The Skinny

NEW, IMPROVED SMILEY-FACE STAR EMBRACES CREEPING CORPORATE FASCISM: We recently had the distasteful experience of dining on rubber chicken in the presence of Jane Amari, The Arizona Daily Star's shiny new publisher. She was speaking to the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association last month, and we just happened to be there looking for love in all the wrong places.

What we heard was the same-old, same-old, as tired as the chicken on our plate:

"There are not many businesses around that are protected by an amendment to the Constitution. That is an enormous responsibility, and that means we owe a debt to society. And part of the way we pay that debt is with investigative reporting and with being a watchdog."

Yeah, right. Which is why, under Amari's prodding, the Star will begin printing more fluffy "positive news," and trivial neighborhood-specific "zoned" editions, as she promised the builders. Lots of positive investigative reporting to do in all those mushrooming stuccohoods, we're sure.

But aside from this annoying doublespeak, one of the most troubling aspects of Amari's talk was the following:

"When we got the First Amendment, when we were given freedom of the press, it came with a responsibility to make the citizens good voters and good citizens. And part of what we do has to answer that."

No, Jane, you've got it all wrong.

First of all, nobody "gave" us the First Amendment or freedom of the press. As Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights; the First Amendment merely put a few of those rights into words.

Secondly, the founders did not write the First Amendment with an eye to a so-called "fourth estate" of government responsible for turning out good little voters and friendly citizens. Nothing so cozy was expressed or implied by the Bill of Rights.

All the First Amendment says is, "Congress shall make no law abridging" press freedom -- and the same goes for religion. By the way, did someone "give" us our religious freedom, too?

Amari's idea that the press has certain responsibilities in our democracy is, in general terms, an extremely dangerous one. If the press is to do certain things or to be held to certain standards, who determines those duties and sets those standards? The government? Business interests? Academia? The Mafia?

The press, in general terms, should be beholden to no interests other than its own, and should operate with no special duties -- or privileges -- under the ordinary law of the land. Only in this way can a free and unfettered press ask questions that others dare not ask and say things others dare not say -- the common-law doctrines of libel permitting, of course.

In the specific instance of Amari and the big-money interests she serves at Pulitzer Publishing, certainly nothing is stopping them from taking it upon themselves to turn us all into good little voters and citizens.

We suspect, however, that Amari's avowed mission to do so is founded more upon Pulitzer's need to appeal to a broad base of large-scale advertisers. In a depressing little riff, she also talked about how the Star must serve many "customers," implying, of course, that the customer is always right. Yes, nothing like a spineless corporate rag trying to please everyone all the time, but especially the big advertisers. That's got to be just what Tucson needs.

In the last several years, even before Amari arrived on the scene to anoint the process, the Star had gradually assumed the stance of a pro-uninhibited growth, pro-big business newspaper. And now she wants to make all of us little "customers" into good voters, apparently by plying us with happy meals, er, news. Hmm, wonder what the Star will say about the big-box ordinance coming up for a vote later this year?

She also mentioned that the newspaper will be changing the way things are reported -- instead of covering the courts, for example, there will be "justice" reporters. We've got news for you, Jane: That tired old crap was tried at the Citizen in the late '70s, and it did nothing at all to reverse the afternoon paper's plunging penetration.

But at least the car dealers and real-estate moguls and bladers-and-graders can rest assured your paper won't be kicking anybody's ass anytime soon.

Come to think of it, the rubber chicken was the best part of our experience with Jane.

ALL HANDS ON DRECK: We don't know what place accuracy will occupy in Jane Amari's new Arizona Daily Star, which debuts April 9. Readers should hope last Friday's banner story, claiming Kino Community Hospital's accreditation was threatened because of resignations by most of its physician groups, won't be the example. Nearly all of the resignations that were noticed by doctors who were upset with Kino administration were rescinded a full month before the Star's dire story.

Meanwhile, Amari has canceled all shore leave for Star staffers who had scheduled vacations for the week before the new Star launch and for the week after.

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