Media Watch


The Arizona Daily Star's series on the military's potentially increased role in the Tucson and Sierra Vista economies earlier this week was interesting reading. But it was missing something.

Monday's piece examined community sentiment about the base--including businesses that like seeing base personnel spending money in their establishments, and the folks who don't much like the jet noise that comes from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's mission of training pilots "to fly, fight and win."

It would have been a perfect opportunity to take a look at how one group operates within the local power elite: the DM-50, which was formed back in the 1980s, when Davis-Monthan's future was far less certain than it appears today.

The DM-50 is a group of 69 civic and business leaders who do good things for base welfare and morale, and act as a lobbying group to remind federal officials that Tucson has a very soft spot in its heart for the base. According to Michael J. Harris, the group's current president and an original member, the criteria involve volunteering to work with the group, having an existing member willing to vouch for you and a good-sized checkbook. Dues are $500 annually, he said, and members probably pay another $500 or so a year for special events or other situations.

Among those situations was a picnic in November for base personnel and their families. Harris said the event cost about $29,000.

The Desert Airman, Davis-Monthan's unofficial newspaper, listed the Star among the donors supporting the event.

"The Star's a member," Harris said. Then he explained that the memberships are personal commitments, rather than business-connected.

"I'm a member because I'm Mike Harris, not because I'm Mike Harris of Long Realty," he said, adding, however, that it was possible that some members might not pay their expenses out of pocket.

The Star's member is Editor and Publisher Jane Amari, who said she had nothing to do with last week's series. And she doesn't pay out of pocket, because, "I'm the publisher, and what I join as publisher, the Star pays for."

Amari said she's been a "not very active" member of the 50 for about two years, and sees no conflict of interest between membership in the DM-50 and her jobs as the Star's editor and publisher.

"I sit on a lot of boards," Amari said. "That's part of what a publisher does--be active in the community. I sit on the Red Cross board. Is that a conflict of interest?"

She said that "every publisher I know is active in the community, on the United Way, the convention and visitors bureau. The publisher is the public face of the newspaper."

The Star apparently has not reported on Amari's membership, and when asked about that, Amari commented: "Why? It's no secret, just as it's no secret that I'm a member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council."

OK. So there's no conflict for publisher Jane Amari. No surprise there. Most publishers are expected to do a chunk of community service, but nobody seems to have a clear feeling of at what point a publisher's involvements end up in the wrong.

And many newspapers' codes of ethics are written in a way that gives publishers an unspoken exemption, usually by statements that the code applies to "news employees" or "staff members and editors."

But Amari's title includes "editor," which implies that ultimately, anything and everything that requires a decision could be her call.

But that's not the case, she said.

Reporting assignments and day-to-day operations are the purview of Executive Editor Bobbie Jo Buel and Managing Editor Therese D. Hayt. Amari also is a member of the Star's editorial board, which determines the paper's position on issues. But, when asked if she leaves the room or recuses herself in some way when Davis-Monthan issues come up, Amari said: "I don't go to the daily editorial board meetings. I don't see the editorial page until it's finished."

She said that she's only killed one editorial in her tenure at the Star, "and that one had nothing to do with the DM-50."

Amari said the editorial board members are aware of her membership.

So, technically speaking, she's doing all the right stuff required by Star policy--staying clear of involvement in matters related to something she's joined.

Or so it would seem.

There's still that pesky question of appearances, and Amari's membership, paid for by the Star, sure looks like she's put the newspaper on one side of the issue.

For a comment on that, we turn not to Star editor-publisher Jane Amari, but a column she wrote in October 1999 as executive editor of The News Journal in Wilmington, Del. Ironically, the column appeared the same week that Amari was named to the editor/publisher job in Tucson.

Amari had turned down an invitation to be honorary chairwoman of a fund-raiser, because accepting would have been a conflict of interest under the paper's code of ethics.

In the column, Amari said she told the person: "Some readers might think we would give better coverage to a charity I was personally involved in. Although that isn't the case, the perception would certainly be there. It's what we call a conflict of interest, and it's something we are careful to avoid. Our ethics policy is very specific, because independence from influence is a cornerstone of unbiased coverage."

The column went on to say: "We will maintain independence. This is the area I alluded to with my caller. It means we will have no relationships, business interests or other involvements that might bias our coverage or might make it appear to be biased."