Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

July 17, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists Roundtable


  • Local reporters review the week's top stories.
Guests:
  • Mark Brodie - KJZZ Radio
  • Doug MacEachern - "The Arizona Republic"
  • Howard Fischer - Capitol Media Services
Category: Journalists Roundtable

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Joining me to talk about this week's top stories are Mark Brodie of KJZZ radio, Doug MacEachern of "The Arizona Republic," and Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. We should mention, as you know by now, Walter Cronkite passed away earlier today at the age of 92. We'll have much more on the legacy of Walter Cronkite in terms of journalism here in Arizona and around the world all next week on "Horizon." As we get started this evening, you interviewed Walter Cronkite four or five years ago?

Mark Brodie:
He was in town for one of the luncheons at A.S.U., and growing up; he was a hero of mine. I would sit around with my parents and watch the news and enjoyed watching him. One of the reasons I wanted to become a journalist. Having a lot of respect for him, it was a really, really cool thing to get to meet him and talk to him and interview him, and just a really, really nice guy. Still really sharp. We talked about what is going on around the world. It was around the time that the war in Iraq was ramping up and he was talking about the U.N. and the military strategies. So really just a neat experience to get to meet and interview him.

Doug MacEachern:
And the fact that, up close, the thing I had with Walter Cronkite was the experience when he came to dedicate the school of journalism downtown and the thing that was really vivid about it was just how much he truly appreciated this institution. He didn't just put his name on it. He really -- he followed its development and he got to know a lot of the students and the faculty, and he really cared about it. And, you know, that was something to appreciate. I think the one point he made -- I don't know if he made the point in the speech then, but that he realized how long he was going to live, he wouldn't have given over his job to the knucklehead Rather. I don't think he put it that way.

Ted Simons:
And the legacy?

Howard Fischer:
As somebody who was a teenager in the years when he was popular, there were three networks. You say, what do you mean there were only three channels -- if you've got cable. I was a teenager when Jack Kennedy was shot and watching Walter sitting at the desk and taking off his glasses and you could see the emotion, something that wouldn't be considered acceptable now. The issue of the moon landing and his amazement. The awe that he could share with the audience. And the other thing I remember, again, as somebody who knew I wanted to do something in journalism, although not necessarily in television, I remembered the day you had the anchor sitting at the desk and he got up to show us a map and all of a sudden, something important is happening here and that led to his whole idea of whether Vietnam was a mistake. That was the power a single anchor had back then.

Ted Simons:
You mentioned a single anchor and you mentioned Huntley and Brinkley, but we're not going to see a Walter Cronkite again, are we? You have too many options.

Howard Fischer:
They're looking for the rock stars to save that shrinking audience. But we've changed from the day of broadcasting, truly, to narrow-casting. We support, in this country, a golf channel. There are people who probably watch nothing but the golf channel. Not here, because they're watching us, thank God.

Doug MacEachern:
Probably one of the popular anchors of news is Jon Stewart, a parody of news.

Ted Simons:
Indeed, and you can't go back to those days. A shame, but healthy in others?

Mark Brodie:
Never again will the most trusted person be considered a journalist. Journalists don't have that have that kind of vision -- the public doesn't see journalists like that anymore. As Howie said, there were three networks and you were one of the big three and you had that kind of influence.

Howard Fischer:
The reason I think it's bad, as much as you don't want to concentrate power in Huntley-Brinkley, Howard K. Smith and Walter Cronkite, you have people only getting their news now from one of the minor channels and talking to the people who are the believers and it's hard to have a dialogue when the conservatives are watching Fox and the liberals NBC.

Ted Simons:
Walter Cronkite, who passed away earlier at the age of 92, we'll have his legacy coming up next week on "Horizon," but in the spirit of journalism and Walter Cronkite and getting something straight down the middle, or at least trying to, let's get to stories big here in town. Starting with the S.C.A. and the names revealed. What's that and who are the names?

