I tend to not waste much time on the inevitable debate over debates or on political hacks doing what they inevitably do.
But when a congressional campaign smears The Indy, it’s my job to set the record straight.
A few facts before I relate what is happening:
Congressional District 3 Rep. Susie Lee, like any incumbent, wants to minimize the number of debates she does with her underdog GOP foe, Dan Rodimer. She is the favorite in the district in every credible rating system by national pundits, although Donald Trump won the district by 1 percent in 2016 as Democrat Jacky Rosen was also winning her race. It’s a nationally watched swing district.
VegasPBS asked us yesterday to co-host a debate in CD3, and we agreed to provide two reporters for the panel.
But Rodimer’s campaign aide, Robert Uithoven, has since objected to our participation by telling the station “we did not agree to do a debate with Ralston and his webpage …There is a reason Susie Lee is demanding that he be involved in a debate. She is a donor of his and she gets very favorable coverage while we (Rodimer campaign) get terrible coverage … led by the ‘editor’ of that webpage.”
Uithoven later also told VegasPBS: “Susie Lee has contributed thousands of dollars to the website The Nevada Independent. Our campaign and our candidate has not shelled over thousands of dollars to an entity or to people we are now demanding participate in our debates … especially as moderators.”
The hapless, ad hominem insults aside -- “webpage” cuts like a spoon, I tell you -- Uithoven is being dishonest on several fronts.
Lee has given us $1,120 — easy enough to find because it’s right there on our donor disclosure page. That’s about .0002 of our total donations to date, so no reasonable person would think that affects our coverage.
All this gives me a chance to address a larger issue: We disclose all of our donors because we believe in transparency. We want people to know who our large and small supporters are. We are proud of the breadth and depth of our donor base, especially during the pandemic when we have had to make difficult cuts as most businesses have.
There is no evidence that any of those donations affect our coverage because they don’t. Uithoven either knows that or doesn’t care. He is using it as a tactic to avoid a debate. (He has tried this before. In 2018, when he was working on Adam Laxalt’s failed gubernatorial bid, he dissembled about our donations, too, saying his candidate had refused our request for money (we never asked because we don’t solicit contributions from candidates) and that we were biased because Steve Sisolak had given us -- wait for it -- $3,200).
Uithoven also is wrong about Lee demanding we participate.
The Lee campaign did not demand anything of VegasPBS — or us. And it’s quite normal for two or more media organizations to team up for debates. We were invited by PBS, which has few experienced hands on staff for this sort of thing, because our political reporters are among the state’s finest. Our Jacob Solis has done an excellent, fair job of covering the contest -- indeed, he wrote the toughest, deepest story about the controversy over Lee advocating for the PPP program while her husband applied and received a loan. (Jacob also has repeatedly been ignored by the Rodimer campaign when asking for even basic information. It’s tough to write in-depth stories when a campaign refuses to reply. Uithoven knows this but is disingenuously railing about our coverage anyhow.)
My reporters have to live with their opinionated editor — my paper trail is extensive, my pundit mouth can be obnoxious. But members of both parties, unless they are crude partisan hacks, would tell you our coverage is on par with all of the other news webpages in the state.
We hope Rodimer will debate Lee, and we hope to be a part of it. But no matter what the outcome of this kerfuffle, we will continue to cover the race fairly.