Friday, June 25, 2010

We're too dumb to know how dumb we are

Today's Feed-Your-Head-Friday feature explores cognition and Donald Rumsfeld's "unknown unknowns." Juicy!

The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong but You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1)

Editorial: Mexico's lawsuit reeks of hypocrisy

Maybe I'm confused about how this is supposed to work, but usually, if you set out a thesis, aren't you sort of obliged to back it up with something related to that thesis?

I've read it a couple of times, and I have to say today's editorial is, well, incoherent. I'll just jump over the lead graf, which reads like a transcript from an intermittent cellphone connection, and try to parse the unnamed editor's argument.

It appears that the editor is incensed that Mexico has joined the legal challenge to SB1070, in defense of the civil liberties of Mexicans, because he thinks Mexico is so bad at protecting civil liberties within Mexico. Hence the "hypocrisy" in the clunky headline.

As examples he cites Mexico's high unemployment rate and drug-related violence in the northern border towns. (Admittedly, this may well be all the editor knows about Mexico beyond its beer brands.) But neither of these has anything to do with civil rights protections, unless he thinks that Mexicans have a constitutional right to a job or an orderly smuggling market, which I tend to doubt.

Then he jumps to the Arizona boycott resolution by Chula Vista, which is pertinent to his thesis presumably because it has a Spanish name.

What the editor means to say, of course, is that he thinks Mexico should stay out of the legal battle over this legislation. There are straightforward ways of expressing that based on actual facts and cogent reasoning. He's just got tangled up in a lame attempt at snark. (Warning, editor: comedy is the hardest kind of writing. I should know, I screw it up all the time.) A better approach is to preserve the dignity of the editorial column and treat it more seriously.

For instance, you wouldn't imply to your readers that Mexico has filed an "actual lawsuit" against Arizona when in fact what's going on is that Mexico has filed a friend of the court brief in support of the existing federal suit. This is the standard way for interested parties without legal standing to legally express pertinent interests to the court. It's not scary, it doesn't cost us anything extra, and it won't alter the outcome. Calm down, 'kay? And try to spend a couple minutes on research before you decide what to write.

You might also want to consider what you would want your government to do if you heard that Mexico was about to start rounding up Americans with dodgy status in Mexico, running them through the prison system for X years and deporting them back here. If I know the Courier, you'd be calling for armed invasion. Makes an amicus curiae seem pretty mild, dunnit?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

A story with a life of its own

Having broken the news that started the whole Blair-vs-mural hubbub, which went international and brought a whole lot of unkind attention on our fair city, now the Courier editors have had enough and wish it would just go away. Show's over, nothing to see here, move along.

Taking their cue from Mayor Kuykendall ("The public wanted the opportunity to speak, and now we're going to put this behind us"), today the unnamed Courier editor has decreed that further discussion of the topic is officially boring and we should be done with it, even promising additional censorship of the letters and comments. Nice.

This controversy touched a raw nerve in our town and opened a dialogue that's been a long time coming. It's no surprise at all that a lot of people want to be heard, nor that many are staking out extreme positions, nor that the champions of the status quo would like to vacuum the genie back into the bottle. It's an embarrassing story, and Prescott's customary way of dealing with embarrassment is to sweep it under the rug.

But is that any way for a news organization to act? Tim Weideraenders shows that this is a preferred approach in telling us he doesn't watch TV because tampon ads gross him out. After restating his own position, Steve Stockmar declares the argument over, clearly expressing the short attention span of the media in general and the public at large, as well as the typical offhand hubris of journos in deciding what's important and what's not.

Steve, Tim and the Mayor all seem to believe that their function is to lead the people in how to think, and what happened yesterday is not important. But they're all missing both the core of the story and the opportunity it presents, and forgetting that they are all in their chairs to serve the public.

