Tuesday, November 24, 2009 at 12:02 p.m.
Maybe ASU could name him "Mr. First Amendment"
As mind-numbingly impossible as it is to imagine, Sheriff Joe, avowed enemy of a free press and brown people everywhere, will be the guest speaker at the ASU Cronkite School of Journalism's "First Amendment Forum" this Monday, November 30.
Talk about eating turkey after Thanksgiving. Arpaio lecturing at a First Amendment Forum? Too bad Idi Amin's not around anymore. ASU could have him come chat about human rights.
Arpaio's interlocutors on this "forum" are listed as journalism prof Rick Rodriguez, Cronkite News Service broadcast director Susan Green, and CNS digital news director Steve Elliott. Needless to say, the onus will be on these three to turn up the Bunsen burner on our corrupt top law dog. Otherwise, they'll never live it down.
Arpaio's deputies have arrested reporters, intimidated them, and blocked the release of public records, forcing news outlets to sue to get them. He plays favorites with the media, rewarding those outlets and journos that whitewash him with access and ride-alongs, and punishing those he doesn't like by banning them from his press conferences on the 19th floor of the Wells Fargo Building.
In other words, he's hardly someone who has a great love affair with the First Amendment. As Arpaio pretty much gets all the media he wants, the only reason for having him at a forum like this would be to grill him. Otherwise, what's the point?
Somewhat predictably, there will be no Q&A section for questions from the floor, and this is one of the reasons a group of students calling themselves ASU Students Against Joe Arpaio are planning to protest Arpaio's appearance at the school. Led by student organizer Sandra Castro, a senior in history and justice studies, the group contends that Arpaio is speaking on their campus, one that's kept afloat by their tuition money. Thus, they demand their right to question Arpaio as well.
"We are outraged that we will not be able to ask any questions directly to him at the forum," Castro told me via e-mail. "We are also disappointed with ASU bringing in a political figure who harasses and targets our community."
ASU spokeswoman Kelli Solomkin admitted that Q&A sessions were normal for the school's "Must See Mondays Speaker Series," of which the Arpaio event is listed as being a part. She insisted that the decision to forgo a Q&A "was not in any way the result of a condition set by Arpaio."
"This event was set up by our school in the tradition of the `Meet the Press' format," she explained, "which is not what Mike Wong's Must See Monday events are. This particular program was designed to show how journalists question a popular but controversial political figure."
Solomkin also stated that Arpaio was not being paid an honorarium of any kind, and that the sheriff would not know the questions in advance. Asked if Arpaio would be hit with tough queries about his mistreatment of journalists who are critical of him, Solomkin would only say that Arpaio's interviewers would engage the sheriff on "critical press issues."
Thing is, when Arpaio spoke before the college Republicans at ASU West in April of this year, audience members were allowed to ask questions of Arpaio. In fact YouTube videos of the event caught Arpaio bragging about getting $1.6 million from the legislature to chase the undocumented, and he went on to threaten Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Max Wilson over the possible tightening of Arpaio's purse strings.
"I tell ya one thing," Joe offered of Wilson. "He better be careful on cutting my budget, since I am investigating the Board of Supervisors."
Arpaio also touted his relationship to Arizona Republic editorial page editor Phil Boas, who is his son-in-law.
These are the responses you get when you don't have the sort of controlled, academic environment the ASU profs are implementing with Monday's forum. Indeed, an event calling itself the "First Amendment Forum," should ideally make every possible effort to be inclusive and generous to everyone's freedom of speech, not just Arpaio's.
"We will listen and allow Arpaio to exercise his First Amendment rights," Castro told me today, "although he fails to do otherwise with us."
The demonstration begins at 6:30 p.m. this Monday, outside the Cronkite School, which is located at 555 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix. It lasts till Arpaio's left the building. There's a Facebook page by the organizers, here, though you have to sign on to Facebook to see it.