A BRIEF ESSAY PROMPTED BY THE ARIZONA DAILY LYING SACK OF SHIT: What is the proper role of "the press" in our democratic society? This is a tired rhetorical question journalism professors and other purveyors of academic bullpuckie frequently put forth, and then proceed to answer in boring, unoriginal discussions centering on the press' supposed responsibility to enlighten and inform the public.

As defined by the over-paid academics and their masters in the corporate-dominated establishment ruling this land, the press is suppose to be the so-called unofficial Fourth Estate of our government, right up there with the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.

Ignorant young Americans who take this argument seriously are prone to calling themselves "journalists," and writing bland stories focusing on the minutia of daily governance. In doing so, they invariably ignore the serious cracks and fissures afflicting our social and political systems. The daily newspaper and broadcast overlords these young journalists serve would have it no other way--as minor dynamos of the commerce-driven establishment, the media captains know it's bad for business to rock the boat.

Thus, the unstated rule in every newsroom in which we've ever worked has been: Sure, it's OK to give the appearance of rocking the boat--the public eats it up, even as they pretend to despise the media. But for christsakes, kid, don't do anything that might reduce the obscene catch of an advertising dollars we're netting here!

As a result, pursuit of the Truth, an elusive top quark even in the best of times, is pretty much left to what the establishment gurus have labeled as the wacko, the outsider and the radical. Indeed, time and again throughout the rise and spread of Western Civilization, it has been left to these lonely figures to alter the potentially disastrous course of our collective history.

Happily, America's Founding Fathers were well aware of the elusive quality of Truth and the difficulties inherent in comprehending it while viewing life through the distorting lenses of politics and culture.

Their solution, of course, was the First Amendment.

In just six words--"Congress shall make no law abridging..."--they gave every American, not just the bigwigs and the self-appointed establishment priesthood, a genuine shot at Truth with a capital T. What those words mean should be plain to everyone: The government is not going to tell you what to think or say. That's up to each and every one of you.

Skinny In the case of press freedom, however, the people have spoken, and not brilliantly, we're sorry to say. Today's newspaper and broadcast journalism, especially on the local level, is a darkly bubbling mishmash of minutia and corporate self-interest, a sort of intellectual gruel designed to fill our bellies, as it were, while not actually nourishing the body politick, and which may severely harm our collective health in the long run.

Which brings us--at last!--to The Arizona Daily Star. We spotted a newt's eye in last Thursday's serving of cold, gray gruel.

On page A2 the editors saw fit to run a cutsey story by L. Anne Newell purporting that Tucson police caught an alleged grocery-store robber because the guy was dumb enough to use a distinctive light-blue Ford Pinto as his getaway car. What a dope, and his car is a piece of crap, too--ha, ha.

But the true dope, or rather dupe, here is the reader. The Star failed to report the real reason the cops caught this clown so quickly: A grocery store employee dropped an electronic tracking device into the bad guy's money bag.

Of course the cops will be outraged that we've spilled the beans. Merchants will complain we've blown the cover on a useful crime-fighting tool. More robbers will say, "You can keep the bag, thanks," and make more clean getaways as a result.

Sorry, but Truth can be a real bitch.

And if you want your daily newspaper and your police department to hide such minor facts from you for the sake of the "general good," then there are a few questions you might want to ask yourself. Like:

• Who's currently defining the "general good" here?

• What else are they not telling me?

• Where's this damn boat really headed, anyway?

Then again, maybe you'd rather not ask those questions. Maybe you'd rather just go back to sleep and let the boat float on. Hey, it's your God-given right as an American--we're not going stop you. We're not even going to say tisk-tisk.

But, please, don't come whining to us when the boat flips over and you're sucking in that awful Central Arizona Project water again. City officials and the daily media, especially the Star, have been telling you it'll be fine this time around. Just fine.

Everything is just fine. Growth limits? We don't need them. And besides, we couldn't stop growth even if we wanted to. There'll always be plenty of room--and water--to grow here. Yeah, just keep the cash coming, please--you folks can hold the damn bag...We really don't want to hurt anybody...It's all for the general good, you know...

CAUSE AND EFFECT ANYONE? Cover story by Tim Vanderpool, Tucson Weekly, July 23 1998: "COPS FOR RENT: TPD Muscle Will Handle Your Private Tussle--Anytime, Day or Night."

Page One Metro section story, Tucson Citizen, August 3 1998:

"Off-duty cops face changes: The city may regulate how police are paid for outside jobs."

