Following Governor Mecham’s talk to 60 Associated Press editors from western states, there was considerable negative news coverage that Mecham was continuing his general assault on the news media. One of the people interviewed by reporters was Paul Fannin, former governor of Arizona and former United States Senator. Mr. Fannin was quoted as being critical of Governor Mecham for his criticism of the press. Below is a letter I drafted to be sent to Fannin. I don’t have a copy of the final version sent to Fannin, but I recall that Mecham laughed at my use of the old proverb about teaching a pig to sing, saying it was “harsh”, and he may have struck that sentence.
– Ken Smith
D R A F T
One of my handicaps is that I am an eternal optimist. To my own detriment, possibly, I have believed that if I tell the truth often enough and loud enough it will eventually sink into even the thickest of skulls.
Well, I think I finally understand the wisdom of the warning not to argue with someone who buys his ink by the barrel. I am going to quit shouting the truth at Pat Murphy. I now recall an old proverb which advises us that if we should ever try to teach a pig to sing we would succeed only in frustrating ourselves and annoying the pig.
In Saturday’s Arizona Republic article about my talk to the Associated Press editors, you were quoted as being “surprised and disappointed” at my criticism of Pat Murphy. In the event all of your information about my talk to the editors came from the Republic and Gazette, I would like to lessen your concern, make a few additional comments and send you the full text of notes for my presentation.
I was invited several months ago to participate Oct. 16 in a panel discussion on the responsibilities of the press in covering political figures. I was to be one of three panel participants, along with a moderator, to an audience of about 60 editors from four western states. It would not have changed my talk, but I first understood there would be no local reporters present and this was later clarified that the local media would not be permitted to participate.
The gathering of out-of-state editors was a good forum for me and for Arizona. This was a golden opportunity for me to set the record straight that I do not hold hard feelings toward all journalists. My criticism was directed at Pat Murphy for setting an antogonistic tone toward me personally and toward my administration.
As you will note in my prepared comments for the editors, my opening remarks and much of my talk concerned this terrible national perception that I am racist. As you may also note, there is not one word in the Republic article about my desire to end economic discrimination against minorities or about my appointments of a black and a native American to key cabinet positions.
The Republic article accurately reported that after my talk I walked over to Pat Murphy, shook his hand, told him it would be the last time I would take a public whack at him, and asked him for a meeting soon so that we could work together for a better Arizona.
But, look at the photograph the Republic chose to print. The photographer took a least a dozen pictures from a distance while Mr. Murphy and I were talking privately. We had shaken hands. I had patted him the shoulder. We even laughed and smiled at each other. However, the one photograph published of this event shows me belligerently pointing my finger at Mr. Murphy while he is reaching to shake hands. Now, that is slanting the news. I believe any of the other photographs taken would have been more representative of my meeting with Mr. Murphy.
While it may not be possible to convince everyone, I believe I made some progress at the gathering of editors. As I was leaving the conference room, I was surrounded (as usual) by local reporters and television cameras. At that same moment, I am told, there were two California editors off to the side of the room comparing the Mesa Tribune and the Arizona Republic.
These two editors apparently were following up on an observation I had made during my talk. The Republic had described my meeting the previous day with Republican leaders as “secret.” The Mesa Tribune used the word “private.” This was precisely the point of my criticism of Mr. Murphy’s newspapers. Given half a chance, the Republic and Gazette will choose words which paint me as paranoid and conspiratorial.
The purpose of this letter, Paul, is not to recount another futile effort to get fair coverage in the Republic and Gazette. Rather, I wanted you to know that I am heeding the sound and seasoned advice given to me by senior Arizona Republicans.
I told 60 Associated Press editors that my past complaints were not directed at them. My complaints were directed at only one person, Pat Murphy, who in his columns and speeches has set the negative tone for his reporters and editors. I invited the editors to send reporters to Arizona to get their own objective stories. I praised some of the articles which have been written about me. I told the editors I had made some mistakes. Finally, I extended the olive branch to Pat Murphy.
Thank you for continued support and understanding.