a couple of articles from the new times on the problems with voting machines in maricopa county


Dougherty Ballot Box Breakdowns

An independent voting-technology expert finds serious problems in the Maricopa County Elections Department

By John Dougherty

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006

Published online: Wednesday, January 11, 2006, 3:10 p.m. MST

An independent voting-technology expert has discovered widespread problems within the Maricopa County Elections Department that raise serious questions over the ability of voting officials in the nation's fourth-most-populous county to conduct fair and accurate elections.

"Any election where the margin of victory is under 2 percent could be called into question," says University of Iowa computer science professor Douglas Jones.

Jones is one of the nation's top experts on voting-machine technology. He discovered the irregularities during an inspection of the county's vote-tabulation machinery late last month.

"These problems," Jones says in an interview, "suggest a systemic problem with election administration" in Maricopa County and a failure by the state to properly oversee the county's handling of elections.

Jones, who testified before Congress on voting-machine technology following the 2000 presidential election, was inspecting the county's tabulation machines to determine why 489 votes inexplicably appeared during a September 2004 recount of a state legislative race that changed the outcome of the election.

Jones says the appearance of the votes during the District 20 recount on September 21, 2004, appears to have been caused by either failure of the county's voting machines to accurately read ballots or illegal vote tampering. Jones says the only way to determine what happened beyond this is to visually inspect the District 20 ballots.

"Someone should take a look at the real ballots," he says.

An examination of the District 20 ballots, Jones says, would also provide the public with crucial information about the overall fairness and accuracy of elections in Maricopa County. Visual inspection would allow researchers to determine what type of writing instruments voters used to mark early ballots in the race. Early ballots accounted for about half of the votes cast in the 2004 primary and general elections.

Jones says evidence he has uncovered reveals that the county's written instructions to voters using early ballots to use a black ballpoint pen and draw a single line to make their vote creates a 1 in 12 chance that the vote will not be counted.

"We already have found something that is not good news for the elections department," Jones says. "They should have been giving better advice."

Jones' examination of the voting machines has also revealed other serious problems with the way Maricopa County conducts elections, including:

: The county has failed to uniformly calibrate its optical scanning machines used to count ballots, which appears to be a violation of federal election law. At least two of the six Optech 4-C optical scanners Jones tested are far less likely to detect votes cast with black and blue ballpoint pens than the others.

The optical scanners are improperly calibrated to be ultra-sensitive to pencil marks and will detect even tiny specks of lead and smudge marks as votes, leading to the possibility of unintended votes being counted.

Election officials appear to lack fundamental knowledge of how their election machinery operates and are making public statements about how to mark ballots that are contrary to the actual behavior of their equipment.

Jones is also critical of Secretary of State Jan Brewer, whose office approves voting machines used by Arizona counties.

"This reflects poorly on the state's process of approving these machines," Jones says.

Neither County Recorder Helen Purcell, who oversees the Maricopa County Elections Department, nor Brewer responded to New Times' requests for interviews to discuss Jones' findings.

But in an interview published last July in the Arizona Capitol Times, Brewer said Maricopa County's optical scanning machines have worked without any problems -- which Jones' report contradicts.

"We were very fortunate we were one of the first states that implemented optical scan [voting machines] throughout all our counties," Brewer said. "[We] did the last election (2004) with no glitches, unlike other states, and I'm very, very proud of that accomplishment."

Tom Ryan, director of Arizona Citizens for Fair Elections, says Jones' findings suggest that Maricopa County and the Secretary of State's Office have been violating Arizona's election law that requires voting machines to be maintained to accurately tally votes.

The tally of 489 new votes found during the District 20 recount is equal to about a 4 percent increase of the total number of votes counted between the primary and the recount.

"This implies that all the races that were run [in 2004 in Maricopa County] could have had 4 percent error in them," Ryan says. "That's pretty amazing! That's pretty horrible! It's appalling."

Maricopa County has used its current vote-tabulation equipment since 1995. The county has known since at least 2002 that the machines did not consistently read votes. In that year, a recount of a legislative race found more than 100 new votes, but that election did not generate public scrutiny because the recount did not change its outcome.

There have been at least two major elections in the past six years decided by 2 percent margins or less.

In November 2000, Maricopa County voters approved Proposition 302 to raise $2 billion in taxes to build the Cardinals stadium with 51.9 percent of the vote.

