KOLD Jumps the Shark

The last few weeks have been tough on anyone who still believes that the media should have a serious role in the public dialogue in Tucson.

First, city staff proposed a budget that axed Access Tucson and left the city’s Channel 12 “restructured” and without a home, apparently so the building that houses both of them can be sold to a developer, leaving Tucson without a public-access cable station and severely limiting citizen access to City Council proceedings. Next came the news that the Tucson Weekly, which recently celebrated 30 years of independent journalism, has been sold to an out-of state firm with “a record of decimating publications they acquire.” (Here is where someone points out that the same outfit also acquired Inside Tucson Business, but, considering that ITB is little more than a Chamber of Commerce organ that has been giving schmucks like Lionel Waxman column space for years, its demise would be no great loss.) Finally, Arizona Public Media announced that Arizona Illustrated, a local institution since 1980, will be put “on hiatus” until June. This move will mean that our local public broadcasting system will be almost entirely without local public affairs content, with the exception of a few minutes of headlines at the beginning of NPR programming and, of course, whatever Arizona Spotlight can fit in-between self-indulgent essays and profiles of out-of-town artists during its weekly half-hour on the radio.

As if to remove any doubt that things are in a downward spiral in this regard, local CBS affiliate KOLD decided to observe the 2-year anniversary of the disappearance of Isabel Celis with a “special report” in which reporter Som Lisaius asked famed Phoenix-area psychic Allison DuBois for “insights” into the as-yet unsolved case.

Even someone who is not skeptical about psychic phenomena should question why DuBois is taken seriously. Her purported superhuman powers have thus far failed to lead to an arrest in a criminal case, and Phoenix police detectives have characterized her “insights” into the Baseline Killer and Serial Shooter cases as less-than-helpful. Her credibility moral authority reputation in this regard is due largely to the fact that she was played by Patricia Arquette in a successful and long-running television series. Essentially, KOLD brought her on board for the story not because she had a proven record of solving tough cases, but because a fictional character with the same name as her was seen busting the bad guys on teevee nearly every week. Lisaius would have done as well to interview Patrick Jane or Shawn Spencer.

miguel_sandoval(An aside here: I always had difficulty suspending my disbelief with regard to Medium. This was not because of DuBois’ psychic abilities, but because the Maricopa County Attorney, played by veteran character actor Miguel Sandoval, was portrayed as a Mexican-American. The show ran during the height of the Arpaio-Thomas reign of terror, and I always thought that the portrayal of Maricopa County government as a paradise of ethnic harmony strained credulity and made it clear that the writers really had no interest in portraying anything other than an imaginary and generic Phoenix.)

I guess it should be mentioned that the idea for this story seems to not have been entirely KOLD’s idea. The story mentions that the family contacted DuBois based on the suggestion of a Tucson Police Department detective. Clearly, on top of the other issues that the TPD has been facing lately, their officers have to answer for giving Celis’ distraught relatives some useless and terrible advice.

This, however, does not absolve KOLD from responsibility. They still ran with what amounted to a sensationalist celebrity story which exploited the grief of a local family and the community in general. More than this, the story lacked  depth and was otherwise irrelevant and stupid. Unfortunately, such irrelevance is increasingly the norm with regard to journalism in the Old Pueblo.


Trolls on Auto-Pilot

Online comment sections are generally regarded as a miasma of ignorance, malice, and outright lies which makes one wonder why so many publications think it necessary to have them. They may have started as a noble experiment, but the forums quickly degenerated into a platform for socially inept malcontents whose rantings are too poorly sourced or too badly articulated to meet editorial standards. In some cases, publications like the Arizona Daily Star have made too-little-too-late moves to rein in the excesses, but editors generally seem reluctant to take responsibility for providing a respectable platform for hate speech and personal attacks.

The Tucson Weekly actually does a pretty respectable job of policing its online comment section (In the interests of full disclosure, it should be mentioned that I am a paid occasional contributor to the Weekly). In some cases the editorial staff takes the time to respond to the posts, particularly when the comments become personal. The exchanges between editor Dan Gibson and a local cosplayer who calls himself “Colt Cassidy,” for example, are sometimes interesting.

