Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 22, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Pulitzer Prize-winning Journalists


  • The East Valley Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize for “Reasonable Doubt” a series of reports about Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration enforcement efforts. Reporters Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin are named as the award recipients. Giblin and his editor, Patti Epler, talk about the work that went into this award-winning series. The East Valley Tribune’s “Reasonable Doubt” Web site
Guests:
  • Paul Giblin - Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
  • Patti Epler - Editor, East Valley Tribune


View Transcript
Ted Simons:
It's the prize that every newspaper journalist dreams of winning, the Pulitzer. The award was given this week to two local reporters and their editor for a series they did on the impact Maricopa county sheriff Joe Arpaio's immigration sweeps were having on regular patrol duties. I'll talk with journalists involved with the Pulitzer Prize-winning series. But first here's a remark from Sheriff Joe Arpaio about the East Valley Tribune series shortly after it was published last summer.

Ted Simons:
Viewers of the program, those of us who live in Maricopa County, you're our sheriff. We want to make sure day-to-day police operations are not compromised by too much of an emphasis on this aspect of illegal immigration. Reports are out that response times are down and arrest rates are down, especially since your emphasis on illegal immigration. That has to be a concern.

Joe Arpaio:
No, that's a report by the Mesa Tribune. That’s their idea, if you want to get more, I can have Larry address that. That's their idea, but I'm not going to criticize another news agency through this news agency. I'll deal with the Tribune in their five-part series myself directly with them regardless of, you know, what the circumstances are.

Ted Simons:
Well that being said, I appreciate that, the fact is if people hear or get the impression that in El Mirage, for example, if a certain number of serious crimes had little or no investigation, if they see and hear that, confidence wanes a little bit.

Joe Arpaio:
Don't believe it.

Ted Simons:
So you're saying it's not true.

Joe Arpaio:
Don't believe it. I'm not going to go any further than that. This is an agenda, I hate to talk about the paper. This is an agenda they had. I opened up all the books. What agency will let them look at everything? I have nothing to hide. They spent days and days and days in my office going through everything. If I had something to hide, you think I'd be stupid enough to let them see everything that we are doing on illegal immigration?

Ted Simons:
Here now is Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Paul Giblin and Patty Epler who served as his editor for the award winning “Reasonable Doubt” series. Both were employed by East Valley Tribune, but ventured out and created the web based Arizona Guardian after being laid off by the Tribune. The other Pulitzer Prize winner, Ryan Gabrielson, who still works for the Tribune, was unable to make it to the show tonight. Congratulations first to both of you. Paul, are you grounded yet or still a whirlwind for you?

Paul Giblin:
No, it's really been a whirlwind, a lot of fun. Patty called Monday five minutes after the announcement and I had a heart attack on the scene and the phone's been ringing ever since. It's been a lot of fun.

Ted Simons:
How did this series start? Was it an obvious thing or was it something everyone got together and said we need to dig deeper here?

Patty Epler:
I think it was an obvious thing. Immigration was clearly the issue of the moment when we started this back in November of '07 and we really wanted to look at how the Sheriff, who’d made quite a point out of immigration enforcement, was spending his money and what that was costing on another end.

Ted Simons:
Did the original idea, original goal, the paths you saw when you first started, did they change much during the course of the investigation?

Patty Epler:
I think the original premise was to see how is his operation working and what is it costing, both in social costs as well as actual financial costs and I think we stuck close to that.

Ted Simons:
Sometimes a fiction writer will start with characters and they’ll just go off and do crazy things he's not even aware of. Did this story move in ways that surprised you?

Paul Giblin:
I don't think so, Ted, because as we worked through it we figured out where we were going with it. It seemed to follow a logical progression in that way.

Ted Simons:
Talk about the challenges now as far as the investigation was concerned and again, where it led you.

Paul Giblin:
The first challenge was getting through the public records. There had been 669 arrests during the first year and a half of this immigration enforcement operation, and the Sheriff's office didn't have that on a database, so we went through that and had to make sense of that. That took several weeks to do it. From there we did a couple ride-alongs and went that direction and ended up doing nearly 100 interviews, all sides of the issues, everyone from Arpaio, those arrested for smuggling, advocates on both sides, federal government.

