Originally Published on NevadaNewsmakers.com, Published: 6/5/2007 5:37:52 PM
Better than a movie. An incredibly long, three-part, guy movie with lots of fight scenes and hardly any female stars. The Senate hearing on the Big Transportation Bill was the best of the year in its genre, for conflict, cliff hangers, and a tight wrap-up that allows all the characters to come back for the sequel, Big Transportation Bill 2. It’s due out in 2009, and promises to be a bigger, bloodier and more expensive production.
Great moments: Senator Bob Coffin (D – Clark 10) challenges the governor to back off his no-new-taxes pledge in order to raise the tax on diesel fuel. Senator Randolph Townsend (R-Washoe 4) decides, about four hours into the epic, that there’s been enough rhetoric leveled at the governor, and says, in effect, “knock it off.” Paraphrasing, of course. Senator Townsend would never actually say “knock it off.” Instead, he reminds the assembled that the Clark County transportation crisis has many fathers, including the Clark County Commission and southern Nevada legislators.
Some members of Nevada’s news media were stunned, and others amused earlier this year when Governor Jim Gibbons said he’d heard rumors the Wall Street Journal might have been paid to run a story about the FBI probe into his activities on behalf of software maker Warren Trepp. The WSJ piece on Gibbons was one of many that ran on the paper’s front page, over many months, probing the business and lobbying connections of quite a few congressmen you’ve never heard of, in districts throughout the country.
Once the snickers died down, the unattributed rumors dropped off the radar screen. Until this week, when the New York Times carried an unflattering recap of Gibbons’ interactions with the legislature, his campaign misadventures, and his stewardship of Warren Trepp’s product.
Speculation bubbled up again in the cold, fast-running current of Carson City politics about whether the nation’s most venerable newspapers might allow their product to be tainted by the influence of big-spending advertisers. And some here in the Silver State truly believe the rehash of the Governor’s troubles was dropped into the pages of the NYT to coincide with whatever final showdown might occur between Gibbons and the legislature in the closing week of the 2007 session.
Dropped by whom? It would have to be someone with both a stake in Nevada politics, and the ability to manipulate editorial decisions at of one of the most prestigious publications in the world. Only God and the Gray Lady know for sure.
The question, though, would be worth contemplating on a theoretical level if it could be severed from Gibbons and the presumed conspiracy. Repeated for emphasis, when you ISOLATE THE QUESTION from discussion of Gibbons and those who would revel in his downfall, it’s an interesting topic. How elastic are ethics in a struggling industry?
Declining newspaper penetration, and revenue erosion caused by a robust “new media” have prompted some organizations to drastically alter the news product. What other impacts might occur below the surface, as the financial picture worsens?
A profession can be ethically practiced only so long as there are four walls within which to practice it. As management teams seek above all to preserve the business, what will be compromised, and to what degree? Will blind eyes be turned to flirtation between advertising and editorial? How bleak would things have to be for a large-budget advertiser to successfully push a political agenda into the headlines? Anyone’s headlines, much less the headlines on the sacred pages under discussion?
Don’t snicker, because none of this is funny. Political operatives have been known to sink quite low. The wild card each time is who meets them in the basement.
The Reasonable Reporter hopes and prays there are always a few staid national news sources that leave fingers black and smudgy, and deliver honestly gathered and utterly reliable news. (To the extent that news is ever utterly reliable.) But the business will get more difficult and more desperate, and this is not merely a technological shift, or a demographic shift, or a phenomenon of post-literate America. It is all of those, but it is also the redefinition of an industry, with the attendant financial fallout, and all the unseemly possibilities that suggests.