THE RIGHTEOUS STUFF
In the early 1980s, Arizona State University was popularly viewed as the Disneyland of college campuses. While Central America bubbled with political turmoil and the Southwest was gripped by debate over human rights and the Sanctuary Movement, ASU distinguished itself by consistently rating near the top of the heap in "party school" polls. Shapely Sun Devil co-eds were prominently featured in the "Girls of the Pac-10" pictorials published by Playboy, which, to nobody's surprise, ranked ASU third in a national survey of "sexual temperature."
The daily campus newspaper, the State Press, was doing little to discourage ASU's image. It was controlled by a few students who had dubbed themselves The Force. For the most part, no one paid much attention--either to the students or the newspaper; the editors tended to spout the liberal musings that had been common to college campuses since the 60s.
At first, few took note of the quiet coup staged at the State Press by Jay Heiler, Matthew Scully and, later, Len Munsil, three postpubescent Reaganites who took it upon themselves to put ASU on the right course--the far right course. By 1985, ASU had established itself nationally as a hothouse for a virulent strain of conservatism that would have made Joe McCarthy smile.
With blitzkrieg swiftness, Heiler, Munsil and Scully succeeded in making ASU famous for something other than football, keggers and righteous tans.
As editor of the State Press, Munsil refused to print meeting notices for the ASU gay and lesbian union. As a student senator, former editor Heiler supported a move that cut funding to student groups whose agendas were seen as unsavory. And columnist Scully helped to launch a national hate movement against a professor whose views he found objectionable.
Munsil, Heiler and Scully used their exceptional rhetorical skills and the opinion page of the State Press to denounce the Russians, The Joy of Sex and anything else deemed repugnant. They were, at turns, reviled, applauded and picketed. Newsweek visited the campus and the New York Times was inspired to opine about the evils of limiting professorial freedom.
The movement "opened the floodgates for all kinds of hate to flow our way," recalls Mark Reader, the professor who suffered Scully's attacks both on the pages of the State Press and in a 35,000-piece mailing by Accuracy in Academia, a national classroom-watchdog organization that Scully would later direct. Reader still teaches Political Science 101 at ASU. He keeps a framed copy of that New York Times editorial from October 27, 1985, in his office, a reminder of a troubling time that has faded from many memories. (Former ASU president J. Russell Nelson, for example, barely recalls the events.) It sits among the Abbie Hoffman biography and science texts on nuclear power.
Reader hasn't had a death threat in a long time. Despite the onslaught, he was steadfast in not varying his curriculum. But at the beginning of each semester, each of Reader's students receives a flier titled "Classroom Etiquette and Intellectual Freedom." Reader is cautious. No cameras or tape recorders are allowed in the classroom, and nonstudents must receive permission to observe a lecture. Despite the unwillingness of some to recognize the residual effects, it has taken years to rid the campus of the "smelly little orthodoxy" trumpeted by Scully and company, Reader says.
But, the political theorist adds, "I think we're recovering." As it turned out, ASU was not the only campus to find itself awash in a tide of preppy ultraconservatism. But the triad who cast themselves as ASU's moral compass were not your garden variety Birch saplings. Heiler, Scully and Munsil were smart, cunning young men.
They still are, and in the past decade, they've taken their skills and politics to state and national levels. Scully helped pen then-vice president Dan Quayle's diatribe against the "cultural elite." Munsil devotes his efforts to bringing the porn industry to its knees. And Heiler sits at the right hand of the governor of Arizona.
@body:Ever since America put Ronald Reagan out to his Southern California pasture, things over on the right wing have been rough. The Soviets' "Evil Empire" dissolved, the Cold War fizzled and the gay community emerged as an organized, powerful political lobby. George Bush's shrill "family values" campaign was rebuffed by the voters. Bill and Hillary moved into the White House. The "in" look--both on and off campus--is back to short cut-offs and long tresses.