Councilman Blair, Superintendent Kapp, Principal Lane and a bunch of racist yobbos all did things that were deeply offensive to the Miller Valley kids, their parents and teachers, and a large part of this community. Mr Blair has got some deserved blowback from his constituents and suffered some predictable cost in his commercial relationships. Messrs. Kapp and Lane walked their actions back and apologized, but that should not get them off without public discussion of how things are done in our schools, and how important political deals are made in secret among friends.

The Mayor blew an important and rare opportunity for sensible dialogue to address the day-to-day injustice and high background radiation of unacknowledged racism that splinters our community under its Leave-It-To-Beaver facade.

All of us overfed, comfy white folk would like to think of ourselves as friendly, open people who wave and greet passersby and treat strangers as new-found friends. But we all know or should know that we don't respond that way to all strangers, or even all of our neighbors. The majority here has grown comfortable in not seeing the ones who are different, or poor, or young, or mentally challenged, and there's constant pressure to make them even less visible. Many of us are in deep denial about how Prescott is changing with the world around it and refusing to go along, making Prescott increasingly neurotic.

This is news, one of the biggest news stories in our community. Refusal to talk about it, including by our local media, has built up the pressure we see being released now.

Rather than pulling the curtain and telling us the show's over, the Courier should be leaning into this story, seeking out the reasonable voices and different viewpoints, challenging rhetoric with facts, and pushing for answers to the very important questions it raises. Proaction, not reaction.

I don't know how long the story will sustain itself. Americans really do have the attention span of a gnat, after all, and in its current form the dialogue isn't very productive. The status-quo types will probably win. But be warned that the issue of racism in Prescott will not go away, it will only repressurize and emerge somewhere else, uglier and more recalcitrant. The editors have only kicked the can down the road.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Editorial: No more reasons to avoid parking garage

The editor chastises residents who prefer parking on the street rather than the city garage on Granite, with a headline discounting any excuse. Here we have mainly a failure of imagination, I'm afraid.

Consider someone who wants to buy something downtown, say a large ceramic pot, and faces the idea of carrying it across the square, around to the alley, up the alley and up several flights of stairs.

Consider someone who's planning dinner at Murphy's and a popular show at PFAA.

Consider the working musician (me) who has to show up at the club during the dinner hour and unload for the gig -- on Cortez St.

We have to face facts here: the garage is only practical for able-bodied people with destinations from the square on the east to Sharlot Hall Museum on the west, south to about Carleton and north to Willis. The eastern and most of the northern blocks of downtown are too far for most people even when parking is at a dire premium and you're able-bodied, leave alone those who are over 60, have little kids in tow, or are carrying more than five pounds of goods.

The idea of more and better signage to direct out-of-towners to the garage and other free lots is a good one. Forbidding downtown workers and juries from using on-street parking would be huge (although hard to enforce). A second garage on Union St, as per the original and smarter plan, would be better for the east side and far more visible and attractive to tourists and juries. Inside the garage, moving the spaces reserved for City vehicles to the top deck would probably raise garage occupancy by a third, since I'm sure lots of people give up looking when they see that block of white cars and trucks.

A lot of people complain that they're scared to use the garage because of poor lighting and nasty people hanging out there. Lighting in the garage is fine 24/7, but the alley behind the Row isn't exactly inviting all the time. A couple of electric four-place golf carts with drivers to ferry shoppers (free) around the square and to the garage might go a long way.

The central point is that the parking situation downtown has always suffered from inertia in accepting things as they are and a severe dearth of the necessary imagination to create multidimensional, positive solutions. Angled parking on our busy, narrow streets down there is dead stupid and we really need to upgrade or get rid of it entirely. Closing the streets around the square to cars would vastly improve the quality of the experience for everyone, and we ought to be doing some big-idea traffic planning to move in that direction. Simple public people-movers could knit downtown together over a much larger area than the frontage on the square, good for both visitors and businesses.