A recent article by Linda Ray generated an interesting post from the cryptically named “Ronsonit” which illustrates another problem with online comments:

Only those who comply with Immigration Law should be given consideration when the discussion on Immigration Reform takes place. Anyone knowingly commiting a crime in the process of attempting to “Immigrate” will select and choose the laws they will obey as Permanent Residents and make Lousy Citizens. Get in the back of the Line of people scrambling to join US. You have no “Birthright” other than to contribute to earn your position in this Society.

All right, so this guy definitely needs to go back to grade school and revisit his lessons about capitalization, and his post is basically boilerplate anti-immigration reform rhetoric, but at least he is clear and articulate, and he never makes vaguely racist remarks about local elected officials, which is more than can be said for too much of what we see online. The real problem is that the comment is not in response to an article about immigration reform, but to a review of the Polyphonic Spree’s recent show at Club Congress. As near as can be figured, the writer saw the word “immigration” in the article (and perhaps the word “dreamer,” even though this term did not even refer to the DREAM Act in this context) and his anti-immigrant gland started producing the hormone that made him write this generic response before he even read the piece.

A more likely, and somewhat disturbing, possibility is that such comments are the result of so-called “sock puppets” who mindlessly post canned rhetoric in response to web alerts about certain keywords appearing somewhere or another. These may even be generated by software rather than actual human beings.

Defenders of online comment sections say that they provide an important forum for discussion, but as the response to Linda’s article shows, there is a real possibility that they can become dominated by automated bots, cynical political operatives or trolling cranks rather than concerned citizens with a real stake in the community, which makes their value in this regard questionable.

No Big Surprise

Becky Pallack has a story in this morning’s Star about national Republicans throwing in the towel on the CD 3 race.

I’m always struck that people are shocked about how resilient Raúl Grijalva is. The Republicans had their best shot at taking him down in 2010, when the national mood gave every Democrat a strong headwind and the Republicans had a decent candidate. Grijalva’s ill preparedness that year and the boycott didn’t help either. Still, they couldn’t do it.

I’m sure the Republicans are blaming redistricting, but they really have to look at the rhetoric that comes from their state leadership and their own very poor candidate for thirty to forty point drubbing they are about to take in CD 3.

Early on in the campaign, Grijalva pointed out that for all the rhetoric about his being “out of touch” with the district, none of the opponents he had drawn at that point actually lived in the district. It illustrates something I’ve seen for a while. I hear knocks along the lines of “how does he keep getting elected?” from people (even Democrats sometimes) who don’t live in the district. Well, maybe he actually knows what his constituents are concerned about? Maybe they agree with him?

The whole “how does he get elected?” thing doesn’t seem to get asked about, say, Trent Franks for some reason.

By the way, ever notice how many Gabriela Saucedo Mercer stickers you see on pickup trucks in Eastside driveways? Not in the district either.

It’s been a funny thing to watch for a while. When I attended the 2004 Democratic Convention, I chatted with a columnist for the Republic who was still in shock that Grijalva won the primary in 2002. He wasn’t a fave of the money folks in Phoenix, after all. That was supposed to trump being active in the community of the folks that were going to be voting, I guess.

Yep, Saucedo Mercer has been cut off from the NRCC. It would be nice to say that it is because she’s a wingnut, but they are spending money on Steve King’s race after all. Let’s not give them too much credit.

By the way, let’s not pretend that the Republican establishment has cut her off completely. That recent kerfuffle about the governor cancelling an appearance not with standing, la Cervecera didn’t withdraw her endorsement and Saucedo Mercer is still considered polite company in Republican circles.

Well, That’s One Way to Put It…

The KUAT/AZPM story on the District 1 race this morning said that there is no incumbent in the race due to redistricting. Well, not quite: there is no incumbent because after redistricting, Paul Gosar saw that he would have to actually talk to non-Tea Party voters and run in a general election and he couldn’t have any of that so he moved to another district where he’d only have to run in a primary.

Yeah, hard to say all that in a radio piece.

