Information Blockade

The sheriff's made a career of stonewalling critical media — the public's right to know be damned

And stonewall he does. It's predictable that an elected official would refuse to turn over records that might show severe problems in his office. But Arpaio has turned the public's rightful access to information into a tool to try to force positive press coverage, blackballing media that are nothing more than critical of him.

"They are punishing the public," says David Cuillier, chairperson of the Society of Professional Journalist's Freedom of Information committee. In denying information to members of the press, "They are saying 'no' to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people — the whole community."

Arpaio has no qualms with media that focus on his publicity stunts, or report only news that makes him look good to voters.

Elliot Freirich, publisher of the West Valley View, sued the Sheriff's Office after his paper was blacklisted.
Morgan Bellinger
Elliot Freirich, publisher of the West Valley View, sued the Sheriff's Office after his paper was blacklisted.
Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla (foreground)
Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla (foreground)

The iron curtain only comes down on places like New Times, the West Valley View and media outlets that even occasionally refuse to march in lockstep with the sheriff's publicity machine. Not only does he refuse to release public records in a timely ­manner, or at all, to New Times, he refuses to give media on his enemies list basic press releases — or even allow certain reporters access to his office.

Naturally, Arpaio wants to mold public opinion in his favor. But it's more than that; he hates criticism, and he tends to punish those who level it.

If keeping the public informed about a matter important to public safety gets in the way of one of his vendettas — like a child predator roaming the streets — so be it. Keeping the public in the dark is a small price to pay for keeping Joe Arpaio vindicated.

View publisher Elliot Freireich says he told the sheriff at a public meeting recently that his stonewalling of information to the View was imperiling public safety. Freireich says he told Arpaio he would be partially to blame if another youngster is attacked.

Part of Freireich's point was that when Arpaio punishes a paper he doesn't like, he punishes the very people who've supported him: average Valley residents.

Like the parents of schoolchildren in the Luke Air Force Base area (the child predator was never apprehended, by the way).

Arpaio boasts that he answers to "the people," that the public approves of his every tactic, which is why he keeps getting reelected. But when he withholds information from critical media, how much about his office do "the people" really know?

Media manipulation has been first on the sheriff's agenda since he was originally elected in 1992.

The way his office does it is by holding news conferences and issuing press releases about anything his staff thinks will make the boss look good. Arpaio is frequently atop parade floats, opening glitzy new restaurants and putting on so-called "Joe Shows" for the media — such as holding forth with TV reporters at M.D. Pruitt's Home Furnishings recently, the scene of protests by an immigrants-rights group angry over the store's complaining to police about day laborers in the area.

Certain fawning media in the Valley dutifully report Arpaio's every choreographed move.

But there's trouble when newspapers try to dig below the surface for information that might make him look bad. New Times has been at the forefront of this fight for years, suing the Sheriff to get records on money-related issues concerning his jails, his posses and his eyebrow-raising real estate investments. When his office can't simply deny records he doesn't want to turn over, it will delay their release as long as possible. Until, say, after an election.

It released records New Times had requested on a raid his deputies bungled in Ahwatukee — one where public opinion turned against him because his officers had incinerated a family's puppy — only after his 2004 re-election.

Arpaio brags that he has an "open-door policy" with reporters on controversial issues.

"When people call, especially the media, I answer their questions," the sheriff told Channel 12 recently. "I do not hide. I go face-to-face around the world when people come here. I am not going to turn down the media when they ask to talk to me."

The truth is, he's the most inaccessible prominent politician in the county — to media that take tough stands against him.

For example, he has denied New Times public information on how he came to invest $790,000 in cash in two commercial real estate properties over the years, and he's denied this publication complete information about what has happened to millions of dollars in commissary sales to jail inmates.

Arpaio pays his five-member public relations office, headed by Paul Chagolla and former TV reporter Lisa Allen MacPherson, $360,000 a year in taxpayer money to keep him favorably in the public eye.

Lately, Chagolla and MacPherson's team has spent lots of time writing laudatory statements about Arpaio's tactics against illegal immigrants, the current hot-button issue on which the sheriff is attempting to capitalize politically.

The team often heralds upcoming publicity stunts, like when it invited the media to come watch a "certified witch" cast a spell on Arpaio before this past Halloween. They've ballyhooed female chain gangs, pink underwear, pink handcuffs and the now-infamous Tent City.

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7 comments
Dee
Dee

I wouldn't report stuff to you either. You just grease the axels of law brekers and aid and abet them through your little news rag.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

>>Comment by Sandra Rennie.

Problem is Sandra, Thomas and Arpaio sleep together and the other Politicians and the AG are as spineless as it gets. Don't count on much to happen. The best way to get rid of the slimeballs is voting them out of office in November 2008.

Sandra Rennie
Sandra Rennie

This is the feelings of a group of concerned citizens; "Please, "New Times", let us know what we can do to help stop this criminal, as in FELONY ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFFICE, give us any information that will help us get these felons charged with the crimes that they have committed and punished for this BLATANT ABUSE OF PUBLIC OFICE. This should be handled in a way as to make an example of them so that this will never happen agein. We will not tolerate this kind of behavior, it is absolutely unacceptable, and a breach of the public's trust. If you could be so kind as to head us off in the right direction, we will be forever indebted to you.

Peggy
Peggy

Unbelievable!!! Can't we do anything besides vote? I can't afford to come to Phoenix to circulate petitions but mail me some and I'll work on it here.

Jim Cozzolino
Jim Cozzolino

Ray,Great job, you told it like it is, factual, truthful and a great piece of work.Love you all at the New Times and I thank GOD that someone in Maricopa County is not affraid to tell the truth about these Nazi's called Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.Watch your back brother, I can say from first hand experience, these guys are worst than the snakes that crawl below the earth.You're brother in the fight to expose these dirt bags all the way to the end.Jim Cozzolino

Coz
Coz

"Arpaio's chief spokesman, Captain Paul Chagolla"

Now this is a guy that is a real disgrace to humanity and life in general.

Officer Scagnetti
Officer Scagnetti

Ladies and gentlemen, part 8 of our ongoing 42 week consecutive coverage of... a story about us. (cough)

 
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