Trial By Media (Part II)

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Here is what Muller did.
First, he affected a gee-whiz tone, projecting amazement that Carey's lawyers had shown up at Vasquez's unemployment hearing. This effectively made the prosecutor a heel in the article.

Lest anyone miss his point, Muller quoted Vasquez commenting on the presence of the lawyers:

"I almost started to laugh, it was so absurd," said Vasquez, 44, who was accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter at a September hearing to ask the state for unemployment benefits. "I mean, this was a DES appeal hearing."

Then, Muller colored the argument by portraying the hearing as unfair and suggesting that Carey's lawyers intimidated the waif, Vasquez. Once again her lack of COBRA coverage was invoked by the writer and, wherever possible, the deprivation and poverty forced upon her by Carey were described.

The article was disingenuous on a number of levels.
This was hardly an ordinary unemployment hearing. Half of the lawyers in the Attorney General's Office had already been questioned by investigators who were taking witnesses before Romley's grand jury.

Vasquez was seeking unemployment compensation, which is normally unavailable to those who resign, based on her contention that Carey's illegal behavior--misuse of the AG's trust fund--forced her to leave.

Of course Carey's lawyers were present; she was there to make an official record of her former boss's supposed criminality.

It is true that Carey's lawyer, Paul Eckstein, is well-known. As Arizona's premier First Amendment attorney, he has, over the years, represented most of the media outlets in the state, including the Arizona Republic and New Times.

In all that time, no one with any sense has used his name and the term "intimidation" in the same sentence. And to imply that Vasquez, a legal secretary for 21 years, was terrified of any lawyer is just plain storytelling.

But Muller's questionable reporting is not a matter of shading.
When Muller called, the lawyer took extra steps to make sure that the reporter was given relevant data, rather than a brusque "no comment."

Because the arena was an unemployment hearing, and not a secret grand jury panel, Eckstein said he made a point of telling Muller that Vasquez had been offered another post within the attorney general's vast complex before she resigned. Therefore, her unemployment claim was doubly spurious; not only had she resigned, but she had refused a comparable job that would have kept her salary and health benefits intact.

Had this information been included in Muller's article, however, the pose of Vasquez as an abject victim--a victimhood that the writer had carefully crafted--might have lost some of its holiday luster.

Eckstein also provided the reporter with a tape recording of the entire unemployment hearing, so Muller could hear for himself the details and tone of what was said.

In denying her request for review, the Appeals Board for the Department of Economic Security cited the very same tape when it addressed Vasquez's charge of intimidation.

"The tape reflects that the employer's attorney did not raise his voice, or otherwise act improperly. On the contrary, the record establishes that the claimant improperly and unreasonably refused to answer a properly phrased question ..."

Vasquez simply refused to be cross-examined, bolting from the witness stand and telling the hearing officer to keep the unemployment money.

There was a parade of witnesses who contradicted Vasquez.
Not a single sentence from this enormous record found its way into Muller's article.

When he described the Anna Ott kidnaping rescue, the reporter recycled Vasquez's claim that she had acted on her own without a supervisor's input.

"Because the office's directors were in a meeting, Vasquez coordinated the case with Mesa authorities, who ultimately saved the child ...," wrote Muller.

But that isn't what Vasquez said at the hearing.
That was Vasquez's old version of events, a sequence that Muller apparently picked up from dated newspaper clips. Muller did not return repeated phone calls.

At the unemployment hearing, Vasquez changed her story.
Had Muller bothered to listen to the tape in his possession, he'd have heard Vasquez say for the first time that she actually secured permission to personally handle the abduction.

This represented a startling reversal and would have given Muller's story a dramatic news peg.

But none of what you're about to read appeared in Muller's article.
"I explained to them what had happened," testified Vasquez. "And I said, 'What should I do with this information?'

"Mike Cudahy's the head of the criminal division there," explained Vasquez on the stand. "And Mike said to me, 'Contact the Mesa PD, right away.' So that's what I did. I contacted Mesa, and then I put Mesa PD in touch with Oakland PD. Oakland PD then faxed the felony warrants over to Mesa, and that was basically the end of it for the afternoon."

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Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey

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