Fear and Loafing

The Arizona Republic's fealty to Symington isn't just bad for journalism, it's bad for business

Do you ever wonder what the substantial business people of the Valley think of a bankrupt fakir like Fife Symington?

Take some top executive at Intel. Some guy who makes several hundred grand a year and is responsible for a couple of hundred million dollars of business. A guy who's never late with the Mercedes payment. Someone whose bonuses depend on productivity and profit.

Wouldn't you think Mr. Intel is aghast that a corner-cutting loser like Symington is in charge of the multibillion-dollar business that is the State of Arizona?

If he is aghast, so far Mr. Intel has been quiet about it. After all, Governor Symington has offered all sorts of short-range goodies to the Intels of Arizona--tax breaks, environmental laxity, a regular stream of pro-business rhetoric. There hasn't been much publicity about any long-term problems he might be causing.

So I would imagine many Mr. Intels have taken the practical approach: It is not my problem if Symington is a sleaze; getting rid of sleazy governors is what we pay prosecutors for. And, at first glance, that approach to the Symington problem seems perfectly reasonable. It is, after all, the way the civics books say it is all supposed to work.

But when things get bad enough in the public arena--when the government is sufficiently polluted and inept--there is a confluence of interests between the good-government types and the credible people who just want to do business.

Incompetent, corrupt government is a moral problem, but it's an economic problem, too. Truly bad government makes doing business difficult in the long haul.

And things are truly dreadful in Arizona's public arena.
When I say that Arizona's body politic is polluted, I am not referring only to Governor Symington, although his personal sleaze and banana-republic ineptitude have set a certain tone.

We also have a state legislature that spends great amounts of time on unconstitutional, right-wing pipe dreams, and puts very little effort toward solving the problems--in education and pollution and urban sprawl, for example--that threaten the long-term viability of the state and its major businesses.

We have a county government that very nearly borrowed itself bankrupt.
We have a county sheriff who's as silly and megalomaniacal as any public official I've observed.

We have a Phoenix city council that is inhabited largely by mental lightweights and, in a couple of cases--Salomon Leija and Frances Emma Barwood come to mind--no-weights.

The schools are an unconstitutional mess.
So are the prisons.
All cities and states have problems, but Phoenix and Arizona have a problem on top of their problems. The system of public accountability--the method by which problems are revealed and corrected--is not functioning. Yes, Symington is under federal investigation, and so is Sheriff Joe Arpaio's jail. But official investigations can address only the most perverse public wrongdoing.

Government is supposed to be self-correcting. Public problems are supposed to be addressed by an informed citizenry.

Yet the average citizen--including, probably, Mr. Intel--cannot formulate an intelligent response to our collective problems, because the average citizen gets his or her information from the Arizona Republic/Phoenix Gazette and an assortment of radio and television outlets that usually follow the Republic's take on what is or is not news.

That take is consistently timid, controlled, superficial, uncontroversial, rosy--and consistently wrong. For the Republic, all is always well, unless there is no way around reporting that things are not so well.

And even then, things are getting better.
Until everyone gets shocked by an impeachment, or multiple indictments.
Or until the economy falls off a cliff, taking all of us with it.

When I read over the weekend that Symington gave a speech complaining about harsh treatment by the daily press, I laughed out loud. And then I wondered: Does Arizona have a succession law, some way of removing a governor who loses his marbles in office? I certainly hope so, because if Symington really thinks Arizona's gentle press has done him wrong, he is nearer a crackup than I imagined.

I can't think of adjectives that would properly describe the abdication of journalistic duty exhibited by the Valley's daily press throughout Governor Symington's ethico-legal disintegration.

All-encompassing? Shameless? Corruptive, perhaps?
No, none of those quite hits the mark.
What, after all, can you call people who ignore important facts, report only some of what they know, label information long in the public domain as investigative revelation? People who present outright falsehood as truth? People who treat the news as if it were a game that is played for the express purpose of furthering private agendas?

I know they call themselves reporters, columnists and editors. But those titles can't be the correct ones.

Look at what these people have done in just the last month:
On October 5, New Times' John Dougherty reported that Governor Symington had paid a $10,000 kickback in connection with a $10 million loan for the Mercado, that famously failed downtown minimall. The kickback went to an investment management firm; an officer of that firm is now sitting in federal prison for accepting just these kinds of payments.

The story is not, in any way, a journalistic stretch. It is based on public documents that might take all of two or three days to round up.

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