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The Nevada Independent

Accessible Amodei shows cocooned Laxalt and Heller how to do their jobs

Jon Ralston
Jon Ralston
Ralston Reports

I always wondered why President Obama did not do more interviews with FOX News.

Sure, many of the opinion show hosts would have been hostile, but so what? If you reach that level and are running for or hold an important office, do you not have enough confidence you could parry their barbs? And aren’t FOX viewers your constituents, too? (Not to mention that Bret Baier and Shep Smith are fair and solid journalists.)

Likewise, when Trump refuses to take questions from, or denies access to, certain media outlets, using the reprehensible “f--e news” label, he is merely causing many to wonder whether he has the wits (or integrity) to answer their questions straight on.

The Nevada Independent is nothing like FOX or MSNBC — we are non-ideologlical and nonpartisan — but I raise this issue now because of two disparate events that affected The Indy just this week.

First, Rep. Mark Amodei asked Team Indy for a meeting, which we had on Monday.

Amodei and I have generally been on good terms through his long career. But he and I have had our moments, including when I called him out for what I thought was a shady PAC arrangement and also for auditioning to be a mining lobbyist while still a state lawmaker. He wasn’t happy either time, but he answered my questions and argued his points, as he always had done — and has done since. He respected the process, and I respected his commitment to answering my inquiries.

On Monday, Amodei sat with my reporters and me for 90 minutes, which is highly unusual for a congressman anywhere. He knew there would be no softballs, and he left only because he had a luncheon engagement. He spoke bluntly on a variety of issues. As it should be. (Amodei also sat down with our superb reporter, Daniel Rothberg, soon after he moved to Reno in order to answer technical questions on sticky issues from wild horses to water policy.)

Sure, you can say Amodei is in a safe district, and he has less to lose than most. Maybe. But he has always been this way, from Carson City to D.C.

Contrast that with an email message Rothberg received from Adam Laxalt confidant Robert Uithoven this week informing him that he would not be credentialed for the attorney general’s annual Basque Fry event. Why? Because of me. (Note: Two Indy reporters, Michelle Rindels and Luz Gray, and a photographer, David Calvert, were credentialed for the Fry last year. What changed? Not I.)

And what is it that I have done? I have sometimes been very critical of Laxalt, who has shown himself to be unprepared for the office he is seeking.

He wants to abolish The Commerce Tax — a bipartisan measure passed in 2015 in part to fund improvements to public education — but he has never explained why it is so abhorrent or how he would replace those funds in the state budget. He has also mis-explained details related to the state’s general fund, underlining my concerns about his ability to learn, understand and competently govern.

Laxalt also voted against a pardon for an innocent man, the only no vote on the board, and then later explained it by saying he was following the lead of the district attorney. He never explained why he initially tried to abstain from the vote (!) before being slapped down in that attempt by Gov. Brian Sandoval.

And he has been cocooned by Uithoven and others who seemingly worry that he can’t answer basic questions. (This is not just an issue with us. Laxalt often ignores questions from members of the media when out and about. And when Laxalt did submit to questions and follow-ups, as he did during an interview with Channel 8, the Las Vegas CBS affiliate, after he backed out of their scheduled primary debate, he did not do too well.)

I would also like to note that the attorney general’s office and Heller’s Senate office — separate from their campaigns — are similarly unresponsive to The Indy, even though they are paid with taxpayer dollars. This is no small thing.

We have recently asked policy questions of the AG’s office, including about Marsy’s Law and Volkswagen settlement money, and have been stonewalled again and again. No response.

We are considering legal action because that office is taxpayer-funded, and the employee who runs point there works for the state, not for Laxalt. In ignoring our emails and phone calls, she is keeping information from the public, contravening what her putative job description entails.

All in all, I have criticized Laxalt for nothing that isn’t blatantly obvious to any observer with two brain cells to rub together. Even some of his supporters must privately wonder whether he will make a good governor.

But: On our front page and in our news stories, our reporters have been scrupulously fair to Laxalt as a candidate, and I assure you that Steve Sisolak has not always been thrilled with our coverage. Indeed, Team Laxalt cited our coverage of a campaign contribution to Sisolak in close proximity to a Clark County Commission vote in one of their television ads, we fact-checked a misleading ad and we were also the only outlet to report on Sisolak’s campaign manager suddenly leaving right after the primary in an obvious shakeup.

We give no cover to any pol or candidate. We write the stories as they come. We follow the money trail. We report on connections where we find them. We pursue all credible story tips.

Daniel is an ethical and fair reporter, so Uithoven’s snub vis a vis the Basque Fry is just petty.

Uithoven and others, including members of Team Heller, also have put out libelous tweets about The Indy and how we operate, which I have ignored simply because their lies say more about them than anything I would write.

And members of Team Heller and Team Michael Roberson — there is crossover — have repeatedly emailed juvenile responses to our questions, trying to denigrate The Indy as not worthy of their attention. For instance, we have repeatedly received the following reply from the campaign and official office of Team Heller:

“The Nevada Indy Blog is not a legitimate news outlet. The editor solicits money from the people and businesses he writes about. In our opinion, it is a pay to play blog and we’re not playing.”

This is an outrageous allegation. There is no evidence for it. Like all nonprofits, we take money from anyone who wishes to give. We disclose all donors. Donations do not affect our news reporting decisions. Our coverage makes that quite clear.

Uithoven also has fabricated claims about my work history and used the same “pay-to-play” verbiage, falsely asserting that I relentlessly solicit money from politicians, including Laxalt. (I have never asked Laxalt or any other elected official for a donation. Frankly, I would prefer that none of them give and that The Indy was entirely supported by our readers. (You can help us get there by becoming a member today.)

I’ve covered politics for more than 30 years, and I have never witnessed such dishonest, unprofessional and puerile actions by supposed professionals. (To their credit, for the first time in months, Team Heller responded with a quote for one of our stories this week.)

I also have to say a word on behalf of my reporters: Some of them conducted interviews with these same politicians or interacted with these offices before they came to work for The Indy. The implication that they have somehow been corrupted by their association with this publication, or me, is offensive and outrageous.

It’s also not smart. And this is what I have never understood about pols who stiff-arm media outlets as Obama did FOX.

Do they think we will not still cover them and their events? Do they realize we will only lack one perspective in our stories – theirs? Why refuse access to a news organization that covers politics and government and has more than 100,000 unique, engaged readers a month — many of them Republicans? It makes no sense. Political campaigns that snub news outlets are showing a lack of media savvy and wisdom. And the politicians who allow it are doing the same.

I have occasionally been cut off over the years by pols of different parties, from Harry Reid to Dean Heller to Bill Raggio. I still covered them as best I could, as was my job. And I didn’t expect, frankly, when I started The Indy, that grudges against me would carry over to my stellar team of reporters. I thought my opinions, which are only published on our Opinion page or on my blog, or tweeted from my personal account, would be taken by pols and readers as they should be: one man’s view of things. I thought our in-depth and accurate news reporting would speak for itself.

Silly me.

But, thankfully, Heller, Laxalt and Roberson are outliers.

Almost all other Nevada pols and elected officials willingly talk to The Indy, even when they are unhappy with a story — or with something I have written in an opinion column.

So we will keep doing what we do, and I have some unsolicited advice for Adam and Dean and others who think they’re being cute: Be more like Mark.


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