Doug MacEachern:
It's an organization linked to the sheriff's office. That was -- it was a complete mystery for months. It popped up just before the elections last fall. It contributed $105,000 to the Republican party, and about two weeks later, Republicans had paid for probably the most despicable group of ads that I've ever seen, related to -- they were regarding a couple of Dan Sabin, the democratic candidate for sheriff and I think Tim Nelson, the ones were awful. And they quickly came off the air and the Republicans got in a lot of trouble for it. But the big issue with S.C.A., we never knew who was involved. It was a huge mystery. The one person, Joel Fox, the captain of the sheriff's office, was squeezed by the courts and coughed up the names just this week.

Howard Fischer:
What's interesting is there's a belief, and again, I don't know if we'll ever find out, was Joel really the architect of this? It's hard to believe that a campaign of this magnitude, as Doug was talking about, you know, saying things about the personal lives of candidates, was strictly some captain only interested in getting the sheriff reelected.

Doug MacEachern:
I don't think we've got definitive proof that Captain Fox wasn't the mastermind. But frankly, the list of officers at the top of the sheriff's command structure who were tide to this is -- tied to this is clear evidence that just about everybody -- there were seven officers that were superior to Captain Fox. The principle one being the sheriff's chief deputy, David Hendershott who gave 2500 bucks to this group.

Ted Simons:
This is supposed to be an independent committee and supposed to be independent from the sheriff and the question is can they be involved and be completely independent from the sheriff?

Howard Fischer:
I have no problem with them doing this as long as we would have found out ahead of time. The whole purpose of campaign finance is disclosure. I'm not a big -- if you want to give $50,000 for the Ted -- Ted Simons for governor, great. But it's important to know who is doing it. Would it have changed the outcome of the race? I don't know, but that's the purpose of the law.

Doug MacEachern:
I don't think -- honestly don't think it would have. This is overkill on a Nixonian level. That said, you have to ask why did they try to -- if nothing was done wrong, why did they try so hard to stay in the dark about this? And I think that's a question that chief deputy Hendershott has a duty to tell why.

Mark Brodie:
What does it do in elections down the road? People don't necessarily have the most trust all the time in elections especially when campaign money comes into it. So you have to wonder what effect this will have down the road when there's donations, maybe secret, maybe something else happens like this again and you got to wonder what will people think.

Howard Fischer:
I think they'll think what are they hiding? Look how many months it took after the election to get this information. I think they'll think we can get away with it. It will be months before they find out and our dude will be elected.

Ted Simons:
Was it a surprise to see Steve Elman’s name in this?

Doug MacEachern:
Steve Elman associated with the sheriff's office. Captain of one of the POSSEs, I think and a couple of people from out of town, one of whom is associated with him, the amounts of money connected to these guys is really amazing. Elman himself gave on the order of $25,000 to this group. That's not the kind of money you toss around to organizations for which you have no idea what purpose they're going to put the money to. That's absurd.

Ted Simons:
The sheriff also the subject of a major feature article in the "New Yorker" magazine. It's really nothing groundbreaking except for one point, at which point, the sheriff receives a telephone call from someone -- we're not sure who it is, but sounds like they were at a jury selection hearing and the wife of the mayor of Mesa proclaimed that Joe Arpaio was not her hero. And this prompted a curious response.

Howard Fischer:
This was a great response. He said, in essence, I have to go back and do another raid. And for all of us who have probably questioned the whole idea of these crime suppression sweeps -- I use the term loosely, as opposed to rounding up brown people -- it made you wonder, is it all true. Is this really about politics as opposed to actually suppressing crime? Now, the fact is the "New Yorker" article, notwithstanding, even the local publicity, Joe's people are going to love him anyway. The guy is bullet proof. You have to catch him in bed with a live sheep in order to --

Ted Simons:
You're not getting tweeted right now. This is rhetorical.

Howard Fischer:
It's an ugly -- it's rhetorical.