Shed no tears for Jay Heiler, Matthew Scully and Len Munsil. They've kept busy.
As a commentator for the conservative weekly National Review and director of a national antiporn group, respectively, Scully and Munsil have found comfortable stations from which to preach their politics. Both men hold positions of national prominence within the conservative community.
But it is Jay Heiler who stands to implement real change, right here in Arizona. Heiler has risen from the State Press basement office in ASU's Matthews Center to the ninth floor of the state Capitol Executive Tower. His mission: converting the masses and getting his boss, Governor Fife Symington, reelected next year.
In May 1992, Symington hired Heiler as a special assistant for policy development. Insiders call the staffer's recent reassignment as director of communications proof that Heiler has succeeded in spinning Symington to the right and evidence that the 1994 gubernatorial race is officially under way. They cite Heiler's influence in policy areas such as education (Symington's continued affection for private vouchers), the environment (the signing of controversial private-property legislation that limits the state's rights) and--most notably--crime (at Heiler's urging, Symington infuriated Attorney General Grant Woods and legislators by vetoing an anticrime package that the governor labeled too soft).
Heiler masterminded the formulation of Symington's own crime package, and wrote the speech unveiling it at last week's Arizona Town Hall at the Grand Canyon. The governor's message--in which he pronounced that "American society is locked in a fight for its soul"--was cast in rhetoric reminiscent of the young Jay Heiler.
Heiler, who doesn't welcome reminders of his days as a student editor, refused to speak to New Times for this story. Shortly after he joined Symington's staff, Heiler complained to the Arizona Republic, "I think there ought to be a statute of limitations on what a guy writes in college editorials. It's not stuff I would write today."
No matter, for old schoolmates such as Jay Thorne--a partner and vice president of Jameson and Gutierrez, a Democratic political consulting firm--still recall reading Heiler's columns with "amazement." Now Thorne is amazed that Symington is embracing someone with Heiler's political leanings.
"He is the Nazi of the week up there, the fascist of choice, and is growing more and more influential," Thorne says.
He says the Symington administration has undergone "this evolution to the right that I don't quite understand, because the right wing is who Fife came into the [1990 Republican] primary fighting. . . . He's always been sort of a moderate kind of middle-of-the-road guy."
No more. Political observers say Heiler has been influential in recruiting other conservatives such as Wes Gullett and Kurt Davis to the Symington camp.
More curious than Symington's pick of Heiler, perhaps, is Heiler's decision to work for Symington. It's conceivable that the governor's alleged trysts with Annette Alvarez and tangles with the Resolution Trust Corporation would have soured Heiler's desire to serve, given the younger man's position--way up there on high moral ground. Then again, for the last decade or so, the members of the State Press' holy triumvirate have cozied up to a cast of characters noted for their extreme politics, their questionable ethics--or both. The playbill includes former vice presidents Spiro Agnew and Dan Quayle, Republic columnist Bill Cheshire, impeached Arizona governor Evan Mecham, Iran-contra conspirator Edwin Meese III and the champion of conservative social values himself, Charles Keating Jr.
@body:The State Press' veer to the right actually predated Heiler, Scully and Munsil. It began in the early days of the Reagan administration with two like-minded women named Ellen Haggerty and Vivian Warner. Haggerty was a city editor with conservative politics. Warner, a transfer student, was formulating her own personal political agenda. She had already experienced what she calls "moral bankruptcy." Haggerty hired Warner as a reporter; both eventually rose through the ranks to serve as editor.
"My search for the answers, if you will, played out on the pages of the State Press," says Warner (Vivian Dudro by marriage, she lives in California, raising three children and writing for publications including the National Catholic Register).
Her quest for the truth led her, in one memorable State Press column, to compare homosexuality to alcoholism--an addiction that could be overcome through therapy. But even the most liberal of reporters recalls that Warner encouraged others to express divergent opinions.
