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NEWS BLACKOUT

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Let me be crass for a moment, however, and raise this little reason for concern: your bank account.

At this point, no one can say whether this investigation will confirm or disprove the allegations of inmate abuse at the jails. Should abuse be proven, though, the taxpayers of Maricopa County could wind up paying for all sorts of corrective actions required by the federal government. More guards. More training. Construction of a jail to replace the inhumane joke Sheriff Joe calls tent city.

And if the feds discover that a lot of inmates have been mistreated, you can expect the cost of settling lawsuits those inmates have filed to rise--astronomically.

So why did almost all of the journalists in this Valley not think it worth their time to tell you that tough-talkin', God-fearin' Sheriff Joe might wind up costing us all millions of dollars?

That's not a question I can answer in a simple way. The daily media have had no problems reporting every insignificant public relations stunt Arpaio and his staff could concoct. Yet those media seem all but paralyzed by important news that reflects negatively on prominent people and institutions.

I've been given all sorts of explanations for this fear of news.
I've been told that it's the fault of boosteristic, meddling, scaredy-cat, ideologically rabid ownership. Or it's the editors, chosen on the basis of tameness. Or reporters who are rewarded for inoffensiveness and punished for enterprise. Then there's the Petrousian explanation: There's just a tradition of journalistic mediocrity here, a cult of incompetence.

All of this may, in one way or another, be true. But even Steve Petrou would have reported the story of a federal investigation of the county jail--regardless of how that story initially came to light. And if the conditions of journalistic employment in Phoenix are so horribly stifling, how is it that some daily journalists manage to do good work? What about Montini and Benson? What about, for example, Susan Leonard?

That's right, Susan Leonard. When she did not return my phone call last week, I decided to reread several stories she wrote earlier this year on the apparent mistreatment of inmates at Arpaio's jails. The stories--which, ultimately, question whether Arpaio's tough-guy talk is encouraging inmate mistreatment at the jail--are solid, important, almost prescient journalism. I wish New Times had published them. And she, alone among our horde of daily reporters and editors, rescued the federal investigation of the jail from media oblivion.

Actually, had Leonard not been on vacation, it is quite possible she would have beaten New Times to the jail story. She was on it hard.

Well, maybe Susan Leonard wasn't the best example to choose, after all. As part of the merger of staffs at the Gazette and Republic last week, she was reassigned. You won't often be seeing Susan Leonard's byline on page one anymore. She'll apparently be working out in the East Valley now, doing some kind of zoned or community-based reporting--miles and miles from the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and tough-talkin', God-fearin' Joe Arpaio.

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John Mecklin