Sex, texting, secrets and media lapdogs

I’m shocked (shocked, I tell ya!) at the high percentage of prudes and fraidy cat nannies in the Nevada press corps.

It’s Nevada, for crying out loud, home to Reno, divorce capitol of the world in the north, Vegas Sin City in the south, and legal brothels in between. It’s a place where even the taxicabs sport cleavage (trust me, that’s true) and everything including the nose on the faux sphinx has been “enhanced.”

In Vegas, Mayor Oscar Goodman, a former mob lawyer, hires two svelte, semi-clad woman — one for each arm — to pretend to be showgirls and enhance his image.

It’s all about sex and the economy.

Up the road in the capital of Carson City, there’s Gov. Jim Gibbons, 63, a former flyboy and back-bench congressman who’s embroiled in a messy divorce. Come to find out he sent hundreds of late-night text messages to someone else’s wife and then held a news conference to say they were not love notes — the other woman was just advising him on taxation.

So in his case, it’s not sex — the texts were about taxes!

Jimbo could use some advice in that arena, because right now, Nevada is about $1 billion short of a full tax coffer.

But such is Gibbons’ grasp of math (and reality) that he claims he had no idea that it cost extra to send 867 text messages to his alleged paramour from his taxpayer-funded phone.

For this insight into the governor’s character, we must thank Anjeanette Damon of the Reno Gazette Journal, who had the journalistic good sense to ask questions and demand public records. Here’s her story and here’s the timeline of the calls.

The RGJ’s Damon was also the first mainstream journalist to write about the Gibbons’ marital problems, when she reported online Feb. 28 that the governor’s office issued a public statement confirming a general lack of happy home and hearth. (I would link, but the article is no longer available.) That came a day after Las Vegas Gleaner blogger Hugh Jackson first wrote that the governor would be filing for divorce.

But it gets even odder: Gibbons took the unusual mid-term action of filing for divorce, then his spokesperson went on the record to talk about it and now he’s filed to keep everything secret. Does that make anyone else go hmmmm? (He didn’t seal the records the last time he divorced, when she got the kids and the Oldsmobile, and he got the Porche 911.)

Don’t forget this governor was sworn in during a semi-secret midnight meeting at his home with only an AP photographer present. He’s kept his cell phone number a secret from the Chancellor of Higher Education (and refused to return his calls with advice on taxes). And to the best of my knowledge, Gibbons’ reason for wanting to be governor is still a secret.

Gibbons tried to move the message from texting to taxes, calling a special session of the Nevada Legislature to take on the budget crisis. One proposal would have state workers and teachers take a pay cut by eliminating their 4 percent pay raises at a time when consumer prices are up 4.5 percent. (Full disclosure: My teaching position at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas was among those cut by a dean in response to the budget crisis.)

Outside of Nevada, the sheer number of cliches and outlandish details in this story are a non-fiction writer’s dream, as the Times Online in the United Kingdom proved in this piece. The nearby Los Angles Times called the situation a Gossip Jackpot. Even the New York Times, once known as the Gray Lady, couldn’t resist publishing the story under the headline “Nevada’s Texter-in-Chief.

Among the Nevada media, however, there’s a whole lot of mumbling and whispering, not to mention very prudie, wimpie behavior.

For the longest time, reporters were too timid to write something known to every fourth-grader in Northern Nevada who’d taken a class trip to tour the capital: That Dawn Gibbons was living in the governor’s mansion in Carson City and she’d relegated Jimbo to their home in Reno.

The governor’s personal life is a public matter and an important story, and here’s why:

  • He is a public official, whose salary (and cell phone) are paid by the taxpayers who have a right to know what he is doing.
  • Gibbons is under federal investigation for matters outlined here by TalkingPointsMemo. Up until now, his wife, Dawn, has been his defender-in-chief on those issues. If her attitude or her story changes, that could affect the investigation in a very newsworthy way.
  • Gibbons ran for office on a platform of family values. When he is accused by his wife of womanizing in office, after being accused during the campaign of drunkenly groping a woman in a Vegas parking garage, well, let’s just say, it’s a story.

From the start, some bloggers in Nevada seemed intent on protecting Gibbons, even apologizing for the fact that any story was published. Take this from conservative blogger Chuck Muth’s Muth’s Truths in February:

And the fact is many reporters, columnists and responsible bloggers in the mainstream media knew about the rumors of a possible Gibbons divorce at least a WEEK ago. So did I.

But not one of them reported on the rumors until a Gibbons-hating liberal, Las Vegas blogger wrote about it yesterday afternoon. And even then, not one mainstream newspaper that I’m aware of ran with the story this morning, despite the proverbial cat being out of the bag. That’s responsible, professional journalism – and it showed an admirable level of restraint over a story I’m sure all of them were dying to break.