That ended in the fall of 1982, when Warner's opinion editor, Jay Heiler, was appointed editor. Phil Daschner quit his job as a reporter for the State Press at that time, but kept in touch with those who stayed.
He says, "The newsroom was a much different place then [under Warner and Haggerty]. There were these debates out on the newsroom floor. When Jay became editor, those stopped, for whatever reasons. I think people realized that . . . if you expressed an opinion that dissented from his, maybe your stories weren't going to get as good play, maybe your assignments wouldn't be that good." @rule:
@body:One of Heiler's most memorable staff picks as editor was Matthew Scully, whom he hired to edit the opinion page. Scully didn't have any editing experience, but Heiler had noticed that Mike Phillips, the other candidate for the slot, had an unsavory bumper sticker on his car.
(Phillips, now city editor of the Scottsdale Progress Tribune, doesn't recall the message on the sticker. He does remember it lost him the job; he spent that semester editing the entertainment section.)
Scully doesn't credit any person or institution with anointing him a conservative; it's just a philosophy he picked up along the way. He chose ASU because he thought the university would have him, and because it was one state over from California, where he had been working at the loading dock of a department store.
Now a resident of Virginia, Scully gives Heiler full credit for introducing him to the joys of pontification. Casting aside campus politics for discussions of ideology, Scully amused and infuriated his readers by suggesting that Abbie Hoffman and Hunter S. Thompson were not suitable speakers for a school-sponsored program, and by comparing political science professor Patrick McCowan to a rat. Nonetheless, Scully is an affable guy. He speaks fondly of Heiler, as he does of many of his other former bosses--including former vice president Dan Quayle and former governor Evan Mecham. According to the Scully vernacular (delivered in patrician tones reminiscent of his current boss, the National Review's William F. Buckley Jr.), Heiler, Quayle and Mecham are "principled fellows."
In his days at the State Press, Scully defended former president Richard M. Nixon. In fact, a couple of years back, Scully took it upon himself to right a wrong he felt had been done to Spiro Agnew, Nixon's first vice president. Scully learned that Agnew was the only former vice president who had not been honored by the placement of a bust of his likeness in the U.S. Capitol.
The Washington Post credited Scully with bringing attention to the situation, after the young writer championed Agnew in the National Review and the decision was made to commission a bust of Agnew. The credit should not necessarily be construed as favorable, according to the Post, which editorialized: "In fact, the documents filed as part of Mr. Agnew's plea bargain dealt with garden-variety corruption of the type for which many a county supervisor and local government official has done prison time."
Scully counters, "Agnew is not a bad guy. It seems like a kind of petty slight to a man who was, after all, a vice president. . . . I figured here was something nice I could do for him."
What a kind, thoughtful person Scully is--a man willing to forgive the transgressions of others.
Don't mention it to Mark Reader, who became the subject of national news reports in 1985 when Scully--via Accuracy in Academia (an offshoot of the equally conservative media watchdog organization Accuracy in Media)--made Reader his first target. The former State Press-er had never made a secret of his intense distaste for Reader's politics, primarily Reader's distaste for the nuclear industry. As a columnist, Scully had written, "Leave aside the fact that what Professor Reader teaches simply isn't true. The point is that even if he were a visionary, even if nuclear war were imminent and the Soviets were beautiful people, it would not be Professor Reader's place to spend every class period mouthing these inspired prophecies."
Reader was vindicated--first by the New York Times and ASU's administration and later by the Chernobyl disaster, which he says proved his point that nuclear power poses incredible dangers. But not until Reader had faced a great deal of unpleasantness, including death threats.
Scully now says he's not so sure that the group's tactics--quashing free thought--were on the mark. He's not even sure AIA is still in existence. (It is.)
Anyhow, he adds, "I'm miscast as a critic of modern education because I never even gave it much thought while I was there. What I learned I learned from reading on my own."
