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July 18, 2012

Host: Ted Simons

Local Accountability Journalism

  |   Video
  • Leonard Downie Jr, an ASU journalism professor and former executive editor of the Washington Post, talks about the future of local accountability journalism.
  • Leonard Downie Jr - ASU Journalism Professor, Former Executive Editor of the Washington Post
Category: Community   |   Keywords: ASU, journalism, Leonard, Downie, accountability, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: An Arizona state university professor calling on the federal government to remove roadblocks to grants that would help nonprofit news organizations practice local accountability journalism. Joining us is Len Downie, Jr., we're family journalist at the Walter Cronkite school of journalism. What is local accountability journalism?

Len Downie Jr: It's what your previous guest, JJ, does, which is hold accountable those people with power and influence over the rest of us in our communities including not just the government but private industry and charities and entertainers and sports teams and so on.

Ted Simons: What is the face of local accountability journalism now?

Len Downie Jr: It's in flux. I should say it's at risk because many news organizations even including the Arizona Republic are much smaller than they were before because the ad revenue that subsidized especially accountability journalism has been shrinking and newspapers still put a high priority on investigative reporting they don’t have the resources to do as much as before. As a result the nonprofit organizations are springing up, in many cases being started by professional journalists who were squeezed out of or no longer interested in working for commercial news organizations because they couldn't do that investigative reporting any more. They start with foundation money and then private contributions and they begin doing investigative reporting and in many cases they are collaborating with the commercial news organizations to provide reporting that they couldn't otherwise do.

Ted Simons: Why would you see now nonprofits and the start-up nonprofits as maybe being an answer to fill in the gaps as opposed to the commercial news enterprises that we're familiar with and the ones that had been successful, reinventing themselves?

Len Downie Jr: They are reinventing themselves, some more successfully than others, becoming the multi-media multi-platform and so on, also trying to reinvent their economic models. But they are never going to be -- the newsrooms will never be as big as they were before. California is a good example where there are far fewer reporters now covering the state of California, doing accountability journalism about the state. California watch is a nonprofit up over the last four, five years supported by big foundations in California. They now provide this kind of investigative reporting and coverage of the state that newspapers and television stations throughout California.

Ted Simons: How do you make sure the nonprofits are independent, that the foundations that subsidize, if you will, keep these things afloat aren't giving suggestions?

Len Downie Jr: That's a very good question, the same way that advertisers usually have not influenced newspaper coverage or television coverage in the past. That means maintaining independence from your funders. Staying completely transparent about your funding. Putting on your website everyone making contributions to you. It means never taking money from somebody who wants you to cover something a certain way. Somebody comes to you as a nonprofit says, I want to save the whales. Here's $2 million. You have to say, we're not in the business of saving whales. If you want better coverage of the environment come what may, we'll take the money to do that, but not to carry out your specific wishes.

Ted Simons: how do you get people to fund nonprofit organizations when they hear that, that's not much of a deal.

Len Downie Jr: it's the same appeal that's made to people who will fund nonprofit ballet companies, nonprofit organizations like channel 8, who are doing it because it's a public good. See that local accountability journalism is a public good threatened by the Marketplace, losing its market and needs philanthropic support.

Ted Simons: Are you saying the Feds are reluctant to grant 501C3 status?

Len Downie Jr: There are a lot of people seeking status which allows you to do two things. You don't have to pay taxes if you kick in more than you say you spends, which is seldom the case for nonprofits. More importantly, the people who contribute to you including foundations can maintain their tax exemptions or get tax breaks if you're a private individual. So as a result a lot of people trying to start new 501C3s for good purposes but including some for political purposes there are organizations that are essentially engaged, for instance some of the pacs doing some of the commercials for the presidential campaigns are 501C3. People say, wait a minute, they are political. When these news organizations come along seeking 501C3, the IRS started giving them one at a time but there's no particular provision in the law for that. They are being treated as charitable foundations and the IRS is saying, aren't you the same as a regular commercial news organization or are you engaged in political reporting that we ought to be concerned about? The IRS is puzzled about how to proceed. They don't explain themselves, we're just trying to figure this out.

Ted Simons: how can you help them? Do you say these nonprofits you can't endorse candidates or issues?

Len Downie Jr: Yes.

Ted Simons: You have to set guidelines.

