You've got to hand it to U.S. Senator Jon Kyl. With the exception of the impeachment torch-bearers in the House of Representatives, perhaps no other politician has hogged more of the limelight than Kyl.
Kyl--who has long grunted in the shadow of eastcoastmediaelite darling John McCain--suddenly is ubiquitous. The Arizona Republic is printing his vapid impeachment trial diary, and Kyl's mug is all over TV gab fests. He's a flavor of the month. Vanilla.
But as this Strobe well knows, when you shoot off your mouth, people have a tendency to shoot back. The St. Petersburg Times did just that on February 4, with a front-page story in which Kyl was the star. To wit:
All TV, all the time: Senators admonished to silence during trial sessions are quick to speak up for TV news.
It was only a few hours after senators had been sworn in for the impeachment trial . . . and these most vocal of jurors were already on the airwaves, duking it out.
"On three different occasions Majority Leader Trent Lott suggested a bipartisan approach to the Democratic leader," Sen. Jon Kyl, an Arizona Republican, thundered on CNN. "Tom Daschle rejected that."
Kyl's words last month might have been quickly forgotten, except for an odd coincidence. Daschle was watching. On a television in Lott's reception room. As he waited to discuss bipartisan approaches that Kyl was claiming the South Dakotan had already rejected.
Livid, Daschle stalked out. Lott caught up to him in a marbled hallway and apologized. "There's only one way to straighten this out," Daschle told Lott, according to a Daschle aide. "Come with me to the press gallery."
What happened next was one of those surreal scenes that increasingly define television's role in the impeachment debate. The Senate leaders held an impromptu news conference to affirm their commitment to bipartisanship "because in the last few minutes, as we talked, we found there was . . . a misunderstanding," Lott, R-Miss., explained.
The article, by Mary Jacoby, goes on to skewer several voluble senators of both parties before citing Indiana Senator Richard Lugar as one juror who eschews the cameras.
"I'm trying to reach a judgment about a very serious matter," he said. "My own view is this case should not be tried on television shows."
But for every Lugar there's a Kyl.
Feverishly making the rounds of television shows, Kyl bolted from a Republican luncheon Tuesday for a tiny cubicle in the Senate Radio-Television press gallery upstairs in the Capitol.
The senator entered a room not much bigger than a coffin and icy cold to preserve the television equipment. There was a chair in front of a television camera, a backdrop on the wall of blue drapes and an American flag.
Kyl, a 56-year-old former House member with intense eyes, stared into the camera and nodded at questions piped in through his earpiece.
Practice had made it easy for Kyl to talk into the black eye of the lens, with no human face--not even on a screen--for guidance.
When he emerged from the tiny, frigid studio, Kyl answered "absolutely not" when asked if he thought senatorial television appearances interfered with trial proceedings.
Republicans, in fact, have a duty to speak up. Because Democrats, he said gravely and without irony, "have not exactly been reticent about trying this case in the court of public opinion."
There was a time when the local press eagerly sang the praises of Sheriff Joke Arpaio, who was supposedly fighting crime in novel ways while saving the county bundles of money. Insiders knew that this wasn't the case, and eventually the tide has turned against the Bombastic One. Now, even the local television stations seem to be piling on.
The Jokester is officially embattled.
Arpaio's tenure as America's Most Idiotic Sheriff has been saddled with a litany of expensive lawsuits and seemingly endless investigations into the death and maiming of jail inmates and possible obstruction of justice.
Still, Arpaio continues to turn to his favorite activity for relief: self-promotion. The Crime Avenger's publicity stunts have become more and more bizarre as he goes after satanic cat killers and wayward letter carriers, apparently in the hope that the public will forget that he runs a shoddy jail rife with liability.
The result, however, has been even more botched police work and even more lawsuits.
Take the case of letter carrier Wayne Bates. Arpaio targeted Bates in an attempt to rally animal lovers to his side. Bates, the sheriff's office announced, was a sadistic postman who had pepper-sprayed dogs that couldn't have attacked him.
Bates told investigators he intended to spray a fence to discourage two aggressive dogs from coming at him. The dogs, however, ran into the spray stream. There are no other witnesses to the act, and no evidence that contradicts Bates' story. Yet Arpaio has submitted the case for prosecution three separate times, and each time has been rebuffed. When Scottsdale police told Arpaio they weren't interested in prosecuting Bates but would be open to looking at new evidence, the Jokenheimer actually confiscated the fence Bates had sprayed.
Bates, predictably, reacted to being an Arpaio publicity pawn by filing a claim for false arrest and imprisonment.
The Joker made his third and latest attempt to get someone to prosecute Bates when he submitted his investigation yet again to County Attorney Rick Romley two weeks ago. Romley again declined to charge Bates. In the investigation's record, however, a sheriff's deputy makes an interesting admission that neatly sums up Arpaio's career.
Interviewing an ASPCA official, Deputy Rich Burden seems not to realize that his tape recorder is running, and he bemoans that the case appears hopeless:
"Everybody's written me letters. I wish I could read these to you. It's sad and it will never get to the public, but I'm gonna keep diggin' and you know why, I'm mandated and the sheriff doesn't want me to drop this, wants me to keep going even if we can't get prosecution. You know why? Sheriff's gettin' sued for three million dollars."
American's Toughest Spouse
When a pesky attorney wanted to ask pointed questions of Arpaio, the supposedly Manly Marshal of Maricopa begged off and let someone with a sturdier constitution take his place: his wife.
Last summer, Arpaio and his corpulent aide David Hendershott got into a scuffle with drunken Scottsdale hairdresser Sean Huskisson in a restaurant parking lot. The lawmen claimed that when Hendershott tried to prevent Huskisson from driving, Huskisson attacked the dynamic duo. But Huskisson's friends say it was Hendershott who escalated the confrontation into a melee.
Huskisson was charged with assault, and in the days since, his attorney Mike Terribile has been putting together the hair cutter's defense.
But Terribile says that when he attempted to interview Arpaio and Hendershott about the incident, both declined, claiming under the state's victims bill of rights that as victims of assault, they didn't have to answer Terribile's questions.
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Terribile notes that Arpaio was more than willing to talk to the press after the event, but the Jokester apparently has suddenly become traumatized by the assault and doesn't want to talk about it. "He's refusing to talk to me, and I'm the only one who knows what questions to ask him," Terribile says.
Terribile decided he'd try to smoke out the Crime Avenger by letting the Sher know that if Arpaio did submit to an interview, he'd forgo putting Arpaio's betrothed, Ava, who witnessed the fracas, through her own interrogation.
"He said no, that's fine, I can talk to his wife," Terribile says, trying to convey his amazement. "He's hiding behind his wife. It's unbelievable. The Toughest Sheriff in America? I really thought that this person would be so concerned with his image that he'd be willing to tough it out with me. I guess the streak of hypocrisy runs deeper than his bravado," Terribile says.
Terribile says he'll question Ava sometime before the scheduled April 6 trial date.