John Zidich, Arizona Republic Publisher and Member of Fiesta Bowl Executive Committee, in Glaring Conflict of Interest, Say Local Journos and Politicos
On Tuesday, the Fiesta Bowl released an internal investigation of bowl employees, highlighting questionable spending of the organization's money and alleged illegal campaign contributions -- the second such internal investigation since The Arizona Republic started reporting on it in 2009.
But there's one point that has been mostly ignored in the Republic's coverage of the scandal that doesn't jibe too well with some folks in Arizona's political and journalism circles -- the Republic's publisher, John Zidich, serves on the executive committee of the Fiesta Bowl.
Tim McGuire, former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and current journalism ethics professor at Arizona State University, called for Zidich to resign either from the bowl committee or from the Republic in a blog post Wednesday.
"When the Fiesta Bowl board was an important Valley booster of a great event, his involvement should have been questioned," he writes. "Now that the Fiesta Bowl is mired in a corruption scandal that is going to play out publicly and painfully, he cannot hold both jobs."
McGuire blogs that even though the bowl's report states that Zidich distanced himself from the Republic's coverage of the story, he says Zidich has still committed a "gigantic sin":
"I can find no direct evidence that Zidich's involvement affected the Republic story. On its face the coverage seems very aggressive, but Zidich's involvement has to make the public wonder if they are getting a sanitized version. And that doesn't even mention the way the staff has to be looking over its shoulder.
In my ethics class I constantly rail against the "my heart is pure as driven snow" argument. I may think I can't be unduly influenced, but I don't get to decide what is a conflict. If it appears to others there is a conflict, there is. Zidich's heart may well be a pure as the driven snow, but that is never the test."
"Now that the Fiesta Bowl is mired in a corruption scandal that is going to play out publicly and painfully, he cannot hold both jobs," he writes.
The Republic did address Zidich's role in one of the articles on the Fiesta Bowl's report, albeit 1,645 words into a 2,126-word article:
"I realize in my position that there could be an appearance of conflict between coverage and my involvement, but quite frankly this bowl means too much to the community," Zidich says in the Republic article. "[I wanted to] make sure that whatever its future is, is a bright one. The only way to do that is to be involved."
Taking it a step further, former State Senate chief of staff Greg Patterson, dubbed one of the "Ten Most Influential Arizonans of the Past Decade" by the Arizona Capitol Times, asks whether Zidich influenced the Republic's coverage.
On his blog, Patterson says now-canned Fiesta Bowl CEO John Junker was the "fall guy" for the investigation and accuses the Republic of ignoring the role of the bowl's other board members in the fiasco.
"In the most favorable light, Zidich botched his roll as a Board Officer and failed to detect the corruption at the Fiesta Bowl. His presence on the Board -- despite the obvious conflict -- skewed the coverage away from the Board and caused the coverage to focus on Junker.
"At worst, Zidich was part of the Board's initial attempt to whitewash and cover up the allegations."
New Times attempted to contact Patterson to substantiate the allegations, and received this e-mail reply:
"I don't think there's anything I can add. I don't have any more information than what I printed."
Read the Fiesta Bowl's full report here.