Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 3:35 p.m.
I just spoke with CBS 5/KPHO news producer Gilbert Zermeno, part of the award-winning team that put together the recent, blistering report on Sheriff Joe Arpaio's abuse of power that ran at the end of October. That's the one that featured reporter Morgan Loew's interview with former U.S. Attorney and straight-shooter David Iglesias, who said that based on the evidence he had seen and his own investigation he would seek an indictment of Arpaio.
Zermeno tells me that CBS 5 will run a follow-up to their October piece tomorrow, November 25, at 10 p.m., so set the TiVo. They broke some ground in their previous investigative report, particularly with the Iglesias interview, setting a high bar for themselves and others. I'm looking forward to what they broadcast Wednesday night.
Sheridan vs. Straus: The best part of the Channel 12 report
CBS 5's nearly 10-minute segment, I think, may have helped inspire Channel 12's recent half-hour long piece on the sheriff, entitled, "Arpaio: Above the Law." Sadly, Channel 12 really didn't deliver on the promise of that title. Instead, what resulted was a hastily-produced and not very well thought-out 30 minutes of air time, with the bulk of it going to lopsided panel discussions on Arpaio, and no new reporting at all, much less a comprehensive exploration Arpaio's more recent abuses.
I say this with the utmost respect for Channel 12 journo Joe Dana, who led the panel discussions, often with pointed questions. Dana is a tenacious reporter when his bosses allow him to be, and the problem was really not him, but the format of the broadcast itself. Plus, the imbalance in participants.
The first panel was totally stacked with pro-Joe heavy-hitters like MCSO deputy chief Jack MacIntyre, a longtime Arpaio flack, and ex-radio personality Tom Liddy, son of the infamous G. Gordon Liddy of Watergate fame. Liddy was there representing the County Attorney's office as a "deputy county attorney." (Who knew?) All I can say is he does better on TV than the MCAO's Gollum-like flack Barnett Lotstein.
Matched up against these two were First Amendment attorney Dan Barr, and reporter Dennis Welch of the Arizona Guardian. The polished Barr made a nice foil for MacIntyre, but Welch was a little too even-handed to take on MacIntyre or Liddy.
At one point, in response to a question from Dana, Welch stated that, "It's not for me to judge if [Arpaio] is above the law." I understand what he meant. He's a classic, fair-minded journalist, not an activist or a pundit. But I think a pundit or an activist was what was needed, if the other side was to be represented by Sith Lords like MacIntyre and Liddy.
In fact, I even had to agree once with MacIntyre: Sandra Dowling, ex-Maricopa County Schools Superintendent, makes for a poor example of Arpaio's retaliatory tactics and bullying. Everyone was after Dowling's hide, from the press, to the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, to the state Attorney General's office. There were plenty of other examples to help CBS 5 make the case, so why use Dowling?
Only one part of the half-hour really shone, I thought. That was in the third segment, when the panel changed to a face off between MCSO jails chief Jerry Sheridan and the Arizona ADL's regional director Bill Straus. When Sheridan offered that, "The sheriff's office doesn't profile, end of story," Straus saw his opening, making reference to Arpaio's infamous quote that his deputies can stop people if they look like they just came from Mexico.
"I tell you something," said Straus, "if the answer was, `We look for people who look like Bill Straus,' I would be a little leery about going out to the restaurant or the grocery store."
Sheridan countered that the quote was a "sound bite" taken out of context. But Straus didn't let him get away with that characterization.
"I heard the entire interview," replied Straus. "And when I heard that the sheriff thought his statement was being taken out of context, my question is, 'What context?' What possible context is appropriate to say we look for people who look like they came from Mexico?"
If the entire Channel 12 broadcast had been like this third segment, it would have been a success. As it was, they would have been better off waiting a little and doing a CBS 5-like report, minus the panel discussions.