Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Now, What, Grandmother?

Someone in my district passed along an audio recording of this 40-second automated phone message the Mark Manendo campaign began leaving in our district today. In it, his girlfriend indicates she's been in a long-term, stable relationship with the Nevada Senate candidate for several years and that he held her hand through four years of dialysis and a kidney transplant.

Gosh, I'm so confused. Grandmother Kathy McClain, Manendo's opponent in this very bitter race, had written in her mailer that he was 42, never married and has lived with his mom for long periods of time. When asked what that was supposed to mean, the candidate told me she was a more stable person because of her marriage and her children. But now it seems that (a) Manendo lived with his mom to care for his dying father, (b) Manendo, who's actually 43, has been in a long-term relationship for several years and (c) McClain was a single mother when she was 43 and is so proud of that choice/situation that that's part of the heroism of her life story on her site.

Today, the Review-Journal picked up on this story with a piece by Ben Spillman that cited this blog and weighed the merits of whether McClain's May 17 mailer was gay-baiting.

And then Jon Ralston, who rabidly hates it when politically impactful issues develop that he has previously deemed unworthy, unloaded on me in his daily e-mail blast about the whole thing. Jon's the one who insisted that whether anyone actually barters for health care and whether GOP Senate candidate Sue Lowden actually meant for that to be her health care policy platform didn't matter, that her woes were as much about perception and a failure of damage control as anything else.

Well, so, too, is this Grandmother McClain's problem in this race. She and her campaign used language that everyone knows is code for a whisper campaign suggesting her opponent is gay. She did it in a district with a lot of gays, the district that produced David Parks. Whether she and her campaign manager, Gary Gray, meant it that way may be debatable -- the way they said they meant it makes no logical sense but Jon's good with papering over that as that it was "clumsy" -- but the impact of using those words has resonance.

That, Jon, is why this issue continues to fester. They did something politically stupid and potentially offensive and they've failed to respond to it in any serious way. It's tough, of course, because their explanation is ridiculous.

So it's not because I have some sort of sway over the Vegas gay community. Read this. I'm not that beloved. But I called out something that gay people are sensitive to and I was far from the only one who saw it. It's the equivalent of fried chicken and collard greens, Jon, and similar language has been used in countless campaigns for decades to subtly raise the gay issue. There's a history there, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.

Here's the part of Jon's screed I loved best:

The issue of gay-baiting should never have been raised. It is partly Gray's fault for his verbiage but Friess needlessly inflamed it because he did no checking into what Gray actually was doing or what Manendo's well-earned reputation is all about.

But, Jon, I did speak to Gary Gray. You know what he did first? He laughed in my ear and claimed that "all of his gay friends" didn't see anything in it. That is, he attempted to make a journalist feel stupid even though I had already talked to several of HIS gay friends and they agreed with me. It's not a wise move to insult a reporter's intelligence and definitely not a move that would make that journalist believe much else Gray had to say.

The transom I simply cannot cross is how, in any circumstance whatsoever, the notion that someone is a 42-year-old single Momma's boy has ever been code for sexual predator. It's not. What then? It falls back to the first explanation, the one with common sense and history behind it.

Jon critiqued my notion that Las Vegas Sun reporter David McGrath Schwartz shouldn't have allowed his anonymous source to say Manendo has had sexual harassment issues every session in the most peculiar way:

And I wonder if Friess considered that another reason legislative leaders did not explicitly say so is some folks there might have fingers pointed back at them by Manendo? He may be a leering letch, but he's only one of the more obvious and ham-handed ones in that universe.

Whoa. So journalists who cover the Legislature are aware that sexual harassment is rampant in the highest ranks of the government and not a single one has ever done a feature specifically on that?

Jon, I know who Schwartz's source was. If I do, you do as well, as this passage implies. And this person, who I'm not prepared to name yet, is as close to absolute power as Carson City gets. If you know of allegations of this nature against this person or anyone presently running for office, don't you think now is a good time to speak up, during an election cycle? And hey, don't let the fact that they're mere unproven, anonymous allegations stop ya. You sanction unproven, anonymous allegations being floated in the newspaper as "super solid" journalism, remember?

So here's the question: If you know the kettle is calling the pot black, do you as a journalist allow the kettle to do so with your protection even though the kettle is the far more powerful, far more significant player anyway? Jon rejects that there's even a valid journalistic discussion to be had on this.

And speaking of kettles, I just loved this zinger:

Friess, as is his wont, also has attacked journalists,

Jon, Jon, Jon. Really? It was your wont long before Las Vegas ever heard of me. The list of journos you've vivisected is legend and, truth be told, is what has emboldened me to do so as well. Is there really something wrong with calling out other reporters when their coverage is full of holes or allows questionable material to surface? I like Schwartz, but his Manendo-McClain piece -- and your own dissertation on same -- reminds me how clubby the media is with powerful legislators.


atdnext said...

OK, this whole thing is getting to be too much for me. I'm really sick of hearing about the whole ordeal.

Kathy McClain is at fault for running with this smear in the first place. Even if she wasn't aware her campaign was going this route, she could have put a stop to it as soon as she realized what was going on. And even if it wasn't initially meant as "gay-baiting", it shouldn't have taken this long for them to realize their line of attack has always been used in the past to stir up homophobia. And why would McClain go for such a low blow when she herself had her own scandal that nearly tarred her (over misuse of campaign funds to pay for personal expenses)?

However, let's not be naive here. Mark Manendo isn't innocent, either... Or at least, he wasn't in his past record of sexual harassment. Hopefully he's matured since 2003, but one can't deny what then-Assembly Member Dawn Gibbons' office documented. His past actions opened the door for McClain's attacks, and both of their colleagues in the Legislature seem to trust McClain more as a leader. (And apparently there was another allegation in 2009, but I'll put that aside because it's unproven.)

So both candidates have had nasty scandals, and both candidates have twisted and turned the scandals to attack each other. And honestly, it's sad that both candidates are using these attacks to avoid discussing anything serious, like the budget, economic diversification, education, and transgender equality (the DMV recently reversed its policy on drivers' licenses, but our hates crimes and anti-discrimination laws are still not trans-inclusive).

Anonymous said...

Where's Jon's post you are referring to? Link?


Anon - Ralston's post was in his daily e-mail blast, so there's no post to link to. What he puts in the Flash is not archived online, unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Checked out your blog for the first time today after seeing the reference in Wednesday's R-J. Good stuff!

I'm old enough to remember the whispered use of "confirmed bachelor" to make the same point. These two candidates are far from perfect, but the "momma's boy" flyer reference was over the top and you were 100% correct to call McClain out on in.

Now how about calling out QVegas and NightBeat for their lame set of unresearched, off-the-cuff, "endorsements" that will nevertheless be followed by many in the Vegas gay community???

Anonymous said...

atdnext: I agree, I wish we were discussing budget cuts, etc.

Why can't we all just get along?