Gabrielle Giffords: Poster Girl for Emotional Pornography

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The Arizona Republic has named Gabrielle Giffords as Arizonan of the Year. Her achievement? Getting shot and not dying.

The article praises her recovery as “a hero’s journey.” I’ve read much praise of her “courage” and “heroism” elsewhere. Logically, this means that the people who died after being shot that day were weak and cowardly.

While what happened to her is undeniably awful, Giffords’ recovery is not about heroism, but about luck, wealth and privilege, about access to as much health care as she needs.

In our culture of emotional pornography, people who suffer tragedy are fetishized. Since being shot, Gabrielle Giffords has been presented as a liberal saint. In reality, she is an ordinary conservative. Her position on immigration is as racist as that of Jan Brewer. Her objection to SB 1070 was not that it was racist, but that it was impractical. She cheered the deployment of the National Guard to the border, to combat a problem that does not exist. Even though her being shot has been cited as an example of why guns ought to be banned, she herself supports gun rights.

I could not help but laugh when, in the aftermath of the shooting - which killed six people, whose names are seldom heard now - I saw some people crying while holding a banner that bore the words Gabby Was Always There for Us. Who is “us?” How was she “there?” If “us” means wealthy white people, I suppose she was.

Her being selected as Arizonan of the Year simply for not dying is an insult to those who died, and to those who die in violent attacks every year, and to Arizonans who have actually achieved something. It would make as much sense to give the award to Paris Hilton.

Eva Dugan Lost Her Head, Don Harding Turned His Back

The history of the death penalty, like any other history, is made up of stories, some factually-accurate, some not, but which become accepted truth if repeated long enough.

History records that the reason the State of Arizona stopped hanging people and started gassing them instead is that there was an unseemly incident in which Eva Dugan’s head pulled off when they hanged her in 1930. It was decided that a method of killing that was less distressing to the spectators was in order.

It’s also popularly believed that the reason the state stopped gassing people and started poisoning them was because of the unpleasant demise in 1992 of Don Eugene Harding, who vomited all over himself, took a while to die, and flipped off Attorney General Grant Woods while dying. The witnesses were so distressed that the state decided it was time for a new method.

It turns out, though, that it didn’t happen that way.

My friend Chuck Kelly witnessed it. He tells me that Harding was facing away from the witnesses. “One of the witnesses - I don’t remember which one - did say that Harding appeared to be flipping off Grant Woods… I would say this would be a difficult interpretation to make, since Harding’s back was to us…  Also, some witnesses did say they were upset by the execution.”

Chuck kindly dug out the report he wrote for The Arizona Republic at the time. Here it is:

No Freedom of Speech for Journalists

The Associated Press has warned its journalists not to express any opinions on social networks. In a memo to staff, managing editor Tom Kent wrote:




Colleagues,
In at least two recent cases, we have seen a few postings on social networks by AP staffers expressing personal opinions on issues in the news.
This has happened on the New York Senate vote on gay marriage and on the Casey Anthony trial. These posts undermine the credibility of our colleagues who have been working so hard to assure balanced and unbiased coverage of these issues.
AP’s News Values and Principles state that anyone who works for AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. This point is contained in our social network guidelines as well.
Failure to abide by these rules can lead to disciplinary action.
The vast majority of our tweets on these stories — and on other issues in the news — have been completely in line with our guidelines. They pose no problem at all, and are consistent with the importance of AP staffers being active on social networks.

But social networks, however we may configure our accounts or select our friends, should be considered a public forum. AP staffers should not make postings there that amount to personal opinions on contentious public issues.
Please let your supervisor or me know if you have any questions on this. And thanks.
Tom


It’s not just the A.P. The New York Times does the same thing, as do most mainstream newspapers, in a bizarre and dishonest attempt to pretend that reporters have no opinions about the news they cover. Here’s something I wrote about my own experience writing for the Arizona Republic.

Jon Talton: A Canary in the Coal Mine

In most media, it seems to be taken for granted that the economy is recovering. It’s not, and it’s not going to. Jon Talton is one of the few astute writers on the subject. From his latest column:


Here’s the deal: The economy is in the tank and it’s not going to improve. Too many fundamentals are fundamentally damaged. The victims are especially found among those likely to Tea Party, and the young that will sit this one out. Ohio, which went Democratic after the Bush/Ken Blackwell abuses, swung quickly right again. This is not the old Ohio of strong unions and a powerful Democratic Party. Florida is headed up the trendline to Peak Crazy with Gov. Rick Scott and GOP control of the Legislature (and redistricting). Pennsylvania? Think Ohio with two Democratic central cities thrown in. The plains, Intermountain West and, especially, Texas are deep red. Minnesota hangs in the balance. Wisconsin has been taken over by radical wingers.

Talton no longer lives in Phoenix, because he found what happens when your reporting is reality-based - he got fired from his job as business writer at the Arizona Republic and effectively run out of town.

What’s Next for Cook?

The Arizona Republic has a thorough report that includes an explanation of the options:

  • The high court could refuse to hear the case, and then the state would have to seek a new death warrant.
  • The court could decide to hear the case and determine that Cook’s conviction and sentence stand. Once again, the state would have to request a new death warrant.
  • The court could send the case back to the state for a new trial or a new sentencing trial to choose between a life or death sentence.The U.S. Supreme Court could also decide to revisit the drug issue.
Whatever happens, Cook is unlikely to be executed before autumn.

Respectability For Phoenix: The Stupidest Prediction I Ever Made

The Arizona Republic reports that the Phoenix Police Department wastes hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars paying officers accused of misconduct to wait at home as internal investigations drag on for as long as a year, even when there is no dispute about the misconduct the cops are accused of.

