You could call it the end of an era.
The woman who for the past 23 years has served as Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s top flack, spin guru Lisa Allen, is resigning from the MCSO effective February 2.
In an e-mail exchange with New Times, Allen confirmed her resignation, saying she’s leaving to be with her new husband, a former MCSO detention officer who now lives in Idaho.
“My husband wanted to move out of state, and I want to stay with my husband,” she explains. “Hate to leave the sheriff. Despite what [New Times thinks] of him, I think he is the greatest.”
Allen, a former TV reporter, has been instrumental in Arpaio’s obtaining celebrity status by orchestrating media stunts, garnering media from across the globe, mitigating negative stories, and blocking journalists who have not toed the MCSO’s party line.
Her influence in the maintenance of the Arpaio myth is on full display in the 2014 Randy Murray documentary The Joe Show.
In one scene, filmed in 2005, she practically directs Arpaio as he oversees the media spectacle of moving about 2,000 inmates to a new jail, handcuffed together and stripped to their Arpaio-mandated pink underwear.
“I want you to look tough,” Allen tells Joe as the prisoners march past. “Just stand there and watch ’em. Tap your foot.”
The stunt is a success, one of thousands Arpaio and Allen have collaborated on over the years.
“I knew, Lisa knew, the minute we put these guys in the pink underwear, that will be what goes on the air,” Arpaio tells the filmmakers after the inmate parade. “Do you really think that no one is going to show these guys in their pink underwear?”
Indeed, Allen’s skill is in pre-packaging stories for TV news outlets, ensuring that they have the images to propel a narrative sympathetic to the sheriff. Thus, everything from female chain gangs to the slop the MCSO feeds inmates to the heat of Tent City to Arpaio’s immigration sweeps becomes fodder for a mostly compliant Fourth Estate, thereby feeding Arpaio’s insatiable appetite for publicity.
Her role has been one of chief rationalizer, defending Arpaio’s unsavory actions even when she disagrees with them.
Case in point: the MCSO’s ludicrous investigation into President Obama’s birth certificate.
In a meeting captured by Murray for the documentary, Allen mocks Arpaio’s birther obsession, even as Arpaio crows about how much money the investigation will bring in donations from wingnuts around the country.
“You might as well go to your press conference in big ol’ clown shoes and a big ol’ nose,” she tells Arpaio in the infamous clip.
But at a July 2012 press conference to announce the “findings” of his loony birther investigation, Allentried to get the reporters present to take it seriously.
“The media has demeaned this investigation at every turn as silly and wasteful,” she reportedly said, adding that journos should try to “keep an open mind.”
Her cynical approach has worked over the years. In a candid moment during a 2010 webcast of a short-lived Arpaio Internet show, she offered an unvarnished view of her jefe.
“[Sheriff Arpaio] is referred to as a media hog,” she said. “He is referred to as a media whore. But there has always been a reason for it.”
Hey, as long as there’s a reason . . .
Interestingly, Allen’s departure comes at a time when Arpaio may need her more than ever. Arpaio is up for an unprecedented seventh term in office later this year. And the sheriff is awaiting the ruling of federal Judge G. Murray Snow on contempt allegations against Arpaio, and whether Snow believes Arpaio’s wrongdoing necessitates criminal charges against the 83-year-old.
Mike Manning, the Phoenix tort titan who has won several wrongful death lawsuits against the MCSO, tells New Times that Allen’s exit does not bode well for the sheriff.
“Her blind dedication and her willingness to do anything and everything [for Arpaio] will be very difficult to replace, particularly in the shadow of the proceedings in front of Judge Snow,” he says. “I think it’s a bad time for Joe . . . the rats are leaving the ship pretty fast.”
That is, unless Allen figures out a way to keep peddling stories for Arpaio, albeit remotely, from Idaho.
“We’re talking about it,” she says of possibly working on a contract basis. “Nothing has been decided yet. You know the county, a lot of hoops to jump before anything ever gets done.”