Boob's Tube

Here's how publicity hound Joe Arpaio used a TV station to try to destroy rival Dan Saban with a bogus rape claim

Within an hour or two after Koebel sent over his request, the sheriff's office informed him that the Howard report was ready for pickup.

Koebel went right downtown with a Channel 15 photographer, and later testified that Lisa Allen MacPherson had ushered him right into Dave Hendershott's office.

Koebel testified that the chief handed him the hot-off-the-presses report, and asked if Channel 15 would be running the story that night. Koebel said he wasn't sure.

Dan May
Rob Koebel's career at Channel 15 was short-lived after this April 30, 2004, "scoop."
Rob Koebel's career at Channel 15 was short-lived after this April 30, 2004, "scoop."

By the way, public information officer MacPherson again expressed a profound forgetfulness about this turn of events during her deposition.

"I was really not told very much at all about this," she said. "This whole thing, I was kept in the dark big-time."

"Were you there when Chief Deputy Hendershott met with Rob Koebel to turn over the report?" attorney Joel Robbins asked her.

"No," she said.

Later that afternoon, Koebel and a photographer drove to Apache Junction to interview Ruby Norman. Phone records show that the reporter had been in touch all day (eight calls totaling 40 minutes) with Sergeant Bailey, the Threat Squad supervisor who later in his deposition would try to deny his friendship with Koebel.

Koebel testified that his Norman interview was brief, 20 minutes or so. He explained his interview "technique" in his deposition a few months ago.

"You're going in there to get the basic facts, get the in-depth stuff, and get her credibility on camera — boom, boom, boom," he said. "You've done your homework before you go in."

"And the homework was done for you by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office?" attorney Robbins asked.

"Wrong," Koebel responded.

Before Koebel went to sleep on the night of April 29, he checked in with Dave Hendershott in a six-minute call.

The next day promised to be a big one.

All Channel 15 needed on April 30 to go ahead with its big "exclusive" was a confrontational interview with target Dan Saban.

Saban unintentionally accommodated the station's needs when he arrived late that afternoon at a scheduled campaign appearance in north Phoenix.

With a cameraman in tow, Rob Koebel pulled off a classic ambush interview, cornering Saban at the Fraternal Order of Police lodge on North 19th Avenue.

The results would make for good television, with a stunned Saban responding to word of his adoptive mother's allegations: "Obviously, you're hitting me with this pretty blind. I need to talk to an attorney before I make a statement. I can tell you unequivocally that, no, I did not rape the woman. Absolutely not."

The response sounded oddly similar to President Bill Clinton's "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" line.

Looked like a gotcha.

Saban did have the presence of mind to plead with Koebel to contact the candidate's two brothers, who he said could speak to Ruby Norman's historical psychological problems. But Koebel said later he'd had no inclination to do any digging. To him, a he-said, she-said story was just fine, especially when "she" was an adoptive mom and "he" was a candidate to replace Koebel story benefactor Arpaio.

"You can get into a Jerry Springer show with both family members," the reporter later testified, trying to explain why he hadn't bothered to call Norman's other two sons.

"What I do is go directly to the sources . . . I don't need to get into the family."

Back at Channel 15, Koebel and news director Sullivan wrote the "exclusive" for the 10 p.m. news.

The visuals would be simple, but effective: Ruby Norman speaking in silhouette alleging rape, Dan Saban at the FOP Lodge, at first schmoozing with supporters and then getting nailed à la Mike Wallace (sans facts or the 60 Minutes newsman's panache).

And, finally, a long, "legitimizing" shot of the sheriff's wham-bam police report spread out on a table.

At 10 p.m., a Channel 15 news reader intoned, "We begin with an exclusive story. Startling new developments about one of the candidates for the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."

A second reader continued, "Dan Saban, running as a Republican, is being investigated for a rape that allegedly happened years ago. The alleged victim?"


"The mother who adopted him."

Rob Koebel did a live stand-up, noting knowingly that what Ruby Norman had told him was "exactly" what she'd told sheriff's detectives in a report "obtained by ABC-15 News."

At the conclusion of the story, Koebel informed viewers that "because of the obvious conflict of interest," Sheriff Joe Arpaio was going to ship the case to Pima County for further investigation.

Before the newscast ended at 10:30, Koebel was on the phone with Sergeant Bailey. He also spoke with Chief Hendershott.

Joe Arpaio had gotten what he'd wanted — a giant splash of a story about his only real competition for sheriff.

In early May, according to Koebel, Hendershott tipped off Channel 15 to another exclusive, the arrest of Phoenix firefighters on arson charges.

But as the weeks passed, Koebel said he had started to feel disillusioned, not with Joe Arpaio, but with others involved in how things had gone down on the story.

At one point, he testified that he'd told Bob Sullivan, "Doesn't it feel now like you've made a deal with Tony Soprano?"

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