But standing up on the editor's soapbox, berating people to go park in the garage and belittling their concerns and practical needs is not going to help one bit -- particularly considering that the Courier so recently abandoned the downtown area.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I gotta say it

Prescott man gets 10 life terms in prison for kid porn and unsavory pursuits, and his name is what?

Christian Royalty?

Oh, that's rich.

Immigration facts slipping through the media fence

A great piece appeared in the Republic today confirming what the reality-based community has been saying for years about the phony "immigration issue." Just go read.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Feed-Your-Head Friday

Jay Rosen has a great think piece up on his blog offering a new way to look at press bias: Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: On the Actual Ideology of the American Press. Definitely worth a look.

Band coverage

Thanks Bruce, and we hope we'll see you at The Raven tonight. For more, check out the Big Daddy D website.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Watch those headlines

Courier headline today, p. 10A:
Dissatisfaction with Obama on oil spill mirrors Bush/Katrina criticism

Every other outlet's headline for the same story:
Obama defending Gulf effort in Oval Office address

Say no more.

The Kourier Koffee Klatsch

The idea of an editorial sit-down with readers is great, giving them the opportunity to talk and the editors to hear about how the paper is working for the community, ideas for change and improvement, kudos for what's right and accountability for what's not. What's not to like? But the point would be having the editors actually listen to the readers. Is that's what's happening here?

Reader Bob Bockrath ... discussed the differences between facts and opinions in editorial pieces.

"We have an editorial board that meets regularly to discuss positions we will take on editorials," Courier Editor Tim Wiederaenders shared during the discussion. "The editorials are opinions of the newspaper and of the board, not of an individual writer."
The fact/opinion question apparently went straight into File 13, and we get boilerplate about editorials that regular readers will instantly spot as hokum. This was the only bit where an editor even appeared to reply to a concern, leave alone offer a solution or change.

The event makes for some nice happy filler for the paper, but I'll bet it's massively frustrating for the reader participants. And don't even try to tell me that George Karsa showed up with nothing notable to say.

Rap on birthright citizenship

Rand Paul nationally and Russell Pearce locally are leading a nutbar charge against birthright citizenship, the concept that anyone born on US soil is automatically a citizen. Pearce is even proposing new state legislation to prevent the issuance of birth certificates to the children of illegals, thereby, he imagines, impeding the citizenship process, which is of course a federal function. It's another election-year stunt from our shadow governor, and he knows it'll go nowhere, but he can keep it in the news and use it to get himself and other nutbars reelected.

The senator is going about it in completely the wrong way, for clearly the wrong reasons. But at its core the idea has some merit, and I think we should be talking about it in a way that's rather less unhinged.

First let me set some bright lines on what I'm thinking. It's not the same as Pearce's proposal. There's no question that the 14th Amendment grants birthright citizenship to anyone, legal or illegal. Congress wrote it this way over the express objections of the amendment's primary drafter, who wanted to include a provision for lawful presence of parents in this country. That was the 1860s, the US still had half a continent to populate, and Manifest Destiny was still public policy.

Things are different now. The entire world is overpopulated and migration pressures are strong and complex. Beyond the charitable aspect (the nice side of paternalism), I just don't see a clear public good in granting citizenship to babies born to people who are not lawfully here. Appeal to tradition if you like, but I'm not sold.

Making that change would require the full megillah of a constitutional amendment to specify that the mother must be lawfully present in the US or a territory, including good visa status. (I don't include the father because paternity isn't always clear; if the birth is happening in the US, the mother is here. Duh.) Since the 1980s the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa have made changes like this, specifying parental citizenship or minimum residence requirements. I think we can afford to remain a little more liberal than that.

I'm not among those who feel that the children of illegals are a huge problem, certainly not large enough to warrant a constitutional process to address it. But we clearly do need an entirely new regime for immigrant workers, giving much broader legal status and bringing everyone into our systems for worker protection and taxes. This modification of our traditional approach could be a reasonable measure to offer the right in making a deal for sensible immigration policy, and that would be a huge gain.