Nine years ago, just after the Diamondbacks had won the World Series, I was about to leave Phoenix. I remarked to M.V. Moorhead, “I think the jig’s up here. Colangelo has bought Phoenix the one thing it didn’t need and should never, ever have - respectability.”

How wrong I was. Phoenix has always been corrupt, was actually founded as a hustle, but in the last decade it’s gotten worse beyond my most feverish imaginings, worse to the point of near-apocalypse. We have elected officials who belong in a mental ward, led by a governor who’s barely literate and whose education, such as it was, ended in high school. We have cold-blooded murder by cops, we have cops involved in organized fraud, we have a sheriff who behaves like a regional warlord, we have a new law that’s so racist as to be unconstitutional, we have vast wealth in a state that’s so broke that education and health care aren’t being adequately funded…

As bad as things were here before, the current state of the state makes me almost nostalgic for how innocent and just a little bit mischievous things were back then.

Respectability? That was stupid, even for me.

Jon Talton Interview


Jon Talton has a new novel out. The Arizona Republic (where he wrote a brilliant column for seven years until the paper axed it) has an interview with him.

One thing that I worry about is that [the Internet] is changing the way we think or hurting our ability to think as a society, because with the newspaper, whether it’s online or on dead trees, you have to interact with the facts, you have to interact with the analysis. You’re not just being fed some something like on television. And I think in the world of Twitter and Facebook - and I do all this stuff, too - I think we’re thinking in such short sound bites that it’s undermining our ability as a society to analyze and deal with very complex problems.

I think it’s huge, and I don’t think we know where it’s going to end up, and I think some of it is sinister. As someone who was trained as a historian, there’s nothing new under the sun, and you’re always reluctant to say, “This is something that’s absolutely new and unprecedented and will reshape society and even the way human beings will think and act.” You’re reluctant to say that, but the more I see it happening, the more I wonder if some of it’s true. Now maybe it’s our version of bread and circuses in the old Roman Empire, but I think it is a tectonic shift, and I think it’s disrupting everything.

Michelle Bennett Will Finally Face The Man Who Tried To Kill Her 11 Years Ago

In 1999, a young woman was working as a clerk in a 24-hour store in Phoenix that sells porn and sex toys. It was late at night, and a man came in and pointed a gun at her.

He made her leave the store with him, as her husband and young son slept at home, oblivious. He took her out of the city and into the desert, and he raped her and shot her in the head and wrist.

It took a while for her to be found, and at first the cops thought she was dead. That’s what they told her husband at first, before they realized their mistake and told him that his wife was alive and in the hospital. Soon after, I sat beside her bed with a notebook on my lap and a pen in my hand and I listened as she spoke and I wrote down what she said. The words on the page did not contain her fragile beauty, her frightened voice, the way she cried out in pain every few minutes.  She could not remember what had happened, and she was not able to say whether she remembered her husband or son. She referred to what had been done to her as “the accident.”

And then I went to the apartment she shared with her husband. It was a Saturday morning, and he and I sat in the living room and I wrote in my notebook as he talked to me. He cried as he told me how they’d met and married and lived a life and had a son. He told me how they’d struggled financially, which was why she’d been working the night shift at that store, but that things had been looking brighter. He told me that while the extent of her brain damage was uncertain, she had said, "I love you" when he first visited her in the hospital. He told me that he loved her too, how he looked forward to her coming home to him and their child. Neither of us knew that in a few years he would die of cancer.

What I wrote appeared in the Arizona Republic  a couple weeks later. By then she had gotten out of the hospital, and the paper printed a picture of her in a wheelchair, accompanied by her family.

Eleven years later, she describes her life since then as “a disaster.” The man who took away the life she had seems to have been found, and she wants to face him in court.

Phoenix Journalists: The Good, The Bad And The Irrelevant

In response to this post, someone asked me what local journalists I respect.

Here in Phoenix, although we have a mostly-dysfunctional media, there are some excellent journalists struggling against the corporate suppression of news.

Even though the Arizona Republic is known among local journalists as The Repulsive, it still has such fine reporters as Dennis Wagner and Robert Anglen, and columnist Laurie Roberts, and novelist and crime reporter Michael Kiefer. Sadly, it no longer has Charles Kelly, Jon Talton, Mark Shaffer or David Leibowitz, but it has retained the dull and predictable E.J. Montini (does he ever leave his office to do any reporting?) and its resident Latino Uncle Tom, Richard Ruelas (who for an embarrassing few years was the paper’s metro columnist along with Montini - a double act of impressive ineptitude).

Terry Greene Sterling, who writes for various publications, is a meticulous and relentless reporter, and so is John Dougherty, who recently ran for the U.S. Senate.

My alma mater, Phoenix New Times, no longer has Dougherty or Sterling or M.V. Moorhead on staff, but Stephen Lemons does outstanding coverage of Arpaio and the local nativists, and Robrt Pela’s cultural reporting and commentary is insightful and elegant. (Pela is not on staff there, but does a lot of freelance for the paper.)

T.V. reporter Joe Dana does strong work, even in the face of vicious personal slurs from Arpaio’s henchman David Hendershott. (I rarely watch T.V., so there may be other reporters worthy of mention that I don’t know about.)

The Arizona Guardian is one of the better news sources here, perhaps the best, though the level of talent among its reporters varies widely.

Farther afield, in Tucson, lives Charles Bowden, a truly great reporter and one of the greatest living writers in English.