The Arizona Republic on Sunday published a remarkable front-page editorial concerning the pile of feces into which the state has done a face-plant, otherwise known as its attempt to "address" illegal immigration. It was not remarkable for its placement — old-time newspaper publishers often did page-one opinion pieces, perhaps most famously the Republic's own Eugene C. Pulliam. Rather, this article, pretty as it was with the paper's current obsession with design, proved astonishing in its intellectual shallowness, dishonesty and desperate pretzel-twisting to cast "blame" equally in every direction. And all the while demanding "leaders." Rarely has an institution in the broad land of vapid corporate newspapers made such a gaudy display of its daft cowardliness. One is reminded of Lincoln's line: "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt."
"Old Man Pulliam," who ran the Republic and Phoenix Gazette for decades, occasionally published — and even wrote, for he was a newspaperman to his marrow — thundering page-one editorials. They were not intended to compete in the Society for News Design. They were sometimes long, always trenchantly and even intellectually argued. I recall one from the late '60s (I believe) that was a fierce jeremiad against rising government bureaucracy. You always knew where his newspaper stood. Pulliam was a man of the right but he would not be allowed into today's Republican Party or corporate journalism club. He was too independent, endorsing LBJ over Barry Goldwater in 1964 and renouncing the idea of a newspaper as merely a business. It is said he wrote a trust to prevent the sale of his beloved papers to the likes of Gannett, but that's another story.
There's no doubt that were he alive today and running the Republic, he and his famed investigative reporters would make short work of Russell Pearce and Joe Arpaio.
Instead, we get Sunday's shaking-in-its-shoes lecture: one short paragraph per person who has failed as a leader, with helpful red, boldface type over each name.
With Pearce, the chief instigator of Arizona's shameful Jim Crow anti-immigration law, we get: He "probably has done more than anyone in the state to turn this from a complex public-policy discussion into what seems like law sketched on a cocktail napkin. We wonder if state Sen. Pearce even considered rights of legal residents and Latino citizens. Or if he cares how his law introduces real fear into real people's lives." Real, really? The Badged Ego's sweeps "stirred anti-immigrant sentiment and made 'driving while Latino' a suspicious activity." Jan Brewer acted for political advantage, Peyton Thomas "perverted justice" using an anti-smuggling law to go after individual aliens and John McCain "came down with a convenient loss of memory and principle." All true, but hardly worth page one, and rather late in the debate. Uncomfortable issues were neatly sidestepped, such as Brewer's vote-suppression record and how her support of the bill might neatly dovetail with trying to scare Hispanic citizens from exercising the franchise.
Ah, but the editorial bored, er, board must also blame Rep. Raul Grijalva for supporting a boycott, the time-honored moral tool used by Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez to give the weak some leverage against the powerful. "For a congressman to call for destruction of his own state's economy is irresponsible and beneath contempt." Even Pearce is not considered "irresponsible and beneath contempt." I suppose Dr. King was "beneath contempt" for putting a crimp in the segregated Montgomery bus system.
Then, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon: who "lashed out against the law in shrill tones that did not serve his state or city. The Phoenix mayor made a flamboyant call to challenge the new law in court without first consulting the City Council, then vowed to go around his fellow elected city officials when they disagreed with him." Hmmm. Others might consider this the manning up of Gordon that we've been awaiting for years. He won't play well with others, according to the Republic's rightward lights, even though this is an issue of justice and morality that demands "shrill tones" and "flamboyant" challenges. (Jeez, even the Badged Ego wasn't called flamboyant). Gordon is showing leadership. Don't ask for it if you can't handle it.
Although I was thankfully not on the editorial board when I was a columnist at the newspaper, I can imagine the sausage-making. We want to make a "strong" stand, but not alienate, oops, wrong word, offend readers, much less advertisers... So everyone must be castigated equally — except it didn't really work out that way, with the design listing the bad boys and girls in odd order. Thus, Pearce is waaaaay down in the body type, below Gordon. Were they listing by first names? No, Arpaio is at the bottom, lumped in with Peyton Thomas. Grijalva, Gordon and Janet Napolitano get paddled on the same scale with the real villains and mountebanks. Then, the committee that "wrote" the editorial... The shrill and flamboyant language used to attack Grijalva, Gordon and Napolitano is far different than the cautious, almost deferential, said-more-with-sadness-than-censure wording for Pearce or Jon Kyl. (Did Bob Robb and Doug MacEachern get to go off in their cave at the "Goldwater" Institute with a thesaurus to write the paragraphs about the Democrats?).
The argument quickly blows its tiny intellectual gear box. St. Janet doesn't get whacked because she abandoned the state to the Kooks, but because she's "ensconced in a Democratic administration" (huh?) and can't get immigration reform "out of neutral." Of course a cabinet officer can easily overcome the Party of No in Congress on one of the most contentious issues of our time. She couldn't even deal with water or taxes in Arizona, facing a Legislature of krackpots and the Real Estate Industrial Complex. The short critique of Pearce goes for the low-hanging fruit, but...that's it? The Republicans have had the levers of power in Arizona for decades now, and conservative policies have held sway nationally for 30 years — and all the while the border has been porous.
Most glaring of all, the editorial exempts the biggest cause of the huge wave of illegal immigration that has destabilized the state: Arizona employers. It was their greed and willingness to exploit desperate illegal workers that deserved the soundest denunciation. After all this, it's hard to take seriously the latter parts of the editorial calling for "comprehensive reform," whatever that means. This shabby front-page fluff stands in embarrassing contrast to the award-winning "Dying to Work" series the Republic produced a few years ago, with most of the top reporters involved now gone (Disclosure: I wrote for that special report).
The truth is, both sides, Republicans and Democrats, are not "equally to blame." A real newspaper editorial might have asked, "Who is Russell Pearce?" as the Wall Street Journal did with Clinton appointees in the 1990s.
"Who is Joe Arpaio?"
"Who are the illegal employers?"
"Why does the LDS control the Legislature way out of proportion with its numbers in the general population, and one that approves a law contrary to Mormon teachings?"
And a real newspaper would have investigative reporters finding the answers — and writing about them every day, every goddamned day as editors would say when newspapers mattered, when newspapers made themselves matter.