It's worth thinking about, we can hope a little more clearly than Messrs. Pearce and Paul.

(Hmm: a tasty treat -- the Pearce and Paul Nutbar!)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Unquestioned Premise

An ironclad rule of logic is that if one of the premises is bad, the conclusion is bad as well. The primary tactic of a skilled debater, whether on the school team or the courtroom, is to go after the weak premises and shoot them to pieces. And one of the primary techniques of the propagandist is the unquestioned premise, a basic form of disinformation.

It goes like this. Say you want to prove that the sun moves around the earth. You point out that everyone can see that the earth is flat and no one falls off, therefore the earth isn't moving, therefore the sun must be moving. Just slip that "common (non)sense" premise in there, and your mark swallows the argument whole. It's as easy as pie. But it requires either self-delusion or the intent to delude, as well as a pliable mark. Us readers, in other words.

The unnamed Courier editor manages to work four unquestioned premises into today's editorial, which is ostensibly on immigration reform but is really about getting more Republicans elected. I know, just go with me for a sec.

The editor's argument, in logical form, boils down to this:

Premise 1: The federal government is "neglecting its own immigration enforcement."
Premise 2: The federal government is "unwilling to enact positive immigration reform."
Premise 3: If the federal government will not enforce immigration law, Arizona must.
Premise 4: SB1070 would be effective in enforcing federal immigration law.
Conclusion: The federal government should allow Arizona to enforce immigration law as per SB1070.

Just look at those premises! I'll bet you didn't think he had it in him to make such breathtaking leaps!

What we have here are not facts, but rather talking points -- ideas designed to persuade you to think in a certain way. The unrelenting media narrative holds that the border is out of control and the feds are doing essentially nothing as illegals overrun the country causing havoc, crime, cracks in the earth, hail of toads, what have you. Anyone who knows otherwise is forced to show over and over again in tedious detail that these concerns are just not justified by reality. But those who are paying enough attention to know generally have jobs, families and real lives, so they get tired. The media machine never gets tired, especially of a story that generates beucoup moola.

Some facts:

The federal government is spending more resources and personnel on the southern border than at any time in history. To the editor, that's "neglecting."

The federal government cannot "enact positive immigration reform," much as our president would like to. That's the role of Congress, one in which the minority party is using every available tactic to block any initiative by the president or the majority party. To the editor, that's "unwilling."

Recession, not enforcement, is reducing the number of illegal immigrants here: illegals are leaving our state in droves, causing reasonable concern about further depressing our economy.

If its backers are being honest in how they're selling it, SB1070 is essentially toothless. If it's not, it's likely to exacerbate the crime and other problems we already have and add new ones, licensing bad cops, vigilantes and garden-variety racists to go after anyone who looks sufficiently brown, including Puerto Ricans and Indians. What the bill amounts to is a legislative temper tantrum, and that's causing reasonable people to step back, but I'm positive it doesn't scare the criminals one bit.

Finally, on the idea that the states must do what the federal government won't (to their satisfaction): Let's say there's a gigantic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and huge amounts of oil are threatening the coasts and industries of five southern states while the oil company who made the mess dithers around trying to save its investment in the well and avoid paying the cleanup costs. By the Courier editor's logic, because Louisiana doesn't like how the feds are going about fixing it, the state would be justified, even obliged, to nationalize (state-ize?) the oil company, direct the leak fix and take on the cleanup costs itself. You do the math.

The editor packs all this wrong thinking into his unquestioned premises. (Why bother thinking when the media are doing it for you, after all?) His conclusion is rotten to the core as a result, but in the context of the unrelenting narrative, it looks fairly reasonable.

Underneath, the message is quite pointed and partisan. See, in the editor's world, "positive immigration reform" is code for "closing the border and sending them all home," and that's the only approach the Republicans will talk about. The smart ones know the idea is preposterous in the real world, it just can't happen, I don't care how much money and manpower you propose to throw at it. But they also know that as long as they beat the drum, they have an issue that scares voters and gets them elected, and, as proven over the last decade, once they're elected they don't have to do anything about it, they can just keep beating that drum. It's perfect. A continuously winning issue that can't be resolved.

