Friday, September 18, 2009

The Last Words On Nina (This Week)

As the week concludes, the scandal engulfing KTNV over anchor Nina Radetich's betrayal of her colleagues and her journalistic creed is showing no signs of letting up. CityLife's Andrew Kiraly chimed in, too. Read that if you're not up-to-speed on what Nina did since I'm tired of rewriting the basics.

But I'm already bored with flogging Nina. I've got other questions. Like: What if she, too, is a victim?

The owner of the auto repair shop, Roshie Weightman, apparently may file a federal lawsuit against the ABC affiliate and/or Radetich on Monday. This is, frankly, a bizarre idea but it does start to fill out the rest of the scandal.

As unforgivable as Nina's conduct was, I'm struggling to think up what law she broke, let alone what federal law she broke. She may have tried to drum up some business for her PR flak boyfriend Jack Finn by suggesting Finn do the damage control, but she didn't suggest to Weightman that she could be, say, bribed to keep the stories off the air or even to alter them. Even if so, that would be a local infraction, not a federal one. Another notion is that Weightman's suit could allege a civil rights infringement but, again, what's civil rights got to do with this?

So why file a federal lawsuit? From what I'm hearing, it's something of a pre-emptive move because it is now clear from the way Weightman talked about it on Jon Ralston's show yesterday that she recorded the conversation without Nina Radetich's prior consent. The law in Nevada requires two-party consent for phone recordings, but federal statutes supercede that under certain circumstances.

Anyhow, I was on Ralston's show yesterday, too. You can click on the image below to get to play my segment and, from there, see the other three parts, too.

So while Nina's gotten a deserved lambasting all week, let's not forget that Weightman's operation has been under investigation by not just KTNV but also by the Nevada state Consumer Affairs Division, which filed a lawsuit against Tire Works alleging fraudulent practices. On Ralston's show, she claimed her shop has been cleared of everything, but that lawsuit is still pending according to this Las Vegas Sun report from Wednesday. So she's no angel either, even as she plays the victim in her conversation with Ralston and elsewhere.

Also deserving of some scrutiny: The Las Vegas Sun. Someone turned a recording over the Sun's Abigail Goldman, who wrote in her initial scoop: "The source who provided the recording to the Sun assured the newspaper that it was obtained legally."

Now how could that be, really? Did they hear Nina on the recording stating she was OK with being recorded on the phone? (Radetich declined comment for the story, so Goldman couldn't ask her directly, obviously.) Did the Sun ask its own in-house attorneys whether there was a reasonable legal path for these tapes to have been created legally?

Again, the argument developing from Weightman's camp is that she can flout Nevada law because they had a potential federal case. Does that notion, too, not deserve media skepticism? I mean, how cool! What a neat legal trick! Do we all, then, have permission to surreptitiously record conversations because something might possibly, however unlikely, turn out to be something? And then do we get to sit on that potential evidence for six months and play the incriminating parts for the media at an opportune moment even before a judge has heard it and has determined whether the situation warranted such a disregard for local law? Isn't it odd that Weightman, if she feels federally violated, didn't first file the federal case and then enter the recordings as evidence? Because clearly the only one who can actually determine whether these recordings were made legally is a judge, right?

This brings me to the Nina-as-victim part. Nobody seems able to say why this is coming out now when the conversations happened in March. Could it be that Weightman was threatening Radetich with exposure or legal action? Why would you not deploy such explosive recordings, say, at the same time as the station is airing damaging reports about you? Isn't that weird, too?

I wonder how much these questions were discussed at the Sun. Goldman declined to comment Friday and I was unable to reach Mike Kelley, the Sun's managing editor because my brain didn't wander down this bunny trail until after 6 p.m.

Why does it matter? Because journalists generally don't exploit information and materials offered to them that are obtained illegally as that encourages other sources to break the law to produce evidence. We'd end up giving incentive to people who would plant bugs on one another, hack into one another's computers, break into other people's filing cabinets and so on. The court would never allow such evidence to be heard, but if the media were willing to distribute it then an aggrieved party could -- anonymously, even, as in this case -- try someone in the court of public opinion. Even most of the paparazzi usually abide by the law in pursuit of their version of scoop.

