Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Emails reveal: New Times Reporter Took a Mulligan on Occupy Phoenix

A special for Down and Drought by Erik Blare

In golf, a mulligan is when a player gets to cheat for making a bad stroke. In serious competition, the practice leads to the player being disqualified.

Former New Times reporter James King appears to have taken a mulligan by calling on the cops to do his work for him. According to e-mails uncovered as a result of a FOIA request and released Monday by D.B.A. Press, King was playing golf with New Times editor Paul Rubin instead of covering Occupy Phoenix. He calls on top cop Trent Crump to give him the rumpus on what went down because he “can’t stand hippies” and “protesting with no cause is stupid.”  His poorly written e-mails may be a symptom of golf elbow.  Here is the e-mail in full:

From: James King <james.king@newtimes.com>
To: "Martos, Steve" <Steve.Martos@phoenix.gov>, "Thompson, Tommy" <Tommy.Thompson@phoenix.gov>,
"Crump, Trent" <Trent.Crump@phoenix.gov>
Sent: Sat, Oct 15, 2011 04:01:35 GMT+00:00

Subject: occupy phoenix

hello, sirs. was hoping for any info you have on the occupy phoenix march today. any arrests? any mayhem? anyone other than dirty hippies pretending it's 1968? here's my dilemma: i was supposed to go down there and cover it. instead, i went and played golf with paul rubin because i think protesting with no cause is stupid and I can't stand hippies. that said, i'm still expected to write something about it tonight. any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Someone whose profession is protected by the First Amendment should have some respect for the right of citizens to protest. The fact that King thinks there is no cause worth protesting is because he is short-sighted and single-minded. The Occupy Movement protested the fallout of one of the worst financial crises in the country’s history and the government’s unprecedented bailout. There were multiple causes to protest, which confused many journalists like King and irked others by the fact that they would have to do some work to cover the story.

It may be that King’s snarky and sarcastic tone is a ruse to cover up his rag’s “liberal” reputation amongst pols and cops, but his attitude is in full effect in his coverage of Occupy Phoenix. His October 15th, 2011 story 'Occupy Phoenix: Banks Are Evil, the Government's Evil, and Jan Brewer's a "Lying Whore" With Alzheimer's' show that he reported the story with extreme bias. King goes for the low-hanging fruit of finding the wackiest protestors to give him a complete action plan of how to overhaul capitalism. When he doesn’t get it, he dismisses the protestors whole-handedly.  He writes, “Apparently, blowing bubbles is the key to redistributing wealth. Who knew?”

Apparently, King was hoping for a riot because in King’s mind a protest looks the documentaries about the ‘60s that he saw in his high school civics class. When he doesn’t get one, he leaves disappointed and abrogates his duty to the police. “Tomorrow, Phoenix police will update us about any mayhem that went down after we left the demonstration.” After quickly surveying the scene and finding the wackiest protestors to photograph and mock, King presumably went to the links to get some face time with his golf buddy boss and to figure out how many Bud Lights it takes to get a decent enough buzz to kill 18 holes of boredom.  King was not connected to the community. He had no contacts in Occupy Phoenix, so he relied on the police for his reporting. His lackadaisical reporting led to his shoddy story.

As a reporter for a publication started by a counter-culture college drop out who protested the Vietnam War, King calling protestors "dirty hippies" would be ironic if New Times was still true to its original muckraking spirit.  New Times has a history of dismissing community activists with sarcasm. One of the most egregious cases was the fake pro-yuppie protest they sponsored in response to San Francisco’s late ‘90s anti-gentrification movement called the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project.

SF Weekly, a New Times publication, contacted a Project member named Nestor Makhno. The paper covered the story and Makhno wrote a well-researched report on the issues facing the Mission district because of internet-bubble-fueled rapid gentrification of a neighborhood of immigrants, artists and activists. Makhno even refused payment because he wouldn't have his real name printed on the check.

