Newspaper column: Nevada press shield law protects bloggers

Unlike too many jobs in this country there is no such thing as a licensed journalist, but a Carson City judge has found such in the penumbra of Nevada’s press shield law.

Normally those in the press don’t seek any privilege not accorded any other citizen, but by the very nature of the job — showing up at fires and car crashes, attending public meetings, poking into nooks and crannies of government and society, asking questions and quoting people — there needed to be a means to keep the press independent and not be dragged into court hearings or depositions every other week.

That’s the purpose behind the state press shield law. It prohibits giving the third-degree to the Fourth Estate. Otherwise, there would be considerable disincentive for people to talk to reporters, because reporters could be forced to testify about them or reveal their identities.

Sam Toll

The law says, “No reporter, former reporter or editorial employee of any newspaper, periodical or press association or employee of any radio or television station may be required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained or prepared by such person in such person’s professional capacity in gathering, receiving or processing information for communication to the public, or the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding …”

The devil apparently is in the details.

Earlier this month District Court Judge James Wilson Jr. ordered Sam Toll, creator of The Storey Teller blog, to disclose his sources for a story about Storey County Commissioner and brothel owner Lance Gilman, who is suing Toll for defamation. Toll reported that sources told him the commissioner does not actually live in his district.

Toll wrote in a recent op-ed for the Las Vegas newspaper, “Gilman, one of the wealthiest men in Northern Nevada, insists he lives in a double-wide trailer behind the swimming pool at the Mustang Ranch brothel rather than the home he owns in Washoe Valley. Evidence and interviews I conducted suggest otherwise. In order to be a Storey County commissioner, you must reside in the district you represent.”

The judge concluded Toll is a reporter, but he failed to “provide facts, legal authority, or argument that the Storey Teller is a periodical …” Hair splitting. The law says periodical, which is a journal appearing periodically.

Instead of a press, a blogger uses a computer. It can be argued that Benjamin Franklin’s “Poor Richard’s Almanack” was America’s first blog — self-written, self-printed, self-promoted. Print on paper or print in the ether. It is a distinction without a difference.

The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press was extended to radio and television without hesitation.

The judge further concluded Toll is not a reporter for a newspaper and did not join the Nevada Press Association until August 2017 and thus must reveal sources obtained prior to then.

Toll is not a reporter of or for the Press Association. He is a member. It is not a licensing body.

The state Supreme Court has recognized the shield law’s important function for the citizenry.

Justice Myron Leavitt opined in a case in 2000 in which a plaintiff tried to force a Las Vegas newspaper reporter to reveal his sources: “Nevada’s news shield statute serves an important public interest and provides absolute protection against compelled disclosure to ensure that through the press, the public is able to make informed political, social and economic decisions.”

Clark County judges have twice interpreted the shield law differently. In 2014 two judges ruled that the Mesquite Citizen Journal and its reporter, “although an online only news media source,” were protected by the shield law from being forced to reveal communications and records related to a series of stories about the local water district. In 2016 a judge denied demands to review a film maker’s unpublished notes and video interviews with a witness in a criminal case, ruling the press privilege also extended to the film maker.

Despite those rulings, Judge Wilson granted Gilman’s motion to compel Toll to reveal sources of information prior to August 2017 and gave the parties until April 12 for discovery to be completed.

For his part, Toll has said he is willing to be jailed before he will reveal sources. “Integrity is the most precious currency we have as journalists. Without it, the public would not entrust us with the information we need to help protect society from wrongdoers,” Toll wrote.

Let’s hope this current case is appealed and results in a similar outcome to that of the Mesquite Citizen Journal and the film maker.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Judge rules Nevada press shield law does not cover blogger

There is no such thing as a credentialed or card-carrying journalist. Unlike too many jobs in Nevada and the U.S. there is no government licensing of journalists. If you talk to two people you are a gossip. If you talk to three you are a journalist.

But a Carson City judge apparently thinks the Nevada press shield law created the concept of a licensed journalist.

Normally those in the press don’t seek any privilege not accorded any other citizen, but by the very nature of the job — showing up at fires and car crashes, attending public meetings, poking into nooks and crannies of government and society, asking questions and quoting people — there needed to be a means to keep the press independent and not dragged into court or depositions every other week.

