Who Wants a Lap-Dog Press? Your Gov

Page 2 of 4

Mofford also refused to release to New Times her complete schedule of activities, saying we'd have to settle for the sketchy list she hands to all the media. We're not the only newspaper angry with so little information about the governor's comings and goings, to say nothing about the complete lack of information on whom she's meeting with privately.

Press frustrations finally boiled over last month when Manager suddenly announced there had been an assassination attempt on the governor's life while she was having lunch in Florence. What really happened is a former Pinal County attorney, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had the bad luck to show up at a restaurant where Mofford was dining. He took his unloaded gun in with him, preferring not to leave the antique in his truck. Within minutes, security guards from the Department of Public Safety realized this was no assassination attempt. But it took hours for the press to get the real story from Manager.

More galling than Manager's misinformation was the fact that the governor's official schedule for that day said she was in the office. That's why there were no reporters with her. In fact, Mofford's official schedules for months now have been virtually useless, reporting to the press that she's in the office--except when she's out at some ceremonial function.

Last week Manager promised better schedules. But that doesn't mean that the press--or the public--is going to find out what the state's chief executive is really up to. "She will continue to respect the privacy of private individuals," Manager said. Those "private individuals" include lobbyists and other special interests who are trying to get Mofford to sign or veto a specific piece of legislation. Mofford doesn't think it's the public's business who is whispering into her ear.

And those "private individuals" also include people with whom the governor meets in an effort to raise money for the 1990 campaign, Manager acknowledged.

The governor's pronouncement on which reporters are acceptable to her puts her in the same league as her ousted predecessor. Mecham, upset with some of the writings of Gazette columnist John Kolbe, simply declared him a "nonperson" and refused to answer any of his questions. The press was outraged and bemused, even having Nonperson buttons printed up.

AP bureau chief Gavin Scott says he's not willing to stand by and watch Lopez reduced to a nonperson. "We cannot have the governor or anyone else telling us how to assign our staff," he said last week.

Scott said allowing the governor to get away with this kind of tactic would have a chilling effect on how the media cover the governor when she does something bad. "A reporter may say, `Well, gee, if I write that story, I won't be allowed to be in the next press pool or cover the governor's office,'" and may be tempted not to write the story to stay in the governor's good graces.

The capitol press corps met a month ago with Manager and chief of staff George Cunningham to vent its frustrations over Mofford's inaccessibility. That meeting was an off-the-record gripe session. The two officials promised to take the concerns to the governor and get back to the media with her answers. Those answers came last week as Mofford's advisers unveiled her new press policy. Manager and Cunningham assumed this meeting, too, would be off-the-record. But New Times alone objected, saying the discussion of the governor's press policies directly affected the public's right to know.

There were other revelations from that meeting. Mofford doesn't think she has to notify anyone when a top aide or state official resigns.

"One thing you've got to understand about the governor," explained Manager. "She has tremendous loyalty to her staff." What that means in practice is the staffers get to decide exactly how they want their leaving played.

We got a sample of that earlier this month when long-time Mofford confidante Karen Scates decided to call it quits. Scates, who earned $72,500 a year as a special assistant to the governor, didn't want the press notified. Instead, she wanted to leak her plans to leave to Republic columnist Keven Willey, possibly in hopes of getting a sympathetic piece in the Sunday paper. At the very least, she didn't want anyone to rehash the long-standing and bitter power struggle between her and Cunningham, which she apparently lost.

But Gazette reporter Mike Murphy got wind of Scates' flight from the ninth floor early and ran a front-page piece in his Saturday paper. That left Willey--who had written only a few terse lines anyway--with a nonscoop.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Howard Fischer