SF Weekly relied on a community activist to cover a burning issue that it couldn’t or wouldn’t. It was a wise move on their part because the then upstart alt-weekly faced stiff competition from long-standing and respected San Francisco Bay Guardian.  True to its snarky, pseudo-libertarian colors, the Weekly turned on Makhno and staged the fake pro-yuppie protest and mocked the counter-demonstrators.

What does a long ago beef between activists and a New Times publication in San Francisco have to do with Phoenix New Times’ reporting on Occupy Phoenix? It demonstrates that New Times has long strayed from its image as an alternative to the mainstream press.  As it became an alt behemoth, it bought out local publications and homogenized content, all of which is covered in a bitter sauce of sarcasm dripped from on high by reporters without connections to the community.

King, a New Yorker, is emblematic of this. He failed to see that a national protest had real roots in Phoenix, which had one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the nation. He didn’t take the time to find real people affected by a growing national disaster. For King, a protest is nothing more than spectacle. He brought his dismissive attitude and biases to Occupy Phoenix and left without the tear gas and batons he wanted for his pre-scripted story. It’s clear from his e-mails to Phoenix police what he wanted:   “tucson police have made 351 arrests so far during their ‘occupation.’ if phoenix police have arrested any fewer than 1,000 hippies, i'll be thoroughly disappointed.”

Occupy Phoenix was nothing but a joke to Phoenix New Times. Despite the real pain and sacrifice of Phoenix residents, King took it as nothing but a laugh at the expense of others, which is not comedy but a mark of arrogant contempt. King’s reporting never let on that he thought Occupy Phoenix was a joke form the onset. That joke was shared only between him and the police. Phoenix police chief responded to King’s written request for information by getting in on the joke. Crump wrote, 

James, I don't know if I believe anything you are saying, first of all rubin [couldn't] swing a golf club if [his]  life depended on it and I don't know what golf course would allow you two liberals to be out on it at the same time. But, in the spirit of helping you keep your job, the demonstration today was very peaceful.  They marched to the variety of locations in the downtown area and were dispersed by 6 pm. We had no arrest or problem to report. I know that does not make for a good story but, I can make something up if you really need it.

While King didn’t make anything up, he clearly had a story in mind before he actually did any reporting. His e-mails and reporting reflect the biases he had prior to covering the story. He prefers playing golf and joking with the police to doing his job. The joke is on New Times because it is a thoroughly discredited source amongst activists. (See Stephen Lemons' press conviction of the Arpaio 5, for example). King has had his last laugh. He disappeared from Phoenix to work for another community newspaper destroyed by New Times’ greed and guile, the historic and venerated Village Voice. Shortly thereafter, King was fired or left that paper and is now in journalism purgatory as a freelancer.

The lesson from this is that the community needs to do the reporting itself, which is why Down and Drought is the perfect forum for activists to tell the story as they see it and feel it. Despite some infrequent good reporting, Phoenix New Times can not be trusted to do the job they claim to do: “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” If any more evidence of this is needed, just remember that those “dirty hippies” who started the alternative newspaper have sold out to become pimps at Backpage.com. After all, advertising erotic services is far more profitable than serious business of reporting the truth.

James King was contacted for this story but did not reply as of press time. His e-mails can be read in full here.

This is part 7 in our ongoing series analyzing recently released police and Federal documents detailing their surveillance and infiltration of Occupy Phoenix and anarchists in the Valley. 

1 comment:

  1. I have been a fan of James' work for a long time, from when he was in Phoenix to and including his work for the flagship paper for that mess of a conglomerate that is the Village Voice/New Times. I have to think that, given that almost every one of his pieces drips sarcasm and hyperbole, perhaps he was using the same technique in writing to the police department. It seems that Crump picked up on that as well. Whether he was golfing or washing his hair, I still don't see him as the shining example of what is causing the demise of the Phoenix alt weekly. Rather, I look to the failure to cut off backpage.com sooner as the catalyst of the downfall of New Times and its sister papers. Just my two cents.