In 2002, Janet Napolitano defeated Matt Salmon in the governor's race by 11,000 votes, or a 1 percent margin. Slightly more than 650,000 of the 1.1 million votes cast in the governor's race were tallied in Maricopa County. A 4 percent error by Maricopa County's voting machines could have swung the election to Salmon.

Jones' suggestion that the District 20 ballots be subject to visual inspection is expected to be strongly opposed by key Republican leaders, including Purcell, Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Maricopa County Treasurer David Schweikert, Speaker of the House Jim Weiers and Senate President Ken Bennett.

Purcell, Thomas and Schweikert have already rejected a public records request submitted in October by New Times to have an expert examine the ballots. Weiers and Bennett have taken steps to block an investigation of the District 20 recount by Republican Senator Jack Harper, chairman of the Government Accountability and Reform Committee, whose mission is to investigate such irregularities affecting state government.

Last spring, Thomas' office investigated the recount flap at the request of local Maricopa County Republican Party leadership, alerted to significant problems in the election by a New Times column ("Election Eve Nightmare," October 14, 2004).

Despite finding serious problems within the elections department, including evidence of voter-machine malfunction during the recount and witness tampering, Thomas closed the investigation saying there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Thomas has said he will oppose in court any private or state-funded effort to conduct a recount of the District 20 ballots.

Thomas is taking this stand despite the fact that looking at the votes again cannot change the outcome of the election. No official recount is legally possible in the race, since the election has been certified by a judge.

Also, Jones says an unofficial recount is not necessary to determine what happened. Instead, he says, a scientifically random selection of about 1,000 ballots pulled from the 17,000 cast in the District 20 Republican primary would be sufficient to determine whether the voting machines failed to accurately count votes.

Or whether someone tampered with the ballots and added votes between the primary and the recount.

Jones' recommendation for a visual inspection of the District 20 ballots will be included in a report that was scheduled to be released on January 12 to Harper, who planned to hold legislative hearings to determine what caused the votes to appear during the District 20 recount.

New Times obtained an advance copy of Jones' report because the paper agreed to pay Jones to test the accuracy of the county's voting machines.

Jones inspected the county's machines on December 20, after Harper issued a legislative subpoena to the Maricopa County Elections Department demanding that the machines be made available to an independent expert. Senate President Bennett refused to authorize Harper to use Senate funds to pay the costs related to Jones' inspection, telling the committee chairman to find a private source.

Harper turned to New Times, which agreed in late November to cover the cost of Jones coming in.

Harper also issued a subpoena to County Treasurer David Schweikert to release the District 20 ballots, which are required by law to be held in the treasurer's vault for two years following the primary. But Schweikert, acting on the recommendation of County Attorney Thomas, refused to release the ballots to Jones.

The District 20 recount has been marred by controversy and unusual, if not suspicious, actions since September 2004, when Anton Orlich defeated John McComish by four votes in the Republican primary for a seat in the state House of Representatives. The narrow margin of victory automatically triggered a recount in which the 489 additional votes suddenly appeared. McComish won the recount by 13 votes.

Nearly all of the new votes that appeared in the District 20 recount came from early ballots that voters cast at home and mailed to the county elections department. The county used Optech 4-C scanners to count early ballots in the primary and used the same type of machine to conduct the recount. But the Optech 4-C used in the recount, known as Machine No. 5, detected an 18 percent increase in votes from early ballots.

Orlich filed a lawsuit seeking to block the recount, claiming the elections department mishandled the ballots between the primary and the recount and that it appeared one of the county's voting machines failed to accurately count votes.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Eddward Ballinger upheld the results of the recount after an extremely hostile and unusual hearing in which a key witness who worked for the manufacturer of the election machines failed to appear in court despite receiving a subpoena.

Thomas' investigation later determined that the witness, Tina Polich, was instructed to "lay low" during the hearing by county officials and her employer, Election Systems and Software Incorporated, who did not want her to testify about the possibility that the voting machines malfunctioned.

According to County Attorney Thomas' investigation, it appears that several county officials deliberately misled Judge Ballinger during the court hearing when they told him that they didn't know how to contact Polich.

Judge Ballinger expressed serious concern about Polich's failure to appear at the hearing and about the county's ability to accurately count early ballots.

Nevertheless, he went ahead and certified the recount as valid.

