Vaya Con Dios

Page 5 of 8

A few months later, grace once again intervened. I did not need the Tribune any longer since a benefactor had appeared out of nowhere, the indefatigable Florence M. Mahoney. I consider Florence one of the most important American women of the 20th century, and she was a master at connecting people with ideas — and, Lord, she had plenty of them.

Her former husband had been publisher of the defunct Miami News, which was owned by Cox Newspapers. She was a friend of the rich and powerful, having entertained John F. Kennedy in her Georgetown home the night before he was inaugurated president.

Florence was impressed with my coverage of Symington for the Tribune, which at the time was also part of the Cox Newspapers chain. I told her the brass had abandoned the effort and that I wanted to start my own weekly.

She pulled out a checkbook and provided the seed money to start the Southwest Sage.

Barbara and I set off for Flagstaff to start the Sage. She sold ads, something she had never done before, and did it well and with grace. I handled the editorial side, with far less tact but with plenty of vigor. It was an ambitious venture that absorbed every minute of our lives.

We quickly were overwhelmed. It soon became clear that we could either raise our children or publish the paper. The choice was clear.

We shut down the Sage, but not before it won a couple first-place awards from the Arizona Press Club, and not before every advertiser had paid his bill in full. By early 1993, my old friend Jeremy Voas was managing editor of New Times, and he encouraged me to join the alternative paper in Phoenix.

"This place is made for you," he told me.

So I hitched my horse to Michael Lacey's free weekly, and we moved back to the Valley of the Sun.

Voas was right. New Times provided a platform that allowed me to pursue investigative journalism without fear or favor and with the complete support of the paper.

I soon honed the art of attack journalism.

Rather than sitting back and waiting for "newsmakers" to hold "press conferences" to spin their views, I dug into the underbelly of the beast. I loudly demanded information, often through the Arizona Public Records Law, which is vital to journalists providing the public with a better understanding of why their community is what it is.

The kind of journalism I practiced at New Times is not for the weak-hearted who want approval from the powerful and wealthy, or who want to be invited to lunch with the governor and to power brokers' fancy parties.

Attack journalism inevitably leads to confrontation with powerful interests. That is why the in-your-face, irreverent, counterintuitive, fuck-'em-all attitude at New Times was the place for a guy like me.

New Times lives by the credo set down by Joseph Pulitzer nearly a century ago: "A newspaper should have no friends."

It was into this environment that I parachuted in March 1993, and I immediately delivered a knockout blow to then-senator Dennis DeConcini, exposing his staff's ties to the notorious Charles Keating. Shortly after the lengthy feature story was published, DeConcini announced his retirement from the Senate.

I then set my sights once again on the corruption that swirled around Fife Symington.

For three years, I retraced his sordid business dealings and wrote a series of stories that exposed his fraudulent ways. New Times played a crucial role in knocking Symington out of office, exposing his corruption long before the rest of the media even took notice.

But politics was only one area of interest.

Then-New Times writer David Pasztor and I reported on the widespread and critical breakdowns in the steam generators at Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Our reporting was based on thousands of pages of documents that the power plant's operator, Arizona Public Service Company, had abandoned in an old hotel.

I trekked deep into the Blue River Wilderness Area in eastern Arizona with the late conservationist Mike Seidman to report how the federal government's plan to reintroduce the Mexican gray wolf was doomed to failure unless the wolf's range was greatly expanded.

In the summer of 2000, I found myself in Sakhalin, Russia, pursuing a story on the near extinction of the mighty Western Pacific gray whale, whose feeding area is now being turned into a huge offshore oil and gas development by Shell.

That same year, I went north to Neah Bay, Washington, to document the spiritual resurgence of the Makah Tribe, which had once again resumed hunting the far more prolific Eastern Pacific gray whale.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty