With Kyl’s retirement, anonymous media posturing aims to persuade Ducey

December 14, 2018 2:37 pm

Gov. Doug Ducey. Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Sen. Jon Kyl made official today what most political observers had long believed: He will be resigning from the U.S. Senate at the end of the year.

That announcement kicked the speculation about who Gov. Doug Ducey would appoint to replace Kyl – himself an appointment to replace the late John McCain – into overdrive.

And along with the public speculation come news articles, based largely (if not entirely) on anonymous sources, that are thinly veiled attempts to pressure Ducey to take a specific action. In the case of filling the soon-to-be vacant Senate seat, the warring camps within the Republican Party are fighting over Martha McSally.

McSally, a congresswoman from Tucson who last month lost her U.S. Senate campaign to Kyrsten Sinema, is viewed by many – particularly in the D.C. establishment – as the GOP’s best chance to win the 2020 special election and then the 2024 regular election to maintain Republican control of the seat.

We know that people like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have leaned hard on Ducey to select McSally.

We also know that operatives on the opposing sides are leaking to national reporters in an attempt to set the narrative about who Ducey either should or will appoint. Yesterday, we saw The Washington Post report that the governor’s inner circle was “outraged” at McSally for a post-election analysis her campaign issued that blamed everyone but the candidate and her campaign for the loss, and also minimized Ducey’s large victory in the same election.

Today, the pro-McSally camp spoke anonymously to CNN and the organization published a story saying that Ducey’s “likely choice” is McSally, and that he’ll make an announcement to that effect this weekend.

I found it interesting that, while the WaPo story yesterday specifically cited sources close to Ducey, today’s CNN report only cites “sources familiar with the conversations.” That tells me that the CNN sources are in D.C., making it much more likely that the sources are tied to GOP Senate leadership, who are firmly in McSally’s camp.

I know a thing or two about anonymous sources, thanks to my work writing for and later editing the Yellow Sheet Report, the high-cost insider tipsheet run by the fine folks who publish the Arizona Capitol Times. Given the gossipy nature of the publication, anonymous sources are commonplace.

Having been responsible for soliciting and then publishing information and quotes from anonymous sources, I can assure you that any political operative who dishes information to a reporter while insisting on anonymity is doing so to advance an agenda.

In this case, it’s hard not to view the WaPo and CNN stories as two sides of the same coin: The pro-McSally and anti-McSally camps are each hoping to persuade Ducey to their side, in part by using the media to do so.

Only the governor knows what he’s going to do, and heavens knows he’s had months to prepare for this decision. As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait.

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Jim Small
Jim Small

Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.