Sam Toll

That’s the rationale behind the state press shield law. It prohibits dragging members of the Fourth Estate in for a third degree interrogation. Otherwise, there would be little incentive for people to talk to reporters, because that reporter could be forced to testify against them.

The law says, “No reporter, former reporter or editorial employee of any newspaper, periodical or press association or employee of any radio or television station may be required to disclose any published or unpublished information obtained or prepared by such person in such person’s professional capacity in gathering, receiving or processing information for communication to the public, or the source of any information procured or obtained by such person, in any legal proceeding …”

The devil is in the details. The law predates the blogosphere.

This week Judge James Wilson Jr. ordered Sam Toll, editor of The Storey Teller blog, to disclose his sources for stories about a Storey County commissioner, who is suing Toll for defamation, according to USA Today.

It seems the stories were written in the months before Toll joined the Nevada Press Association.

One of Toll’s attorneys issued a statement saying, “Such a ruling undermines the protection of fundamental Constitutional principles of freedom of speech and of the press and stifles the free flow of information that is essential for any free society to exist.”

Whether Toll is press or not, he still has the right of free speech. Perhaps, he should have to face his accuser but should he be required to drag others into the fray?

The state Supreme Court has twice upheld the shield law as serving an important function for the citizenry.

When the First Amendment was written no one could have imagined radio and television, but they came under the protection of the “press.” Shouldn’t bloggers also be allowed to don the mantle?

Justice Myron Leavitt opined in a case in 2000 in which a plaintiff tried to force a Las Vegas newspaper reporter to reveal his sources: “Nevada’s news shield statute serves an important public interest and provides absolute protection against compelled disclosure to ensure that through the press, the public is able to make informed political, social and economic decisions.”

In 2016 a Clark County judge interpreted the shield law differently, denying lawyers request to review a film maker’s unpublished notes and video interviews with a witness in a criminal case.

The ruling, according to a Las Vegas newspaper, marked the first time a Nevada judge extended the press privilege beyond institutional reporter. “This is the first time any court in Nevada has looked at that,” the film maker’s attorney was quoted as saying. “It is a good victory for all information gatherers in the state.”

Let’s hope this current case is appealed and a similar outcome is reached. Or, perhaps, the lawmakers in Carson City could update the law.

The Nevada Independent has posted a copy of the judge’s ruling.

Anyone notice a cause and effect?

The “cause” is on the Business page of Tuesday’s newspaper …

… while the “effect” was on the front page.

The keep building new homes and businesses, while demanding that everyone conserve water.

They keep handing out “will serve” letters.

In 1991 the water authority stopped issuing will-serve letters to developers until it could get a handle on how much water was already committed.

The population of the county at the time was about 750,000. It is now more than 2.2 million, and the state still gets only 300,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead and that may be cut soon due the drought.

Of course, the county is still pressing that groundwater grab from rural Nevada.

Cause and effect?

 

It is all politics all the time and principles be damned

Oh, please, don’t even pretend this is about principles. It is politics, pure and simple.

Nevada’s Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford has joined the Democratic AGs in 15 other states to sue the Trump administration over his decision to declare an emergency to fund the building of more than 200 miles of border barrier after Congress refused to do so.

“President Trump cannot sidestep our Constitution for a political ploy,” Ford was quoted as saying by the Las Vegas newspaper. “The Trump Administration’s proposed diversion of funds would waste billions of dollars that is dedicated to supporting our military and law enforcement agencies. I am proud to join this lawsuit to defend our Constitution, our state’s military bases, and Nevada’s law enforcement agencies.”

Does anyone think any of these politicians would have sued after Obama issued an executive order creating the DACA program for illegal immigrants brought into the country as children after Congress repeatedly refused to authorize it?

Of course, Republican Attorney General Adam Laxalt did join other states in suing the Obama administration over DACA. He said in a press release at the time, “Our immigration system is broken and clearly needs to be fixed. But just as clearly, the solution is not for the president to act unilaterally disregarding the U.S. Constitution and laws. The solution must be a permanent, legal result that includes, not ignores, the other branches of government and their constitutional roles. Anything less is a false hope undermining the rule of law that injures millions of people in America, including many in Nevada.”

At least Trump has the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to hang his constitutional hat on. That act by Congress — probably unconstitutionally allows Congress to shirk its duties to hold the nation’s purse strings — grants the president the power to declare emergencies to cover the expense.