Scully never graduated from college. He "wandered out" in 1985, jumping from job to job: researcher for then-governor Ev Mecham, cop reporter for the Prescott Courier, press secretary for U.S. Senate candidate Keith DeGreen, business reporter for the conservative Washington Times and literary critic for the National Review. And how did the onetime national director of Accuracy in Academia feel about writing speeches for then-vice president Dan Quayle--the man who directed a group of young students to misspell the word "potato"? "Oh, come on now," Scully says reproachfully. "That was actually a very sad moment with Quayle. Things were going very well before that." Now Scully has landed another gig at National Review, this time as a television columnist.
@body:In 1985, as editor of the State Press, Len Munsil fought abortion, homosexuality and pornography. Today his mission is identical--only now, instead of limiting his scope to the student body of ASU, Munsil sees himself as fighting for "the good of the community, the state and the country."
He is director of the Phoenix-based National Family Legal Foundation, a nonprofit law firm that helps law enforcement officials across the nation prosecute child pornography and obscenity cases, and in enacting ordinances targeting sexually oriented businesses.
The name may have changed (four times, in fact), but the National Family Legal Foundation is clearly connected with Charles Keating and his original antiporn organization, Citizens for Decent Literature, founded in 1957 in Ohio.
Heiler also spent a summer during law school as a clerk for the organization. Munsil says the "unfortunate aspect" of having Keating's name associated with the NFLF is "it affected the whole attempt to regulate sexually oriented businesses and the fight against child pornography and obscenity. . . . The people who were involved in that believed strongly in the cause, and Mr. Keating had very little to do with it."
Not so. Charles Keating was Citizens for Decent Literature (later Citizens for Decency Through Law, then the Children's Legal Foundation), an organization identical in its description to the National Family Legal Foundation. Up until Keating's demise in 1989, NFLF fund-raising letters were sent out in his name. His sons-in-law packed the board of directors. The significance? Keating's war against obscenity was fought with tainted money; further, some of the money raised for legitimate purposes never made it to the intended source. According to press reports through the years, Keating used his antiporn organization as a fund-raising tool for his questionable business dealings. He also reportedly poured money from Lincoln Savings and Loan and American Continental Corporation into the coffers of his antiporn organization.
And staff members admitted to the press that they were asked to make telephone calls on behalf of Charles Keating's legal defense efforts.
Today the senior staff of the National Family Legal Foundation consists primarily of people associated with the other organizations (including Munsil). The board of directors includes Edwin Meese III (a Keating champion) and Alan Sears, whom Keating described in a 1988 fund-raising letters as one of his "potent legal weapons." Len Munsil married Tracy Fletcher (now Tracy Munsil), another former State Press editor who holds a master's degree in political science and now writes for various "pro-family type publications." But most of her time is devoted to the Munsils' five children. "We're sort of counterculture in a lot of different ways," Len Munsil says. By staying home to raise their children (she gave up a career with the Washington Times), his wife is practicing the philosophy she preached on the pages of the State Press, he adds.
She devoted much of her energy during those years to smashing conventional feminist notions. She wrote: "Finding a large number of women in certain jobs (such as teaching) today reflects women's preferences and skills, not society's structural exclusion of them from better-paid jobs." For his part, Len Munsil says, "I agree with every word that I wrote back then. My viewpoint hasn't changed at all." In a 1985 State Press column titled "The Homosexual Hoax," he explained his reasoning behind the decision to reject meeting notices for the ASU gay and lesbian student union. "Collectively, these people are a modern-day Typhoid Mary. They are spreading a startling number of serious health hazards," Munsil wrote, adding that because sodomy was illegal, groups that promote it should not be recognized.
These days Munsil makes his voice heard on television and through guest columns and letters in the local press. And he let his enduring opinions on homosexuality be known at a June 1992 discussion of gay rights before the Phoenix City Council. Munsil compared homosexuals to pedophiles for whom "molesting children is normal."
