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The Indy Explains: How we wrote the story on the Manendo report

Jon Ralston
Jon Ralston
Indy ExplainersRalston Reports
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The Nevada Legislature building as seen in Carson City on Feb. 6, 2017.

Since I published a piece almost a month ago saying the time has come to expose sexual harassment in Carson City, we have been contacted by many people who have told us their stories and say they know of others with tales to tell.

We have listened and are still listening.

You can read some of these personal accounts in our story today, titled “Speaking Up: How 57 people ended one lawmaker’s pattern of misconduct at the Legislature.” It details how the report on ex-state Sen. Mark Manendo’s misconduct came to be and why it was not released to the public. We endeavored to handle this story as carefully, thoroughly and sensitively as we could — please let us know what you think by dropping a comment here or emailing us — and reporters Megan Messerly and Michelle Rindels took care to treat everyone we talked to with respect while also asking the tough questions warranted by such serious allegations.

We believe it is important that these stories be told, in part because real people have been hurt by wrongful conduct in a culture that has too long allowed or enabled it. The stories also matter because the realization and recognition of inappropriate conduct by serial perpetrators is part of the path to change.

We are cognizant of the courage it takes for someone who has been harassed or assaulted to come forward, especially in a small state and an even tinier political world. There is a risk involved. We do not take it lightly.

In our effort at The Indy to be as transparent as possible about how we report our stories, we want to give you a sense of our thinking and decision making. Writing this initial story involved many weeks of planning, interviews, follow-up interviews, robust staff discussions, and careful consideration by myself and Managing Editor Elizabeth Thompson.

We decided to write about the Manendo investigation because the report itself, how the investigation got started, and why it was not released has been largely shrouded in secrecy. This is emblematic of a Carson City culture in which predation is all too prevalent and where an abusive man was quietly and privately reprimanded — or simply ignored and enabled — while being permitted to keep his positions. Thankfully, events in the spring of 2017 provided a watershed moment when justice finally was meted out.

We also decided to do it because the issue of the public’s right to know vs. an individual’s right to privacy and/or anonymity in sexual harassment cases is a conversation we need to have in Nevada and nationally.

One of the first people to contact me after my column in November was Kimberly Mull. She is the person who got the ball rolling on complaints against Manendo; she approached Democratic leaders after hearing multiple stories from female lobbyists. Mull told me that while the people who came forward for the investigation were afraid of being identified if the report were ever released, she thought some of them might feel comfortable telling The Indy their stories. Some of these people, as you can see from the piece, bravely decided to talk to us. It is a credit to Messerly and Rindels that they felt comfortable doing so on this incredibly difficult subject — and we hope others will soon follow suit.

We interviewed Mull and the elected leaders she approached — state Sen. Pat Spearman and state Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford — to learn the chronology. We discovered much that has not been reported before including Spearman’s role in getting the ball rolling, the steps Ford took to protect the women, and why the report was not ultimately released despite calls to do so by us and others.

Then came the complicated part.

After talking to some of the people with stories to tell off the record and with the promise of anonymity, we had to decide whether we would publish any or all of those accounts. We had agreed early on that we would make these decisions on a case-by-case basis and that we would, of course, protect identities where we had promised to do so — but also that we wanted to get as many on-the-record accounts as possible.

We knew how difficult that would be. Lobbyists, in particular, have a fear of being labeled a “snitch” or blackballed in this small political universe. Jobs and livelihoods are at stake.

We also were committed to respectfully asking, but not pressuring, people to go on the record with what are extremely personal stories, often mingled with complicated feelings of embarrassment, shame or self-doubt. Speaking up on the record in such matters is a potentially life-changing choice. Each person must make their own decision.

Ultimately, we decided to grant anonymity to multiple people for this first piece because we obtained contemporaneous on-the-record corroboration from Mull or other credible parties for the stories. In the case of the two lobbyists who had interactions at two different bars with Manendo, their separately told stories corroborated one another’s accounts.

Additionally, in the case of one lobbyist’s account, we obtained screenshots of her LinkedIn message exchanges with Manendo. In the case of another lobbyist, we obtained an email she sent to Ford detailing her experience.  

We also obtained permission from all the lobbyists we interviewed to approach Manendo in order to give him a chance to respond to their specific claims. He and his lawyer did not respond to our multiple requests for comment made through various channels.

These first stories — and again, we hope more people will come forward — show not only a disturbing array and pattern of misconduct, but also the kind of social atmosphere that pervades and complicates Carson City when the Legislature is in session. And while Manendo may have been an egregious serial harasser, no one believes he is the only one guilty of wrongdoing in and around the Nevada corridors of power.

We have heard many accounts we have not yet published. We are investigating and pursuing leads. We know it will take a cascade of stories to change the culture of Carson City, to put would-be harassers on notice. We will write as many as we can with as much care and integrity as we can.

We want people to know The Indy is a safe haven. We will listen. We may or may not publish other anonymous accounts but we will always only publish names with consent, and we promise to treat each and every person who comes forward with the utmost respect.

It's clear that Nevada — and the country — have a long way to go toward addressing a longstanding tolerance for sexual harassment and changing the social and structural systems that allow it to persist. But the conversation we're having is a start.

If you have suffered through aggression, harassment or assault in Carson City (or elsewhere in Nevada), please consider talking with one of our reporters or editors. If you're not ready to go public, we can start with an off-the-record conversation and go from there.

We're here to listen.

 

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