My letter to the Republic city editor

This letter was written after my participation on a panel about journalism at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff — six months after Mecham was removed from office. There were five panelists, including Rich Robertson, city editor of the Arizona Republic. For baffling reasons, Robertson was on the defensive, responding to comments that I had not made then or before.

There’s no reason to be polite now, two decades later. Most journalists are thin-skinned, whiny and insecure. The profession attracts that personality type. Even the slightest criticism is immediately rejected without consideration. There are some notable exceptions, but they are rare.

This is nothing new. The personality type for editors and reporters seems to have developed about the same time that newspapers were first published. Anthony Trollope, the Victorian novelist, wrote in 1874: “Newspaper editors sport daily with the names of men of whom they do not hesitate to publish almost the severest words that can be uttered; but let an editor himself be attacked, even without his name, and he thinks that the thunderbolts of heaven should fall upon the offender.”

— Ken Smith


September 28, 1988

Mr. Richard Robertson
City Editor
The Arizona Republic
120 E. Van Buren
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Dear Rich:

The medium doth protest too much, methinks.

I greatly enjoyed being on the panel with you and others Saturday at NAU, but once again I heard responses to charges and accusations which I have never forcefully made about news side of the Arizona Republic. For the record, I have no major complaints about the accuracy of what is reported in the Republic.

Evan Mecham, in fact, did say a great number of things which were dumb, insensitive, impolitic and self-destructive. With one or two minor exceptions, these newsworthy gaffes were accurately reported by you and your staff. My criticism of the Republic is not with the pieces, but rather with the whole.

I believe you and most others in the Arizona media have missed the big story. The coverage of the Mecham era has been shallow and one-dimensional. You have offered very little information as to why Evan Mecham was elected, why his opponents were eager to provide you with damaging information about him, why a car dealer could so quickly touch so many negative and positive nerve ends, or why Joe Lane was so anxious to bring impeachment charges and why Carl Kunasek was reluctant to begin the trial.

Like Woodstock, Evan Mecham was a social phenomenon, a happening, but the Republic has published only a review of the music. You have missed the point as to why a half-million people wanted to attend the concert or why other bands wanted to play.

Mecham could have survived the print coverage, but not television. Personally, I have trouble taking television news seriously. But, professionally I know that television is the dominant force in forming public opinion today. Poor Evan will never understand why he became a television star.

Sincerely,

Ken Smith

cc: Other panelists
enc: A column Max Jennings asked me to write several months ago.