Elections department director Karen Osborne has repeatedly said in published statements and in sworn court testimony before Judge Ballinger that the reason for the sudden appearance of the votes was that voters casting mail-in ballots used marking instruments that were difficult for the optical scanners to read.

Osborne said glitter pens, gel pens and black felt-tipped pens were particularly troublesome for the county's Optech 4-C scanning machines.

Jones' tests on the voting machines found that the opposite of what Osborne claimed under oath was true.

"The sensitivity test showed that these machines are extraordinarily sensitive to black pencil, to ink from a Jelly Roll brand blue glitter pen and to black ink from a Sanford Sharpie Extra Fine Point pen. With these pens and pencils, the Optech 4-C scanner would pick up and count as a vote even a single dot," Jones' report states.

Jones says in the interview that "the blue glitter pen was more reliably scanned than any pen I tried."

The marking utensils best read by the machine used for the early ballots were No. 2 pencils and black ballpoint pens, Osborne has said repeatedly.

Jones, however, found serious problems with both of these instruments. Jones discovered that even tiny specks of lead from No. 2 pencils could be counted erroneously as votes.

"It's not a good idea to adjust machines to be so sensitive that they pick up fly specks of lead as votes," Jones says.

Votes cast with black ballpoint pens were least likely to be detected, Jones says.

The county "shouldn't have given instructions to voters that led the voters to make marks that [voting officials] can't guarantee will be read," Jones says. "My measurements show they really can't guarantee [the machines] will read a Bic black ballpoint."

Jones also criticized the county's written directions on ballots instructing voters to draw a single line between arrows marked on the ballots when casting a vote. Single lines drawn with blue and black pens, he says, are not dark enough for the county's voting machines to consistently detect.

"Requesting a dark mark instead of a single line would encourage voters to make marks that would be far more likely to be counted," Jones' report states.

Not only has the county been providing incorrect instructions on how to mark early ballots, its Optech 4-C scanners used to count early ballots are not calibrated equally, Jones says.

During his tests, Jones found that two of the six scanners he examined were less sensitive to marks made by blue and black ballpoint pens than the other four machines.

The county's incorrect instructions to voters combined with the inconsistent calibration of scanners could have resulted in the sudden increase in votes detected between the District 20 primary and the recount, he says.

If a sufficient number of ballots in District 20 were cast where voters used black and blue ink pens to draw single lines, and if those ballots were run through a less sensitive Optech 4-C scanning machine during the primary, Jones says the votes may have gone undetected.

And, he says, if those same ballots were then run through a more sensitive Optech 4-C machine during the recount, the uncounted votes may have suddenly appeared.

"An examination of a random sample of the actual . . . Republican early voting ballots from the election would allow this hypothesis to be confirmed or ruled out," Jones states in the report.

"If the examination shows that a sufficient percent of the ballots were marked with a single stroke using a ballpoint pen, as opposed to use of pencil or votes cast with a deeply scribbled mark, this hypothesis would become more likely."

Jones also says visual inspection of the ballots would very likely provide conclusive evidence of whether the ballots were tampered with between the primary and the recount.

Osborne testified during the September 23, 2004, recount hearing before Judge Ballinger that the District 20 ballots were handled and sorted without first notifying the candidates, who are entitled by law to be present during that endeavor.

This unsupervised handling "may have created an opportunity . . . to surreptitiously add marks to ballots," Jones' report states. "I want to emphasize that I do not allege that any such ballot alteration occurred, only that the opportunity may have existed."

Jones says the characteristics of the District 20 race made it ripe for tampering.

Voters were asked to vote for two of the five Republican candidates running for seats in the state House. In some instances, voters either voted for no one or only one of the candidates. Such ballots are called "undervotes."

It would have been possible during the handling of District 20 ballots between the primary and the recount, Jones says, for somebody to have sought out the undervoted ballots and added new votes to them.

Jones also notes that nearly all of the votes that suddenly appeared in the recount were on ballots that were counted as undervotes in the primary.

So as not to attract attention to any tampering, Jones says, hundreds of ballots would have had to be altered and all five candidates would have needed to receive additional votes. The recount showed that the 489 new votes were spread across all five candidates.

"If someone [were] in a hurry to surreptitiously alter large numbers of ballots, I would expect them to mark those ballots all with the same pen or pencil and to make no serious effort to match the style of marks made by the original voter," Jones states.

