Talk about bizarro-world bedmates. What's up with the creepy romance between CNN and former Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu?
Maybe the moderate-to-liberal "fake news" network has a thing for right-wing stud muffins, particularly those who hate Mexicans (unless they're sleeping with them) and who privately have condoned the abuse of minors.
How else to explain Babeu's handful of recent, high-profile appearances on Anderson Cooper 360 and Erin Burnett Out Front?
Because Babeu's sleazy history is really hard to ignore.
Case in point, the release last year of a 1999 family home video by Babeu's sister Lucy that belied Babeu's claims he knew nothing about the cult-like discipline at Massachusetts' now-shuttered DeSisto School for wayward teens. Babs was headmaster, then executive director, there from 1999 to 2001.
Perhaps CNN's execs have never seen that tape. Or maybe they have, and they don't care about the ritual humiliation and forced labor that Babeu describes to his relatives around the dining-room table, as if it were a good thing.
Could it be that neither Cooper nor Burnett nor any of the producers who work on their respective news shows have watched as Babeu blithely opines that DeSisto's at-risk youth "need to feel hopeless ... need to feel depression"?
ABC 15 broadcast the tape in January 2016 and made the video available online.
The footage went viral, and came to dominate the contest to replace Ann Kirkpatrick in Arizona's First Congressional District. Democrats spent millions on an ad campaign that replayed segments of the video over and over again, ensuring Babeu's loss to Democrat Tom O'Halleran by more than 7 points.
In addition to the tape, Babeu was so scandal-ridden that the National Republican Congressional Committee spent next to nil on helping him fend off O'Halleran.
Fast-forward a few months, and like a wart that won't quit, Pinal County's shameless chrome dome is on CNN, appearing on Cooper and Burnett's shows as an expert on immigration and border issues and a cheerleader for President Trump's new policies in those arenas.
Both Cooper and Burnett refer to Babeu by the honorific "sheriff," and are deferential in the extreme. Granted, they usually mention in passing that he's no longer a law-enforcement official, but they treat him as if he's a savant on border problems.
Which is hilarious, because Pinal County, as everyone in Arizona knows, is not on the border.
On January 27, Burnett had Babeu on her show to comment about a story CNN was running that addressed tunnels dug by drug dealers underneath the border.
"I know you are very familiar with those," Burnett said to Babeu, who responded in the affirmative.
Which may be correct. He's got to have seen them on TV before.
In his appearances on these programs, Babeu often refers to the undocumented with the pejorative shorthand, "illegals." Not "illegal aliens," which is at least a legal term, or "illegal immigrants," just "illegals."
To this, neither Cooper nor Burnett peep a word of opposition.
During a February 21 appearance on Cooper's show, Babeu scored gobs of face time, mixing it up both with CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich.
Toobin and Reich each slammed Babeu for the big lie that illegal immigration has led to a rise in crime. And Babeu slammed right back. He avowed that "regular American people" are sick and tired of politicians "trumpeting the priorities" of illegal immigrants.
"Enough is enough," sputtered Babeu, in his best Russell Pearce impersonation. "Those days are over. Law and order is going to be restored."
A laughable sentiment coming from a man who, according to Massachusetts Congresswoman Katherine Clark, stonewalled Massachusetts' investigation of the DeSisto School when he was in charge there.
Clark should know; she was an assistant state attorney general at the time, looking into allegations of ritual abuse and cult-like behavior at DeSisto, which she described in one interview as a "Lord of the Flies situation."
If Cooper and Burnett don't believe the Congresswoman, or their own eyes and ears, they should talk to some of the survivors of DeSisto, who have denounced Babeu over the years.
There are other gaping holes in Babeu's credibility.
Sure, Babeu likes to style himself as some sort of big, bad immigrant hunter, but when it comes to an illegal immigrant he's dating, the radar is switched off. Such was the case with Jose Orozco, Babeu's Mexican ex-boyfriend, who — many suspect — overstayed his visa while in this country.
In 2012, Orozco blew the whistle on Babeu to Phoenix New Times , alleging that Babeu and Babeu's attorney, threatened to have Orozco deported if Orozco squealed about Babeu's then-closeted sexuality.