Doug MacEachern:
I spent 10 minutes dissing Sheriff Joe's command structure. In his defense, that phrase, that quip is just the sort of thing I can visualize Joe saying. "I guess I'm going to have to go and raid Mesa again."

Ted Simons:
But he said it was tongue in cheek and not serious.

Doug MacEachern:
Half serious. He despises everybody in Mesa, pretty much, I think. The city of Phoenix, pretty much everybody. I think just about every police organization in metropolitan Phoenix, he's at war with.
So -- kidding.

Ted Simons:
The police chief in Mesa, the outgoing police chief, said it was a tremendous abuse of power.

Howard Fischer:
Oh, come on, that's the other part of the problem. George, who is sort of out -- his way out the door anyway, George enjoys the publicity almost as much as Joe does. It's hard to take either of them seriously in terms of the rhetoric.

Ted Simons:
Fallout, how to suggest he's bullet proof. There's a story, a suggestion we're going to have to get Mesa again. Tongue in cheek or otherwise, does any fallout occur?

Mark Brodie:
I would probably say no, only because it's not an election year. The amount of time between now and next November is an eternity in politics. This is the kind of thing that you can imagine Arpaio saying. I think a lot of people probably say quips like that when somebody says something mean about them and you say something and probably joking about them. My sense is this will probably not have a lot of fallout.

Ted Simons:
Let's keep it moving. We've got a major bankruptcy filing with the Basha's grocery chain. An impact here?

Doug MacEachern:
I don't know as much an economic impact as a social impact. The BASHA's are an institution statewide. Particularly in metropolitan Phoenix and a lot of the Indian reservations, especially Navajo country. It's more of an emotion shock, culture than anything else. There's a lot of expectation among people that understand Chapter 11 bankruptcy court that after some trimming, after a serious haircut that they could come out of this a lot better than they went in.

Howard Fischer:
And the reason you file for Chapter 11, is -- the term is protection from creditors, but one of the things it lets you do is get rid of any contract you find burdensome. They have 158 stores. It will be 148 in about a week. Two-thirds or more are stores they're leasing and a lot of times they went in and thought the neighborhood was going to grow and it didn't make sense. A lot of times they were the anchor tenant and the others didn't come in. They're stuck with fixed costs. They may be in the neighborhood of 120 stores when they come out of bankruptcy. Doug talks about their long history, what about the other stores? Does it make sense if you've got one store to go ahead and send a truck there? Are we going to see a compaction back in the valley?

Ted Simons:
These are factors, as well as an economic turndown as well as union concerns and I know they've been fighting the union for quite a while.

Doug MacEachern:
I would say they attribute the major cause of this to be -- well, two-fold, really. The turndown in the economy and the intense competition with their competitors for market share in the supermarket business. It's really a razor thin sort of profitability in that line of work. But that said, they really resent the fight that they've had the unions, with one union in particular, over the past couple of years and just a very personal nature that in which they've been attacked.

Howard Fischer:
There are some things that have to change. When I had the conversation with one the grandsons of one of the founders, he said we call our employees members, and the whole routine. We didn't close stores where we probably should have. But he said we're probably going to have to change our pricing structure. I'm a cookie fanatic. You go to -- at Basha's it's $3.39. You can sustain that in a good economy. Given the rising unemployment rate, that 50 cents makes a difference and you can't survive just because we're the hometown grocer.

Mark Brodie:
And Phoenix is one of the more competitive grocery markets in the country. People who study these things say that all the competition -- we've touched on Wal-Mart and Trader Joe's and you have a lot of different grocery stores here and a colleague of mine spoke with someone who dealt with retail grocers. He thought that Basha's was trying to do too much. With Food City they were trying to go after the Hispanic market, trying to do too many things at once and couldn't focus and had too many costs they couldn't control.

Ted Simons:
The legacy in Arizona. How much of a hit do they take?

Doug MacEachern:
Once they come out of bankruptcy and have to compete on a marginal level with the likes of Wal-Mart, I don't think you're going to see the kind of -- I'm sure the BASHA family would insist this wouldn't happen ever. But I can't imagine their philanthropic involvement in the community continuing at the level as before. I think it would be tough to continue it financially.