"Therefore, there is a reasonable chance that an examination of a sample of the . . . Republican early-voting ballots would reveal the presence of surreptitiously made marks, so long as this sample is indeed a representative random sample."

Osborne said in an October 2004 interview that she doesn't believe tampering caused the increase in votes in the recount.

"In my heart of hearts, I don't believe anyone tampered with these ballots at all," she said. Then, she acknowledged, "anything is possible."


Rocking the Boat

GOP bigwigs and their pandering pals in the mainstream press are apoplectic about a state senator and New Times' fight to discover the truth. What're these pols trying to hide?

By Rick Barrs

Published: Thursday, January 12, 2006

We at New Times would've gotten a big laugh out of all the pompous posturing by the likes of Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, Arizona Senate President Ken Bennett and the fawning Arizona Republic, except for one thing:

These yokels, over the past week or two, have been putting on a sideshow that's diverted public attention from a serious issue.

By screaming that state Senator Jack Harper was somehow illegally in cahoots with New Times writer John Dougherty to examine voting machines used in an election where (abracadabra!) 489 votes suddenly appeared out of nowhere, they have attempted to make so much noise that everybody forgets what the whole thing is all about.

Harper happens to be chairman of the Government Accountability and Reform Committee. Consider the title of this standing legislative committee for a moment. Its vaunted purpose is to look into irregularities that affect state government.

Like when election officials in Maricopa County -- which happens to be the largest county in Arizona and the fourth-largest in the nation -- have no valid explanation for why all those votes were found between the Republican primary and a recount in the 2004 District 20 race for state representative between Anton Orlich and John McComish.

Granted, this wasn't the biggest race in the state, but what went on in this Ahwatukee Foothills election is important because a couple of things could've happened: Election officials either screwed up royally -- demonstrating a high level of incompetence -- or somebody tampered with votes.

Either possibility is a major scandal, because if election officials botched things badly in this tiny race, what might they have done in other races in Maricopa County? Every 2004 election from County Attorney and Sheriff on down could've been affected.

Maybe not enough to make the same kind of difference a big screw-up may have made in the District 20 race, where Orlich won by four votes in the primary only to lose by 13 votes once those 489 new ballots turned up out of thin air. But whatever happened to that quaint notion in this country that every vote counts? Obviously in the case of District 20, even with the mandatory recount, we've got to wonder if every single ballot received proper attention.

Now, this seems the time to make something crystal clear:

We at New Times don't give a damn who won the race between Orlich and McComish. John Dougherty couldn't care less who won the contest between the two conservative Republicans involved. It's as if the poor man's Richard Nixon ran against the poor man's Ronald Reagan.

Still, Andy Thomas likes to claim, on the one hand, that New Times is made up of a bunch of ACLU-loving lefties, and, on the other, that we're trying to force a recount of the District 20 election because we want Orlich, who's the ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan in this scenario, to win over the slightly less right-wing McComish.

For starters, if Thomas knew as much about state law as he tells everybody he does, he'd realize that it's impossible for any such official recount to occur, much less change an election in Arizona once it's been certified by a judge.

The point is, all New Times wants to do is find out what went wrong in that little primary election, because it speaks to how County Recorder Helen Purcell, elections chief Karen Osborne (who works for Purcell), their minions and their voting machines do business overall.

If you don't think voting irregularities are a big deal in this state, consider all the flak Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer got the other day. In what was supposed to be a simple Capitol lawn press conference about Brewer's "accomplishments," she was shouted down by a throng of voting-rights protesters about the state's use of voting machines prone to inaccuracies over paper ballots.

Believe me, Brewer cares deeply what her constituents think. It was she, our sources tell us, who played a part in Arizona House Speaker Jim Weiers' summoning of Senator Harper to his office last summer to urge him in no uncertain terms to stop investigating the District 20 recount ("Pandora's Box," October 27, 2005). Did I mention that every top official involved in this skirmish -- from Bennett, Brewer and Weiers down to Thomas and Purcell -- is a Republican?

Even maverick Senator Harper's a Republican -- a God-fearing right-winger who just wants to do the right thing. Somebody who doesn't much like career politicians, even from his own political party, telling him to do the wrong thing because Republicans always support other Republicans.

But there's another reason that Brewer & Company care so deeply: liability to the state and county if voting-rights organizations find out election machines are malfunctioning and everybody's vote isn't getting counted. Imagine the cost of replacing all that technology. Imagine the legal costs of defending against probable lawsuits.