There are certain heroic and important cases when the value of the information is so important to the public's well-being or exposing wrongdoing at the highest levels of power that it is done, but the Sun made a specific point in its piece to say that they were satisfied that the tapes were created legally.

It also matters because it begins to become clear what's really going on here. Weightman is using the media to deflect from the fact that she is the target of a corruption probe of her own. And the next act of this, a federal lawsuit, is aimed at both keeping the attention on Radetich's journalistic sins and inoculating herself against a charge that she may have violated Nevada's recordings law!

That's brilliant! See that, Nina? Weightman didn't need your boyfriend's help after all!


Anonymous said...

Let me get this straight -- legal or not, you say you wouldn't be the first in line to hear these tapes and report on them?


hear them? sure. report on them? i can honestly say that i would at least mull and debate the questions i've raised here. I'd need a pretty strong explanation of how they were not illegal before I'd report on them, though. I'd be concerned about my own liability, for example, if it turned out that they were not only illegally obtained.

Anonymous said...

Please. You would pee your pants to hear those tapes and report on them. In fact, I'm sure your laundry duties have already shot through the roof since this thing broke.

I know you play the part of ethical journalist, always going out of your way to point out the flaws of others, but you would be the first to listen to these tapes and write about them on your little blog. There's no need pretending.


Actually, other than this instance and maybe the situation that precipitated the 535-word correction in the Sun two years ago, I challenge anyone to point to other instances where I have dwelled at all on criticizing another journalist's ETHICS. I've surely commented on stories I've liked and disliked -- by far, more that I've liked, but nobody remembers that for some reason -- and I've had a great time assaulting the RJ for ridiculous decisions regarding its New Media efforts. But ethics? That actually isn't my gig. This happens to be an exceptional case in which journalism ethics are at the center of the controversy, so why should the Sun be exempted from explaining its process? I mean, the Sun itself seems to acknowledge in the story that it's important to them that the recordings were obtained legally. I'd just like to know how they know because it now seems pretty clear that it's at least questionable but quite likely not.

Fact is, I don't need to pretend. I have many times in my career been confronted with an offer of materials that were clearly illegally obtained. I've yet to have an editor at any publication -- and these situations have arisen at my first paper in Rockford and as recently as involving something for The New York Times -- who would let me rely on them. Use them to guide me to other sources, absolutely. Make them the crux of a news story? No. And yes, it kills you when that happens. No doubt about it.

EC Gladstone said...

Great blog, Steve. The road you're going down actually seems to lead to the possibility that it's Radetich who may have a case against Weightman, for releasing these illegally obtained tapes to the media, and rather obviously creating irreparable harm to Radetich's career (she may be guilty, but legally speaking, she has been wronged). From what I know of law, it sounds like strong grounds for libel...

Then again, Radetich is going to have to be fired first. So far, she seems more teflon than Sarah Palin.

Still can't figure what legal beef Weightman has against Radetich personally, unless implied threats were made that we don't know about.

Ryan said...

Libel is likely a no go... truth is an absolute defense.

Anonymous said...

You're right Steve, you do not waste your time wallowing in minutia of ethics. How's the laundry going?

But I am interested to know why you left out something from your "Nina is a victim" rant -- your role in all this.

Let's set the scene, you write a lengthy blog post about another reporters story on tapes you haven't heard, inserting yourself in the coverage as you like to do.

You then write another blog post calling for Nina's job, going so far as to drum up interviews on a story you didn't report and tapes you hadn't heard.

You then write another blog post about Rob Blair, tied to another story you didn't report.

You write another long blog calling for Nina's job over tapes you haven't heard and a story you didn't report.

You then go on Face to Face to talk about that story you didn't report and those tapes you haven't heard.

You've got no connection to this story -- you're just some dude. I'm just a dude but I don't go on Face to Face to talk about Nina because I'm also not a 13 year old girl.

I'm just enjoying watching your enormous, judgmental, all-knowing index finger pointed at whoever stands in your way.


uh, it's common for editorialists and columnists to examine and comment on stories in the news. if it weren't, nobody on cable tv would ever be able to discuss the day's news since most commentators don't do the initial, original reporting on stories. I assume you don't read anything in the op-ed pages of any newspaper because those people did not do the original reporting behind the topics upon which they form opinions.

secondly, i still believe nina does not belong in journalism given her undenied conduct. if you believe otehrwise, you're welcome to offer up a well-reasoned explanation for your views. but i also think that as this story develops, other wrinkles appear that are worth discussing.

"Stands in your way." Who's standing in my way and of what? Did you actually think about that phrase or did it just look good to you?

If you don't agree with my views or don't think I have anything worthwhile to say, you're welcome to (a) not visit this blog or (b) change the channel when I pop up on the TV. Nobody's holding a gun to your head. But at least give me credit for one thing: I've got the guts to sign my name to my views, unlike cowards like you.

James DeVoe said...

What's funny about your anonymous detractors is that you're just raising questions and trying to elucidate the matter. You think of things that those less familiar with journalism don't. And everyone else who has opined on this has had very simplistic, one-dimensional views. I say you're doing an invaluable service and definitely bringing balance and insight that nobody else is. That's why I read this blog and why you are invited on tv. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

Steve, there's no doubt you're onto something here. It was likely illegal for Weightman to record Nina without her consent; I think Weightman will have a hard time successfully alleging civil rights violations occurred.

But that also doesn't erase the fact that Nina is under fire for something she did, of her own free will, which was try to get business for her boyfriend using her position at the station. That's clearly a fireable offense, no?

Also, good call on pointing out the timing: Why is this coming up now?

Cowardly Anonymous Commenter said...

Censoring comments now? A journalist who lives and dies off the First Amendment thinks it doesn't apply when someone offers biting critique?

It's ok Steve. I remember much of what I posted and I'll put it on your Face to Face interview. At least that way it'll be seen by many more pairs of eyes.


CAC: I sure do make decisions about what appears on my own blog just as the editor of every publication makes such decisions. Just as I don't have a Constitutional "right" to get my work published in any publication i wish, nor do you. The First Amendment only refers to what the GOVERNMENT can or can't do with free expression, a distinction anonymous cowards like you are never capable of comprehending because why let the facts get in the way of a good whine?

Anyhow, sadly, your protest is even more irrelevant because I DID allow your "biting" critique to be published. So what exactly are you upset about? I doubt even you have a clue.



"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Just an FYI. That's the whole thing. Pretty self-explanatory. Since you seem to believe that it applies to whether a private publisher can decide what appears in his publication, I figured I'd help you out. Now go back to that blog of yours that nobody notices on which you've tried and failed for many months to impact my career. I'm done responding to you.

James Taylor said...

Excellent coverage of this story, Steve. I hope it's okay if I respond, in part, by repeating a paragraph from a comment I posted on the City Life site a couple days ago:

Radetich definitely blew it on this one, but I think Roshie Weightman may have committed an even greater "lapse of judgment". For starters, there must be thousands of people who only found out about the Tire Works exposé because of this new controversy. Furthermore, if it turns out that Weightman broke the law by recording that phone call, then additional criminal and civil jeopardy might be on the way. This could be particularly ironic since the original legal case against Tire Works may fall apart, seeing as how no one at the Consumer Affairs Division bothered to hang on to the car that was used in the sting. Let's not forget that Tire Works' attorney, Dominic Gentile, is suing a community college instructor who worked on the investigation. I'm not sure that's the best way to get the public on your client's side.

When I wrote that, Steve, I didn't realize that you had already covered this story so well. I should have just posted a link to your site! Could have saved myself some typing.

I had no idea that Radetich makes $200k a year!!! I'm going to e-mail the station owners and point out that they could probably get you for $150,000. I'll pocket the other $50k as a finder's fee. ;-)

By the way, that picture of you holding Holly Madison is priceless. You should print up an 8" x 10" copy and carry it in your briefcase the next time you go on Nevada Week in Review. That way, if you get in a verbal tussle with Ralston or Huck, you can just show them the picture, then wait for them to go home and cry.

Anonymous said...

Weightman sounds like she's got a screw loose, if you've heard her interview w. Ralston. She goes all batshit crazy about Darcy Spears and Ralston has to keep herding her back into the real world. Not to defend the indefensible (i.e., Radetich) but Weightman called *her*, in an attempt to get the anchorwoman to intervene -- and presumably obstruct -- Spears' coverage of the Tires Plus story.

David McKee