Arizona Eagletarian

Arizona Eagletarian

Monday, December 14, 2015

Shame on the corporate media in Arizona for not devoting investigative resources to exposing the corruption at the Corporation Commission

This weekend, the Republic's so-called utility reporter wrote another pathetic story about Trash Burner Bob Stump's public records controversy. Only the scribe didn't call it that. He instead tried to expand the definition of Dark Money. Randazzo's lede goes like this,
SolarCity Corp. confirmed funding a group that has taken actions over the past year to discredit Arizona utility regulators, often related to their decisions about solar power.
The news angered regulators, including Bob Stump, who has been a target of an extensive public-records battle.
On azcentral, the story features this pull quote, attributed to Stump,
“I think anyone who deplores the alleged involvement of APS in a dark-money scheme and then later admits to spending dark money is in a precarious spot. I don't know how you argue one thing and then do another.”
Let's refer back to last week when former Republic opinions editor Robert Leger made a snarky claim that I "don't want news, don't want to be challenged," etc. I reveal, he said, why hyper-partisanship is paralyzing the country. Well, I took Randazzo's bullshit story (and it does fit an academic's explanation of what constitutes bullshit*) as a challenge. I actually looked up what Dark Money is. I found several references, not just one that I might like.

There's BillMoyers.comOpenSecrets.org, and About.com and no doubt many more places where Dark Money is defined. From wikipedia,
In the politics of the United States, dark money is a term that describes funds given to nonprofit organizations—primarily 501(c)(4) (social welfare) and 501(c)(6) (trade association) groups—that can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals, and unions, and spend funds to influence elections, but are not required to disclose their donors.
If there are places where the definition of Dark Money actually does include spending to investigate government corruption, I didn't find any. And from Randazzo's story, it doesn't look like he did either.

What else did Randazzo do or not do with that story? Well, did he answer the basic Journalism 101 questions of Who, What, When, Where, Why and How?

Again, it doesn't look like it. He got the WHAT all wrong. Disappointingly, corporate media these days too frequently fails to investigate and report on the WHY and HOW. That is, they act like shills, simply writing down what two sides say without even applying any critical analysis to it. You know, the actual "challenge" of committing legitimate journalism.

In this case, Randazzo is playing the role of stenographer for Stump.
“I just find it astonishing that the biggest U.S. provider of rooftop solar power is funding the effort to harass regulators whose decisions affect their bottom lines,” Stump said. “They have pursued me with particular vehemence. That is payback for my criticism of (rooftop solar group) TUSK and it's, frankly, dishonest campaign tactics.”
Stump asserted that Solar City, Checks and Balances, and TUSK seek accountability in his case "as payback." Then, in a worthless and apparently insincere effort to prove Stump's case for him, Randazzo simply states,

The rooftop solar industry also has been deeply critical of Arizona Public Service Co. for its funding of political groups.
That takes the form of supporting Stump's argument, without challenging Stump to prove his assertion his own damn self. A valid argument would require exploring the motives of those who seek (reasonable, legitimate, lawful) access to the public records Stump vehemently refuses to disclose.
Stump and Bitter Smith have complained that Checks and Balances is on a “fishing expedition” that has no purpose other than to intimidate regulators when they address solar policies.
Stump said he suspects SolarCity made the disclosure only to bring up a potential bias conflict. He said SolarCity might try to argue that if Stump knows that SolarCity funded the ongoing campaign against him, the company might claim he can’t objectively decide regulatory issues involving it, such as the coming APS rate case that will address solar fees.
Solar advocates already have tried to force Stump to recuse himself from that matter because of personal bias.
Stump said he can remain objective despite the revelation.
Stump said he can remain objective? Yeah, that's what Randazzo wrote. Hey Leger, tell me again who it is that doesn't want to be challenged? After reading (and Randazzo knows about this) Stump's published short story, it sure makes Randazzo look lazy for taking Stump at his word about his ability to remain objective.

By the way, the "utility reporter" isn't the first or only Republic staffer who has made the specious claim about Checks and Balances Project being a dark money operator. Laurie Roberts has also, along with (thankfully, former) editorial writer Doug MacEachern. A linked page provided earlier in this post includes this quote,
I keep six honest serving-men, (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who” – Rudyard Kipling
Really, that should be all that's necessary to impeach the credibility of the Republic's coverage of the corruption at the Corporation Commission. But there's plenty more. Of course, the Republic is not the only culprit in this caper.

This week the Yellow Sheet went after Checks and Balances as well as Solar City, pretty much saying the same thing, even if it didn't ascribe Dark Money to investigative journalism.

So, Trash Burner Bob has taken to calling Checks and Balances Project names, apparently with some success, in getting local corporate media to take his side.

No doubt, he's emboldened by Randazzo and former chief state House spinmeister Barrett Marson. Marson, when Brnovich filed his petition with the Arizona Supreme Court to oust Bitter Smith, spun it as the solar industry having attacked one of its own.
This week, the Yellow Sheet (December 9) quoted Stump,
Stump told our reporter this afternoon that he was astonished that SolarCity admitted it is funding Checks and Balances Project through a nonprofit. Checks and Balances Project maintains that SolarCity is only one of its contributors. “It certainly highlights what I’ve been noting from the very beginning, that this is anything but a virtuous watchdog group out to seek the truth for the sake of upholding the public interest. I can’t think of any rational person that would argue that Checks and Balances [Project] has a scintilla of independence,” he said. Stump said CBP’s ties to SolarCity show that it is “more akin to enforcers who are not out to serve as watchdogs but are interested in breaking kneecaps.” He added: “It feels like the solar mafia, quite frankly.”
Again, from Wednesday's YS, perhaps hoping to validate the Corp Comm's resident drama queen and his specious claim that C&BP is a Dark Money organization said,
Stump also scoffed at Scott Peterson’s rejection of the label “dark money” as applied to Checks and Balances Project. Peterson yesterday argued that the label doesn’t apply because SolarCity is only one of the group’s funders and CBP doesn’t engage in electioneering activities.
Let's speculate here that local corporate media is looking for a scapegoat to distract readers and keep them from realizing that Checks and Balances is only doing what it does because there's a huge gap between what passes for journalism in Arizona and what we should be able to expect from news gathering enterprises.

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The day before Thanksgiving this year, the movie SPOTLIGHT was released nationwide. I went to see it Sunday evening. It has already been nominated for numerous awards and has already won some.

Telling the story of the Boston Globe's investigative unit and the uncovering of the Catholic Church pedophile scandal, the movie shames every newspaper that has had the resources to do legitimate investigations but failed to do so. The Arizona Republic, which does have some very talented investigators, KNOWS there is deep corruption in Arizona state government.

Publishing editorials saying that Susan Bitter Smith isn't corrupt, but just made miscalculations, makes it even harder for voters to know what's really going on in state government that's not really in our best interests.

The SPOTLIGHT story got told because the victims are easy to recognize, now that they have been identified. And it's a lot easier to relate to children being preyed upon by adults than ratepayers being gouged by incumbent monopoly utilities.

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* Note: the definition of "bullshit" includes, "2. Something worthless, deceptive, or insincere." Randazzo's story is -- at minimum -- deceptive, in that it is clearly intended to expand the definition of Dark Money far beyond what is generally understood.

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