Two more apologies for the story’s publication, this time from mainstream media writers, Las Vegas Sun’s Jon Ralston and Las Vegas CityLife’s Steve Sebelius, were enough to prompt this from the Las Vegas Gleaner:

All hail the magnanimous restraint of a caring media

… Both journalists, in something of a departure from their profession’s custom, seem to wish that a high-ranking official in the governor’s administration would have said “no comment.”

Both also signaled their wholehearted agreement with a Gibbons-loving professional political activist in Reno, who wrote on his website that marital strife in the governor’s mansion would not even be a story if not for the utterances of the Gibbons staffer.

Having formed a triumvirate of hyper-sensitivity, all three writers took time out from burying [Gibbons Chief Operating Officer Diane] Cornwall in opprobrium to heap varying degrees of praise on the media and themselves for showing such magnanimous responsible restraint in these difficult times.

After all, the governor’s marriage has nothing to do with how the state is governed. Well, except for the strain divorce could have on the governor’s ability (such as it is) to do his job. And the impact it could have on his political effectiveness and prospects for reelection or even his capacity to last through the remainder of his term. And how divorce proceedings might intersect with various allegations of wrongdoing lodged against both Gibbonses.

On Feb. 29, I was on Ralston’s Face to Face television show and on KNPR’s State of Nevada with host Dave Berns, emphatically saying the governor’s marital woes warrant journalistic exploration. Simply put: It’s a story!

But even as the national and international media — and the Reno Gazette Journal and KNPR’s Dave Berns — try to set an example for how to cover a story, the locals keep floundering.

In early June, KLAS-TV’s investigative reporter, George Knapp, contributed to the ongoing static by pulling another embarrassing “Don’t-ask-don’t-tell” moment in his Knappster blog in Las Vegas CityLife:

I’m all but certain that the governor has accumulated dirt of his own and could obliterate his wife’s reputation if he chose to do so. (In fact, the nature of this damaging information is already circulating in political circles. We’re talking about some salacious stuff.)

The job of a journalist is to UN-secret things, not to keep secrets!

Then on Friday the 13th, I got a call from a reporter at the Las Vegas Review Journal asking if I, in my role as professor and journalist, could please explain to him why the story about the governor’s divorce is getting traction all the way to the United Kingdom.

Dudes, stop apologizing, stop tiptoeing, and go ask some smart questions!

For instance, why in the world hasn’t a Nevada news organization challenged the divorce secrecy? What could Gibbons possibly want to hide from the people who elected (and pay) him? What made the alleged paramour’s texted tax advice better than the Chancellor of Higher Education’s? Is Gibbons going to take a pay cut, pay raise, or get paid for not showing up as he did when he was in Congress?

Reporters are being laid off in newsrooms across the country, and what is the Nevada press corps doing? Trying to ensure a second career on the governor’s protective detail?

There’s a story here and you are required as a journalist to be curious, ask questions and write stories that put things into context.

Go do your jobs.

And that means you, too, bloggers!

Correction: As originally published, this article erroneously characterized CityLife as a mainstream media publication. Its owner, Stephens Media, characterizes it as a weekly newspaper. We regret the error.

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6 thoughts on “Sex, texting, secrets and media lapdogs

  1. Charlotte:

    A few things.

    One, I am not a “mainstream media writer,” inasmuch as my newspaper, CityLife, is not a mainstream media publication, nor is my blog.

    Two, I carry no brief for Gov. Jim Gibbons, as you should well know. On April 3, I published a lengthy call for Gibbons to resign from office. (You can see that here.

    Three, I have not apologized for any coverage. I have only stated my belief that covering the governor’s sordid private life without a nexus to his public conduct is, in my view, improper. You are free to disagree with that view, as Hugh Jackson does. By the way, I recruited Hugh as a columnist for CityLife and proudly publish him every other week.

    My point? I don’t mind if people disagree with me, and I have never condemned Hugh or you or anybody else for saying that Gibbons’s private life is fair game. Would that you extend the same courtesy to those who disagree with you.

    Fourth, and finally, my view is this: With a host of legitimate issues suggesting Gov. Jim Gibbons is simply unfit to govern, there is simply no need to discover whether he’s been unfaithful to his wife. That story, at most, affects four people. The things I’ve written about — and will continue to chase — affect the entire state.

  2. Steve —
    Thank you for the clarification, and I will correct (and note) that you are not mainstream media.
    I also respect the fact that you’ve made it clear you are a critic of Jim Gibbons.
    As a journalist, however, I’ve always found that it pays to ask smart questions (a la the RGJ’s Damon) rather than make an assumption that there is no story.
    Don’t get so hung up on the sex. The story — and there is one — is about character.
    ~Charlotte-Anne

  3. You wrote, “For the longest time, reporters were too timid to write something known to every fourth-grader in Northern Nevada who’d taken a class trip to tour the capital: That Dawn Gibbons was living in the governor’s mansion in Carson City and she’d relegated Jimbo to their home in Reno.” The tone makes it clear you are being critical of journalists for failing to publish this information. That information was first reported in the mainstream media on April 25. May I request a link to where you posted the information prior to that time, since you along with the fourth graders obviously knew about it? I have been unable to find it in your archives.

