Thursday, infamous Maricopa County, AZ sheriff Joe Arpaio held a press conference to reveal the results of a 6 month-long "investigation" into the authenticity of President Obama's birth certificate, which he accused of being fraudulent. The birther pageant was a new low for Arpaio, who – along with his deputies – was recently found by state law enforcement agencies to have failed to investigate hundreds of sex crimes and is currently under federal investigation for alleged "discriminatory practices" that include profiling Latinos.
Phoenix's major local news affiliates approached their coverage of the spectacle in different ways. The CBS affiliate (CBS 5) dedicated over nine minutes Thursday to a series of straight-faced (and apparently ongoing) segments they titled "Investigating the President." Despite the far-out, conspiracy-laden claims made at the birthers' presentation, CBS treated the participants and their assertions in an unduly serious fashion. The network's segment served primarily to amplify the arguments and opinions of Arpaio's "lead investigator" Mike Zullo, who is featured in a softball interview and in lengthy clips from the press conference.
Furthermore, the extremely limited sourcing of counterpoints used by CBS in the segments (anonymous detractors, a year-old Obama quote, and a brief, almost neutral, statement from an AZ congressman) gave the impression that vocal critics of the birth certificate circus were hard to come by -- a scenario that seems improbable at best, given the birther movement's rich history of making false claims.
Watch the CBS report:
In contrast, the Phoenix FOX affiliate (FOX 10) reported on the absurdity of the day with a responsible degree of scrutiny, making the story about the reasonableness of the county sheriff's involvement in the charade. The segment begins with an incredulous anchor throwing to some brief interviews highlighting opposing viewpoints on the issue. It continues with a one-on-one interview with Arpaio and FOX anchor John Hook, in which Hook questions the legal standing, fiscal responsibility and political sanity of the decision to, as Arpaio puts it, take the birthers' investigation "into another atmosphere."
The FOX report:
HOOK: So for a sheriff already in hot water with the Obama administration, why even take up this issue? I asked the sheriff that question today in his only one on one interview about the subject. He said the answer's simple. He says he did it because 250 Tea Party people asked him to.
ARPAIO: ...'Please, you're our last hope to look into this.' So what am I supposed to do, throw it in the waste basket?
FOX: What if you just said, I understand your concern, it's been looked at; no thank you we're not gonna do it, even with our cold case people -- we're gonna use our cold case people, even though they're volunteers, on cold cases that pertain to Maricopa County?
ARPAIO: This does pertain to Maricopa County. We do have standing here. And I told my commander, I said, you call it like it is. In fact, I hope you do clear the president. Get this over with.
But it didn't happen that way. They did a good job they came up with evidence, so what do I do? Do I forget it? So I know I've had political people say 'don't touch this, you'll never win.' OK, alright, I'm going to do my job, and I did it. I don't need this. You think I need this?
FOX: For those who say this is a side show; it's to help you get reelected sheriff what do you say to those people?
ARPAIO: I can get reelected on pink underwear, ok? Or tent city.
FOX: You're that confident?
ARPAIO: I don't need this to get elected.
FOX: Considering the fact that you've got the Department of Justice breathing down your neck, they're looking into you, you're facing reelection, you've had issues with the investigations on the west side. You'd think – somebody would say a crazy man would not touch this issue, at this time. That it's insane to do it.
ARPAIO: You know, I have to do what's right. Forget the politics, I've always taken chances.
FOX: There have been a lot of pretty smart people who've looked into this and they say, 'you know what, we've looked, we even wanted to find something, but its just not there. The guy's an American citizen, end of story.'
ARPAIO: There's a difference, I'm not going to go into criticize the people of this country. There is a difference when people are looking at it than a law enforcement agency -- that takes it into another atmosphere.
FOX: Do you believe the president was born in the United States?
ARPAIO: I'm not going to accuse the president of anything. I go by facts, not innuendos. I wanna get the proof before I would ever answer that question. We did our homework. We're not done yet, this is just chapter one.