Arpaio Recall Effort Fails: AP, LAT Make Excuses, Indulge Petitioners' 'If Only' Fantasy

Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio won't be subject to a recall election. It wasn't even close, though two press reports, one at the Associated Press and another at the Los Angeles Times, failed to accurately convey how seriously organizers failed. Both reports also trotted out an "if only" excuse which doesn't pass the stench test, let alone the smell test.

Neither outlet gave an accurate impression of how seriously the recall drive failed. Organizers needed 335,317 valid signatures, but Stephen Lemons at the Phoenix New Times (in a "Feathered Bastard" report, no less) reported earlier in the week that the recall movement's manager "estimates that the recall now needs 90,000 more signatures to have a cushion in addition to the 335,317 necessary to force a recall." In other words, the magic turn-in number, unreported by both the AP and the Times, was really 425,000 and change.

The AP's Jacques Billeaud at least stuck to only what the recall movement itself claimed, and even allowed the full effect of Sheriff Joe's gloating statement into his dispatch:

"It is a sad day," recall campaign manager Lilia Alvarez said. "It is a disappointment."

Recall organizers won't reveal the number of signatures they gathered. In their last update, given five weeks ago, organizers said they had gathered 200,000 signatures.

"The count at this point doesn't matter," Alvarez said in deciding not to reveal the number of signatures gathered.

Arpaio issued a statement suggesting that recall organizers aren't revealing the number of signatures they gathered because they are embarrassed by the level of their failure. "This effort failed because the good people of Maricopa County, whom I'm honored to serve, rejected the wrong-headed idea of overturning an election," Arpaio said.

But in moves ordinarily expected of AP, the wire service kept Arpaio's name out of the headline ("GROUP FAILS IN BID TO RECALL ARIZ. SHERIFF") and used what is likely the most unflattering photo it has in its files to accompany the story. Oh, and Billeaud made sure to call Arpaio "polarizing" in his opening paragraph -- a tage the press almost never applies to a Democrat or liberal.

At the Times, Cindy Carcamo allowed someone besides Ms. Alvarez, the campaign's director, to throw out a vague number, clipped the gloating element from Arpaio's statment, and went into excuse-making mode:

Activists behind the recall effort would not say how many signatures they were short. Randy Parraz, president of Citizens for Better Arizona, only said the two groups had collected close to 300,000 signatures.

Arpaio, reelected in November, blasted the group in a prepared statement.

“After months of name calling, after the disparaging effigies and theatrics … this latest recall effort has failed,” Arpaio said. "This effort failed because the good people of Maricopa County, whom I'm honored to serve, rejected the wrongheaded idea of overturning an election."

The groups had struggled to raise funds necessary to hire paid signature gatherers — key to these sort of efforts. Instead, the groups relied heavily on volunteers to gather signatures against the six-term sheriff who is something of an institution in Arizona’s largest county.

... The groups gained momentum after a federal judge ruled Friday that the immigration enforcement policies employed by Arpaio violated the Constitution.

What momentum? Giving Parraz's apparently unauthorized estimate a huge benefit of the doubt and calling it 275,000 the recall fell short by at least 37% ([435,000 minus 275,000] divided by 435,000) of what they needed.

The AP's Billeaud also allowed an excuse-maker into his report:

"I wish from the bottom of my heart that this ruling would have come out a month earlier. Had this ruling come out a month earlier, who knows how many signatures we would have gotten," Democratic state Rep. Martin Quezada of Avondale, a supporter of the Arpaio recall effort, said.

Maybe a few thousand? Big deal.

Cross-posted at

Please support NewsBusters today! (a 501c3 non-profit production of the Media Research Center)

Campaigns & Elections Immigration Media Bias Debate Bias by Omission Double Standards Labeling Race Issues Racism Wire Services/Media Companies Associated Press Los Angeles Times Cindy Carcamo Jacques Billeaud Stephen Lemons