Len Downie Jr: Yes. There have been some applicants who said they want to endorse candidates and it hurts it for everybody else. Those are the kinds of stipulations you need to make to the IRS. I think the IRS needs to 16 designate public affairs news organizations that are not engaged in political activity as 501C3s automatically instead of the months that go by with very fragile nonprofit organizations looking for money and not getting that status.

Ted Simons: fragile indeed. We talked about nonprofit news on a number off indications here. They pop up, they go away. They are here, they're gone. There's not a lot of stability because there's not a lot of funding. Is this basically go to the Feds and say, help this group a little bit?

Len Downie Jr: To some extent, at least to make it possible for philanthropists and ordinary donors to contribute. There's a big debate we had here with another colleague over whether the government should grant money directly. That's not going to happen in these current budget times, but the government could make it easier for foundations to contribute. They could make it clearer it's alright for foundations to contribute to journalism. One of the big possibilities are the community foundations that exist in communities across the country including here in Arizona. More than 700 in the United States, hundreds of millions of dollars. They are collections of funds of local wealthy individuals who put their money in these foundations to improve their communities. My contention is that local accountability journalists help improve your community so those foundation they ought to be giving more money to local accountability journalism. They are doing it in some communities around the country but not enough.

Ted Simons: the nonprofit aspect, your quote was vital need for the nation.

Len Downie Jr: absolutely.

Ted Simons: good to have you. We'll keep an eye on that. That literally -- as you see it that's the future. It's got to be.

Len Downie Jr: Yes, it's going to be an important part of the future. We're no longer going to have one size fits all like commercial media used to be. It will be all different kinds and has to include the nonprofits.

Ted Simons: good to see you again.

Racial Profiling Lawsuit

  |   Video
  • JJ Hensley of the Arizona Republic provides an overview of the racial profiling lawsuit against the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that goes to trial Thursday, July 19th.
  • JJ Hensley - Reporter, Arizona Republic
Category: Law   |   Keywords: lawsuit, racial, profiling, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A hearing will be held tomorrow in U.S. District Court in Phoenix on a racial profiling lawsuit against Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio's office. Here to give us a preview of what some are saying could be a landmark case is JJ Hensley, who covers the sheriff's office for the Arizona Republic. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us. Busy man these days. This is again some look at this as a pretty big deal.

JJ Hensley: it's going to be a six-day trial after the opening arguments tomorrow that takes place over the following two weeks. Judge Snow is going to hear the evidence from both sides, each limited to 20 hours to make their presentations plus a little follow-up time. He's going to make a bench ruling. So there's no jury trial here. It's them presenting facts to him from each side and he's already warned the plaintiffs, the ACLU, don't come in here with a lot of anecdotes. I need to see real evidence, which most minds means statistics and other data to back up their claims.

Ted Simons: racial profiling, institutional discrimination, pursuit of happiness being deprived. Basically civil rights violations.

JJ Hensley: We're looking at equal protection and were people unreasonably detained for extended periods of times. These claims were first filed back in December 2007, so it's been a long time coming. There are four named plaintiffs, all of whom were in the country illegally or were U.S. citizens detained they felt an excessive amount of time at the sheriff's office because they thought they were -- they feel because they were Latino.

Ted Simons: Talk about how the case did start. That first incident. Maybe the first couple of incidents. It was basically a class action lawsuit by everyone stopped by the MCSO

JJ Hensley: It was expanded in December when the judge ruled that this could be a class action suit and at that time trial would go forward. That really is a misnomer. There's no money at stake, so no one would cash in. It extends to if the plaintiffs prevail the relief that they are seeking would extend to everyone in this class. The relief they are seeking is an injunction to prevent the share's office from enforcing the law the way they have been. A man in the country legally on a work Visa was pulled over outside of a church in Cave Creek that served as a day labor center. They said I think he was detained nine hours. It was followed up by a couple who were detained by the lake and a brother and sister who were detained during one of the sheriff's crime suppression operations when they started to say things that apparently the deputies took offense to.

Ted Simons: One of these folks early on was a relative of someone from former mayor Phil Gordon's office?

JJ Hensley: She worked in his office, which Arpaio's people will make hay with. Saying this is purely political motivated. This is the sheriff's defense. These are isolated incidents. There's no systemic incidents with discrimination. The plaintiffs will try to do a three pronged approach. Here are the anecdotes, here are the statistics to back it up appeared here are the internal communications within the sheriff's department.

