War of the Words

With big dollars at stake, rival newspapers duke it out to capture Valley's rapidly growing Hispanic market

On March 23, Secretary of State Betsy Bayless responded by holding a press conference to emphasize the importance of participation in the census. On the same day, the Mesa Police Department released a statement that called La Vozirresponsible for "exhorting" people to boycott the census. The newspaper fired back with a defensive March 29 editorial that dubiously argued that the paper had never advocated a boycott, but merely reported what Gutierrez had to say.

The March 29 editorial also questioned why other news organizations that reported Gutierrez's statement were not similarly blasted. Taking a provocative tack it would use again seven months later with the Ernie Fernandez piece, La Vozasked, "Were they [the Mesa Police] uncomfortable with La Vozbecause it is a Hispanic newspaper?" An editorial cartoon on the same page depicted a Mesa cop holding up a copy of La Vozand saying, "It's always been easier to put the blame on others."

The following week, the Mesa Police Department announced that it was revising its policy regarding illegals. In the future, the department announced, the INS would only be called in cases in which undocumented immigrants had committed a criminal act. In the offices of La Voz, the announcement was greeted like a surrender note from a vanquished opponent.

"La Voz seems to be omnipotent a little bit more, and covers more in-depth stuff," Gutierrez says. "They have picked up with me immediately on new issues that came up, even if it wasn't popular with a lot of people."

Not surprisingly, both Torres and Ortiz consider the verbal wrestling match with Mesa Police to be La Voz's finest hour. This is what they envisioned for their newspaper -- to be in the center of the ring, stirring up political debate.

This same take-no-prisoners approach extended to La Voz's coverage of the recent unrest at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, Phoenix's oldest Latino-based parish, over the controversial behavior of the church's pastor, the Reverend Saúl Madrid. The issue was especially thorny for local Spanish-language papers because of the powerful influence that the Catholic Church wields in the Hispanic community, and because Madrid is one of the relatively few high-profile public figures in the local Latino community.

Both papers faced potential conflicts of interest over the story. Garcia has long been close to local church officials, and prominently displays a picture of himself, arm-in-arm with Bishop Thomas O'Brien, at Prensa Hispana's office. La Voz's editorial board includes Marge Injasoulian, communications director for the diocese.

Although both papers dutifully covered parishioner protests against Madrid, La Vozwas alone in challenging the priest on its editorial page. After weeks of insisting that Madrid had much to answer for, in September, the paper widened its scope and took on diocesan officials. When O'Brien issued a September 7 statement in support of Madrid, La Voz retorted, "Surely these words of the Bishop are considered law for most, but not for all."

The editorial questioned both Madrid and O'Brien about the appropriation of funds for the restoration of Immaculate Heart, which had been severely damaged by an April fire.

"This statement [by O'Brien] contains a lack of consideration to the Catholics by not making a fundamental declaration with figures, accompanied by a clear examination of how the donations are managed. . . . We believe he does not give a public answer that is open and ample."

Prensaran an August front-page interview with Chandler activist Juanita Encinas, who called on both Madrid and the bishop to resign. But it did not challenge Madrid on its editorial page, which might explain why, at the height of anti-Madrid fervor, in mid-August, the priest spoke to Prensa, but ignored La Voz's calls for an interview.

By comparison to La Voz, Prensa Hispana's editorial content generally seems tame. The majority of its stories do not include bylines, and tend to read like glorified press releases. The paper is also riddled with an unusually large number of blatant errors, from basic spelling mistakes to a recent oversight that found the paper running the exact same preview of the sheriff's election in two separate parts of the same issue.

One particularly embarrassing blunder at Prensaoccurred on September 3, 1998, when the paper ran an article extravagantly describing the fabulous time two local contest winners had on their all-expense-paid, three-day, two-night trip to Denver. The only problem was the winners had not made the trip, and all the details were invented by the reporter.

The paper has also raised eyebrows with its habit of superimposing people into photographs in which they don't belong. Two months ago, the newspaper ran a photo of attorney Steve Montoya, activist Salvador Reza and councilman Doug Lingner standing in front of a mobile vendor van, although the three men had been photographed separately and imposed on the mobile-vendor backdrop.

Montoya says he was not bothered by this example of photo doctoring. "I was not surprised that they did that, and I didn't think that it was inappropriate," he says. "That's what they had to do. Because of my schedule, I couldn't be photographed at all that week."

Montoya adds, "That paper does a great job. I consider Manny Garcia to be a community activist. I've always felt that he had the community's best interests at heart. So I have nothing but praise for the guy."

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