Ted Simons:
The award mentions an adroit use of limited resources. What does that mean?

Patty Epler:
That means the East Valley Tribune was, you know, basically kind of short of cash I guess is how I would put it. At the time we started this project, we'd already had some layoffs. In January of '08 we had a wage freeze. We weren't allowed to replace folks who left, who quit. There was hardly any money even for public records, you know. So we just really did it on a shoestring.

Ted Simons:
The reaction, the local reaction you got from this story, I would imagine you heard from all sides?

Patty Epler:
Yes, definitely. The folks -- I have to say to be honest, most of the people who called or wrote in or posted online comments are absolute supporters of Sheriff Arpaio. They think illegal immigration is wrong and that he's doing absolutely the right thing. On another hand that's not unusual to hear from people who are critical of the story and not hear from the ones who are supportive of it. We did get a lot of support for the story too, but the overwhelming response was the opposite.

Ted Simons:
Is that what you feel as well?

Paul Giblin:
It ended up being that in the end but started out actually with a lot of the positive comments first, people who took the time to read the whole series and they thanked us for spelling it out in detail, then later on it shifted more that direction where a lot of Arpaio supporters who I kind of had the feeling didn't read it because they weren't talking about the facts in the series, they came out and were criticizing the series, but I think without a factual basis for the criticism.

Ted Simons:
What kind of response did you get from the Sheriff?

Paul Giblin:
I spoke to the Sheriff about an hour ago. He called me up and he said he wanted to commend me on the project and the work and said he didn't necessarily agree with everything, but he was a cordial guy and has been cordial ever since.

Ted Simons:
Does it surprise you that the Sheriff feels this way about a report that really kind of went after him?

Patty Epler:
He commended Paul, he didn't congratulate him on it would be the way to put it. The initial response from the sheriff's office was pretty much nothing. And they initially criticized it, telling us that it was full of lies and that the people we'd interviewed were saying they hadn't said what they said. We invited them to come down a number of times and talk to us and go over details, point out factual errors and they just couldn't do it because one of the things that we did with this project was we laid out all of our findings to them in advance. We took all the numbers, all the details, the premise, sat down with them in an hour-long meeting, laid it out and said tell us what you think. A week later we got back together and they gave us their response. We adjusted our stories to reflect that and so they really didn't have much of anything to criticize.

Paul Giblin:
Absolutely. It was no surprise when the story came out. They had previewed all the findings, as Patty said. They weren't surprised. They knew exactly what was coming. We didn't hold anything back.

Ted Simons:
Has anything changed because of this series?

Paul Giblin:
I can tell you some things that have happened since the series was published, Ted. The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation. The U.S. House judiciary committee has launched an investigative series of hearings. Those are two important things that the have happened since the series and I'll leave it at that.

Ted Simons:
Ok. Bittersweet this award, considering you don't work for the paper anymore?

Patty Epler:
You know, not really, because we left the tribune on January 4th. We started the Arizona Guardian on January 5th, and we have just been totally immersed in the legislature and budget and all of the stuff that's going on there and it's kind of almost hard to remember ever working at the Tribune now because we're so deep into this really great website and it's been so successful for us and it's just been great.

Ted Simons:
Is great though is knowing that the paper you just won a Pulitzer for decided that we don't need you anymore? That's got to be a little bittersweet.

Paul Giblin:
Ted, it's a tough time in the news industry. I don't have to tell you that. You're well aware of it. I had a good run for 14 years at the Tribune and there’s a lot of good people I had the opportunity to meet along the way and it was a good experience there and as Patty said, we're having a good experience with the Arizona Guardian right now.

Patty Epler:
And I think the Tribune was probably my fourth or fifth newspaper. I've been there four years. So it's a great newspaper. It was a great newspaper. We had a lot of success there. But, you know, we had to move on so that's all right.

Ted Simons:
You moved in a pretty good direction, congratulations on the Pulitzer Prize. Son of a gun, are you big timers coming on the Friday round table now? Still going to show up every once in a while?

[Laughter]

Ted Simons:
Congratulations to both of you.

Paul Giblin:
Thank you.

Patty Epler:
Thank you so very much.

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