Monday, December 28, 2009

Editorial: Public will judge Arpaio, Polk, et al

Writing the editorial -- the considered opinion of the paper as a community entity -- is about taking a stand. Not every day is a big-news day, so frequently the daily editorial column carries lighter fare, but when the editors choose to address a controversial public-policy issue, the reader fairly expects to learn what the editors, who deal with public policy every day and so are supposedly up on the details, consider to be the better course. Journos generally love to do this, because it's the most direct form of participation in the news that the profession offers.

So when I see an editorial on a hot issue and read something as smarmy and mealy-mouthed as this, my red flags go up and the BS collision siren goes off.

Notice, dear reader, how the unnamed Courier editor uses subtle equivocation and characterization to undercut the case against Arpaio and Thomas. Putting Arpaio and Polk in the same "et al." headline, as if they're all the same. Reducing the arguments to "vitriol flying thither and yon." Describing the public demonstration of the attorneys rather than their documented concerns. The unschooled reader would naturally conclude from this that the issue is some sort of angry food fight among a bunch of lawyers and doesn't matter.

No, dear editor, Attorney Polk's letter is clearly not "vitriol" in any way. Her accusations are serious and measured, not angry or gratuitous. The "200 lawyers on the lawn" are actually over 350 attorneys in public and private practice, including other municipal and county attorneys, calling out Thomas and Arpaio for abuse of their offices. This is serious stuff, but the Courier editor handles it like a barroom argument over an umpire call.

Why, one might wonder. I have a guess. Taking a clear stand in favor of Arpaio and Thomas would win a few points among people who don't read much, but ultimately come a cropper when the two principles take their inevitable fall -- the evidence is overwhelming. Taking a stand in favor of the majority of the legal profession and Ms Polk puts the paper on the side of lawyers, whom they love to hate, and against the sliver of the extreme right that the editors identify with most strongly. And this last group, we can all attest, holds grudges when its members fail to measure up to this week's standard of crazy.

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