Say It Ain't Joe

A recent article in the Arizona Business Gazette announced that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio would address a Chamber of Commerce breakfast and "share his secrets of self-promotion."

Arpaio apparently believes he deserves some of the credit for Phoenix's robust economy. He told the ABG, "I equate crime, publicity and business."

That equation hadn't occurred to me, but perhaps that's why he's "America's Toughest Sheriff" and, like you, I am just an unknowing beneficiary of his economic vision.

The article goes on to make an astonishing revelation: Arpaio doesn't seek publicity.

Instead, he told the weekly, publicity seeks him because "I never hide from any reporters. I return calls from any reporter."

It was far from his first display of valor in the face of a rapacious journalist. "I never back down from reporters," he growled at a group of high school newspaper editors in February. "I'm the sheriff. I'm elected by the people of this county. . . . If there's any controversy, I face the cameras."

Of course, that's so much green baloney.

Just last week, our esteemed sheriff turned down yet another New Timesrequest for an interview. The sheriff will only respond in writing to New Times' written questions, Lisa Allen, Arpaio's staff PR guru, told our reporter, Tony Ortega. This was after Ortega tried to do an end run around Allen by calling and saying he was a TV reporter -- he wanted to see whether other journalists get the same stonewalling he gets. As soon as Allen came on the line, Ortega identified himself correctly and asked to speak to the sheriff.

Allen gleefully issued a press release announcing that any "further contact" between New Times and the Sheriff's Office "must be done totally and completely in writing to the Public Information Office."

Of course, she doesn't know what she's talking about.

You see, Arpaio, a man drawn to reporters like a Hereford to a salt lick, hasn't been available to speak to New Times for a year. Last June, I had the following exchange with Tim Campbell, another drone in Arpaio's hive of PR bees:

Me: "What about the sheriff -- is he not going to be available for interviews?"

Campbell: "You send us something in writing, we'll give it back to you in writing."

Me: "Why?"
Campbell: "That's our policy with you right now."
Me: "That's your policy with us? Why?"
Campbell: "Well, that's just the way we want to handle it."

Arpaio's collision-avoidance system hasn't stopped us from writing a single story.

Having dealt with Lisa Allen in the past, I was not surprised that the director of Arpaio's Office of Communications was a year behind.

Like the sheriff, she knows little of what goes on in the Sheriff's Office.
Or perhaps, like the sheriff, she has an uneasy relationship with the truth.
Allen believes New Times has printed inaccuracies about her beloved sheriff. When I asked her during a phone call (policy scofflaw!) to name one, she couldn't.

So I sent her questions in writing. I asked her to detail our inaccuracies. She responded: "We will not spend taxpayers' money to point out your inaccuracies. . . . We feel we have very little obligation to do so as your newspaper is regarded as 'alternative' and not mainstream media."

She went on to note that New Timesconsistently refers to her leader as "'Joke Arpaio.' 'Joke Arpaio' is not his name so, in a matter [sic] of speaking, you are essentially lying to your readers regarding the identification of a public official. . . . You should know his correct name by now."

Can you believe she makes only $48,000 a year?
I also faxed Allen these questions: "What is the sheriff afraid of? Why shouldn't we consider him a coward?"

She responded: "The sheriff has been in law enforcement for over 35 years. I believe he is afraid of nothing. . . . He is not a coward."

That's not true, either.
Joe Arpaio is mortified by New Times, and particularly Tony Ortega, who was named Arizona's Journalist of the Year for 1996 because of his tenacious chronicling of the death and deprivation Arpaio has visited upon the people under his charge.

The sheriff would rather pass a stone than encounter Tony Ortega face to face.

If it weren't for those high-minded concepts about elected officials being accountable and accessible in a democracy, I wouldn't blame the sheriff.

One evening last year, I chatted with Arpaio for 10 minutes at a public event. He seemed lucid, engaging, knew who I was and where I worked. When I encountered him again the very next evening, his face betrayed the synapses misfiring beneath his oily pate. He knit his brow, pointed to me and said, "Channel 10, right?" This would not be noteworthy if I were a forgettable figure -- I am 6-foot-5 and, I'm sorry to say, weigh 260 pounds.

Encounters like mine have Arpaio's handlers quaking at the prospect of his feral forays.

Bill Maher didn't dub him "America's stupidest sheriff" for nothing.
Anybody who tracks the sheriff's voluble utterances -- especially the extemporaneous ones -- knows there's little synchronicity between what the sheriff claims to be true and what is true.

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