In the real world, "positive immigration reform" means eliminating the artificial shortage of legal routes to work, bringing all immigrants onto the level playing field of workplace protections, minimum wages and withholding taxes, and looking after U.S. economic interests in a flexible and skilled workforce. When the editor writes on those ideas, I'll consider the possibility that the Courier is turning a corner on the issue. But however reasonable it may appear on the surface, today's editorial is just the same old scary drumbeat. On with the stampede. Watch your step, there's a cliff over that way.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Editorial: In this case, what's in a name is a lot

The story of the Whiskey Row crosswalk is often told as Prescott lore, and there are many variations in the details. It may be that it's so often told that no one feels compelled to research the facts, but it would be nice if we could count on the unnamed Courier editor to take an interest in separating lore from reality, or at least not confusing them further.

I've been in town longer than Tim has, and while that doesn't confer any special knowledge, I may have heard the story a few more times. I've never before heard the idea that the City eliminated the crosswalk, rather it was ADOT, the reason being that Montezuma Street is officially a state highway (89), and unregulated crosswalks are not allowed on highways. One of the remarkable things about the crosswalk -- and I'm talking secondhand here, I haven't confirmed this with ADOT -- is that it is the only unregulated crosswalk on a state highway in Arizona. I've also never heard that when Sam painted the crosswalk he was operating only as an outraged citizen. Sam's reputation for stunts and gaffes while drunk is well established in the lore, extending to his failure to appear for his mayoral speech at the Y2K event ten years ago.

Some will say it's not fair to kick a man while he's down -- Sam suffered a severe stroke some years ago and is no longer able to defend himself -- but knowing him, I'd say he'd be the first to laugh at the idea of sanitizing his image for posterity.

If we're talking about putting up an historical marker, what we need is an official account, researched and confirmed, from someone with the authority to tell it. Another hipshot from the editor only muddies the water further. Prescott cares about history. I have to hope the editor does too.

Update, Tuesday: Daveinprescott asks, "Do you know anything about "The Prescott Western Heritage Foundation"? I have never heard of this group before and wonder what their involvement is with the local politics and why they'd be interested in putting this guy up front and center as a symbol of Prescott's past-as if it's something we should all admire? Is this a sizable group? Who are its members?"

Good question! This "group" filed with the Corporation Commission as a tax-exempt nonprofit on May 4 of this year, stating as its purpose "to provide charitable opportunities for children to a) participate in performing arts productions; and b) to participate in educational seminars and classes in the theatrical arts." Its articles of incorporation state that it will have no members, so it consists of just two directors: sculptor and Western art booster Dennis Gallagher, and former councilman Rob Behnke. Mr Behnke signed the filing and the organization's official address matches his home address.

Mr Behnke was on Council during Mayor Steiger's term, and is one of the prime movers of the foundation raising money to renovate the Elks Theatre, which the City purchased under Sam's leadership.

It's not clear to me how ennobling a crosswalk with Sam's name plays into theatrics for children, but the world's a funny place, y'know? I expect Mr Behnke came up with the idea on his own and is using the foundation's name to make the effort look a little bigger, gad bless'm.

ToMA: Selecting local subcontractors is truly vital

Sandy Griffis may be qualified to speak on the topic of hiring local contractors to remodel our schools, and what she has to say may be cogent. But it's hard to tell, because short of a few illiterate, drug-addled rants in the comments, this is the worst-written piece I've seen in the Courier in an awfully long time.

The language is murky, full of industry jargon, as if written as a personal letter between people with deep background on the issue. The syntax ranges from clunky to impenetrable. There are so many hanging adjectives it looks like a style preference.

