Monday, July 29, 2002

Facts? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Facts!

The Tribune ran an editorial last Sunday attacking Arizona Attorney General (and candidate for governor) Janet Napolitano for two mistakes in her handling the Supreme Court's recent decision holding the Arizona death penalty unconstitutional. The first was appointing a commission to make a recommendation what to do, which the Trib said showed a lack of leadership, and then second not working on crafting a legislative solution. Problem is, both statements are wrong. Rather than run a correction, the Trib ran my column. I guess it's like the WSJ editorial page, where they print a letter a couple of days later that points out that the original editorial was totally incorrect, and somehow the reader has to sort it out.

There's some background here; Matt Salmon has made a career of making inflammatory charges against Napolitano that don't pan out, but there's never any criticism or downside when he can't back up his claims. By my count, which includes a rather vicious claim about a 1996 criminal investigation, and the fairly-well-publicized attack on Janet for taking a contribution from Enron, this is Salmon's third swing-and-a-miss.

The Enron contribution flap is illustrative. Salmon attacked Napolitano for taking a contribution "from Enron," when Salmon himself had gotten a $500 contribution from Enron's PAC for his congressional campaign committee. So both papers covered the boomerang on the charges; Salmon fired his opposition researcher. The more interesting fact, not fully vetted, is that Napolitano's supposed Enron contribution was a contribution from a New Mexico resident who, in 1998 during Napolitano's campaign for AG, happened to work for Enron. It wasn't a PAC or corporate contribution, but rather from a relatively low-level employee. That was Salmon's claim of an "Enron contribution." So even if the boomerang of Salmon's own Enron contribution hadn't leveled the charge, it was pretty bogus to begin with. But none of this backstory will make it into reporting about whatever Salmon's latest bogus charge happens to be.

In other news, the Arizona Republic came out against the death penalty Sunday. Jim Bush, Republican uber-lobbyist, comes out against the death penalty. Hey--did I wake up in Oregon or Massachusetts or something?

East Valley Tribune, July 28, 2002

The Tribune editorial page likes Matt Salmon so much, it wants to make the same mistakes--and get the same free ride--as Matt does for his sloppy research. Apparently, The Tribune is an official Napolitano free-fire zone. Hurl false charges against her, and if you’re wrong, who cares?

In baseball, you get three strikes and you’re out, but when you play “Attack Janet in The Tribune,” being wrong means never having to say you’re sorry.

The latest example came in last Sunday’s editorial, parroting a campaign charge by Salmon faulting Napolitano’s handling of the forthcoming fix to Arizona’s death penalty statute, just declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court--reversing its 1991 decision upholding the same statute.

Napolitano’s Capital Case Commission, a panel of prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and citizens, debated the issue, and, surprisingly, voted to recommend either abolishing the death penalty or putting it to a public vote.

Salmon attacked Napolitano for not “controlling” the opinions of the people on the panel. I didn’t know thought control was a test of leadership, but we now have confirmation that Matt Salmon takes pride in refusing to learn anything new.

For its part, The Tribune attacked Napolitano based on two easily-checked but flat-out wrong statements. First, the editorial said “Napolitano formed a commission to look into the matter”--meaning the make-the-statute-constitutional fix. Wrong.

Napolitano actually appointed the commission in the summer of 2000--two years ago--in response to studies showing extraordinarily high rates of reversals in Arizona capital cases, and a cluster of high-profile cases nationally where innocent people had received death sentences. Since 2000, the commission has discussed many aspects of capital cases in Arizona, including the recent statute--supported by this paper--prohibiting executions of the mentally retarded.

The commission wasn’t formed for “this matter”--but the members of the commission did debate the issue, and recommended a public debate and vote, a recommendation that The Tribune actually might endorse if it didn’t get in the way of supporting Salmon.

Second, the editorial blasted Napolitano for relying on a citizen committee for a legal fix for the statute. Instead, she “could and should have charted a legislative course . . . and then recommended that Gov. Jane Hull call a special session.” Wrong again--because that’s exactly what Napolitano did.

In reality, the Attorney General’s Office has been working on a revised statute with Gov. Hull, legislative leaders, prosecutors, and defense attorneys for weeks. And the governor may call the special session to fix the death penalty as soon as this Tuesday, if the legislative leaders line up the necessary votes.

As reported by Robbie Sherwood in The Arizona Republic last Wednesday, “House Speaker Jim Weiers”--a Republican, mind you--”hopes for widespread support for the changes, drafted by Attorney General Janet Napolitano and county prosecutors” to amend the death penalty statute.

If anybody failed a test here, it’s last Sunday’s editorial, which was based on demonstrably false claims, statements so far off the mark that most newspapers would have run a correction. Maybe Salmon still has crummy opposition research, but that doesn’t excuse The Tribune.

The truly weird part is that the editorial attacked Napolitano because the Capitol Case Commission raised doubts about the death penalty--a debate this paper has encouraged. As the editorial noted, “The Tribune has voiced concerns about the death penalty repeatedly in these pages. There is a rousing debate throughout the land over whether capital punishment should be abolished.”

Huh? Napolitano allegedly failed a test of leadership because she couldn’t prevent interested citizens from discussing an important public issue that The Tribune itself wants to debate?

Stop reading those editorials, people. If you find them convincing but Matt Salmon doesn’t, you’d better watch your back.

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