On January 9, former Maricopa County, AZ, Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced a run for Senate, seeking to replace Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who is not running for re-election. Arpaio’s candidacy will undoubtedly be accompanied by controversy, given his long track record of incredible cruelty, racism, and extremism, as well as his clear failings as a sheriff and his criminal conviction for violating a court order regarding his racial profiling of suspected immigrants. But following Arpaio’s announcement, Arizona news programs failed to inform the voters of just how unfit Arpaio is to hold high office.
Media Matters reviewed the local 10 p.m. newscasts of nine stations in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson between January 9, when Arpaio announced his candidacy, and January 12. The results of the study reveal that the stations largely failed to report on Arpaio’s history of bigotry and abuse, with some not noting his connections to extremists and birtherism. Media Matters found:
- One Tucson station failed to inform its viewers that Arpaio has been convicted of criminal contempt of court;
- Three Phoenix stations, one Tucson station, and one Yuma station noted Arpaio’s conviction, but failed to link it to racial profiling;
- No 10 p.m. local newscast in Phoenix, Tucson, or Yuma reported on Arpaio’s history of inmate abuse, his failure to investigate sex crimes, or his connections to extremists; and
- Only two stations, ABC15 Arizona’s and NBC’s 12 News explained Arpaio’s connections to birtherism in their 10 p.m. newscasts.
Arpaio’s record as a sheriff is littered with ineptitude and lawlessness. He has a long history of treating prisoners in a “humiliating and inhumane” way, especially at his outdoor Tent City jail, which “stood within a larger jail compound” near Phoenix and has been repeatedly referred to as a “concentration camp.” Inmates at the jail were forced to live in searing temperatures of up to 141 degrees and fed rotten food, and female inmates were “denied basic sanitary items.” Arpaio used webcams to broadcast scenes from the jail including a feed “that showed female inmates using a toilet,” and singled out inmates of color for some of the most brutal abuse.
Outside of Tent City, Arpaio showed incredible disdain for victims of abuse and flouted the law himself. During his tenure as sheriff of Maricopa County, Arpaio’s department failed to properly investigate hundreds of sex crimes between 2005 and 2007, many of which involved children. In one city, El Mirage, Arpaio, who has described himself as “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” neglected to follow through on at least 32 reported child molestations, “with victims as young as two,” even when “suspects were known in all but six cases.” In 2017, Arpaio himself was convicted of criminal contempt of court for deliberately violating a court order to stop his department’s racial profiling. President Donald Trump later pardoned him.
Arpaio’s commitment to systemic discrimination should come as no surprise to anyone with knowledge of his long history of racism and bigotry. Arpaio was an early pusher of birtherism, the baseless conspiracy theory which Trump also pushed, that former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
Arpaio has also developed close ties to extremists and conspiracy theorists. Shortly before Trump pardoned him, Arpaio thanked conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for getting his story to the president. (Jones has claimed that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School was an “inside job.”) And after he received the pardon, Arpaio gave an interview to a publication that denies the Holocaust and is edited by a 9/11 truther.
But Media Matters' review of the local 10 p.m. newscasts in Yuma, Phoenix, and Tucson found that the local TV news coverage largely failed to report on these past misdeeds.
Phoenix’s ABC15 News at 10:
The 10 p.m. newscasts of Yuma’s KSWT CBS 13, Tucson’s CBS affiliate KOLD and NBC’s 12 News in Phoenix did note that Arpaio’s conviction was related to racial profiling or mentioned his history of profiling, but none of these stations reported on his history of inmate abuse, his failure to investigate sex crimes, or his connections to extremists. Two stations, Phoenix’s ABC15 News and Phoenix’s NBC 12 News, did discuss Arpaio’s promotion of birtherism, but they noted Arpaio’s connection to the racist conspiracy theory only after he appeared on CNN on January 10 and reasserted his belief in it.