Which may explain why so many powerful GOP officials around here have stepped into traffic in an attempt to stop Harper from getting to the bottom of why those 489 votes popped up between the primary and the recount.

Why Andy Thomas wrote a letter to Senate President Bennett -- which he made sure every news organization in town except New Times got -- accusing Harper of "engaging in a series of bizarre and erratic actions that, I submit, cast serious doubt on his fitness to serve as a committee chairman and to possess the subpoenaing and police powers attendant with that position."

Thomas went on to spew in interviews with mainstream state newspapers, whose reporters were only too happy to get down on their knees and suck it all down, that there are questions about the "legality and ethics" of Harper's relationship with the "tabloid" newspaper New Times.

Thomas' lackey, Barnett Lotstein, kept busy doing what he's done best through two administrations at the County Attorney's Office: spin the facts to obfuscate the truth, thereby making the dunderheaded statements of whatever boss is in power seem remotely plausible to half-wits.

"There is no precedent whatsoever for a media outlet to bankroll an official government investigation," Special Assistant County Attorney Lotstein was quoted in the Arizona Capitol Times as declaring. "This raises serious legal and ethical questions, especially for a newspaper with a preconceived agenda."

I always know that a critic of New Times is pathetically desperate when he trots out the old tabloid line. It's the equivalent of being called "four eyes" on the playground. As for our preconceived agenda, we have only asked that Thomas and other public officials stop covering up for political allies and determine what happened in District 20. Thomas had a chance to do that, but he dropped an investigation that uncovered serious, and potentially illegal, problems ("All Bark and No Bite," July 14, 2005).

At the bottom of what these two legal ninnies are foaming at the mouth about is New Times' hiring of a nationally renowned voting-machines expert to come in, at Senator Harper's behest, and objectively examine the contraptions in question in the District 20 race.

For that expert to get access to the machines, Harper had to use his subpoena power. Because it isn't like the aforementioned stonewalling public officials would just let Douglas Jones, a University of Iowa computer science professor who has consulted on such thorny election issues as the 2000 presidential election, simply examine the voting machines.

It wasn't like they'd just do it because the senator who's chairman of the Government Accountability and Reform Committee ordered it done.

Not without a fight!

Like I said earlier, this would all be hilarious, except that the integrity of the elections process in the state's largest county lies in the balance. It would be funny because all the protestations are about New Times' hiring a consultant who's helping a righteous public official get at the truth.

A really funny thing is, Senate President Ken Bennett could've authorized state funds so the committee chairman he saw fit to appoint could bring in the consultant on his own. But Bennett told Harper to go out and find private funding for the endeavor.

Well, he did. And New Times even wrote Bennett a letter informing him that it was footing the bill. New Times has committed to pay up to $3,000 to this expert. Everything has been out in the open.

Lately, Bennett -- who's either a skinflint or something worse -- is demanding that the report be released to him instead of us (the guys who committed to pay for it). He's crowing about how this is suddenly his investigation. Did I mention that Bennett, like House Speaker Weiers before him, did everything he could in a vain attempt to force Harper to drop the whole thing?

Inquiring minds want to know: Why haven't Bennett and the rest of the political pricks involved in this insanity just allowed Senator Harper to conduct his investigation as he sees fit? What are they afraid of?

Why didn't Bennett just fund Harper's fact-gathering so New Times didn't have to? Aren't Bennett and Weiers and Brewer and Thomas and, lately, Democratic Senator Bill Brotherton in any way curious about what went terribly wrong? Isn't it the job of everybody involved to be curious?

Miraculously, Jones was finally allowed to examine those voting machines. (John Dougherty reports on what the acclaimed expert found in "Ballot Box Breakdowns.") But Thomas stepped in and blocked Jones from looking at the individual ballots in the primary election. An examination of the ballots must happen before any final conclusions can be drawn. A court hearing on releasing the ballots was pending.

I, for one, didn't think District 20 was a major story until some of the most powerful political muscle in the state joined arms to try to block Harper from simply finding out what happened. These days I'm thinking . . . maybe this scandal does signal that the Maricopa County elections process and maybe even the Arizona elections system need a major overhaul. Maybe the public officials involved do need to be run out on a rail.

