Monday, June 08, 2009

Goldwater Institute hires investigative journalist

As newspapers decline and die, it's good to see other opportunities opening up to support investigative journalism. Along with wire services, which are beefing up their staffs and seeing growing profits as their content is syndicated to more and more places including websites and broadcast media, think tanks are also getting into the business. (There are also other nonprofits that support investigative journalism, such as the Center for Public Integrity.)

The Goldwater Institute has hired investigative reporter Mark Flatten from the Tribune to investigate and report on cases of government corruption, abuse, and waste. Flatten is an award-winning reporter who has covered state government for nearly 20 years in Arizona, including covering the impeachment of former Gov. Evan Mecham, the AzScam corruption scandal, and the alternative fuels fiasco.

Flatten is the only reporter who has ever been banned from the floor of the state legislature, which occurred at the order of former Arizona Speaker of the House Don Aldridge (R-Lake Havasu City) because of Flatten's reporting on links between Aldridge and Max Dunlap, who was convicted for his part in the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. In 1976, Aldridge was a member of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, and he accompanied Dunlap to the law office of Neal Roberts on June 2, the day a bomb went off under Bolles' car, allegedly about a runway paving problem at the Mohave County Airport (as reported in the Kingman Daily Miner, June 28, 1976). On June 3, Roberts and Dunlap met at Durant's Restaurant to discuss raising $25,000 for the defense of Bolles' killer, John Harvey Adamson, who was at the time facing a minor criminal charge and had not yet been caught for the murder.

A May 10 NPR story describes the Goldwater Institute's job ad for this position and raises concerns about political bias infecting any stories produced. While I think that's a real concern, I think it's often better to have stories come from an advertised bias rather than pretend objectivity. In any case, Flatten's stories have gone after abuse regardless of party (Mecham was a Republican, the alternative fuels fiasco was caused by a Republican, and AzScam caught both Republicans and Democrats taking bribes).

I look forward to seeing what he will investigate and write about in this new role.

UPDATE (October 19, 2009): Flatten has published his first major investigative piece since being hired by the Goldwater Institute, and it's an account of how a federal program designed to provide business opportunities to the disadvantaged is being used by political insiders for their own benefit, including County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox. Wilcox obtained the Chili's Too franchise in Terminal 4 at Sky Harbor Airport as an Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (ACDBE), which requires that the owner participate in the day-to-day operation of the business, which she does not (though perhaps her co-owner does?). She also received a $450,000 loan from Host International which meant she didn't have to bring any money to the table, a loan which violated city policy (the City of Phoenix owns and operates Sky Harbor).

Flatten's "High Fliers" report may be found here.

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