Ted Simons: what evidence are they ready to present? They need to show intent here and some of that internal communication not only within the department but also from folks calling in saying I think so and so is such and such, that will be used as evidence to show intent?

JJ Hensley: Showing the sheriff's motivation, and that sheriff's office associates being Hispanic or being Latino or speaking Spanish with being illegal. Some of the community cakeses you're talking about come from residents who would write in and say, there's someone speaking Spanish at this fast food restaurant or there's a group of day laborers standing on the street corner in Mesa. Why don't you do a sweep there? The plaintiffs will say this letter came in on this date, two weeks later they did a sweep there. The sheriff's office will say, the letter wasn't the only thing. We did some research and found there were problems with crime or whatever they are going to say to try to get over that one.

Ted Simons: statistical analysis you wrote was going to be presented as evidence as well. What statistics are involved here and who is doing the analysis?

JJ Hensley: Both sides are going to have their own statistical experts. The ACLU side has someone who is going to say, this is contained in one of their motions for summary judgment they filed earlier this year. That the Latino residents were from 30 to 40% more likely to be stopped on days of the sheriff's at ration patrols or immigration sweeps than on the same days when there weren't saturation patrols.

Ted Simons: Okay. Again, that's showing results, the previous shows intent. You say the sheriff's office is going to say, somewhat similar defense from the sheriff's office, that we're reacting, doing our jobs, there's nothing institutional or discriminatory about this?

JJ Hensley: Right. It's not institutional or discriminatory. The sheriff is simply listening to his constituents, which is what any good politician does if they want to stay politicians.

Ted Simons: indeed. This thing has been going on, this the first case was 2007 or something along these lines. Why has this taken so long?

JJ Hensley: There have been a couple major delays. The first was when they got the initial judge to recuse herself from the case, her sister Janet is affiliated with national council for La Raza and had made statements about the sheriff in that role that were derogatory. They got her to recuse herself. The case went to judge snow. Then there were issues with discovery. The plaintiffs felt they weren't getting the information that they needed, so there had -- they had to retake depositions, the sheriff's office produced a lot more information including some of the emails that are going to come in. The sheriff's office also was sanctioned, had to pay $90,000 to the plaintiffs last year because of delays in the trial and costs over retaking the depositions.

Ted Simons: Starts now. Again, six days, bench trial, no fooling around here. I think our attorney called this possibly a landmark case. How big of a deal is this?

JJ Hensley: It really depends on which way the verdict goes. There's going to be an appeal either way, no matter what the judge rules, either side I figure will appeal. If he rules against the sheriff's office, and I think the significance of this is really going to play out in the DOJ civil rights lawsuit filed earlier this year. If he rulings against the sheriff's office clearly the Justice Department can say we have already had a federal judge rule on this saying on these elements of our lawsuit they were engaging in racial profiling. Obviously if he ruled in the sheriff's five his attorneys 11 will run and get that Justice Department lawsuit dismissed saying we have a federal judge who ruled on our side.

Ted Simons: it's almost as the most important thing about the civil trial is the precursor to the DOJ trial.

JJ Hensley: it's not the exact same issues in play. The DOJ has additional issues including treatment of Latinos in jails and whether the sheriff's office intentionally neglected certain investigations, but the core issue, racial profiling, is going to have, could have, should have a significant impact on the DOJ case and for any other law enforcement agency who decides to pursue law enforcement in this way.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us. We appreciate it.

JJ Hensley: Thank you.

Sales Tax Extension

  |   Video
  • Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett rejected petition signatures for the Quality Education and Jobs Initiative, which would extend a one-cent state sales tax. Bennett said wording on petition sheets didn’t match what was given to his office electronically. A court hearing will be held on the rejection of the signatures. Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic will tell us what the court decides.
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Reporter, The Arizona Republic
Category: Business/Economy   |   Keywords: sales, taxes, reform, update, business, ,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Maricopa County superior court judge ruled an initiative that would permanently extend the stay's temporary one cent sales tax is eligible for November ballot. The measure had been taken off by Secretary of State Ken Bennett who said language on the petition sheet didn't match language given to his office. Here now to talk about the case is Mary Jo Pitzl of the Arizona Republic. Good to see you again. You have been following this story. Is that pretty much what the lawsuit was about, change of wording?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. It was -- well, the lawsuit was about challenging Bennett's decision saying he was ruling on a hyper technicality but at core through was a mismatch between the petition circulated to voters and the official copy that was in Bennett's office. There were two versions of the ballot initiative filed with his office, one on paper, one on a compact disk of the one on the C.D. was the correct version. The paper that they scanned in and made available on the website did not match what was circulated to voters.

