic's coverage of Lorenzo Johnson's death heaped blame on the Arizona Boys Ranch and, to a lesser extent, on officials in the Mississippi and Arizona juvenile justice systems. In attempting to uncover failure in those institutions, the Republic revealed severe shortcomings in its own reporting standards. And the newspaper's top management made no attempt to redress those shortcomings once they were documented beyond any reasonable doubt.

The Arizona Republic has been quick to lower the boom on other journalists accused of unethical conduct.

Paul Schatt, editor of the Republic's editorial page, all but crucified an Arizona State University journalism student earlier this month for inventing a story. The student falsely claimed she had witnessed the murder of an Israeli man by religious zealots at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. "The real evil in this case comes from the dishonest student," Schatt concluded.

Since then, Schatt's editorial page has blasted the Boys Ranch.
It has not, however, mentioned the report on Lorenzo Johnson's death that a former U.S. district attorney delivered to Republic management more than a month ago.

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