While I have to wonder whether an introductory paragraph is missing from the top, I can have little doubt that the column pretty much came over the transom in this condition, since even a third-string Courier copy editor would have done something to clarify the acronyms and clean up hopeless garble like this: "The project delivery must be appropriate and as a community citizen it is important to ensure that each procurement and the selection process has been appropriately qualified and again, for the well being of our community and to ensure that local is used it is important to watch the weighting of criteria and data." Yikes.

I'm not saying that the awfulness of this particular piece does any significant damage to the body politic. But for me it's hair-raising in that I have to infer that the editors are either incapable of handling technical language, incompetent to determine that language this bad needs fixing, unwilling to put any effort into a prepackaged column, or simply not at their desks and the machine is running without an operator. In any case this is no way to build credibility for a news organization. Get your act together, people!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

ToMA: Historic building, free speech take hits

Merry Nebeker, speaking entirely free of critical thinking or pertinent expertise, carries water for the extremists, lamely attempting to divert attention from the nastiness of the racists in our community and the antics that made Councilman Blair internationally famous last week.

She toes the lines well grooved by many of the hipshooting commenters -- that the mural is an inappropriate political statement, that it damages an historic building, and that critics are impairing Mr Blair's right to free speech. None of this is supportable in the slightest by facts.

The mural is by the kids and for the kids, primarily their own expression of ideas to help them be healthier. Because the largest image in the mural is of a non-white kid, the reactionaries see something different. The kids don't.

While the school is old, the part with the mural -- a cafeteria added relatively recently -- is neither old nor distinguished architecturally in any way. That's a classic red herring.

And Mr Blair has not only been allowed to express whatever dumbass ideas he has, he's been encouraged to do so and paid wages to do so for years -- up until he said something so dumbass that it threatened his employer's revenue stream. Now he gets to be a dumbass on his own dime, and if the recall effort is successful, as a private citizen rather than public official. The extreme right has grown altogether too comfortable with the idea that they can say stupid, hurtful things without consequences, but that doesn't come from the Constitution, sorry.

My question, again, is why this overlong LTE was promoted to a column under the Talk of My Ass slug. The writer has no expertise or even a fresh perspective. This is a waste of time that smells of old fish -- herring, I think.

Editorial: Safe-yield action is running dry so far

Not bad!

There's a lot to like about today's editorial. Where in the past we've grown used to seeing the unnamed Courier editor take sides and hector the players on his own simplistic ideas about how to achieve a sustainable water supply -- or, more often, to protect the interests of developers -- this time he holds back on the ego and firmly advocates more serious effort to find solutions that work.

Rather than tell the players how to think, he urges them to get to the necessary thinking. His tone is deliberative, reasonable, and impatient with those who have proven more concerned about themselves and their control of power than the real needs of our communities. On the issue of exempt wells, for once he focuses on fact over ideology, but again resists the urge to prescribe. Most notably he upholds the highest principle of the free press in holding official feet to the fire on this vital issue. No pointless digressions, no silly metaphors, no empty filler. Bravo. Here's a cookie.

I hope this is an opening shot in a serious campaign to move the process forward. A lot more needs saying about the vested interests -- and here I'm talking about money -- that have been sabotaging agreement on safe yield for far too many years, and about individuals in positions of power and responsibility in thrall to preconceived ideas or failing to do their homework. Voters need much more depth of analysis on the costs, impacts and real benefits of the pipeline idea, and the practical need to follow the clear intent of law in proceeding with it. Everyone has to take this issue very seriously, and while he has some long-neglected work to do in building editorial credibility, the editor is in position to lead by example. This is a very positive start.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Editorial: Mural comments shock citizenry

The unnamed Courier editor expresses mild consternation about the racist epithets being hurled from the street and Councilman Blair's bonehead comments about the mural. To that extent the editor is on the right side of history. But the editorial is so wishy-washy and slapdash I can't give him much credit for it. It reads too much like one of Tim's pseudoblog columns -- a reactive screed knocked off in his free time without much thought behind it. He speaks of outrage in the community, but not in the editorial office. In the end, he minimizes the whole issue. Disappointing.

