Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is NinaGate Now DarcyGate?

Nevada' Deputy Attorney General Robert Giunta today dropped the state's lawsuit against the auto repair shop TireWorks, which was the subject of some scathing reports by KTNV's Darcy Spears. This was the case in which Spears' colleague and anchor Nina Radetich was caught on a recording recommending her boyfriend's damage-control public-relations expertise in advance of Spears' reports.

It turns out, Nina may have been something of a red herring. Giunta's statement was surprisingly blunt and a serious indictment of a suspect form of journalism in which reporters and authorities collaborate:

"The complaints against Tire Works represented only a tiny fraction of the automotive complaints received by the State and represented a miniscule number of cases relative to the total number of customers that Tire Works has served. The Consumer Affairs Division's decision to permit the news media to accompany them on the compliance checks was the reason the case was so exaggerated and received so much publicity. The net effect was that the allegations were made to appear much larger than they were."

The Consumer Affairs Division no longer exists because the Legislature killed it the last time they were scrounging around for budgetary nickels. What they had done was take a car to three different TireWorks locations and received three different repair estimates, then sued over deception. They also sold the car before TireWorks could re-examine it as evidence in the suit against them.

The case became famous because of Radetich's outrageous actions, for which there is no question she should no longer be a working journalist. But Giunta makes an important point that is more important because anchorette influence peddling is not nearly as common as what Spears did here.

TireWorks, he's saying, was simply unlucky to have been the target when the Consumer Affairs Division allowed Spears along for the ride. This, of course, is the problem with all "journalism" of this ilk, made glamorous by Chris Hansen of MSNBC. It's portrayed disproportionately just because a journalist has been given access.

Yet in retrospect, this wasn't Spears as investigative journalist. It was Spears as stenographer. She didn't do any investigatin', she just made a really, really big deal out what the investigators said they had found when she was on hand. Investigators file charges and lawsuits every day that don't lead the news; this one did because Spears had video. She didn't get anything because she's a crack reporter, she got it because, I'm betting, someone at this agency decided that a little sensationalism could bolster the case for the Legislature to not put them out of business. Any which way, it's clear now that authorities were ginning up the drama to get on the teevee.

Unsurprisingly, KTNV General Manager Jim Prather defended his staff even as they exhibit shoddy journalistic practices. No, in order to lose one's job over there, you have to be a well-liked 25-year veteran who gets a minor traffic citation that is later dropped.

[Hat tip to Mike Spadoni for the alert on this.]