Ted Simons:
Howie, it's not included on the latest jobless rate. Another increase.

Howard Fischer:
A half a point, which is a big jump up to 8.7%. In the last year alone, Arizona's lost close to 200,000 jobs. And these are the people who list themselves as looking for work. This doesn't count the discouraged people who just stopped looking and what's of concern, the economists are saying not only get past 9%, probably get into the low 10% range before this turns around and that's bad news not only for the Basha's of the world, but a lot of other businesses that are marginal. Sometimes it was the people on the fringes who got hit hardest before. They're being hit hard at all levels, the executives, the vacant high-end condos on Central Avenue. Everybody is scared of their jobs.

Mark Brodie:
Most of the industry has been losing jobs. Seven of the 11 -- construction, for the first time in 21 months, gained. They were ready to pop the champagne over at the commerce with that kind of news. This is wide ranging, they've been saying they expect 10% unemployment in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
And that affects the general fund and the least of which, the budget, as we mentioned and Doug, it was interesting regarding stimulus money, we had a bit of a dustup between Senator Jon Kyl and the Obama administration, and circling back. Talk to us about it.

Doug MacEachern:
It was heavy handed. Let me step back, on Sunday, Senator KYL had discouraging things to say about the stimulus. Cut it off, use it for something else. The next day, four of the president's cabinet secretaries wrote letters, very similar letters, to Governor Brewer saying, well, listen, tell us if you don't want the stimulus money, just tell us and we'll withdraw -- take you off the list. Brewer, of course, had no intention of not accepting stimulus money. It was clearly an effort to exact some sort of leverage against the senator by -- by muscling Governor Brewer.

Howard Fischer:
And it was heavy handed. It's one thing if the White House wants to say, look, we want to give it out. But I saw those letters as did Doug and Mark. This was really, if you're a senator who is the same party as you are, which happens to be not the party of the administration, doesn't want the money. You've got a lot of use for this and clearly designed to scare Governor Brewer and lawmakers.

Doug MacEachern:
The secretary of transportation, in particular -- He is from Chicago, isn't he?

Ted Simons:
We all saw the letters and the letters were obviously a little tit for tat there, but was it that much of a surprise when senator Kyl is condemning a program that Arizona is accepting?

Mark Brodie:
I think one of the issues in talking to people, there'd been a lot of who had said the stimulus isn't working. I'm not sure they've gone to the extent that any unencumbered money shouldn't go out now. A lot of people have been critical, whether or not it's working or not. So it's interesting that this situation happened when I would be willing to guess there are a lot of states where senators or state legislators or governors have come out and said, we don't think this is a great idea.

Howard Fischer:
There have been governors like Rick Perry in Texas, who turned it down and said if you take it and once it goes away in 2011, you can never get it back.

Ted Simons:
Does that give his criticism more credence than coming from Senator Jon Kyl?

Howard Fischer:
Kyl is the whip in the House; I think the White House is sensitive to it. He's getting a certain amount of air time, even over the Sotomayor hearings. They felt the need to slap him hard.

Ted Simons:
Thanks for joining us. A lot things going on, including the major story of today -- Walter Cronkite passing away at the age of 92. I want to remind you all, next week we'll have coverage, the life and legacy of Walter Cronkite, especially here in Arizona and the Arizona State University Cronkite School of Journalism. Thanks for joining us. Next Monday is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I'll talk with experts of space and science from A.S.U. about that historic event and the future of America's space program. That's Monday at 7:00 on "Horizon." Tuesday, Dr. Bernard Harris, the first African-American astronaut, talks about his efforts to get kids interested in science and math. And local business leaders are back from San Francisco trying to bring solar jobs to Arizona. We'll find out how they did. Thursday, join me for a conversation with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. And Friday, we're back with another edition of the "Journalists' Roundtable." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you very much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

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