Fear and Loafing

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

There are probably a host of reasons that Republic management kept the gloves on so long.

In regard to Symington, I would guess that top editors are having Ev Mecham flashbacks, much as the national press flashed back to Watergate, and then went soft on the Iran-contra affair. I would suppose Republic editors are wondering whether hard-nosed coverage would cause yet another gubernatorial ouster, and another period of national shame for Arizona.

But the problem isn't just that the Republic, for whatever reason, has protected an unfit governor. And the problem isn't solved because Republic editors now are at least saying they will allow their reporters to write about some of Symington's corrupt activities.

The problem is that the Republic, the dominant organization in Arizona journalism, insists that its reporters and editors wear gloves year-round.

Debate over a major league baseball stadium gets distorted or squashed. The county's frightening fiscal practices are glossed over. Public problems are repeatedly ignored and soft-pedaled. Public malefactors continue to pillage and screw up, year after year.

Now, I don't expect my assertion that the Arizona Republic/Phoenix Gazette is failing in its most important job--enforcing public accountability--will have much effect on the people in the higher echelons of that news organization. Actually, I don't write this piece with them in mind.

You see, I consider the paper's owners and directors, along with Weil and his minions, to be consummate followers. They are sheep who just happened to roam into the field of journalism.

No, I'll address the Mr. and Mrs. Intels. And the Mr. and Mrs. Motorolas. The top executives of APS and the city's major banks. All the substantial business people who keep talking about making Phoenix into a World Class City. The people who should have great interest in the long-term financial health of Phoenix and Arizona.

I've got some questions to ask these folks:
Do you know any major city with a dominant newspaper worse than the Arizona Republic?

Do you think a city or a state can become great by ignoring its problems?
Do you think the state is better off if no one knows how crooked the governor is? How risky his supply-side economic policies are? How likely they are to cause another financial collapse? How badly most of his state agencies are run?

Do you think Phoenix and Arizona can prosper, in the long run, if political leaders are protected from the consequences of their worst activities?

Is Louisiana really the proper model for public life in Arizona?
The Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette, as currently run, are dangerous to the orderly development of Phoenix and Arizona.

The owners and executives of these alleged news organizations have allowed and abetted bad government that will, inevitably and inexorably, make this state a worse place to live--and, consequently, a worse place to do business.

I know that the business communities of most developing cities want a compliant, boosteristic press. I also know that, in the short term, businesses want every tax break and government handout possible.

But business executives with vision have to know that no World Class City can be built with banana-republic government. Business people in for the long haul should know that politics and government cannot be properly regulated in an atmosphere that allows only a small-town, country-bumpkin level of public debate.

I may be naive to think that business people would insist that timid executives at the local paper do their jobs and report the news, even when it embarrasses the powers that be.

But I would like to believe that the business people who complete long-term projects like freeways and arenas and nuclear plants are smart enough to understand that inept, corrupt government will, over time, stunt the growth of their city and state--and that a good newspaper is one of the best protections against that eventuality.--Mecklin

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