As for Senator Brotherton, he's calling for an ethics investigation of Harper for letting New Times bring in an objective expert so that the public can find out whether every citizen's vote was counted in a Maricopa County election.

Boy, that's riding in on a white horse! His fellow Democrats must be so proud!

Brotherton's interference is fueling Thomas' call for Harper's removal from his committee chairmanship for actually doing what few standing committee chairmen have had the balls to do -- the right thing, even if it means the scalps of members of their own political party.

Now for some unfinished business.

Despite what the rubes in Andy Thomas' office would have you believe, there's nothing unusual about a news organization bringing in an expert to get to the bottom of a story. It's done frequently across the country. Otherwise, public officials would get away with way more cover-ups.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Miami Herald brought in experts to analyze the disputed 2000 Florida presidential voting.

One expert who was brought in to analyze voting after the election in Florida was Stephen Doig of Arizona State University. Doig was acting head of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU until he recently returned to being the school's professor of journalism specializing in computer-assisted reporting. Doig was research editor at the Miami Herald, where he worked on projects that won the Pulitzer Prize for public service. He's consulted with media outlets all over the place on computer-assisted reporting projects, including for his old paper the Herald after the presidential race.

Doig has been following the controversy over New Times' bringing in the consultant who's aided Harper in his investigation.

"I don't see any reason why a media organization shouldn't bring in a consultant," he said recently. "I see it done all the time."

Doig said he's never worked as a paid consultant in conjunction with a government official, as Jones is doing. But he discounted the notion that there's anything ethically wrong with Senator Harper's using his subpoena power to get the New Times-sponsored Jones access to the voting machines in question. Thomas has conjured up a bugaboo that this constitutes an "unholy alliance" between a government official and the press -- one that should cost Harper his committee chairmanship.

Doig noted that it's common for news reporters to benefit from the subpoena power of public servants. "Reporters benefit from the subpoena power of prosecutors," he said. "That kind of relationship isn't unusual."

It's true that prosecutors at the federal, state and local levels here have fed reporters privileged information routinely in the course of certain investigations. Prosecutors in the County Attorney's Office over the years have even made such information available to New Times.

Which makes Thomas either naive or a hypocrite.

It was Thomas' office, after all, that made sure the lapdog mainstream reporters covering Harper's investigation of District 20 were handed all of his bogeyman claims that the senator and New Times were violating all that's good and wholesome by using each other to get Jones access to those machines.

It's obvious to anybody with half a brain that the ones who're in an "unholy alliance" are Andy Thomas and reporters like Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Consider the headline on a story written by Fischer in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star: "Did Phoenix's New Times buy a subpoena?"

No, we paid to bring in an independent consultant because a state Senate president was either too cheap or too keen on covering the asses of fellow Republicans to order payment for that expert himself. He wanted the whole thing to just go away. We never pulled Senator Harper's strings. It was the senator who righteously decided to use his legal subpoena power.

The big joke in all this is that the mainstream newspapers around here have aided Thomas, et al., in vilifying New Times for working with a government official to discover the truth. The implication is that we've been too close to an official source. But, as evidenced by their coverage of the District 20 issue, papers like the Arizona Republic and the East Valley Tribune routinely pucker up behind powerful government officials to get the propaganda they masquerade as journalism.

I'd die of shock if I ever heard that either of these media jokes was bringing in an independent consultant to get to the bottom of an important issue.

The Republic and the Tribune have condemned Harper's actions in unsigned, institutional editorials -- which means that what's written is not only the opinion of the writer, but that of the hallowed newspaper. They have done this without getting at the point. Without bothering to try to find out why 489 votes magically appeared in a local election. Without bothering to look below the surface, rock the boat, be real journalists.

In its editorial in which it tried to portray Harper as a bumbling Inspector Clouseau character, the Republic closed by harrumphing that it's inappropriate for a state senator to use his political power "to provide a newspaper with a scoop."

The absurdity of this statement (set down by editorial writer Doug MacEachern) is obvious. But the sentiment is telling, because it spotlights how far from the mission of news-gathering the Republic has strayed. A scoop is journalism parlance for getting a story that nobody else has. For telling readers something they wouldn't otherwise know. It's the very essence of the term news.

I know some good journalists at the Republic, and they're embarrassed that their employer, the largest newspaper in Arizona, would come right out and proclaim that it sees no virtue in finding out something important and reporting it first.

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