The Joke's on Katie
Sheriff Joke Arpaio made another stellar showing in his ongoing campaign to promote all-that-is-backward about the great state of Arizona.

On Columbus Day, NBC's Today show pitted the Crime Avenger against Amnesty International U.S. director William Schulz on the occasion of Amnesty's first report in its 37-year history to criticize the state of human rights in the United States.

Specifically, the report focuses on inhumane treatment of prisoners in America's jails and prisons, and Maricopa County's jails--the subject of an Amnesty probe last year--are specifically cited along with some of the most heinous prisons in the country.

Said Schulz, who recognized that in most respects this country remains a human rights oasis: "The United States is the rhetorical leader in fighting human rights abuses around the world. When our own house isn't in order, that voice is diminished."

Arpaio told host Katie Couric that he wasn't happy that Amnesty had singled out his jails.

"They came down here, did a report, day and a half they spent down here. They released their report, did not give us the courtesy of responding on a few isolated incidents. So they took these isolated incidents that they read in the newspapers and came to the United States and did an investigation. And I don't think that's right. We do have a great criminal-justice system here, and maybe they should concentrate more on other countries and leave this country alone."

"Well, unfortunately, what the sheriff doesn't tell you," responded Schulz, "is that three weeks after Amnesty issued its reports about his prison, he was forced to sign a settlement agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, a 42-point agreement, including an agreement to stop using stun guns in Maricopa County jails as a form of punishment. You don't have to believe Amnesty; just believe the Department of Justice and the agreement the sheriff signed."

The Jokester was not about to let the facts get in the way of his hyperbole. "Wait a minute. The Justice Department came down here, three years they spent. They sued me and unsued me right away, with no monitoring and so on, so you're wrong. The Justice Department gave me the stun guns."

Schulz pulled a document out of his coat pocket. "I have the Justice Department settlement with your signature on it right here, and I'm happy to give it to Katie and anyone else who'd like to review it. It's down here in black and white, and you know it."

"Yeah, I know it," Arpaio barked back, "but I'm saying again they found no systemic violence in our jail system. That's why that was settled." (The Jokenheimer fibbed here. Two independent investigators contracted by the Justice Department did find systemic abuse in the jails. That abuse was cited in the lawsuit filed by the Justice Department on October 31, 1997.)

Schulz pressed on: "They agreed to settle the case because you agreed to stop using restraint chairs. You used them 600 times in a six-month period. To give you a comparison, the State of Utah used metal restraint chairs three times in a six-month period--the entire state. And no one would accuse Utah of being soft on crime. Your jail used them 600 times."

Interrupted Arpaio: "We're still using the restraint chairs, and we're still using stun-gun devices."

Couric asked the Sher if it's possible that stun guns and restraint chairs could be misused. But the Sheriff dismissed such misuse as "isolated instances," a phrase he uses like a mantra whenever anyone brings up the problems in his gulag.

Couric let Schulz have the last word: "Part of the problem here, Katie, it's not just Sheriff Jo[k]e Arpaio or Maricopa County. Part of the problem is that the vast majority of prisoners in our jails are going to be back on the street sooner or later. The vast majority of prisoners have to be reintegrated into society. When they have been abused in prison, when they've been treated like animals, when they've been shocked for punishment, not just control, that's not building safer streets for Americans."

Situation Fluid
After last week's gubernatorial forum held by the Children's Action Alliance at the Orpheum Theatre, attendees and the candidates mingled outside and sampled food from a buffet.

Some of Governor Jane Hull's campaign workers handed out a promotional item: bottled water with Hull's name on the label.

Quipped a Paul Johnson supporter: "See, I told you she's giving away our water."

Paper Chase
The October edition of the American Journalism Review printed a long piece about Thomson Corporation, a colossal conglomerate that owns (among other things) 58 newspapers in the United States and Canada, including the Tribune in Mesa.

Thomson, which had revenues of $8.8 billion last year, has long been known in the business for producing truly wretched publications. Thomson's CEO conceded a few years ago that the company penny-pinched its way to "cruddy" newspapers.

The reporter of the AJR piece, William Prochnau, spent some time at the Tribune, which he called Thomson's "most adventuresome and out-of-character experiment," i.e., the company is competing with a major metro daily, the Arizona Republic, and is actually trying to put out a good product.

Prochnau interviewed the Trib's executive editor, Alan Geere, the British genius who cracked Flashes in July after foisting the "Good News Tribune" on the East Valley. (Remember the headlines: "Valley's water tastiest in years" and "Kindness makes a comeback"?)

The reporter recounts a Trib news meeting at which one of the stories considered for Page 1 is about rising tensions between the United States and Iraq. After the meeting, Prochnau reports, Geere buttonholes the Trib's circulation manager, Michael Romero, who routinely attends news meetings, to discuss the profit potential of another war with Iraq.

"We need to get ready for this war," Prochnau quotes Geere as saying. "Who are we going to sell to? Where are we going to make some money?"

Realizing that Prochnau is listening in, Geere "hits the brakes like a truck at a red-light intersection. Romero doesn't get the pregnancy of it. Make money off the war. Geere has run right over his foot. And he knows that I know that he knows."

Incidentally, Prochnau takes a swipe at the Republic, which he describes as "the Phoenix metro whose reputation often suffers as much as Thomson's."

As if to prove that point, the back page of the October AJR contains a huge ad for Parade magazine, the fluffy celebrity sheet that's stuffed among all those Sunday inserts. The headline on the ad quotes Republic publisher John Oppedahl: "Parade motivates people to buy our paper."

The Flash thought it was the coupons.

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