Worth Checking Out

I can’t get to everything, folks. Here are some other things from the intertron worth checking out:

Salon published a great piece on the too-often forgotten Shirley Chisolm, who was the first black woman to run for president. This, as the article points out, makes Chisolm a trailblazer for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But more than that, she was a symbol for what the Democratic Party might have been:

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress, and George Wallace, the most notorious segregationist politician of the 20th century, worked together to raise wages for domestic servants, probably the most abused and unregulated sector of the workforce… Was that an unrepeatable one-off event based on a bizarre personal connection, or an example of a cross-racial, North-South, class-based political coalition that might have been?

– You know the frequently discredited claims that Obama and whatever Democrat is available has cut Medicare benefits by 700 some odd billion dolalrs? According to Blog for Arizona, the latest candidate to sell this is Jonathan Paton, who got slapped down on this one by the Arizona Daily Sun. This won’t matter to the next guy that tries to use it.

The ridiculous decision by a Coconino County Superior Court judge to give a slap on the wrist to an off duty DPS officer who sexually assaulted a woman, followed by a lecture given to the victim that amounted to telling her that she asked for it by being in a bar infuriated the living hell out of me. I didn’t write about it, because I knew Donna over at Democratic Diva would do it with the proper helping of outrage.

By the way…who would appoint someone with such a retrograde, puritanical, boys-will-be-boys view of the world?

Dude, Did You Just Say That?

For those who don’t know, former midtown Tucson legislative candidate and head blogger at Sonoran Aliance Shane Wikfors is now the spokesperson for the State Republican Party.

Wikfors took to his blog to complain about Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts and Republican activist Kathy Petsas. Wikfors was angry about a blog post by Roberts about Petsas’s effort to, in Roberts’s words, “de-kookify” the Arizona Republican Party.

Wikfors was put out because neither he nor the chairman of the State Party was called for comment. I understand his frustration and he may have a case to make there, but I don’t know that taking to his own blog to respond was the way to do it. Heck, I’m wondering why he still writes over there with his official position with the Republicans.

But a bigger issue is the rather, uh, inartful way that Wikfors chose to characterize the conversation between Roberts and Petsas:

And Kathy Petsas never made any attempt to provide any constructive criticism to the State Party. Not surprisingly, I’ve never seen her come to the office to volunteer. Instead, Ms. Petsas ran off to Laurie Roberts and engaged her in a “bitch session.”

Yep, bingo. He just used the term “bitch” with regards to two women he’s got problems with. Two women that are being assertive even.

You’d think that the official spokesman for the Republican party would pick his words better.

This is part of the problem with spouting off on your own blog. No filter, no editor, but your organization will still be held accountable for whatever you say.

Wikfors ought to pull out a thesaurus before blogging. Or even better, keep the job related whining off the blog all together while he’s on the party’s payroll.

In His Own Words

Ron Barber has a new ad up, and I’m happy that it’s out there. A previous ad aired by the DCCC noted Jesse Kelly’s previous and rather inconvienient statements on Medicare, but Kelly just brushed it aside and called it “lies.” Now, it will be hard to do so because he’s talking on video.

Hard to deny that one. I don’t think that will stop him from trying. If the responses I get from his supporters on here are any indication, the response will be “ObamaCare, that’s why!”

Check out Jim Nintzel’s article in Weekly about Jesse Kelly’s strategy. A big part of it is not answering questions about his previously stated positions on Social Security and Medicare and nothing about the privatization efforts in the Ryan plan.

Apparently, Kelly’s local spokesperson has been sidelined for, of all people, Daniel Scarpinato. You may remember him as not only a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, but for his work as spokesman for Kelly’s 2010 primary opponent, Jonathan Paton. It was not a friendly campaign. This from the Arizona Capitol Times, August 19th, 2010:

Paton’s spokesman Daniel Scarpinato agreed that the race looks different than it did in January. But he said that’s because Kelly started slinging mud to gain an edge. “The reason, in large part, is because no one could have ever imagined that Jesse Kelly would run one of the most negative, slanderous campaigns that we’ve seen in Arizona probably in decades,” he said.

Wee bit of credit to Scarpinato: he owned up to saying that and several other things about Kelly in the article, and says he’s moved on. Yes, a political answer, but he didn’t try to deny saying what he clearly said. He’s got more respect for our intelligence than Jesse Kelly does.