There are no principles any more. It is all about politics.

A woman walks near the border fence on the ocean between Tijuana and San Diego. (AP pix)

 

Watch the morning newspaper disappear before your very eyes

The big squeeze is on at the morning newspaper here in town.

Today the paper not only dropped the TV page, which it had warned was coming, but it also dropped the entire Health section, instead slapping a page on the back of the B section. Today’s paper is 34 pages compared to 38 pages a week ago.

A little note on the cover of the paper explains this, in case you also missed it. The note says the Variety page, which includes crossword puzzles and advice columns, will be in the B sections now Monday through Saturday. Hmmmm. We wonder if that means the Tuesday and Thursday Life sections and the Wednesday Taste section will be disappearing, too. But it would be difficult to move those to the back of the B section, since that is where the former Business section was relegated to sometime ago.

A year ago the Sunday Viewpoints opinion section shrunk from six to four pages.

By the way, that warning about the TV page disappearing also noted that an eight-page edition of TV schedules will be included in Sunday Review-Journal editions sold at newsstands, but not included in the papers delivered to homes of people who, you know, actually still are willing to pay for subscriptions to the ever shrinking newspaper.

But don’t worry, that delightful 8-page section called the Sun, with its single local story and the occasional locally written, uber-liberal editorial, will still be there. The contract doesn’t expire until 2040.

This past year tariffs on Canadian newsprint caused the price to increase 30 to 35 percent.

Adelson involvement in issue not worthy of mention in his newspaper

The Wall Street Journal had a front page story recently about how the Justice Department has reversed course on its 2011 opinion that the 1960s Wire Act prohibited only online sports betting and not other forms of online gambling. The paper said the change “hewed closely to arguments made by lobbyists for casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson.”

WSJ reporters compared a memo sent to Justice by Adelson lawyers in April 2017 to the new opinion handed down in November and found the new opinion arguments similar to those in the memo. “Both writings pointed to some of the same case law examples,” the report said.

Adelson has spent millions of dollars campaigning to change the government’s interpretation of the law and spent tens of millions supporting Donald Trump’s presidential election bid. Adelson’s company has long argued that online gambling would hurt revenue at established casinos.

Today the Las Vegas newspaper also has a story on this topic.

“Now that Nevada has a law allowing interstate online poker, regulators will have to re-examine what that means under the new interpretation,” the story says. “Is it illegal and thus banned? Will Nevada’s laws be grandfathered in?”

But nowhere does it mention Adelson’s well known campaign against online betting, nor is there an italicized disclaimer at the end noting the Adelson family owns the paper.

Sheldon Adelson (John Locher AP pix via WSJ)

 

The rest of the story …

The Las Vegas newspaper carried about a quarter of Scott Sonner’s AP story about the new corral on the California-Nevada border that might allow the Forest Service sell more than 250 wild horses for slaughter.

For the rest of the story, go to the Elko Daily Free  Press.

There you will learn, no surprise, that a couple of self-styled horse hugger groups have already sued to try to prevent any slaughter.

“A hearing is scheduled Jan. 31 in federal court in San Francisco on a motion filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and American Wild Horse Campaign seeking an injunction to block the sale of the horses captured in the Modoc National Forest in October and November for possible slaughter. The new pen is in the forest, about 170 miles northwest of Reno,” AP relates

Wild horses being warehoused at Palomino Valley near Reno. (Photo by Jo Mitchell)

Horse slaughterhouses are prohibited in the U.S. but are legal in Mexico and Canada.
The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act states: “The Secretary shall cause additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

But every federal budget since 2009, has stated, “Appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

The Forest Service has argued that the new pen in the Modoc National Forest allows it to bypass such restrictions at existing federal holding pens.
“The agency denies claims by horse advocates it has made up its mind to sell the more than 250 horses for slaughter,” Sonner writes. “But it also says it may have no choice because of the high cost of housing the animals and continued ecological impacts it claims overpopulated herds are having on federal rangeland.”
Justice Department lawyers were quoted as saying, “What has changed is that the Modoc now has its own short-term holding facility … which is not subject to congressional restrictions.”
The range is overpopulated and the market for wild horse adoptions is dwindling, but the horse huggers continue to litigate while the horses starve on the range and cost $50 million a year to warehouse.