Vanderpool's story indicated that some changes were coming in the way TPD handles off-duty cop work. We suggest that TPD spend a little time with the Pima County Sheriff's Department, which has a reasonable policy about outside employment.

And it's nice to know that the two dailies--the Star got around to covering the changes, too--finally got a press release from TPD so they could write about this issue.

AND SPEAKING OF CITIZEN HEADLINES: Wednesday, August 5, Page One: "County oks property tax hike."

Sitting immediately below the head and above the fold was a picture of Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson and a quote from her. The quote was attributed to "Democratic COUNCILWOMAN Sharon Bronson".

To the bean-counters at Gannett who run this pathetic rag and the publisher they send in whose prime purpose appears to involve squeezing out a few more bucks and further reducing staff:

Spend some of the twenty million-plus bucks you pumped out of this town last year on a couple of copy readers, will ya? When you screw up on Page One this big, you look stupid. Or maybe send one of those dorks on your desk to Pima College to take a government course so they'll know the difference between the County Board of Supervisors and some unidentified city council. And tell those east coast consultants that the real reason your penetration continues to decline is that you produce a shabby product that fewer and fewer people care to read.

'BOUT TIME, KIDDIES: A group of Amphitheater School District parents has proposed an alternative site for a new high school. The now-infamous decision to build a new school at Shannon and Naranja roads has caused multiple delays over the possible presence of the endangered pygmy owl. It's also cost Amphi taxpayers a couple of million extra bucks in legal and other fees to defend their ill-conceived decision.

Two years after the Tucson Weekly pointed out what a really bad idea the site was--and why--we now see the two dailies getting off their asses and not only reporting on the subject, but actually editorializing about what we told you--and them--in 1996.

Gee, gang, better late than never.

WARD-ONLY VOTING? KISS ELECTION REFORM GOOD-BYE: The ill-considered attempt to give Tucsonans better representation by electing City Council members by ward will probably kill the current method of funding those elections.

The current formula for city matching funds is based on the total number of voters present in the citywide constituency. Ward elections will divide the amount of money by six, meaning that the total matching funds available for a Council race, both primary and general, will be a paltry $6,000--assuming every candidate will go along with limiting spending to $12,000 for both primary and general elections. Currently a candidate can spend $72,000 citywide in both elections, and the smart Democratic candidates drop most of that in their primaries. There are virtually no real Republican primaries for City Council these days.

Special-interest candidates will not take part in the new set-up, and why should they--any of them can raise a helluva lot more than twelve grand. Remember, the funding system is voluntary. In fact, any real candidate can do much better than that and will need to, because the basic costs of a real campaign, even within a city ward, are much higher.

DESPERATELY SEEKING RETENTION: Superior Court Judge Robert Donfeld was a good guy when he served his long stint at Justice Court. He toiled long and hard as a Justice of the Peace, putting up with rookie lawyers, confused citizens and wacky constables, namely ex-constables F. Lee Archer and Ron DeSchalit. So it was fitting that Donfeld finally got what he longed for--elevation to the Superior Court, even if the deed was done by Gov. J. Feloneous Whiteguy III, a convicted con artist.

Arrogance consumed Donfeld, however. And not the kind that whiny lawyers complain about. Donfeld doesn't recognize former friends. He can't be bothered to stop and say hello to the people who once supported him.

Now he's in trouble. He is the only Pima County judge to earn a recommendation of nonrenewal from the state Judicial Performance Review Board. Donfeld's tenure comes up for voter approval November 3.

Donfeld and his new supporters, courthouse bureaucrats like Sue Wachter, who defended him in a letter in a recent Sunday fishwrap, say that it's just a few lawyers unfairly criticizing Donfeld because he holds their feet to the fire, particularly while running the court's "rocket docket.''

Certainly Donfeld, and all judges, should hold lawyers accountable. They should enforce deadlines. They should not tolerate sloppy work. But Donfeld's failure doesn't arise from crybaby lawyers. It's his arrogance, and, frankly, his sour temperament.

The Skinny's Phoenix sources say that Donfeld couldn't subdue his arrogance during the lousy performance he gave before the Judicial Review Commission last month. He also was quick to blame everybody and everything for his own crummy job. He blamed the rocket docket and the assignment from Presiding Judge Michael Brown to the special settlement court division.

Time to take a whiff of your own briefs, Judge Donfeld. TW

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