The reply from Rob Davis, an activist in the audience: "I wish the guy who just talked would drop dead. . . . They're all ignorant, stuck-up, religious bigots. I'm sick of it." @rule:
@body:In the fall of 1984--at about the same time Munsil was freezing gays out of the State Press--student leaders voted to eliminate funding for a number of student groups, including the gay and lesbian student union, the Committee in Solidarity With the People of El Salvador and the General Union of Palestinian Students.
Jay Heiler, then a student at ASU's law school, was a student senator that year. He proposed the amendment that cut funding from the gay and lesbian union. In honor of the occasion--and the ensuing criticism--he penned a guest column for the State Press.
"The position of homosexual activists, that to feel an instinctive revulsion for this act is to be a bigot or a Nazi, is the ultimate expression of self-righteousness," Heiler wrote. A small poster--the kind you'd buy at a dime store--used to hang on the wall of Jay Heiler's office at the State Press. Beside a picture of a donkey was the saying, "Lord, give me this day my daily opinion and forgive me the one I had yesterday."
A review of the onetime editor's work since he left ASU reveals little change in the basic Heiler ideology, though he has most recently swapped the topics of sex and Soviets for guns and gangs.
At the State Press, Heiler indulged in extensive discussions of Playboy magazine, lingering over the evils of "Mazola parties" and nude pictorials of "E.F. Hutton's sexiest stockbrokers." Later, as an assistant state attorney general, Heiler fought for restrictions on what he called "masturbatoriums" (peep shows) and tried to get "obscene" bumper stickers outlawed.
After his tour of duty at the Attorney General's Office, Heiler left Arizona for Virginia. As an editorial writer for the Richmond Times Dispatch, he returned to an old favorite, the topic of the evil Soviet regime. In a 1990 editorial, he attacked students at Wellesley College for their decision to withdraw a speaking invitation to then-first lady Barbara Bush, and invite Raisa Gorbachev instead: "We assume Mrs. Gorbachev makes the feminist grade because she holds a doctorate in philosophy from Moscow State University, but then that is rather like earning one's divinity degree at the University of Hell." And U.S. Representative Patricia Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado, caught hell for daring to propose unpaid family leave legislation: "America has been made over, through tax-and-spend fiscal policy and long-way-baby feministas, into a place economically and socially violent toward single-wage-earner households." Upon his return to Arizona, Heiler was reportedly such a hot commodity that he had tempting job offers from both Fife Symington and the Arizona Republic (Ideologue-rolling at the Republic," April 28, 1993). Then-editorial-page editor Bill Cheshire, a fellow conservative, was eager to secure Heiler's services. Alas, publisher Louis "Chip" Weil was not enthusiastic, and would only cough up a $50,000 salary--a meager offering compared to the $75,000 Symington was promising. Some observers believe Cheshire's attempt to tug the Republic editorial page farther to the right--after Heiler turned down the job, Cheshire proposed hiring Scully--played a key role in his demotion to columnist. Cheshire continues to lead cheers for his friends Fife Symington and Jay Heiler. In an October 28 column, he called Attorney General Grant Woods' anticrime proposals "gossamer to the touch." On the same page, an unsigned Republic editorial was far less critical.
@body:Where will the Three Amigos go from here? Although one member of the State Capitol press corps compares Heiler to a cobra who is bound to damage Symington, it stands to reason that Heiler, Munsil and Scully will continue to see their conservative credentials grow.
They discovered a rich vein of ideological ore during their days at ASU's State Press, and there is every indication that they will continue to reap its rewards.
Munsil, for one, insists there will always be a market for the conservatism championed at ASU in the 80s and carried on by the likes of Scully, Heiler and himself.
"What we did back then, essentially, in the newspaper, is what Rush Limbaugh has done on the national basis, and become very popular with--and that's ridicule the left and the hypocrisy of liberalism," Munsil says. "I don't think that's particularly gone out of style.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.