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.
(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.