Babeu has denied ever threatening Orozco with deportation, either directly or through his attorney. Babeu claims he had no indication that Orozco might have been in the country illegally. As evidence, Babeu points to a 2012 investigation by the Arizona Attorney General's Office into the l'affaire d'Orozco.
In 2012, Arizona's Attorney General was Tom Horne, a fellow Republican and political ally of Babeu's. The investigation resulted in a wash, with Horne's solicitor general deciding that the AG's office would bring no charges against Babeu or Orozco.
I wrote about the contents of the full investigative file about a year ago.
The AG's investigation did not say whether Orozco had been in the country illegally. However, Orozco did tell investigators that he had shown Babeu his visa, and the file states that Orozco had a driver's license from Washington state, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain such licenses.
In the file, there also are recordings of interviews done by AG investigators. Three interviews offer some interesting insights into what Babeu may have known about Orozco.
Babeu told investigators that, "I always believed that [Orozco] was here in full legal status.”
But two friends of Babeu and Orozco — Kurt Cusanovich and Dwayne St. Jacques — had slightly different takes when they were questioned by AG detectives.
St. Jacques remembered this exchange with Babeu before the New Times story broke.
"'I don't know if he's legal or not'," St. Jacques recalled Babeu stating. "I said, 'I think he's [here] on a student visa,' and Paul said, 'And he's not a student anymore.'”
Both St. Jacques and Cusanovich had their doubts about Orozco's immigration status. For one, Orozco was well-educated, with an advanced degree, but had a menial job.
Cusanovich recalled once when he suggested Orozco get out of town and go to San Diego.
"He kept asking how many checkpoints,” Cusanovich told investigators, “because when you go to San Diego, there are all those ... border patrol checkpoints, like four or five. And he was just really nervous about them."
I'm publishing a couple of audio clips from the AG's investigation for the first time with this column. It beggars belief to think that Orozco, who had a thick accent, didn't raise some questions in Babeu's brain about the man's immigration status.
Although, Babeu may have been thinking with another part of his anatomy at the time. Babeu's a horny guy. Witness the profile he had on the pornographic gay pickup site Adam4Adam.com, under his handle studboi1, with half-naked pics of himself and a description of his penis — "7", cut."
Orozco was jealous of Babeu, and once impersonated another man on the same site to catch Babeu trying to cheat. The sex chat between Babeu and this phantom male that Babeu was ready to hook up with — some of which New Times has published before — is very racy.
At one point during the back and forth, Babeu texted over a photo of his erect penis.
All of this suggests to me that Babeu is not going to score a position with the Trump administration that would require U.S. Senate confirmation, such as Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which some local media have reported he's being considered for.
Roberto Reveles, a Pinal County resident, pro-immigration advocate and longtime critic of Babeu agrees. During a recent discussion, he told me he thought Babeu might score something further down the food chain in CBP or Border Patrol, which still would be troubling.
In fact, Babeu's CNN appearances only increase his likelihood of securing a toehold in the new regime. Sure, Fox News has always looked the other way at Babeu's transgressions and used him as a commentator, but CNN? What's their excuse?
It's not like there's any shortage of immigration restrictionists around these days. Just find one that doesn't ooze corruption a la Babeu.
"There is documented evidence in the family video that the media should be aware of, " Reveles said. "And the fact that he also was having an affair with Jose Orozco at a time that he was rabble-rousing about Pinal County being overrun by these so-called 'illegals,' and yet one ended up in his own bedroom at his invitation."
Reveles is a Democrat, but many local Republicans are just as repulsed by Babeu.
Take, for instance, retired Air Force Colonel Wendy Rogers, who ran against Babeu in a crowded GOP primary in 2016, and came in a close third behind rancher Gary Kiehne.
"Allowing a narcissistic, sociopathic, totally disgraced former sheriff Babeu onto CNN shows how far CNN has sunk," she told me when I asked about Babeu's CNN appearances. "Attributing credibility to Babeu is a bracing slap in the face to all his accusers of child abuse, as well as law enforcers whose careers and lives he utterly destroyed."
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She added, "My phone lights up from all over the country every time he's on TV, because people are so disgusted by him."
The question I have is why Cooper, Burnett, and their producers don't share that disgust? To find out, I e-mailed and left messages with numerous CNN producers and PR executives.
So far, all I've gotten is silence.