Members of the Protect Arizona NOW initiative committee said they will no longer speak to Spanish news outlets about their proposed law that targets illegal immigrants.
The group says it will lift the ban only if state Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix, apologizes publicly to Rep. Randy Graf, R-Green Valley, for comments earlier this month that Graf is a "racist or a fool" for backing the initiative. Committee chairwoman Kathy McKee said it's appropriate to withhold information from Spanish-speaking journalists in an effort to convince Miranda to show more respect to Graf and other initiative supporters.
"They are trying to report to the Hispanic community," McKee said. "He is the Hispanic community spokesman by their choice. They need to hold him accountable."
McKee said the group also believes some Spanish-speaking journalists have been impolite and unprofessional during a pair of recent news conferences that dealt in part with illegal immigration. The Valley is home to a growing number of Spanish media outlets that include television and radio stations, as well as weekly newspapers.
Some journalists said they were surprised to hear about a blanket refusal to speak to any Spanish outlet, which appeared this week on the group's Internet site. But Pablo E. Gutierrez, a reporter for KDRX-TV (Telemundo 48) in Phoenix, said he has been unable to get any personal interviews with Graf and other leaders since the initiative drive started.
"I don't know what their problem is with us," Gutierrez said. "I think we've been fair and we've given them the coverage that any other (English) station has done."
The proposed Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act would require state and local officials to verify immigration status before offering "public benefits" and to check for citizenship every time someone votes. Officials also could be charged with a crime if they fail to report to the federal government when they encounter a suspected illegal immigrant. Protect Arizona NOW must collect 122,612 valid petition signatures by July 1, 2004, to qualify for the November 2004 ballot.
A deteriorating relationship between Protect Arizona NOW and Spanish news outlets started at a late May news conference on the proposed recall of Phoenix City Councilwoman Peggy Neely. Several key initiative leaders also have ties to the recall effort. The tension reappeared at a July 8 news conference where Protect Arizona NOW launched the initiative drive. Spanish reporters pressed initiative leaders for sources on statistics used to promote their cause, and two reporters said they didn't believe their questions were being answered.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, responded at the time that the reporters didn't like the answers they were hearing.
McKee said this week that group members believe the antagonism will continue unless they take a stand.
"When they start insulting people and becoming belligerent — we want to get this back on a professional level and I don't know how to do it, except this," McKee said. "Somehow, we've got to elevate this to another level."
Also at the initiative news conference, Miranda rose to make a statement against the proposed law. He walked out during an informal debate with Pearce. He made his comments about Graf at an opposition news conference that took place immediately afterward.
A decorated Vietnam veteran, Miranda said the initiative leaders challenged the patriotism of their opponents — and continue to do so.
"It was an insult to me to have my loyalty to this country questioned," Miranda said. "I was insulted by what they said, all of them. If anyone owes an apology, it's them."
Meanwhile, journalism experts said it's not proper for a group seeking to influence public policy to try and punish some reporters for public comments made by a state lawmaker.
"That's just ludicrous to suggest that any Spanish-language media outlet is a parrot for a Hispanic-surnamed lawmaker, any more than the Tribune or the (Arizona) Republic is beholden to a white lawmaker," said Robert Leger, national president of the Society of Professional Journalists.
"It's an insulting suggestion that these media (outlets) are operating at a lower level of ethical standards when, from what I understand from journalists out there, they are just asking tough questions," Leger said.