Anyone who knows me knows whose side I’m on in the war between the Phoenix New Times and Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. For those of you who don’t, here are the basics:
a) I’ve written for the New Times. They’ve written about me. An old friend of mine from the East Valley Tribune, who encouraged me along when I was just starting out professionally, is now a staff writer there.
b)The sheriff’s “Posse” busted me on a bullshit “furnishing tobacco to minors” charge when I was 17 years old. With the help of a lawyer I beat him in court. (Thanks Mom & Dad for shouldering the bill! My record’s still clean!)
c) An example of Arpaio’s megalomania: He dresses inmates in pink underwear. An example of the New Times’ insolence: a few years ago, they put a real photograph of a pink-boxered inmate, beaten to a blood pulp, on their cover. The most recent legal battle is over the New Times’ publication of Arpaio’s home address as part of a series on Arpaio’s potentially shady real estate deals.
I don’t exactly sympathize with the two New Times executives — the infamous Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin — who were arrested this week for publishing confidential grand jury subpoena details. No, sympathize isn’t the word for it. They knew what they were doing and they were right to do it. According to the Oct. 18 article:
It is, we fear, the authorities’ belief that what you are about to read here is against the law to publish. But there are moments when civil disobedience is merely the last option. We pray that our judgment is free of arrogance…
In a breathtaking abuse of the United States Constitution, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, and their increasingly unhinged cat’s paw, special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik, used the grand jury to subpoena “all documents related to articles and other content published by Phoenix New Times newspaper in print and on the Phoenix New Times website, regarding Sheriff Joe Arpaio from January 1, 2004 to the present.”…
More alarming still, Arpaio, Thomas, and Wilenchik subpoenaed detailed information on anyone who has looked at the New Times Web site since 2004.
I was subpoenaed for the first time earlier this year, and as a result, I lobbied hard in my writing for the passage of a journalists’ shield law in Texas. But protecting your sources is one thing … protecting your readers is even more vital to a free press. Readers have a right to know if their names are being subpoenaed by the state and a media outlet should do everything in their power to avoid giving up that information. Even if it means jail time.
So, no, sympathize is definitely not the right word. Admire’s more like it. At the same time, I roll my eyes. After all, it is the New Times and they’re already so goddamned self-important. In the end they, and their lawyers, prevailed:
|At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced that all charges against New Times, its owners, editors and writers have been dropped — and that special prosecutor Dennis Wilenchik has been removed. Thomas also admitted that the grand jury subpoena written about in the Oct 18. cover story was too broad.|
Discussing this with my editor Julia, who first brought the arrest to my attention (along with arrests at the San Antonio Current‘s sister paper in Orlando), I was suddenly reminded of another arrest that followed the publication of a controversial New Times* story. In the summer of 2004, Westword writer David Holthouse was thrown in jail after writing “Stalking the Bogeyman,” which begins like this:
This time last year I was plotting to kill a man. I was going to walk up to him, reintroduce myself and then blow his balls off. I was going to watch him writhe like a poisoned cockroach for a few seconds, then kick him onto his stomach and put three bullets in the back of his head. This time last year I had a gun, and a silencer, and a plan. I had staked out the man’s tract home in Broomfield — the gray, two-story one with the maroon trim and the American flag hanging above the doorstep. I had followed him to and from his job as an electrical engineer. I was confident I would get away with murder, because there was nothing in recent history to connect me to him. Homicide investigators look for motive, and mine was buried 25 years in the past.
The man I was going to kill was the one who raped me in 1978, when I was seven years old.
What a brutal opening! There’s no way you can get that far without reading to the end.
I hope never to be arrested for a story … but if I am, I hope it’s for words as powerful, as well written, as crucial to democracy as what I’ve copied and pasted here today.
* Now called Village Voice Media