Friday, September 18, 2009
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!
Sept. 17: Cheap Trick Hopes You Will Enjoy The Show
In a city of knockoffs and impersonations, how do you go about reinterpreting a great piece of music without being tainted as a copycat? Well, it helps if you’re already a legendary rock band in your own right behind you, too. That’s how Cheap Trick’s doing it anyway, landing at the Las Vegas Hilton for nine performances of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band before a full orchestra and assisted by such other pop stars as Joan Osbourne. Cheap Trick’s guitarist and vocalist Rick Nielsen joins us this hour to talk about the band’s relationship with the Beatles, about growing up in Rockford, Ill., and whether this swing of shows could portend a resident Vegas gig of some form soon.
In banter: Mindy Kaling gets Vegas whiners whining, Terry Fator puts puppets on cabs, Amy gets a Vegas welcome on her European cruise, Top Chef's been good to Hubert Keller and more.
Links to stuff discussed:
Get tickets to see Cheap Trick’s Sgt. Pepper Live at the Hilton
Cheap Trick’s website
Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza on Oct. 17 at the Palms
See the redesigned VegasHappensHere.Com
Amy’s revived (for how long?) podcast, Grits to Glitz
Amy’s trip report on her European cruise
Sparky of Las Vegas, our redesigner and hero
Watch the whole Mindy Kaling clip
VegasHappensHere.Com’s rant on the whiners re: Kaling
Luv-It Frozen Custard’s website
Join Steve’s Facebook group “Las Vegas Needs To Grow A Pair”
Fleur de Lys, owned by Hubert Keller
Steve’s TV Guide Magazine piece on CSI: The Experience
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Even at 81, Broadway legend and Phantom director Hal Prince has lost none of his enthusiasm for hat he does
By STEVE FRIESS
It was my only concern.
Everything else seemed to be in place three years ago when Phantom of the Opera was being reborn as a shorter, more technologically exciting Vegas production. At the time, the Broadway thing was starting to hit a rocky shoal on the Strip, with Avenue Q, We Will Rock You and The Producers all closing or already gone, Spamalot and Hairspray en route (to eventually crash, alas) and Mamma Mia! behaving as its own trend-defying blockbuster self.
In Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular, there was a special combination of familiarity and only-in-Vegas excess thanks to that $40 million theater. I even told CityLife writer David McKee at the time: “If Phantom doesn’t work, then nothing will work. Period. End of story.”
Except there was one itsy-bitsy reason why it might not work, and, call me foolish or fearless, I brought it up to the man who directed and nurtured the opera-house squatter tale into a blockbuster phenomenon. I didn’t get all the way through the question.
“On Broadway, you walk out and it’s kind of a downer ...” I began.
“I don’t think so,” rumbled Hal Prince, he of a record 21 Tony awards, a Pulitzer Prize and a list of Broadway credits that includes directing Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Fiddler on the Roof, A Little Night Music, Evita, Sweeney Todd and Cabaret. “I think you couldn’t be wronger. If you heard the audience go nuts screaming. You couldn’t be wronger. They’re up from their seats screaming, and they have been now for 18 years in New York.”
Make that 21 now. Plus three in Vegas. And, Prince predicted to me last week, many more to come: “It doesn’t sell out every night, but it’s doing just fine, and there’s no question it will just keep running and running and running indefinitely.”
I write of this now because thousands of Phanatics are descending on the Venetian for the first of what inevitably will become a regular Phantom Fan Week. Prince is back in town to keynote the event—his first return since opening the Vegas edition—and he’s taking a victory lap around, uh, me.Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com
The Las Vegas Sun ran an editorial but the power punch was from Review-Journal's media columnist Steve Bornfeld, who not only gave it to Radetich and Prather but also documented, as we have here, the strange pattern of hirings/firings at KTNV. Bornfeld also wrote that Nina read a prepared statement to her colleagues apologizing for the controversy but not the betrayal. So there's no contrition, phony (Joe Wilson) or genuine (Kanye West) here. Yeesh.
One thing Bornfeld wrote really got me thinking:
But Channel 13's modus operandi on these matters also seems based on what the cameras see, not what the facts say, as if visual documentation of an offense makes it real for viewers, therefore a more fireable act.
Futrell's disheveled mug shot hit the press in July '08 -- fired. Last February, Rikki Cheese, picked up on a DUI charge, sidestepped a public mug shot -- employed. In August '08, reporter Jeff Gradney shopped for a male sex partner on Craigslist for a threesome with his girlfriend, accompanied by a photo of them enjoying a carnal romp -- fired. Radetich commits an out-of-camera-range offense -- employed.OK. So that's the solution: The tapes of Radetich must be released. It's not video, but it does engage the senses. That's the only way to keep KTNV from sweeping it under the rug and the public forgetting all about it. Newspaper articles are fine, but let's HEAR Nina sell out her colleagues. Get it on YouTube and all over the place.
I'm heading to KLAS' studio to appear on Jon Ralston's "Face to Face" on this shortly. He's got the woman who created the tapes -- not sure if she's going public or will be in shadows -- and I'm going to lobby for that. Ralston just told me on the phone, by the way: "Whatever you think, if you heard the tapes you'd know it's so much worse."
Watch his show later today.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Other topics this week include the Mindy Kaling "attack" on the Luv-It neighborhood, thoughts on "CSI: The Experience," Harrah's sudden buying spree and Top Chef Vegas.
Join us at 7 p.m. PT at LVRocks.Com for cam, chat and the live stream. Miles says he "should" be able to make it. We're discussing moving the live show to Sunday evenings to fix that problem, so we're curious your thoughts on that, too. But we should have a normal show tonight. Join us or subscribe via iTunes or Zune.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
I know it's debatable what he said and the sound quality here isn't great. But in these cases, reasonable people ought to give the poor kid the benefit of the doubt. The alternative -- that he's a blatant, crazy racist who was waiting to drop slurs along with a warming trend -- is simply nonsensical.
Also, it's Day Five of this. Where the hell is Nina Radeitch's public apology to her newsroom and the news-viewing public? Blair apologized immediately. And Ron Futrell, as we've said, didn't even get a chance to prove his innocence. But Nina? She's golden. And nobody has any idea why.
P.S. Blair seems to have recovered well. He's now a weatherman in Chico, Calif.
Hoo-boy does this get the hackles up! I mean, gee, she saw a guy with no pants and a drug bust. Isn't debating this being a bad area like debating whether Kanye West is a jackass? I've seen that and worse stopping by for custard and anyone who pretends they haven't is lying.
Now there's a legion of Facebookers and Vegas "historic neighborhood" aficionados (including my pal Jack LeVine, wrong in this case) who are offended. One, Brian Paco Alvarez, is threatening a boycott of a TV show he says he doesn't even watch which is, incidentally, not going to be very effective seeing how he's abstaining from something he doesn't do in the first place.
There's even a Facebook GROUP created by Jessica E. Brown over this! It's called "Las Vegas Downtown Neighbors & Luv-It Fans against Mindy Kaling" and here's it's mission: "The insanely and inexplicably popular actress Mindy Kaling has launched a coordinated attack against one of the oldest and best neighborhoods in Las Vegas.* By joining this ultra influential Facebook group,** you will be showing Mindy who's who!"
OK. So I'm confused. Beyond the fact that Kaling is hardly "insanely" popular -- there isn't even a MindyKaling.Com and I suspect she's mainly known by viewers of "The Office" -- take a look at the Google map and the satellite image of where Luv-It is. Click on them to enlarge.
This place isn't in any residential NEIGHBORHOOD anyway! It's slightly off a major thoroughfare that's adjacent to a highly industrial area. There are all sorts of seedy businesses in that stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard. The nearest home is what looks like a quarter-mile away, if not more. Olympic Gardens is right there! Ya never hear anyone defend the honor of the OG!
On Facebook, I'm being egged on to attack the actress and defend the neighborhood's honor. And yet I have always felt unsafe there, always wanted to make quick work of getting my goods and moving on. I love Luv-It and I recommend it in my travel journalism, but to send someone there without being prepared for that environment isn't great, either, so I always say so.
What's more irksome is what babies Vegas people are. Oh, boo hoo, someone said something mean about me. So I figured it was time to fight fire with fire. I started a Facebook Group called "Las Vegas Needs To Grow A Pair." Hopefully it'll be "insanely" popular.
The Review-Journal's Steve Bornfeld reported last night that KTNV's VP and GM Jim Prather has declared Nina Radetich absolved of having betrayed her colleagues' trust and attempting to help her boyfriend profit personally from the same.
“We’re standing by her 100 percent,” Prather told Bornfeld. “She regrets having made that mistake and I think we have all learned from this incident. Nina has worked very hard for more than a decade to do stories and provide news coverage of Las Vegas and I don’t think we should lose sight of the work she’s done. We are working hard to do investigative journalism for the city and the community and that’s not going to stop.”
That is an exceptional level of lame. As I wrote yesterday, Ron Futrell worked there for 25 years and was cut loose on a traffic citation that was later dropped. Young Rob Blair's career was nearly short-circuited by a verbal flub in a pretaped -- meaning nobody else who saw it before it rolled thought it was much, either -- weather report for which he apologized.
Has Nina apologized? Not to her newsroom and not to the public. But thanks, Mr. Prather, for liberating us not to have to speculate on what part of the Las Vegas Sun's blockbuster is was accurate. You've confirmed all of it in that remark when even a little piece of it would have been fatal.
Now the question must become: How does Jim Prather still have a job? The level of journalistic corruption at this station is clearly breathtaking and nobody in their right mind is going to risk confiding in KTNV reporters when there are three other news divisions, two daily newspapers and countless Internet outlets. But he doesn't care because, what? He's social friends with this particular anchor? That's what his own reputation is worth?
From a purely financial standpoint, I'm trying to conceive how Prather justifies his decisions to his corporate master, Journal Broadcast Group, which has but three "values" tenets on its website. Here they are:
- We will hire and keep the best people and reward top performers
- We will work hard, move fast, and achieve our goals
- We will act ethically
I'm all for standing by a troubled employee when their personal life interferes with their professional duties and a little patience can make things better. But that's not what Prather did for Futrell or Blair. He has defined the parameters of his employment standards and it is this: Alleged, later absolved hit-and-run? Unforgivable. Admitted journalistic betrayal and profiteering? Teachable moment. Huh?!?
So tell us, Mr. Prather, what have you or Nina or your staff learned that they didn't already know? You and/or Nina needed reminding that journalists don't leak stories to sources or help them to mitigate the damage of those stories? Really? How did either of you get this far without that choice bit of intel?
This is a teachable moment alright. We've all learned a lot about how seriously KTNV takes its "values."
[P.S. to the LVRJ.Com: Also lame, although not nearly as much, is not linking to the Sun's story from your blog. They beat you. Live with it. You receive tons of incoming traffic from other media sites yet your policy is not to point your readers to the source material you're writing about? Sheesh.]
Monday, September 14, 2009
That, to your right, is Nina Radetich. She's a local TV anchor for the ABC affiliate here, KTNV, Channel 13, and she has been one of the best-paid media personalities in the city for a few years now. In fact, she was seen as such a "get" that when she was lured away from KVBC (where my partner is executive producer but was not when Nina was still there), KTNV actually paid her a salary for a year not to work because she had a one-year non-compete clause. Little good it did their ratings (they've fallen since her arrival, in fact) as anyone with half a brain could have told them, but hey, ya roll the dice.
On Saturday, the Las Vegas Sun blew the lid off a fairly shocking -- even for Vegas -- scandal in which, according to audio recordings of phone conversations, she not only told the owner of an auto repair chain that a damaging undercover report was coming soon but that her own boyfriend could help do public-relations damage control! Her boyfriend is Jack Finn, formerly a spokesman for Sen. John Ensign and former Gov. Kenny Guinn and presently a special projects manager at NV Energy. Now he's doing damage-control spin for Nina in the story by defending her journalism which is cool for him since Nina is heard on the tape saying how much Jack loves that kinda work!
Abigail Goldman of the Las Vegas Sun broke this story in a banner across the top of the paper on Saturday. Read it; it's brutal and damning. Goldman had heard audio recordings and provided a transcript to Radetich's boss, KTNV veep and GM Jim Prather. Goldman paraphrased Prather as regarding the matter a "lapse of judgment" and assured the public that their probes into Tire Works, the auto chain, would be unimpeded. Somehow I'm thinking Darcy Spears, the investigative reporter whose work was leaked, doesn't feel that way.
As of right now, Radetich remains in the employ of Channel 13, although she did not come into work today and her scheduled anchor duties tonight will be performed by Tiffani Sargent. Tomorrow's have been reassigned, too, to Jessica Lovell. And then she's on a previously planned vacation from Wednesday to Friday anyhow.
That's so nice and deliberative of her bosses. They weren't nearly as pleasant or patient or reasonable when 25-year veteran Ron Futrell got a hit-and-run citation last year. He was canned before the sun set the next day even though he hurt nobody, impacted nothing in the way of coverage and -- even better! -- the charges were ultimately dropped. That's loyalty to a guy who gave them the best years of his life, huh?
Or how about poor Rob Blair, who lost his job at KTNV as a weatherman in 2005 after he stumbled the word "Martin Luther King Jr" in a way that some thought sounded like "Martin Luther Coon Jr." (I still don't think he did this, but I couldn't find a YouTube clip for you to judge for yourself.) Blair's remarks weren't even live; several people in the newsroom saw them before they aired but only Blair lost his job. He even went on the air to apologize and still, he was auf'd so fast Nina Radetich wouldn't even have been able to leak it to anyone!
Blair hightailed outta town after that, but Futtrell stuck around, having spent his adult life here and all. He's now one of us New Media folk. But getting a raw deal from a boss like Prather, who clearly plays favorites at the expense of news judgment, makes Futtrell a bit of a hero at the station and he's got lots of friends over there still.
He says his former colleagues are understandably nervous about what it does to their news-gathering abilities and reputations if Nina remains in place. None would speak publicly today but Ron's views are undoubtedly shared by many there.
"If she walks in the building, there's going to be an attitude of, 'We better not tell Nina,' " Futtrell said. "The first thing to think of is keep it from Nina if you have an expose. And what if you're somebody from the outside and you want to give Channel 13 a big investigative story. You trust the reporter, but are they going to be able to keep it from one of their anchors? It throws everything out of kilter."
What's so weird here is how greedy or vain Radetich had to be to throw her career away like this. She's unmarried, has no kids and makes well over $200,000. Her boyfriend is surely well compensated at the power utility. What possible motive could she have for betraying her newsroom brethren? To paraphrase Peggy Olson's remark to Don Draper last night on Madmen, she had everything her colleagues want -- and so much of it.
There is no way she can continue to work at that station or in this business at all, at least not without a period of time away. It would make no sense. Even if she apologized now, you have to figure the staff there is checking with their sources to see if this is an isolated case. Could it possibly be? Really? Does that seem likely?
And even if/when Radetich is fired, how does Prather look his employees in the eye and tell them that he treats them all with the same fairness and respect? How does he explain that Radetich got more than four days -- Prather obviously knew about this on Friday for him to give his ridiculous response to Goldman and keep Nina on the payroll -- but Futrell is fired within mere hours for something so much less germane to the actual job?
The longer this carries on, the harder it gets to explain not only how Radetich remains employed over there but how Prather does, too.
OK, so here's something I want to see succeed. I really do. I just don't know if it will. And the data I've been shown is telling me that the MGM and others have a climb ahead of them.
The hit "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" is the most successful TV show ever set in Las Vegas. It remains atop the ratings -- a phenomenal 19 million American viewers watched an average episode last year in its ninth season, a rather modest erosion from the years of 23-26 million per episode earlier in the decade. And this doesn't even account for international viewership or additional viewers who watch the Miami or New York editions.
So this is as big and durable a brand as the fragmented TV landscape has these days. And now MGM Grand is home to a $5 million, 12,000-square-foot subterranean interactive attraction in which visitors pay $30 to take notes on one of three crime scenes and then pop into a series of forensic-lab cubicles where they compare fingerprints, test substances, read the victim's old text messages and so forth. In the end, visitors input their findings into a computer and Gil Grissom, the former CSI supervisor played by departed star William Peterson, and he tells you if you're right and what probably happened to the victim.
So it's got the ingredients that you would think CSI fans would dig. But is it too brainy, too light on pizzazz for Vegas entertainment?
I keep being told this attraction was a huge draw when it toured around the nation, and certainly Vegas is the logical permanent space for it given the CSI setting and all. I'm surprised, though, they didn't come up with new mysteries for the Vegas version, though, what with these already having roamed and, presumably, many die-hard fans have tried them out. And the 12,000-square-feet don't really drip with CSI memorabilia and fan-fave displays and information the way the displays outside Star Trek: The Experience did at the Las Vegas Hilton. Maybe more is coming.
On Sunday, its first day open, I went to see how it actually works. (I had attended the ribbon/crimetape cutting, hence the photo above, but fell ill Saturday and couldn't stay to explore then.) While there, an official (surprisingly) showed me the attendance figures for the day, broken down by the hour. The first hour was the best -- 98 paying customers from 10 am to 11 am. By 5 p.m., when I was there, they'd had exactly 400 paying guests. The fellow told me they are aiming for 1,000. So not so good for opening weekend and no evidence that CSI fans were dying, har har, to get in in any real numbers.
Granted, they're just starting up and a significant PR push, I have no doubt, is yet to come. The 10th season hasn't started, either, and there's no doubt there will be an intense push to raise awareness of the attraction in that forum which should pay off.
Even so, I sense a struggle to break through the clutter of Vegas attractions here without some strong word-of-mouth, and the folks we were with found it interesting but not necessarily thrilling in the way that gets Vegas juices flowing. It's hard to imagine people rushing home and saying, 'Oh, wow, you gotta see this!' the way they do for, say, the Vegas version of "Phantom."
There were also some opening-weekend kinks to work out. The first thing that happens is that you are ushered into a room where you're supposed to watch a video overview of the whole idea of forensic science and Gil Grissom explains what you're supposed to do but not terribly specifically. You knew this because after you exit and go to look at the crime scene to which you are assigned, you're unclear as to where to go next once you're done. The group we were with just congregated, jotting down clues and waiting for a guide to tell us what to do.
Also, that video room was huge with no seats, so people were sitting on the floor, which was odd, and the air conditioner was enormously loud to the point where many people -- not just me with my hearing problem -- had trouble understanding what was being said on the video. I didn't ask, but I'm doubting they had any form of hearing-assistive technology whatsoever. I wondered why the thing wasn't captioned or why people weren't offered any of the information in other languages than Spanish or English throughout the attractions. I recall from my time living in China that Asians love CSI, but what would a Chinese tourist do here? Strange that they wouldn't have that sort of thing worked out well in advance since that's the point of housing such a thing in Vegas, right?
Like I said, it's a creative idea. You don't need to be a CSI fan to have some fun with this and, in fact, I'm not and had a good time. The L.A. Times' Jen Leo oddly wrote -- I suspect copying right off a press release -- that each crime scene takes you 60-90 minutes, which is an absurd overestimation. That they charge another $26 to "re-enter" and check out one of the other two crime scenes seems a bit steep, too, on top of the $30. Once you "get" what you're doing, there's no reason why this should take more than about 20-30 minutes.
Time will tell on this one. It's not the easiest thing to find in the behemoth that is MGM Grand, so I suspect there will be plenty of two-for-one tickets available mighty soon at least to get some buzz going.