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THE GOVERNOR'S 800-POUND GORILLA

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Susan Schmidt at the Washington Post said she had been targeted with a half dozen of Dowd's letters. Her immediate editor as well as the Post's executive editor, Leonard Downey, have also been upbraided by Dowd. John Dougherty said his paper, the Mesa Tribune, has at least six of Dowd's letters. In New York, Institutional Investor was asked to retract; closer to home, the Arizona Republic's Mary Jo Pitzl was also singled out by Dowd for a letter of demand.

Nor has Dowd confined his threats to journalists; Arizona's Secretary of State Dick Mahoney, who was quoted in stories regarding Symington's recordkeeping, was warned of courthouse retribution.

And now that MacNeil/Lehrer and New Times have also received correction demands, the informal count of cranky Dowd letters has climbed to approximately 19. No one has retracted, and Dowd has not sued.

Asked directly about press targets, Dowd was close-mouthed: "I am not at liberty to comment."

The response is surprising because Dowd is not above publicizing his bellicose correspondence.

On January 27 he wrote to Jeff Bruce, executive editor of the Mesa Tribune: ". . . Please be advised that this letter and my letters of January 22, 1992, will be distributed to all members of the media and the public so that we can keep your conduct out in the sunshine where it belongs. This is not a leak. It is an open, public disclosure, unlike the anonymous sources in the government who provide false information to the Washington Post and others . . ."

And with that, Dowd faxed his complaints with the Tribune to assorted Arizona media.

This particular tactic of Dowd's serves two purposes: Letters of demand for retraction copied to other papers damage a reporter's reputation for competence by providing competitors with a one-sided interpretation of an article; Dowd's letters also serve notice on every journalist who sees one of the attorney's densely packed legal missiles that Governor Symington, deep pockets and all, is feeling highly litigious.

Finally, Dowd openly boasts that he has instructed the governor to simply refuse to answer any questions put forth by a reporter who has given offense.

For instance, in his letter of demand for retractions to the Arizona Republic, Dowd writes, ". . . it will be my recommendation to Governor Symington that he simply have no further dealings with Mary Jo Pitzl."

Symington's policy of media intimidation is not limited to threats of libel. When first contacted by the producers of MacNeil/Lehrer, the governor quickly accepted the chance for national exposure. But when he learned that PBS also intended to interview journalists at New Times, Symington haughtily informed MacNeil/Lehrer that he would be unavailable if anyone from this publication went on the air. Of course, once MacNeil/Lehrer refused to buckle under to the governor's threats, Symington quickly changed his mind and talked a blue streak before the cameras. Symington's thin-skinned arrogance is not shocking to those he governs, but John Dowd is a relative newcomer to Arizona's political landscape.

@rule:
@body:John Dowd is, perhaps, best known as the controversial attorney who handled baseball's investigation of Pete Rose in 1989.

In his erudite book on baseball commissioner Bart Giamatti and Pete Rose, author James Reston Jr. paints Dowd as the hard-nosed attorney who nailed "Charlie Hustle" for gambling.

After reading Reston's account of the Rose investigation, Collision at Home Plate, one can fairly conclude that Dowd was ruthless. For example, when a key witness against Rose flunked a lie-detector test administered by a retired FBI agent with 25 years' experience, Dowd brought in a different polygrapher. The second examination bolstered Dowd's case.

Dowd described Reston's account of the lie-detector test "demonstrably erroneous" and said that, "Richard Arther, the dean of polygraphers, was always our first choice. He was unavailable and I believe overseas at the beginning of our investigation."

The biggest issue of the case, however, concerned testimony against Rose by a convicted felon who was up for sentencing at the time. Dowd arranged to have Commissioner Giamatti write a letter to the judge vouching for the man. The volatile letter was conceived and written by Dowd.

The baseball player's attorneys erupted, claiming that Dowd's witness simply traded questionable information in exchange for the commissioner's help with the sentencing judge. Furthermore, Giamatti's endorsement of this unsavory character, argued Rose's attorneys, destroyed any pretext of neutrality on the commissioner's part. Giamatti, after all, was charged with sitting in judgment of Rose once the investigation was completed.

The courts agreed with Pete Rose and issued an injunction halting the proceedings.

Dowd's famous report on Rose was disputed as much as "Giamatti's letter." One of Rose's attorneys, Robert Stachler, called as an expert witness the former chief counsel and staff director of the Senate Watergate Committee, Sam Dash.

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey