Below is a letter I sent to Bill Cheshire, editorial page editor for the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette, after another big fuss because I was giving preference to out-of-state reporters for interviews with Mecham. The letter also repeats my criticism of how Bill’s boss, Pat Murphy, had characterized me in one of his columns. See “When shameful saga is over, how many will deny Mecham?”
– Ken Smith
March 30, 1988
William P. Cheshire,
Editor of the Editorial Pages
The Arizona Republic
120 E. Van Buren
Phoenix, AZ 85004
I would like to think that I am at least partially responsible for the two editorials about Governor Mecham that have appeared recently in the Wall Street Journal. Last October, I began a determined effort to get major newspapers in other states to do their own research and writing on events in Arizona, rather than relying upon the Republic and Gazette and the derivative wire service stories.
My actions caused considerable discussion and some criticism in the Arizona news media for favoring out-of-state reporters over local reporters. My often repeated, but seldom reported, comment has been that the pattern and negative tone of news coverage about Governor Mecham was personally established by your publisher, Pat Murphy, who controls more than half of the total daily newspaper circulation in Arizona. The Republic and Gazette not only dominate the news business in Arizona, but also have been the seminal force for distorted national coverage of Governor Mecham.
In late January, as part of my continuing effort to attract objective coverage of the events here in Arizona, I sent copies of a column by Mr. Murphy to editors of nationally prominent newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal. This particular column was the one in which Mr. Murphy referred to me and others as “faithful Nazi servants” and “fallen Watergate figures.”
Along with the column, I sent to the editors of the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers copies of my response letter and the news article about the column and letter. I would remind you that in this news article Mr. Murphy declined to retract the Nazi statement, commenting, “I’m not retracting anything. You can’t retract an opinion.” With this quote in his own newspaper, Mr. Murphy demonstrated not only that he is devoid of journalism ethics, but also that he has a very shallow understanding of the law.
On balance, I believe that Governor Mecham has received fair treatment by journalists who have conducted their own research and not relied upon news articles and columns in the Republic and Gazette. You dismissed the Wall Street Journal editorials, but you have failed to comment on articles in the Los Angeles Times, the Hartford Courant, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Sacramento Bee, the Tampa Tribune, or the Atlanta Constitution. Like the Wall Street Journal editorials, the news articles in these newspapers were not entirely flattering to Governor Mecham, but at least they were fair.
After the Wall Street Journal published its first editorial, you wrote a column rejecting the out-of-state criticism of Mr. Murphy’s personal efforts to unseat Governor Mecham. To insure that your provincial defense of Mr. Murphy’s campaign was known outside our borders, I sent a copy of your column to the editors of the Wall Street Journal.
In just two editorials, the Wall Street Journal has come closer to the truth of what is actually happening in Arizona than has the Republic in thousands of articles, columns, editorials and analyses. Rather than lashing out at a newspaper that has far greater prestige than your own, I would expect that you would be a bit embarrassed by the reprimand from your journalistic superiors.
You and I are participants in an event of national historical signficance. I sincerely believe that historians will conclude that Mr. Murphy was an egomaniacal bully and that Governor Mecham was the victim of judicial and legislative processes which were unduly influenced by biased and accusatory media coverage.
I understand your desire to claim credit for a well turned phrase. However, contrary to what you wrote in your first response to the Wall Street Journal, you did not originate “Evan the Terrible.” I would remind you that when you and I had lunch three months ago, I said, “You treat Governor Mecham as if he were Evan the Terrible.” Neither did I coin this phrase. I had heard “Evan the Terrible” from several reporters last November.
Bill, under different circumstances, I believe that you and I could be friends. I have enjoyed talking with you, and I have respected most of your opinions. But, you have had the difficult role of being an apologist for Mr. Murphy while I have been a spokesman for Governor Mecham. I believe my job is far more ethical and honorable than yours.