Was it deceptive?
Of course it was deceptive.
Was it unethical?
Welllll . . . let's talk about that.
Under my instruction, New Times writer David Koen called State Senator Jan Brewer, and during each of the three phone interviews Koen pretended to be Doug MacEachern of the Mesa Tribune.
Despite what you may think, and certainly in contradiction to what you've been told, this ploy is a common, if not honored, journalistic tradition--unless the deception is done by New Times, in which case the tactic threatens to undermine the Monroe Doctrine, the Magna Carta and boy-girl-boy-girl seating arrangements at civilized dinner parties throughout Arizona.
Senator Brewer introduced a bill that would make it illegal to sell certain rock albums to anyone under the age of eighteen. Violators would go to jail. She has fifteen co-sponsors for this incredible legislation, including the normally less-addled president of the Senate, Robert Usdane.
The bill seeks to brand as adult-only any album that encourages violence, violent sex, the illegal consumption of alcohol, the use of drugs, and, I swear to God, sodomy and bestiality. (You did not know that the reason teenagers were dropping out of Arizona schools in record numbers was because Junior wanted to spend more quality time with Rover?)
From the first seductive notes of rhythm and blues to the earliest groin-tingling twangs of rock 'n' roll, certain parents blamed hip-shaking music for the ills of the world. In the beginning, the target was race music; today the heat is on rap, a black urban phenomenon embraced by white kids and described by the Reverend Jesse Jackson as the most important development in American music since jazz.
Brewer's bill occurs just as Florida Governor Bob Martinez is announcing a criminal investigation of Miami rappers 2 Live Crew and at the same time that the state of Alabama is indicting a record store owner on obscenity charges for selling the band's tape, Move Something.
If, after more than four decades of records, the Jan Brewers of the world still insist upon carrying on like cracker Pentecostals with snakes clenched between their teeth, it hardly seems adequate to challenge their booby legislation with pipe-puffing, well-intentioned editorials a la Anthony Lewis of the New York Times. In fact, the more we thought about Brewer's bill, the more we at the paper became convinced that she should be the object of satire.
This presented problems.
What if Brewer refused to talk to New Times? Worse, what if she tailored her response because of the paper's progressive political reputation? And surely Brewer would be aware that this publication devotes more coverage to contemporary music than any medium in the entire state, a fact which would hardly suggest to the senator a hospitable venue for her ignorant beliefs.
We decided to offer Senator Brewer the opportunity to express her views to the Mesa Tribune, a newspaper with a reputation for conservative, Mormon, retired readers (despite the television ads implying what a jazzy, jivey audience resides in Mesa and reads the paper).
So our David Koen masqueraded as their Doug MacEachern.
Good Lawdy, Miss Clawdy, what an uproar.
Morning columnist E.J. Montini was deeply offended. Afternoon columnist Dennis Wagner was highly revolted. Every television station did a spot that included a question on our ethics. The Arizona Republic then ran an editorial cartoon calling us to task. From as far away as Tucson, the Arizona Daily Star found it necessary to editorialize about our journalistic ethics.
Why, the very idea of pretending to be someone you are not!
The Arizona Republic, always on the lookout for a way in which to provide intelligent, evenhanded coverage of its weekly neighbor, commissioned a page-two blowout analyzing our ethics.
The local chapter of Sigma Delta Chi, the fraternal journalism club for reporters who did not outgrow their need to be identified as Greeks, issued a press release alerting the media that they, too, found the Brewer bit deplorable. They asked us to pledge to never again blah, blah, blah.
Finally, citing the Brewer incident, public television station KAET (Channel 8) fired New Times editor Jana Bommersbach as its regular commentator.
No one in this office is surprised at the shabby treatment of Ms. Bommersbach by the Jacques Cousteau liberals at KAET. Save the whales, spare the elephants and screw free speech.
We should have expected nothing less than what we got from our honorable opposition in the Arizona media.
Still, our readers might enjoy a little insight into the hypocrisy and double standard at play in this little soap opera.
The very week that New Times was denounced for our impersonation, KTSP (Channel 10) broadcast an investigative series on private psychiatric hospitals. Using hidden cameras and employees who posed as people off the street, Channel 10's Becky Oliver produced a startling expose of abuses in these institutions. Last June this station's William LaJeunesse won an Emmy for his story on supervisory home care, a story he got by pretending to be a boarder. No one told the targets in these stories that a television reporter was preparing to hammer their brains out with interviews and film footage obtained by flying false flags.