Ethically Challenged

True Flashophiles are aware that the "Daily Flash: A Reader's Guide to the Arizona Republic" each day (attitude permitting) chronicles the foibles of that ponderous publication on the New Times Web site (www.phoenixnewtimes.com).

Readers of the Daily Flash know that this Pulsing Strobe has been going off on the Republic's bald-faced cover-up of what we shall call L'Affaire Steve. Now, you loyal weekly Flash readers can be enlightened, too.

Once upon a time (November 19), the Republic printed a cartoon by its Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist, Steve Benson, titled "Texas Bonfire Tragedies." The cartoon depicted images of the Branch Davidian compound fire near Waco, a Ku Klux Klan meeting in Jasper and a pile of logs at the fatal bonfire collapse at Texas A&M.

Predictably, Texans and A&M alumni and the politically erect were apoplectic.

On November 22, the Republic yanked the cartoon from its Web site, and Keven Willey, editor of the editorial pages issued a cyber apology: The Arizona Republic apologizes for its Nov. 19 editorial cartoon. The cartoon was insensitive to the families and friends of the students who died or were injured in the tragic Texas A&M accident. We erred in publishing this cartoon and we regret that error. While a cartoonist often exaggerates to make a point or express his or her opinion, the cartoon in question inappropriately linked the Texas A&M tragedy to two others. We have removed the cartoon from our web site.

Willey's secretary said she would return a New Times call, but she didn't. Since getting her editing gig, Willey has used her column almost exclusively to tell readers about the munificence of her job. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Public policy is such a bore.

And the Republic, which demands access to individuals and institutions as it gathers news, has no compunction about blowing off those who would question its behavior. It's an arrogant strain of cowardice.

While mute before her own readers (and mine), Willey has been quoted in out-of-state newspapers as saying that Benson's cartoon bore a "weak premise" and was "subject to misinterpretation." She told the Dallas Morning News, "Steve is a very provocative cartoonist. He is often in the eye of various storms."

And whenever he is, he can count on his spineless bosses to sell him out.

The Flash thinks Benson is the only true genius the Republic can boast. He's paid for his ideas to be opinionated -- even outrageous. He was recently elected president of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, a group that awarded him its "Golden Spike" award last year for the best cartoon killed by an editor.

Despite Benson's credentials and obvious gifts, as soon as a posse of angry Texans call, e-mail and write letters, the Republic's editorial resolve folds like so much origami. Benson deserves better.

But the Flash is not merely appalled by the treatment Benson has received. The fact that readers of the print version of the Republic know nothing about the imbroglio, the apology, the thousands of complaints, the fact that Radio Shack canceled advertising in the Republic because of the cartoon -- all this bespeaks a truly yellow rag. All the mea culpas and backpedaling have occurred on the Republic's Web site, www.azcentral.com.

The Republic has said it received more than 2,000 letters, e-mails and calls about the cartoon (a source tells the Flash that the number has actually surpassed 10,000). Yet not a single letter-to-the-editor has appeared in the print version of the Republic.

The vast majority of Republic readers, who saw the supposedly offensive cartoon in print, are blissfully ignorant.

That's self-serving and unethical.

Other (real) newspapers are reporting this story. It's news. Publications from Texas to California carried accounts. The Associated Press has issued multiple dispatches (erroneously implying that the Republic had actually printed an editorial about the cartoon, when in fact all explanations and genuflection have occurred online.)

One Republic scribe describes his management's handling of the furor as "bizarre." Sweep it under the rug and hope nobody notices.

Even the Republic's "Reader Advocate," who can epoxy a happy face to almost any editorial carnage, has not seen fit to address L'Affaire Steve.

If the Republic is embarrassed by the cartoon and its Jell-O-like editorial will, it will be once again humiliated when journalism trade publications zing the paper for its blatant refusal to level with readers.

Not long ago, Pam Johnson, the Republic's executive editor, wrote a front-page note to readers asking for their advice in remaking the newspaper. She basically admitted that the journalism produced by the Republic was second-rate and vowed that the new millennium would bring a redesigned, credible newspaper.

But judging from their actions in L'Affaire Steve, the honchos at the Republic seem determined to continue sucking right up until the calendar rolls over. And, undoubtedly, beyond.

All bored

As long as we're denouncing the Republic, let's move along to Pam Johnson's Millennial Republic, which we're all so giddy to behold. Committees have been huddling in the glass box on Van Buren for months. The supersecret but urgent goal has been "repurposing" -- whatever in Pulliam's name that means.

If a list of new Republic newsroom assignments is any indication, the Millennial Republic promises to be, well, silly.

The Flash has obtained the vaunted list. The millennial lexicon is bewildering. Nowhere on the four-page memo is the word "news."

Several "teams" will be led by journalists who will henceforth be known as "Trainmasters." The Flash is not making any of this up.

Couldn't they have at least called them "Unirailmasters?"

There are also teams responsible for "Quality of Life," not to be confused with the "Life & Times" squad or the "Good Life" team, which has not one but two people assigned to "Home, Garden, Pool and Patio" general assignment reporting.

Meanwhile, there's one reporter assigned to cover the Legislature. Nobody has been assigned to cover "Public money."

The glass box will be lousy with "Content coordinators."

Some familiar names are being repurposed.

Gossip mistress Dolores Tropiano's new assignment: "Lifestyle, features" in the Scottsdale bureau.

Her column on the "Weather page" will be supplanted by a column by the estimable Clay Thompson, the only truly funny man working in the glass box. Wanna-be funnyman Scott Craven goes from features to -- whoa -- night general assignment.

Superior Court reporter Victoria Harker is being exiled to "North Phoenix neighborhoods, Sunnyslope, New River." Don't break a heel.

Former TV guru Dave Walker somehow wound up on the education team, covering "Pop culture" -- not to be confused with "Lower ed."

Veteran Pat Flannery will cover something called "Phoenix futures," while John Kamman is the "Local lens reporter."

Is that writing about photography, or what?

Sis Boom Bah

Now this is what college football is all about.

With 5:40 to play and University of Arizona trailing by 8, Sun Devil Stadium unleashed a crescendo last heard three years ago as Nebraska, Southern California and California fell in a withering cacophony. Pinned on their own 13, the Wildcats had plenty of time to launch a game-tying drive.

A razzle-dazzle on first down fell incomplete. Keith Smith's pass to Dennis Northcutt sailed high on second down, sending the decibels up another notch. As Smith approached the line of scrimmage for the crucial third down, fans pounded on the bleachers and loosed a protracted primal yell. The stadium shook as Smith once again looked for Northcutt, who already had burned the Sun Devils for two 80-yard-plus touchdown plays. The pass fell harmlessly to the ground, to the hometown fans' delight.

It's moments such as these that football fans crave.

Despite the Arizona Cardinals' condescension, few universities boast such a great facility as Sun Devil Stadium. Fans are close to the field and the stadium is built to reverberate sound -- a tremendous advantage to the Sun Devils.

Unfortunately, ASU has of late failed to capitalize on such a classic stadium. In the past few years under athletic director Kevin White, ASU has chosen to embrace stultifying commercials rather than stoke the flames of a fan base that could be as intimidating as any crowd in the country.

The chase for the television dollar has shifted kickoffs to midday instead of the traditional 7 p.m. start. Tens of thousands of fully baked fans beat a hasty departure from ASU's home game against UCLA -- and missed a thrilling last-minute victory. Saturday's 11 a.m. kickoff against nemesis Arizona was an insult to the players, coaches and the fans who buy tickets.

As ASU football continues to sell its soul, the game experience continues to deteriorate.

At other universities with great football traditions, the band plays nonstop and is an integral part of the game. Fans respond to key plays with simple, yet catchy, cheers. UCLA and Southern Cal are perfect examples.

At ASU, the band often competes with inane commercials broadcast on the big video screen at the most inopportune moments. Organized cheers don't exist. The PA announcer is perpetually pimping businesses.

If ASU wants to win a national championship, it must abandon its brazen commercialization and do everything it can to make home games memorable, one-of-a-kind experiences.

Last Saturday morning/afternoon, Sun Devil fans -- powered by a fierce rivalry -- cut through the money-grubbing crap and brunch kickoff time. They rose to the occasion.

It's time for the Sun Devil athletic department to "repurpose" and put the fans and the team first. Shelve the two-bit audio and video pitches. Stand firm on sensible kickoff times. Focus on creating a unique and powerful Sun Devil football experience.


Feed the Flash: voice, 602-229-8486; fax, 602-340-8806; online, flash@newtimes.com


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