What Mr Blair has done, taking into account his pattern for this sort of behavior, is unconscionable in a Council member. Saying he ought to be more careful about what he says is nothing but a nod and wink. The offense he has given to the community as a whole and the kids and educators at Miller Valley in particular merits serious consideration of his fitness for office. There ought to be no question he should resign immediately rather than put us all through a recall fight. Yes, editor, "racism is alive and well in 'Everybody's Hometown'," and our continuing tolerance of Mr Blair as a representative of the community is the clearest evidence. It's shameful for our city, and it's shameful that our local paper is complicit.

Update, 12:30: An anonymous commenter links me to some deeply ugly stuff. I think we can all, right and left, agree that we don't want our city represented like this.

Update, midnight: It appears KYCA doesn't want this sort of representation either: Blair Fired from Radio Show

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ability and Accountability?

Could someone in editorial authority please change the title on Richard Haddad's pseudoblog to something like "The Christian Corner"? He doesn't post columns often, but they're getting more religionist every time and farther away from his stated topic area. Today's offering wanders deep into Wacky World.

Editorial: Arizona gains support on immigration law

The unnamed Courier editor indulges in a little wishful thinking. It would be sort of endearing, really, if it weren't so, well, dumb.

Followup: The young Mr Pierce and police-blotter day

We have four stories from the police beat today: a drunken alien masher, a suspected child molester, a fugitive teen, and a DUI suspect. This last, of course, is the son of a rich and powerful land developer and state legislator.

Let's talk about special treatment.

A reliable factor in choosing what becomes news is that people want to know more about people they know more about. So it's natural that the Nelson Pierce story went on page one rather than with the others on page three. But it's also convenient in that it separates the guy with powerful connections from the dreary hoi polloi.

Comparing the raw police-book story in eNews with the more massaged Courier version, fascinating differences emerge.

Mr Pierce's name appears in the lead paragraph of the eNews story. In the Courier lead, he's "a man," and his name is relegated to the second graf. (The headline writer comes later in the process.)

The domestic-disturbance context runs in the second graf in eNews; in the Courier, it's third.

In the police report, he was shirtless and sweaty, with black and bloodied fingers. Those details do not appear in the Courier.

The police report says that on being informed he was under arrest, Mr Pierce "said that he wanted to run off." No mention in the Courier.

The police say they informed him that the full drug test was voluntary, and he expressed "he did not wish to participate in that evaluation." No mention of that in the Courier.

"Pierce admitted that he was addicted to heroin and uses this drug every few weeks," says the police report. In the Courier, "he knew what he did was wrong and that he is addicted to heroin." Later in the police report, ""Pierce indicated he felt what he did was wrong, but didn't feel like he was impaired, though he admitted to having a problem."

Mr Pierce's father, the Senator, gets three grafs to characterize his son's problem as addiction that deserves support and sympathy -- rather than endangering the public by operating a vehicle while impaired, for which he was actually arrested. He expresses concern that the news might hurt the wife and kids -- the same wife who called the cops to have the perp removed. I didn't notice a quote from the wife, which might have been interesting too.

It's natural that there's more interest in what Mr Pierce's powerful father has to say. What's not natural is holding the story for a day to gather only sympathetic quotes, or trimming out ugly details that would certainly appear in any ordinary crime story. I have to wonder whether Mr Bluemke or Mr Gann have friends or relations who'd like to say something in their defense -- in public, ahead of jury selection. (The friends and family of Mr Lopez-Nava, of course, probably don't speak English, so for the paper, they don't exist.) But see, they're not interesting enough, so they don't get that opportunity.

The Pierce story reeks of special treatment for the powerful and privileged -- exactly the sort of thing an independent, protected Fourth Estate was designed to resist. This does not say good things for the new Courier editorial team.

Elementary school mural getting a 'lighter' facelift

Cindy and Paula did a good job letting Councilman Blair vent on race, clearly pointing up the core of the story on criticism of the Miller Valley School mural. I have to wonder whether Mr Blair should really get so much credit for riling people up -- I'm not wild about that mural myself, for quite different reasons -- but given his history of race-baiting and generally dumbass remarks in public, he deserves it. "Diversity, it's a word I can't stand." Now there's a great little campaign bumper sticker!

I dislike the Miller Valley mural for the same reason I dislike the old mural in Council chambers -- pointless, self-congratulatory sentimentality and not particularly good art. I'm also getting a little tired of seeing murals from a single source all over town. Mr Wall is making a personal career on public money meant to support diverse community projects. If we're gonna do this and celebrate diversity, let's spread the wealth to some diverse artists and styles. Better yet, let's quit with the murals already. Remember the old Hillside grocery mural? I like it better now.

There is one common criticism the project doesn't deserve, though, and that's historic desecration. Miller Valley School is an historic structure, yes, built in 1916, but the muralized addition is clearly no older than the 1960s and not historically or architecturally significant.

What the reporters apparently did not explore is the shocking spinelessness of school officials in changing the mural to better suit the racists. In a paper known for an ironclad rule against the passive voice, that voice is used to hide who ordered the changes. I know Mr Wall would never alter the art on his own in this fashion.

PS, 3:30pm: Wow, 122 comments so far! And notice how many of them are under what look like real names. Good show, readers! Steve Stockmar also has a column up on the subject.

Update, Friday: Comment count now over 200, and over 50 on the editorial!

Another missing story

From the Republic, an incident on Sunday night: Vandals tag 18 vehicles, 3 homes in Prescott Valley is an unedited PD press release, something the Courier knows how to do, and timely in terms of finding the perps. The Courier should have run it yesterday.

Ditto this: YCSO Seeking Hit and Run Vehicle/Suspects

Update, Friday: They show up today, here and here. Perhaps the editor would like to explain why his local crime stories are coming in so far behind other outlets.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Editorial: Stakes are sky-high in coming election

The Courier editor says he thinks an informed and vigorous electorate is a good idea. I can't write a response much better than this comment by Elijah Middlebrook:

Dear Mr. New Editor,

I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments. Please help us avoid being "easy sells" by improving the coverage of city and county politics in the Daily Courier. Please encourage your reporters to do real investigative journalism rather than just repeating the information that is given them. The voters of Prescott need your assistance. Only you can transform the Courier into the kind of paper we need to be an informed, critical thinking electorate. The current approach to covering local politics and news is grossly inadequate. Thanks for listening.
I might add, however, that if he is at all concerned about the paper's reputation and building its credibility in the community, Tim could do worse than to write a byline column on his vision for the paper and how he intends to address the sort of concerns that Mr Middlebrook expresses. Set a standard, publicly, for yourself and your staff to meet.

Missing: Senator's son arrested

Hat-tip to Mayor Wilson for alerting me to yesterday's story in Prescott eNews on the arrest of Nelson Pierce, 33-year-old son of LD1 Senator Steve Pierce, on a raft of charges related to heroin, meth, X and acting like an idiot.

Lynne posted the story at about 5:30pm yesterday, before deadline at the Courier, and Tuesday is usually police-blotter day at the paper anyway, so I don't see an excuse for not running it in today's edition.

Maybe the assigned reporter had already gone home or whatever, but this was a big fail for the editors as it's so easy to infer that they buried the story out of concern for Sen Pierce, who is running for reelection. If it doesn't show up online by about 10:30 tonight, readers should definitely smell a rat.

Update, 6:30pm: And it appears.

Our former mayor has an interesting exchange about this today on his Facebook page with Tricia Lewis of Lewis Marketing & Public Relations, which claims as clients, among others, the City of Prescott, Country Bank and Fann Environmental.