Ted Simons: so because the paper won't did not match the Secretary of State's office basically said the 290 some odd thousand signatures, out the door.

Mary Jo Pitzl: he decided that less than a day after they were filed. He has said -- he said he would take the path that would most quickly get them to court. I guess he figured it was quickest to disqualify it.

Ted Simons: Was it 1100 some odd words that didn't match?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. About two paragraphs, but they deal with hundreds of millions of dollars of money. It directs how after this one cent sales tax, if and when it reaches $1.5 billion in revenue in a year it directs some pots of money that the excess will go to. That goes to construction and universities. That language was not presented to voters if anybody signed that petition, actually read the 15-page measure attached to the petition.

Ted Simons: so they did not get those words on the sheets of paper that were signed.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. It goes to a mismatch. That was the heart of the argument. You can't put one thing in as the official version and another thing out to voters. But the judge said, look, there's nothing in the constitution that defines what an official version is. The state's argument was this is what we determined authorize practice. The judge said it's not -- show me where that's written down.

Ted Simons: the group said substantially it's the same thing. The voters are not being misled and the judge agreed.

Mary Jo Pitzl: he did. He pointed to the state Supreme Court ruling that came out right before July 4th that allowed Jean McDermott to remain on the ballot and noted the Supreme Court said nobody was duped by this. Everybody understood the intent. Yes, so there was some -- she didn't file the paperwork real properly, didn't write her name down in correct order, but we're going to overlook that because the bigger issue is the intent of the voters. The judge in court today seemed to suggest that's what he was looking at, the intent of the initiative. That people pretty much got it, they are signing a petition to raise the sale tax or keep it where it's at for the purpose of education and construction.

Ted Simons: the Secretary of State's office will appeal, will not?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We don’t know yet. The judge made this verbal ruling. They want to see his written decision and said they will make a decision on an appeal by the end of the week. If they do appeal it's likely to go straight to the Supreme Court.

Ted Simons: So the initiative as we speak is eligible for the November ballot. You mentioned -- tell us again, what exactly this does. I think people think it makes permanent the one cent sales tax but it does more than that.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yes. It purports to pick up where the one cent sales tax, the temporary one, leaves off. That expires May of next year no matter what happens. The one Governor Brewer champions goes away May 31 of 2013. These folks say, we want to continue that one cent sales tax, keep it going, and they direct it to a variety of causes which in very broad terms are education, some money for infrastructure projects, a little bit for children's health program. I think there's a little bit in there for public safety as well for the highway patrol. There are many, many pots of money. You will need a flowchart to determine where this all goes to the specific funds.

Ted Simons: but it's dedicated funding, and no one can mess with it.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Correct. That's where this is drawing a lot of opposition. This money will go directly to the stated purposes and lawmakers can't touch that. Nor can lawmakers cut the budget of the education money they do control to say you're getting this money for the sales tax so we'll take it out on the back side. It prevents them from doing that. This is the budgeting by ballot that a lot of lawmakers and policy types say this is just not good for Arizona. The proponents said, we have tried to get education funding out of the legislature. They ain't gonna do it, so we are.

Ted Simons: last question, are we seeing politicians lining up on either side of this? The governor obviously championed the one cent sales tax.

Mary Jo Pitzl: She has said she opposes this. You have the leadership of the legislature opposed to it. Somebody said to me, who cares if you don't have any Republicans standing up for this? That would probably only help our cause.

Ted Simons: Interesting stuff. Until an appeal is filed that thing is on the ballot.

Mary Jo Pitzl: right. They are still processing the signatures but they are very close to qualifying it for the ballot.

Ted Simons: The judge didn't waste too much time.

Mary Jo Pitzl: this was less than an hour. Standing room only courtroom. Probably by the time he said he asked the supporters, are you offended that secretary Bennett isn't here? He's the guy you're suing. He was out of town. When they said no, folks at service said, this is not going to be good. The judge ruled, it took less an hour for the whole shebang.

Ted Simons: Great information. thanks for joining us.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Sure.