    I might add that I subscribe completely to Steve Sebelius’s view that journalism has no business in the private lives of politicians unless their performance in office is engaged.

  4. Ms. Lucas,

    I just want to say you’re dead on. Damon did an excellent job-once again. It appears several men in the media around here are just plain uncomfortable and keep getting hung up on the wrong points-because a penis is involved er…gender bias?

    Just like sins, one of Gibbons’ missteps is no more sacred than any of his other missteps.

    Again, it IS about character and integrity and not a dude’s penis, sex ,privacy,voyeurism or yellow journalism.

    We need more smart questions and less queasy,hand- wringing from the media.

  5. This editorial was published May 21 in the Elko Daily Free Press.
    Are you suggesting the Free Press is not a legitimate mainstream newspaper? If so, I’m hurt. Really hurt.
    Doug McMurdo
    Associate Editor

    First lady abandoned, but still devoted

    Wednesday, May 21, 2008 1:38 PM PDT

    As our scandal-laden governor pushes to have his soon-to-be former wife of 22 years evicted from the governor’s mansion, citing tax dollars as his primary motive, the Nevada media has shown remarkable restraint on just what it has to say about what will undoubtedly be an ugly, bitter affair.

    Affair is a good word to use here. The governor’s spinmeisters have all but painted first lady Dawn Gibbons as a distraction, that their marriage crumbled because the thrill is gone after more than two decades.

    Gang Gibbons would have us believe the marriage simply disintegrated, grew stale, lost its spice. So why the need for a closed courtroom during divorce proceedings? What’s to hide? Is this even constitutional? If so, how many other high-powered people will seek closed hearings to hide their dirty little secrets?

    The governor has been involved with the wife of a Reno doctor. She shall go unnamed to save her husband public humiliation. Team Gibbons will say she’s simply a friend. A friend he spends an inordinate amount of time with, a friend who asked her husband for a divorce a few months before the governor dropped the bomb on Dawn – and a friend who looks a lot like a certain Las Vegas cocktail waitress that accused Jim Gibbons of assaulting her in a hotel parking garage in 2006, when he was locked in a tight gubernatorial battle with Democratic State Sen. Dina Titus.

    But while the media refuses to get into the nitty gritty of what went down between the governor and first lady, they certainly keep telling us taxpayers we’re being screwed as long as Dawn Gibbons is in the mansion.

    Here’s why they are wrong. Just like a man accused of crime is considered innocent until proven guilty, married people are considered married until a judge signs their divorce petition.

    In other words, Dawn Gibbons is still the first lady of Nevada. In a conversation with her attorney, former Washoe County District Attorney Cal Dunlap, he said Dawn continues to do great work in the battle against methamphetamine abuse in Nevada.

    She continues her passionate fight to help autistic children lead normal lives. “She takes this position very seriously,” said Dunlap. “And she’s very good at it despite what her husband has done. He spurned her. He abandoned her.”

    As for tax dollars, what will cost us more: Paying the same amount we already pay – several hundred thousand dollars a year – whether Dawn Gibbons lives there or not? Or paying that money plus a whole lot more for her to drive – with a security detail – from the Gibbons’ rural Washoe home to the governor’s mansion where she will continue to perform as first lady until the divorce is final?

    In the meantime, Dawn has offered to move into the mansion’s guest home and access just those parts of the mansion she needs in which to perform her duties. This demonstrates she’s acting in good faith – and with a good deal more class than is her husband.

    Until Divorce Day arrives, Dawn Gibbons feels safe at the mansion. If a woman deserves anything, she deserves to feel safe.

    Jim Gibbons is being pressured by party loyalists to get Dawn out of the mansion. How many scandals can one administration handle, they ask.

    Common sense tells us now would be a great time for the governor to show some human decency and be civil to his wife, in public and in private.

    Until then, we can all remember what that Las Vegas cocktail waitress looks like and perhaps compare notes when we’re introduced to the “new” first lady.

    Then we’ll know if Dawn Gibbons’ shock was genuine when she learned her husband wanted a divorce – or if the governor’s mouthpieces were telling us the truth about the marriage succumbing to a long drift apart.

    Members of the Elko Daily Free Press Editorial Board and writers of the editorials are Rhonda Zuraff, Jeffry Mullins and Doug McMurdo.

    Brian Plumb is the community adviser.

  6. Doug —
    Judging from that first-class bit of writing, I would say Elko Daily Free Press continues to stand out from the crowd.
    Nice job!
    ~charlotte-anne

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