Recalling the Arizona Project  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   August/September 2008

Recalling the Arizona Project   

By Jennifer Dorroh
Jennifer Dorroh (jdorroh@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's managing editor.     


For many journalists, Chauncey Bailey's story brings back memories of the killing of Don Bolles, the Arizona Republic reporter who on June 13, 1976, died of injuries suffered during a car bombing 11 days earlier in the garage of a downtown Phoenix hotel. Bolles, 47, a founding member of Investigative Reporters and Editors, had been delving into organized crime activities in the state.

The journalist's murder outraged fellow journalists, who took over his efforts to expose organized crime in Arizona.

Thirty-eight volunteers from 28 newspapers and television and radio stations descended on the state intending to expose the mafia, avenge Bolles' death and give pause to anyone who might consider killing a journalist to silence a story in the future. Led by Newsday's legendary investigative reporter Robert Greene, they spent five months poring over public records and conducting interviews on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In the process, the Arizona Project sparked a controversy over whether it was ethical for journalists to act as crusaders. Some outlets, including the Washington Post and the New York Times, declined to participate.

The result of the investigation was a 23-part series exposing Arizona's mafia and the officials corrupted by them. It appeared in newspapers across the country, including the Boston Globe, the Miami Herald and the Denver Post. The Arizona Republic planned to publish the stories until the last minute, when its publisher pulled out of the project. The Arizona Daily Star was the only publication in the state to run the entire series.

The series was criticized by some for being too broad and credited by others with prompting land reform and raising awareness of the mafia's role in Arizona business and government.

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