Feathered Bastard

Howie Fischer's Flubbery, and Why Joe Arpaio's Scared to Debate Dan Saban.

Dan Saban making his case before a Sun City crowd in August.

So I'm watching a repeat of Friday's KAET Horizon roundtable of local journos -- mainly because I'd heard that they'd mentioned last week's Joe Arpaio fake poll controversy (reported in this blog with the help of you the home viewer, as David Letterman used to say) -- and Howie Fischer of Capitol Media Services blurts out the dumbest thing I've heard since Jesse Jackson said he wanted to cut Obama's nuts off.

"How many weeks have we sat around this table," smarmed the fatuous know-it-all to his fellow scribblers, "talked about Sheriff Joe, talked about things going on, talked about multi-million dollar judgments against him. Talked about protests. And every poll, the guy's in the 70 and 80 percent. I mean, even after this candle factory thing..."

He was quickly shot down by the show's moderator Ted Simons, who politely informed Fischer that Arpaio's approval ratings are no longer at that lofty rating. In fact, if Fischer ever paused pontificating to pull his head out of his ass, he would've realized long ago that Joe's approval ratings haven't been in the 80th percentile for years. As I've noted, time and time again, in this blog and in my column, polling over the last year shows that Arpaio's numbers have fallen from 64 percent approval in March 2007 to the current 54 percent as of the end of July 2008. And it drops even lower to 52 percent when Arpaio's matched up against rival Dan Saban.

The 52 percent number refers to Apraio's numbers vs. Saban. Joe's approval rating is currently 54 percent, according to a recent poll.

I could see the average person being snookered by Joe repeating this outrageous prevarication of him still being at an 80 percent approval rating. After all, ol' Nickel Bag spouts it just about everywhere he goes, and I've called him out on it more than once in public. But for someone who styles himself as a veteran reporter with all this supposed experience under his belt to repeat a base canard such as this one on TV is inexcusable. No wonder people have such contempt for journalists, when they preen and act omniscient when they are in reality doing nothing more than rehashing some politician's self-serving garbage.

After he was corrected, Fischer persisted in his folly, as if the fact that Joe's in the 54th percentile instead of the 80th made no difference, when clearly it does.

"Understood," replied Fischer. "But we're still down to the other half of the question. So let's assume he's down to 60, let's assume he's down to 55. Dan Saban has yet to make a concise case of why to eject him. Simply saying, `I'm different,' if you're gonna replace the horse you know with the horse you don't know, you better have a damn good reason."

I can give you over 43 million reasons, Howie. That's as in the $43 million-plus in lawsuit payouts Joe's cost the county. Then there's the incompetence of Joe's regime, the 40,000 unserved felony warrants outstanding, the costly, still-unexplained adventure in Honduras, the retribution against his enemies, the cruelty of his jails, the unconstitutional sweeps targeting Latinos. Christ, what do you have to do, catch him biting the heads off dachshunds?

But what's really unfair and asinine about Fischer's statement is that Saban has been making his case about why he should be sheriff instead of our corrupt top cop, but reporters haven't been covering him on the stump. And worse, no one has been pressuring Joe as to why he's not accepted Saban's challenge to debate. Back in June, Saban sent a registered letter to Arpaio laying down the gauntlet, and proposing seven debates. (You can read the letter for yourself, here.) To date, neither Arpaio nor any of his flunkies has responded.

When I asked Joe at one of his book signings why he hadn't responded to Saban's letter, he rolled his eyes, said he gets a lot of letters, then refused to answer any follow-up. Why aren't other reporters pressuring Arpaio on why he won't debate Dan Saban? Are they afraid of losing their access to the MCSO by doing so? Why don't you ask him next time you see him, Howie?

At a community forum in Sun City, which took place at the same time of the Sheriff's Office's August sweep in Surprise, someone placed an Arpaio bobble head doll on the table next to Saban to represent the absent sheriff. See, the Sun City event would have been one of the seven debates Saban suggested, if Arpaio'd been man enough to take him up on 'em.

During his address to the 100 or so present, Saban spoke passionately of the dollars and cents reasons why Joe needs to be replaced, and why he would put professionalism over the sort of ego-burnishing Arpaio prefers. He addressed the lawsuits, the outstanding warrants, immigration, and sheriff's office perks, like Arpaio's tony Wells Fargo offices and the sheriff's six-person PR team, which markets the county lawman nationally and internationally. He concluded by informing listeners that when he becomes sheriff, the gimmicks will go out the door.

"It’s time to trade pink underwear for pink slips," he told them.

Afterward, he didn't mince words about the sheriff's failure to debate him.

"He’s a coward," Saban said of Arpaio. "Clearly, when you watch his tactics and the way he operates. He’s not man-to-man. Come out, let’s go. You’re the self-appointed toughest sheriff in America, why would you fear a mere mortal like me?"

Saban recalled the one time they did debate, during the primary of 2004, when Saban was challenging Arpaio as a Republican, instead of a Dem, which he is now. They shared close quarters on the stage, according to Saban, and Arpaio kept poking him with his finger. (If you've ever noticed, the sheriff is a pointer.)

"I’m sitting there," remembered Saban. "A couple of times he’s tapping me on the shoulder and saying, `My opponent this, my opponent that.' I just sat there and kept it professional. I’m thinking, `I can’t lose my cool, but I’ve got to do something,' because I'm a guy too, you know."

Then each candidate was allowed a couple of minutes to give closing comments.

"So they call me first, I go up there and do my spiel," said Saban. "As I was sitting down, I said a few words to him and he just flew up out of his chair. I did take a moment to say, `Look pal, I’m not afraid of you, basically. You can do whatever you need to do, but I have a right to be here, and I’m not a 2-year-old.' I sat down, and he got up, he was all animated. You know how he gets."

Arpaio is a bully, and when confronted, he often backs down. This is why Joe does not want to face Saban mano-a-mano. Saban is not afraid of him, and he has the facts to blow him away in any public forum. In a face-to-face matchup, Joe is bound to get flustered, and lose his cool.

But is there any reason for Fischer or the other "deans" of the local journo pool here not to question Joe directly as to why he will not debate Saban? Moreover, Fischer, et al. have a duty, especially considering Joe's perfidy in office, to have their facts straight and not just repeat Joe's propaganda, as Fischer did with that 70 to 80 percent remark.

Interestingly, the roundtable missed the real story of that poll on Joe's Web site. They incorrectly stated that everyone's IP address was listed at one point, when that was not the case. (A few IP addresses were posted, but it looked like a gaffe from where I was sitting, because the site kept switching around the info., and eventually removed it altogether.) Never did the reporters mention that Joe was losing the survey on his own Web site. It's a small point, but for a sheriff who likes to portray himself as invincible, significant.

Fischer made some other dumb statements in the Horizon episode. Like this one, dealing with Arpaio's lack of probable cause for the immigration sweeps.

"Paul, they're brown," he told East Valley Tribune reporter Paul Giblin. "They're in Scottsdale and Cave Creek.That's the reason to investigate. What more do you want?"

I reckon that line was supposed to be funny, but it was more wince-able than laughable. And for some kid whose mom or dad isn't coming home because they were caught up in one of Joe's anti-Hispanic dragnets, it's downright tragic. Try thinking before speaking, Howie. You'll be amazed at the results.

If you're interested in watching Fischer imitate a horse's hindquarters, you can do so, here.

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.
Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons