My letter to Pat Murphy, publisher of the Republic and Gazette

I wrote the following in response to a column by Pat Murphy, publisher of the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette. The column, “When shameful saga is over, how many will deny Mecham?”, was particularly offensive, even for Murphy. But, this column by Murphy perfectly demonstrated for all to read his personal vendetta and bias against Governor Evan Mecham. So, I wrote the following response. To my great surprise, then and now, it was printed the next day in the Arizona Republic.

There is a sentence at the end of my letter to Murphy that might need some explanation for those not familiar with the scandals in Arizona 25 years ago. I wrote to Murphy: “The only situation I can imagine in which I would hide the fact that Evan Mecham was once my boss would be the disclosure that he faked his war record to enhance his career.”

Murphy was hurriedly named publisher in March 1986 after it was revealed that his predecessor, Darrow “Duke” Tully, had fabricated his military record. Tully was before my time in Arizona. Before accepting the position as Governor Mecham’s press secretary, I spent several days in Phoenix talking to anybody and everybody to get a feel for state politics and the news media. (I even got Republic reporter Sam Stanton on the phone. I posed as a reader and praised his toughness in nailing Mecham. It would be instructive to have had a recording of this conversation because it clearly demonstrated the bias of the Republic and Gazette.)

I quickly learned that Tully, who launched John McCain’s political career, would often appear at public functions in the dress uniform of an Air Force lieutenant colonel and he talked about his time in South Korea as a fighter pilot. Nothing but lies. Pathetic lies.

Murphy resigned in August 1989. So, his short tenure served as book-ends for Mecham’s time in office. We can wonder how things might have been different if Tully’s secret had not been discovered.

For the record, Evan Mecham was indeed a combat pilot. At age 19, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew P-51 Mustangs out of England. In the closing days of the war, Mecham was shot down while flying escort on a photo reconnaissance mission and was held as a prisoner of war for 22 days. Mecham returned to the United States after recovering from injuries sustained in the lead-up to his capture, and received an Air Medal and Purple Heart for his service.

More than once, I heard Mecham tell the story of how he was liberated from the German prison camp by American journalists. I don’t know how true that might be, but it’s a good story considering his later battles with the press.

– Ken Smith

January 25, 1998

Thank you, Pat Murphy, for providing what could become the keystone of the book I may write about my experiences on the staff of Governor Evan Mecham. Your most recent column is a prime example of what is wrong in Arizona.

As publisher of the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette, you have abused your position and have abandoned your responsibility for truth and fairness. Even more unfortunate, your vitriolic personal crusade against the governor has provided, by example, the marching orders for your editors and reporters.

It is a sad commentary and probably accurate observation that you wield more power in Arizona than does Evan Mecham. Not one person has ever voted for you, but the target of your campaign was duly elected by the voters.

For baffling reasons, you have now included me in your twisted attack on reality. Contrary to your description of me, I view myself as a fairly typical, honest, middle aged and middle class American with no delusions of grandeur.

Yet, you write of me as being at “the high point of an otherwise meager career” and go on to compare me with “fallen Watergate figures” and “faithful Nazi servants.” Your shots at me are inaccurate, undeserved and damaging.

Your column of Jan. 24 is a good example of a pattern of half-truths, distortions, unnamed sources, and character assassination. What are your motives? What drives you?

Since arriving in Arizona four months ago, I have wondered what causes you to depart from the style of most other American newspaper publishers by becoming so personally and publicly involved in a campaign against an elected official. It is as if an Army general neglected his command responsibilities, picked up a rifle and went to the front lines in the pathetic hope of filling in blank spots in his combat career. The general may even hope to win a few battle medals usually reserved for younger, lower ranking troops.

My worst nightmare would be one in which you have succeeded in driving Evan Mecham from office, and for your efforts you are rewarded with a Pulitzer. I would not be surprised to learn that your motives are not to help build a better Arizona, but rather to win journalistic prizes to enhance your own reputation.

In your column of Jan. 24, you write, “Some of those on the fringes of the executive branch say that Smith has been keeping copious notes about Mecham, and has outlined a book.” No scoop here, Pat.

There are no notes, copious or otherwise, and there is no outline. For two months or so, I have talked freely with many reporters, including some of yours, about the possibility of writing a book. I have not had any deep discussions with members of the executive branch, even those on the “fringes,” because they did not seem particularly interested in a book yet to be written.

But, this book would not be as much about Mecham as it would about the myth of objective journalism, about the dangers to society of unchecked newspaper biases, and about the trend in the news business to pursue sensational events at the expense of truth and perspective. This book, if it is written at all, would continue my academic interest in how politicians use and are used by the news media, how government disseminates information and how public opinion is formed.

Rather than being able “to profit after the ordeal,” I would expect at best this book would be read by a couple thousand professors, journalists and politicians. Any royalties paid to me would be substantially less than the reported $10,000 you have already paid to Donna Carlson for her “intimate insights about the governor’s conduct.”

But, your column caused me to wonder whether I was underestimating the commercial potential of a book I may write. By slightly shifting the focus of my book project, I could write a popularized account of a three-way clash between a self-rightous publisher, a fractured political party, and a governor who made some inconsequential but indelible mistakes. The underlying theme of this commercial book could be the horrendous impact one news organization can have on the electoral, judicial and legislative processes.

So, Pat, my thanks to you for making me aware that my unique vantage point provides an excellent base to write a book about extraordinary events. Although you seem bothered in your column by this opportunity for me, I personally have no problem with the First Amendment and our free enterprise system. If the book is good, it will sell tens of thousands of copies and I will be properly compensated. If the book is poorly written and conceived, it will not sell and I will have wasted my time.

I consider myself to be professional, honest and sincere in the advice I offer to Governor Mecham. The governor accepts some of my advice, ideas and observations. Some he rejects. But, the governor and I are in complete agreement that he has not been treated fairly by the Arizona Republic and Phoenix Gazette. We also agree that you are personally responsible for a large part of the political chaos which now exists in this state.

You predict that I will ultimately be ashamed to admit that I once worked in this administration. The only situation I can imagine in which I would hide the fact that Evan Mecham was once my boss would be the disclosure that he faked his war record to enhance his career.

For the record, I am not a Nazi. Further, I am no more of a Watergate-like figure than you are the publisher of the Washington Post.

This letter will serve as a formal request for you to retract the untrue statements about me.

Yours for truth and fairness,

Ken Smith
Special Assistant for Public Affairs
Office of the Governor

cc: Arizona publishers and broadcasters, selected national media, various trade magazines, interested citizens