Saturday, July 26, 2003

Court to First Amendment: Drop dead

The saga of the Nevada Supreme Court and the budget debacle gets more fascinating all the time. My buddy and colleague Vin Suprynowicz and my employer, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, may soon be sued by Supreme Court Justices Miriam Shearing, Bob Rose and Deborah Agosti for defamation because of a column Vin wrote about the high court's ruling that set aside a portion of the state constitution. (Read the column here.)

From the news story:

According to Suprynowicz's column, he had lunch on July 1 with a retired Nevada judge who told him: "The fix is in. Guinn went to Rose and Shearing on the Supreme Court some time ago and got their agreement that they'll impose the tax hikes. Agosti is wavering, but it'll probably be 6-to-1."This seemed a tad paranoid to me then," Suprynowicz wrote. "Now we know. The judge called it right."
Later in the column, Suprynowicz wrote, "And so the thin veneer that had still duped many of us into believing we had a government of law, and that our political leaders were not bought-and-paid-for shills of the gaming industry and the big government unions, has now been stripped aside ..."
According to [attorney Dominic] Gentile's letter, the column libeled his clients.
"That such a statement is an accusation and allegation of bribery and corruption in its common meaning in the present day is irrefutable," the attorney wrote.

The letter demands a retraction, which the justices won't get. But here's where it gets real interesting. In a telephone interview with reporter Carri Thevenot, Rose

said the Review-Journal "should certainly be willing to identify the retired judge" who claims Guinn met with justices before they ruled on the tax issue.

But the letter doesn't ask Vin or the RJ to reveal the source, which led the paper's attorney, Mark Hinueber, to describe

Gentile's demand letter as "an outrageous attempt to chill the Review-Journal's aggressive, thorough and fair reporting on the Nevada Supreme Court and to discover confidential sources of the newspaper."

Bingo. The idea is to find out who made this comment and punish this person, so that other confidential souces will know what's good for them when they think about volunteering information to the paper or answering a reporter's question. This little show of muscle is every bit as outrageous as any "fix" that might have occurred, if Vin's source is correct. And it simply reinforces Vin's larger point. Nevada is corrupt from stem to stern.

Speaking of defamation ...

The Las Vegas Sun's smear campaign against GOP Assemblyman Bob Beers, the ringleader of tax resistance in the Legislature, was renewed on Friday with a front page, above-the-fold story headlined, "Beers blasted for 'racist' remark." So what was the lawmaker's sin? Read the lede:

Assemblyman Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, who has previously made inflammatory comments about Episcopalians and casino workers, took a shot Thursday at an AIDS awareness program aimed at the black community.
Commenting on the fact that the Las Vegas organization Fighting AIDS in our Community Today (FACT) is to receive $250,000 in state money, Beers dismissed it as a program that does little more than give condoms to gay black men.
"From what I understand in the newspapers this FACT program is dedicated to putting condoms on gay men in the black community," Beers said in an interview with the Sun.
In a follow-up e-mail to the Sun, Beers said he was referring to a news report that said the program was targeted at gay black men because, as an ethnic group, they are highly at risk for AIDS.

This, racist? And worthy of top billing on the front page? Only because the "story" was invented from whole cloth. Sun reporter Jennifer Knight then sought out several left-wing black Democratic lawmakers (and the Legislature's only openly gay member) who have been fighting tooth and nail to jack up state spending by 30 percent ... and didn't get their way. They can't stand Beers and his poltical philosophy and will gladly pile on.

BTW, interested in the "inflammatory" comments Beers made about "Episcopalians and casino workers"? Return to the story:

He first drew fire in February when, in an e-mail to a constituent, he described casino workers as "prone to dropping out of school, reproducing illegitimate children, often while little more than children themselves, abusing drugs and alcohol more frequently, and even killing themselves more often than people who do value education."
Beers was criticized again in March for his response to an Episcopalian bishop who urged lawmakers to address a $704 million shortfall in the state budget.
Beers responded by saying: "There's gotta be more Episcopalian bishops besides you. ... Your opinion is pretty far out there and strikes me as an opinion of a woman with no taxpaying parishioners."

Impolitic? To be sure? Inflammatory? Perhaps, to the people with whom he was corresponding. But they were private communications. And it turns out that the correspondents were themselves political activists trying to bait Beers. After all, the e-mailers were not exactly inviting Beers to dinner. They were asking him to impose the largest tax increase in state history. And they weren't even his constitutents.

Among the lawmakers who expressed any resistance to the size of the tax hike, Beers possessed all the intellectual candlepower. Without him there would have been no check on the gamers or the public employees. So that's why the Sun wants to take him out.

Predictably, the Sun published its yellow "news" story on Friday, when no one will read it (weekday circulation is about 30,000). But I'm willing to bet a substantial amount of money that on Sunday, when (thanks to our lovely JOA) the Sun is delivered with 220,000 Review-Journals, there will be an editorial and at least two columns which will have scant reference to the facts but will still call for Beers to be run out of town on a rail.

Bob Beers can take care of himself. But the degree of unhinged-ness that runs rampant at the Sun is beyond comprehension.

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