KMSB VS. STUDENT VOTERS?Students conducting a voter registration drive on the UA mall Aug. 31 say they felt intimidated and attacked by a KMSB/Fox 11 reporter who suggested they may have unintentionally committed a felony.
Reporter Natalie Tejeda got that information from Christopher J. Roads, the county registrar of voters. The law is highly ambiguous, but in Tejeda's report, Roads posited that according to residency requirements, out-of-state students would have to show an intent to remain in Arizona before they could register to vote here. "The form in Arizona is an affidavit," he said. "It is a felony offense if you are lying on that form."
Juliana Zuccaro, vice president of the Network of Feminist Student Activists, which was leading the drive to register young women to vote, says Roads is dead wrong, and that she and colleague Kelly Krauss argued the point with Tejeda. They were dismayed to see Tejeda reporting that night and the following morning that "Legally, students from out of state aren't eligible to vote in Arizona because they're considered temporary residents."
The students consulted several attorneys and other advisers, and although no two state or county government agencies exactly agree on students' residency requirements, they got enough information to support their position. They held a press conference last week declaring that it was perfectly legal for out-of-state students to vote in Pima County as long as they've lived here 29 days. Even Pima County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez backpedaled from Roads' statement in comments last week to the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
The students demanded a retraction from Fox 11. But Diane Frisch, general manager of KMSB, stands by her reporter's work.
"We covered both sides of the story, and they're unhappy with that, which they have every right to be," says Frisch. "But we felt very confident about the information we reported, which came right out of the recorder's office. We're not trying to discourage people from voting; we're just providing information on what Pima County believes qualifies people to be registered voters."
The question of voter intimidation is a serious one, with rumors swirling (mainly from the John Kerry camp) that Republicans are trying to scare off and misinform potential Democratic voters. Adding to the local trouble was the name "Fox"; the students associated Fox 11 with the blatantly partisan Fox News cable channel.
"We're two separate organizations," says Frisch. KMSB is owned by Belo Corporation, not Fox, just as the other local affiliates are owned by individual companies, not their networks.
Still, Zuccaro felt she was being strong-armed by Tejeda. "She kept pressing us; we felt very much attacked," she says. "And it is intimidating for students to register to vote when the news says there's a potential that you're committing a felony."
Meanwhile, KMSB cut back its hour-long 9 p.m. newscasts to 30 minutes this week. Says Frisch, "All our research tells us that our viewers want their news update and sports and weather in half an hour, and then they're trashed; they're going to bed."