This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Dodging bullets like Keanu Reeves

Christopher Fox Graham
Deciphering Sedona
As the recent Sedona city election headed toward the finish line, some of our readers wondered if the Sedona Red Rock News would endorse any candidates.
Other editorial boards in other major newspapers have endorsed presidential candidates, but more often than not, these endorsements have little effect on readers and only serve to reveal a potential bias in following new stories, whether they exist or not.
In our Internet culture, people are reading more, but are less likely to read the opposition. People want “news” about their candidate or issue, but they don’t want “news by journalists” to present an honest picture, flush with the acne, scars and high-class call girls with MySpace pages that may taint a public figure.
Liberals tend to skew toward left-leaning publications like Mother Jones or TomPaine.com whose writers inch more toward punditry that journalism.
Conservatives have “fair and balanced” Fox News, which is neither fair, nor balanced, nor really news. Discuss.
Punditry is not a bad thing in itself, but it should not masquerade itself as journalism.
Both The New York Times and The Washington Post are cited by the right and left as too liberal or too conservative, respectively.
At the other end of the spectrum, journalism must be free of any bias whatsoever, otherwise, it’s just opinion printed on broadsheet.
It’s that specter of bias lurking beneath the bed that defines a reporter from a writer.
When we begin in this career, cub reporters are terrified that readers may see a hint of their opinion on a issue, so they learn to pick words and phrases that avoid that bias but still tell an engaging story.
They call representatives on both sides, in part so they don’t get angry phone calls after the story goes to press, and get quotes so that readers have both sides.
The reporters also learn the hard way that even if the story is fair, they’ll still get angry phone calls from both sides.
Nobody likes the truth unless it’s their truth.
As cubs grow up into … lion reporters — I’m stretching for the metaphor here — they carry themselves with a certain proud nobility of being fair and unbiased. At this point they’re not much fun at parties, but certain costs must be paid for ethics.
While the Sedona municipal election was the impetus for this column, we dodge these bias bullets in Keanu Reeves-like fashion in all of our news coverage.
In the same issue, we run letters to the editor calling President George W. Bush a warmongering pinhead destined for a war crimes trial at the Hague to letters calling the sweet, mentally handicapped man a hero for doing his best to protect Americans from the dangers of militant Islamic fundamentalism.
This gut-twistingly fun sense of ethics is also what defines a newspaper from a tabloid or a newsletter, like many of those that have appeared in Sedona.
The journalists’ Constitution is the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
Some of my favorite parts, which mark the distinct difference between the Sedona Red Rock News and other publications, include section three, “Act independently:”
 Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
 Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
 Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
 Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
 Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
 Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am the volunteer chairman of the Sedona Youth Commission. As such, I will never write a story on the commission’s activities, I will not edit a story on the commission, nor will I read it until it comes off the press.
This is not a rule of the city government, nor has it been handed down from our publisher. It doesn’t need to be. It’s simply the ethical thing for a reporter to do.
Other publications, in stark contrast to the Sedona Red Rock News, publish bylined news stories by individuals quoted as sources in the story and — miraculously or with the help of a tripod and timer — appear in the story’s photographs, too. Will technological wonders never cease. Toss in a letter to the editor by the same person and you have a tabloid or a newsletter, not a newspaper.
The only thing that gives journalism its health and strength is ethics — without ethics, newspapers are merely pretty fishwrap. The Sedona Red Rock News’ readers have a healthy newspaper.
Deciphering Sedona is published every Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News. To comment, e-mail to cgraham@larsonnewspapers.com.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

CFG to Rick Renzi: resign now

Christopher Fox Graham
Deciphering Sedona
To the honorable Richard Renzi, United States House of Representatives,
Resign.
Now.
You’re facing 35 counts of criminal activity, your fellow representatives dodge you in the halls of Congress and since you’ve left all your committees, you aren’t really helping your constituents in Arizona.
Sincerely,
Christopher Fox Graham.

On Feb. 21, a federal district court in Tucson filed a 35-count, 26-page indictment against Renzi — who technically represents Arizona’s First Congressional District.
While Renzi is innocent until proven guilty, in politics, guilt isn’t the issue — effectiveness is.
As glimmers of impropriety grew into friendly visits from FBI agents to a novella by a grand jury, Renzi left the House Intelligence Committee, the House Financial Services Committee and House Natural Resources Committee — he has been effectively ostracized from decision-making on Capitol Hill.
Laws aren’t decided on the House floor, they’re decided in committee. Voting on bills is something any appointee can do. Right now, Renzi’s collecting a big paycheck for only a few hours of work a month.
In fact, forward Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano my phone number; my weekends are free.
Miraculously, Renzi topped both the charges and page count filed in 2005 against Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham [R-Calif.], considered by many as the most corrupt member of Congress in recent memory.
Duke, step aside and clear the pedestal for Rick.
While the nation stood aghast at the corruption charges filed against a sitting three-term member of Congress, national news agencies turned to Arizona for a response and found that most voters in Northern Arizona sighed and asked, “Oh really? We knew that.”
A congressman who could be Joey Buttafuoco’s twin brother was indicted? You don’t say.
It’s no secret that Renzi hasn’t represented Northern Arizona well. He’s rarely in Arizona, if at all, except for brief tours during election season and fair-weather visits.
Think of the grandkids who only visit grandparents long enough to remind them that they need a paragraph in the will – that’s our congressman.
His staffers show up to events and apologize for his absence, much the same way our parents continue to tell us there’s a Santa Claus.
We believe some fictions because they’re pretty.
Chances are, it’s because he can’t find the Verde Valley on the map — if his staffers want to tell him, we’re south of Flagstaff and north of Phoenix … just find us on GoogleEarth.
I remember getting a call from his office to request a copy of a newspaper after a former editor wrote a particularly scathing editorial.
Granted, we’re not a huge newspaper, but you’d figure a congressman with a net worth of $5 million could afford the out-of-state subscription of $65 per year from a newspaper serving 10,000 of his constituents – we’re cheaper than a set of American flag cufflinks.
According to an Associated Press news story in 2002, Renzi has lived in Arizona only seven of the past 20 years. Imagine electing a Sedona City Council member who lived here only four-and-a-half months a year. Renzi is essentially a Virginia resident with a vacation home in Flagstaff — and all 12 of his kids went to school in Virginia.
In 2001, Renzi started his first run for Congress, using what federal investigators are now claiming were illegal funds.
He also boldly claimed that he had authored key legislation for Sen. Jon Kyl [R-Ariz.] and former Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe, then of Arizona’s District 5.
In an Associated Press article by Scott Thomsen in August 2002, both Kyl and Kolbe denied that Renzi was anything more than an unpaid intern, making his closest interaction with pending legislation the act of pressing the “copy” button on the Xerox machine.
Renzi won that first election by vastly outspending his opponent, George Cordova, and paying for attack ads that Cordova simply didn’t have the funds to fight.
All of his campaigns have been equally brutal to his pocketbook and yet he has stayed in office.
Since moving to Washington, D.C., — or going back home — Renzi has been implicated in the firing of U.S. attorneys, an action, which, added to perjury, brought down U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in September.
The FBI come knocking on the door of his family’s business in April 2007 and the indictment was handed down last month.
“Let the chips fall where they may if I’m a carpetbagger,” Renzi was quoted saying in the 2002 Associated Press article.
The chips have finally fallen, congressman. Go home.
Deciphering Sedona is published every other Wednesday in the Sedona Red Rock News. To comment, e-mail to cgraham@larsonnewspapers.com.