Correction and Apology

Over the past two years, New Times has published a lengthy series of news stories on what appeared to be ethical and legal lapses by Governor J. Fife Symington III. Some of these articles have been honored in major journalism competitions. Others have sparked law enforcement investigations into the governor's activities. As a whole, the Symington series has brought great acclaim to this newspaper and to those writers and editors who worked on it, myself included.

It is, therefore, with great regret and no small amount of embarrassment that I now acknowledge a major flaw in this newspaper's coverage of Governor Symington. New Times has repeatedly asserted--with, it appeared, more than sufficient corroborating evidence--that Governor Symington had done a lot of bad, bad stuff.

It is now clear that evidence was illusory and those assertions were untrue. Let me be clear here: Careful, exhaustive investigation has found no credible evidence that J. Fife Symington III ever did bad stuff. New Times, its writers and its editors apologize for suggesting otherwise.

Let me be clear about another thing: Our mistakes were just that--mistakes. No one at New Times knew until very recently that the allegations against Symington were untrue--that they were, in fact, the product of a conspiracy to discredit the governor.

Ignorance, however, is no excuse, at the courthouse or in a newspaper. Simple decency requires that I explain how New Times, as a journalistic institution, was misled, and how New Times then misled the public on a matter of civic importance.

Simple decency also requires that I take full responsibility for the falsehoods unwittingly published during my tenure at New Times. I have therefore offered--and New Times, Inc., has accepted--my resignation as editor, effective with the publication of this issue.

Where to begin, when trying to atone for such an enormous mistake? I suppose it is best just to keep things simple: Governor Symington, I offer you the deepest of apologies. If there were a way--with the stroke of a pen or the clack of a computer keyboard--to restore your good name, I would find it. Unfortunately, undoing the past is impossible. There is no way I can convince a U.S. attorney named Nora to drop the 23 criminal charges filed against you. And although I can hope and pray toward this end, I cannot command people to stop calling you "The Fifester."

As an institution, however, New Times can tell the truth--finally--and beg forgiveness.

This is the truth:
New Times allowed itself to be taken for a ride. Through a wide-ranging conspiracy, we were duped into writing bad, bad stuff about Governor Symington. The conspiracy was complex and well-hidden, but I can now state with confidence that one man was primarily responsible for fooling New Times. That man's name is Grubb. Lou Grubb.

I will go into detail about this "auto dealer" and his clever attempts to undermine our governor a bit later. First, though, I must apologize for my actions and the actions of the people who worked for me.

Over the past two years, New Times writers turned out story after story, accusing Governor Symington of corruption of all sorts. Because the stories seemed to be full of journalism--because "public records" were referenced as support for every tale--I approved these stories for publication. It was all so easy, so exciting.

And all so wrong.
If one were to believe New Times, the governor of Arizona was not just a crook--he was a veritable genius of criminality. The grandeur of the schemes! The brazen variety of his greed! And if you were to believe us, no one--no one but the Sherlock Holmeses at New Times--had the intelligence to understand this Dr. Moriarty of public corruption.

Hindsight is always 20/20. But the questions that I negligently failed to ask before approving the publication of bad, bad information about the governor seem so shamefully obvious now:

* What were these "public documents" that my writers so regularly quoted from? Since when does a public-filing stamp confer reliability? What is this fixation with "court records," anyway?

* Why was I so ready to believe that J. Fife Symington III, a graduate of Harvard University, had lied to bankers? He had plenty of money. So did the bankers. Why lie about it?

* Could I honestly have thought that Annette Alvarez would tape-record her most private conversations with the governor? And would she really have given copies of them to New Times security guard Darrell Gibson? Pillow talk, my eye.

* Has the governor's Washington, D.C., lawyer, John Dowd, ever been wrong? Why would anyone believe a prosecutor named Nora?

* And, finally, how could I have thought that New Times "writers" would be able to repeatedly scoop dozens of experienced tie-wearing journalists at this state's great daily news outlets? Didn't these professionals have access to the same "public documents" that kept showing up at New Times?

Well, of course, they did. They had them for a long time. Lou Grubb made sure of that.

They just had the good sense not to place more belief in "public documents" than our duly elected governor did.

The conspiracy that fooled New Times into writing bad, bad stuff about the governor of Arizona was complicated and clever. That does not excuse our behavior. We got the story wrong and should pay the price. But the complexity of the plot does explain, at least to a degree, why it took me so long to unravel it.

I first began to suspect we had been fed lies--that our coverage of Governor Symington was fatally flawed--about a year ago. New Times' chief security guard, Darrell Gibson, arrived at work one morning in a brand-new pickup truck. It was a Ford--a Lou Grubb Ford. Gibson claimed to have obtained yet another set of the "Annette Tapes," and as we played the recordings, for the first time I asked myself the obvious questions: Would a sophisticate like Fife Symington really use the words "sugar lips"? And who was this Lou Grubb?

Carefully and quietly, I set about investigating the factual basis for our Symington series. One thing became clear very quickly: If you tracked back far enough, virtually all of the negative information we obtained about Governor Symington was somehow Grubb-influenced, Grubb-linked or Grubb-tainted.

At this point, I must admit, I considered dropping my inquiry. Governor Symington had been indicted on 23 federal counts; the name of Grubb was still unmentioned. And to tell the truth, I was scared. If nothing else, my research had shown that Lou Grubb was no one to mess around with.

About that time, however, the Arizona Republic assigned its computer-enhanced investigative A-to-B team reporter, Bill Muller, to investigate New Times from A to B, using computers. After one short talk with this guy, I knew I didn't want to speak to him again. He had already uncovered the connections between New Times and Amway. It was only a matter of time until Muller made the Grubb connection and discovered that Grubb was transmitting subliminal, negative messages about Symington through his TV and radio commercials--which explains why they are so nonsensical and annoying.

I decided that there was only one reasonable course of conduct available: full confession and resignation. I can now rest again at night and begin building an honest future. I hope that future includes hard, decent work that helps repair the political and economic damage my negligence has caused. Toward that end, I am actively discussing employment opportunities with both the state Department of Commerce and CORE Properties, among others.

And as I move forward, I urge New Times readers to move forward, too, and open their hearts and minds to Governor Symington, who never did any bad stuff, no matter what Lou Grubb says.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
John Mecklin