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The Stupidity of Silencing Jana

Writing about Jana Bommersbach's suspension from her job as commentator on Channel 8 is a tricky piece of business.

It is one of those events about which it's difficult to speak and impossible to maintain silence.

First of all, Bommersbach is both a friend and fellow worker, as well as being a journalist who has gained respect and recognition over a long period of time.

I'm on Jana's side.
But my feelings are intensified because I've always had a particular disdain for the self-righteous types of both television and the print press. The Sigma Delta Chi journalism society, which has intruded itself on the fringe of this issue, has never been more than a collection of hacks, incompetents and weasels who get by in the newspaper business through office politics.

Further, I have serious doubts about anyone who thinks he's performing significant journalistic work by appearing on Channel 8's Horizon. It is a show which I find not only contemptibly pretentious but also so utterly and totally boring as to defy description.

Do you think anyone in his right mind would spend more than three seconds conversing on any topic with John Kolbe, that mustachioed dreadnought who serves as Horizon's political seer, or Michael Grant, that vacant-faced interlocutor?

Now, we are told that Bommersbach may still be able to appear on Horizon in the future if other "respectable" journalists don't object to being seen on camera with her.

Kolbe says grandly that he has no objection to appearing with the New Times editor. He does, however, have reservations about the rest of the New Times staff.

I suppose the rest of us will somehow get over this snub in time.

I'm trying to think of ways to lighten this up.
How does one deal with the professorial types from the Arizona State Remedial Reading University? Or the journalistic societies? They demand apologies and promises that everyone desist from having fun.

There's a classic story about fabled reporter Ben Hecht when he worked for the Chicago Daily Journal many years ago. One day, Hecht was given the assignment of going out on the street and "finding a story." In his book, A Child of the Century, Hecht tells what happened next:

"I recall the Runaway Streetcar. A motorman had fainted at his controls, and his streetcar, filled with screaming passengers, had hurtled wildly through the streets.

"I remember the photograph we took of terrified pedestrians waving their arms at a passing streetcar, and I remember the `staging' of the picture. It had involved an outlay of five dollars.

"I am unable either to recall or to figure out now in what manner I made this fantastic lie sound plausible enough to be accepted as news, how or with what data and witnesses I could have backed it up. But I remember it in print on the front page.

"And I remember my editor defending me against an outraged representative of the streetcar company when he came to demand apologies and retractions.

"Your organization, sir, is already in sufficiently bad odor with its graft and boodle politics. I advise you not to add to your crimes the libel of the press.

"And in conclusion, I can tell you I would rather take the word of any of my reporters before the sworn testimony of all the millionaires of Chicago." You can imagine what Hecht would have thought about Senator Jan Brewer's complaints.

To my mind, the members of the Arizona legislature are pathetic figures worthy of contempt. They are either too lazy, too venal or too incompetent to hold real jobs.

They have always been a totally unprincipled bunch with their hands held out to any tinhorn lobbyist sturdy enough to make it to the doors of the capitol.

Their stupidity and cupidity make them deserving of every bit of derision that can be heaped upon them.

And if ridicule drives them out of office, we will all be the better for it.

The decision of Chuck Allen, Channel 8's general manager, to fire Bommersbach, came about through a circuitous thinking process.

Says one man close to him:
"He wanted Jana to defend the New Times, but he decided she did it much too eloquently and with too much feeling. So when the right-wing followers of Senator Brewer began their phone campaign, Allen decided that Jana had to get the ax to calm them all down." When Jana Bommersbach left the employ of the Arizona Republic, she was considered to be its best writer and reporter. During her stint at New Times, she has been chosen as the top journalist in the state. Her journalistic credentials are flawless.

For nearly five years, Bommersbach served as the conscience of this state in her role as a Channel 8 commentator. She spoke out for the underdog without artifice. She spoke from a set of decent and firmly held personal principles. She also made sense and had the ability to laugh at herself.

Whether you agreed with her conclusions or not, Bommersbach was worth watching and listening to.

And so now, to soothe the Visigoths and various other know-nothings, Channel 8 has silenced Jana Bommersbach, the single honest spokesman in its stable.

Something is terribly wrong.

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Tom Fitzpatrick