Citing the Founders as champions of the press may not hold up under scrutiny

The Las Vegas Sun joined with an estimated 200 other newspapers today to collude in an attack on President Trump for attacking the press with an editorial under the headline: “Take it from the Founding Fathers: Journalists are Public Ally No. 1.”

The editorialist pontificates: “For Trump to suggest these professionals are un-American is highly offensive. These are individuals who believe passionately that well-informed citizens are the lifeblood of our democracy and that the media’s role is to provide the information those citizens need. You also won’t find a group that is more committed to protecting First Amendment freedoms and other liberties.”

There are several references to the Founders.

I wonder what the paper would say about someone who said: “I deplore … the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them …”

Or: “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”

Or: “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.”

Those are the words of Founder Thomas Jefferson.

And don’t forget that newspaper editors were arrested during the John Adams administration for sedition.

And pay no heed to the fact Thomas Paine, who once praised George Washington, at the end of his presidency wrote: “Monopolies of every kind marked your administration almost in the moment of its commencement. The lands obtained by the revolution were lavished upon partisans; the interests of the disbanded soldier was sold to the speculator; injustice was acted under the pretence of faith; and the chief of the army became the patron of the fraud.”

More reality on this topic can be found in the book “Infamous Scribblers” by Eric Burns.

Sun swallows hook, line and sinker

Who didn’t know the Sun would bite for this two-day-old story from The New York Times?

The piece reports “the economy is following the upward trajectory begun under President Barack Obama” — even though the U.S. GDP shrunk in the third and fourth quarters of 2016, dropping from 0.57 in the second quarter to 0.48 in the third and 0.44 in the fourth.

In fact, Investor’s Business Daily points out the same NY Times predicted in January 2017, after the government reported that GDP growth for all 2016 was a mere 1.6 percent, that “President Trump’s target for economic growth just got a little more distant.”

That story further stated:

But however solid, the recovery under President Barack Obama never reached exuberance. It is the second longest recovery in American history but the first in the postwar era in which growth for a full year did not hit 3 percent. …

Upward trajectory, indeed.
The Times was a wet blanket then, but now finds it can — apparently with a straight face — credit Obama for the economic recovery. And the Sun fell for it like a smitten suitor.

One of these things is not like the other

Two banner stories. Same topic. Different conclusions.

The morning newspaper and its insert both bannered accounts of a police investigation into spending at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The morning paper quoted a letter delivered to the authority by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police: “At this time, there is insufficient facts to support a criminal case against Mr. Ralenkotter.” It also noted that LVCVA Chairman Lawrence Weekly told board members that police had found “insufficient evidence” to charge CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, but he failed to mention the letter’s “at this time” qualifier.

The insert flatly stated that Ralenkotter was cleared and quoted Weekly as saying, “This afternoon I received word from the Las Vegas Metro Police Department that they have found insufficient evidence to proceed with any criminal charges against Mr. Ralenkotter. As you know, this reaffirms the findings from our auditors and legal counsel, as reported in the April 2018 board meeting, that Mr. Ralenkotter demonstrated no criminal intent or criminal wrongdoing.”

Nine paragraphs into the morning paper’s story readers are told: “But the police investigation into the mishandling of $90,000 worth of Southwest Airlines gift cards secretly bought by the agency is just beginning. Police have done little beyond picking up records from the convention authority on June 28, the Review-Journal has learned.”

The “has learned” is not attributed to any source.

Ralenkotter reportedly used $17,000 worth of those airline gift cards for personal travel and reimbursed the authority. The audit found $50,000 in gift cards unaccounted for. Ralenkotter has said he thought the cards were given to the LVCVA as part of a promotion.

The morning paper’s story goes on to quote three different lawyers commenting on events as if the investigation is ongoing.

So, has Ralenkotter been cleared or is the investigation ongoing? Stay tuned.

Anyone want to lay odds on whether Metro will ever charge anyone with anything?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could Nevada use L.A. proposal for Hoover Dam to its benefit?

Turbines inside Hoover Dam. (Pix via NYT)

OK, what’s in it is for us?

Today the Las Vegas Sun insert carried a six-day old New York Times story outlining a proposal by Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to use Hoover Dam and Colorado River water to smooth out its flow of electricity. The utility has so much intermittent solar and wind power that sometimes it must pay others to take it off its hands lest it overload the grid and result in blackouts.

The plan is to build a $3 billion system of pipes and pump stations that would use that excess power to pump water from downstream of the dam back into Lake Mead. When the utility needed power — when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow — water would be released through the dam’s turbines to generate power.

The Times article compared the scheme to using the dam as a sort of storage battery.

Of course, the scheme is rife with potential problems. How would it affect water availability downstream? What would be the environmental impact in general and specifically for the herds of bighorn sheep? How would it impact recreational uses, especially boating in Lake Mohave? What about the economics?

The concept is not new, though the scale of this proposition is rather audacious.

Back in 2011 a proposal was floated to build what is called a pumped storage project in Eldorado Valley south of Las Vegas.

Though it sounded vaguely like a perpetual motion machine, it was based on the principle of supply and demand. Like in the stock or currency market — buy low, sell high.

Eldorado Pumped Storage filed an application for permission to study the feasibility of building a closed-loop hydropower facility. The idea was to build a 10,000 acre-foot reservoir at an elevation of 3,570 feet and another at 1,500 feet. During the day, when power is expensive, the water would flow through turbines and the electricity could be sold on the grid. At night, when power is cheaper, the water would be pumped back to the top of the hill.

A similar plan was once proposed for the gypsum mining property across from Blue Diamond.

Nothing has been heard since about either proposal.

The technology has been around since the late 19th century and there are several working pumped storage facilities around the world.

As for the Hoover Dam proposal, what’s in it for Nevada, which would bear the brunt of the impact of disturbances?

Nevada gets only a quarter of the power generated by Hoover Dam, while Arizona gets less than 20 percent and the rest flows to California.

As for Lake Mead water, California gets 4.4 million acre-feet a year, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet and Nevada a mere 300,000 acre-feet.

At the end of the lengthy Times report, Nevada state Sen. Joe Hardy of Boulder City is quoted as suggesting that Nevada would be willing to negotiate.

“The hurdles are minimal and the negotiations simple, as long as everybody agrees with Nevada,” Hardy told the newspaper. “It would be nice if there was a table that they would come to. I’ll provide the table.”

Perhaps a greater share of power or water could be wrested in such a negotiation.

New York Times video of Hoover Dam.

What shall it profit a man to own a newspaper?

Newsprint heading to the presses. (R-J pix)

The print edition of today’s Las Vegas newspaper direly warns that this country’s newspapers could become thinner or even disappear altogether because of tariffs as high as 32 percent being placed on newsprint imported from Canada. For some inexplicable reason the story cannot be found on the paper’s website, but has been replicated at the PressReader website.

“It’s very possible that inadequate newsprint reserves will affect the page counts of the Review-Journal and perhaps that of our partner in the joint-operating agreement, the Las Vegas Sun,” Review-Journal Publisher and Editor Keith Moyer was quoted as saying. “We’ll do everything possible to keep popular features in the print edition every day, and if we have to cut some content, we’ll publish the newspaper in full for our e-Edition.”

He did not mention that the paper already has cut pages this year, dropping the Sunday opinion section from six pages to four and cutting out op-ed pages on Wednesdays and Fridays. It also appears the paper is being printed on thinner newsprint stock, possibly down to 30-pound stock from 32-pound stock. The tell tale is the curling of the pages.

That was before the tariffs.

Today’s poor mouthing comes after the newspaper recently reported that its owner, billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson’s annual salary at the Las Vegas Sands was doubled in 2017 to $26.1 million. Adelson purchased the paper two years ago for $14o million — $38 million more than the previous owner had paid nine months earlier.

As for that joint-operating agreement “partner” feeling the pinch of newsprint prices, the Sun for a month earlier this year ran a daily front page announcement saying that it is now charging for access to its online content, the Sun contracted to get a percentage of the R-J’s profits, but there are no profits, the article said.

Today’s article notes that, while putting news online is an option, it is print advertising that is the primary source of revenue and profits, if any, for most newspapers. But, if it comes down to it and print pages have to be reduced, the article said the paper is considering adding pages to its  e-Edition, an electronic replica of the paper available online for print subscribers.

The morning paper ran an editorial a couple of week’s ago bemoaning the tariff hike.

Today’s front page print story mentions that the News Media Alliance is conducting a propaganda, er, education campaign about the newsprint tariffs. The organization encourages people to contact Congress through a website: stopnewsprinttariffs.org. The campaign has the snappy title of Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers (STOPP) and warns that the tariffs threaten an estimated 600,000 jobs across the U.S. printing and publishing industry.

Now, don’t you feel sorry for Sheldon?

 

 

 

 

Is the U.S. nuclear arsenal still a deterrence?

WSJ graphic

The editorialists at the Las Vegas Sun are living in a mad, MAD world. You know: Mutually Assured Destruction. Never mind that some of the people with their fingers on nuclear triggers may well be suicidal seekers of the apocalypse.

But let’s dispel a factual error first. “There are nearly 7,000 warheads in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, deliverable across the globe at a moment’s notice by missile, aircraft and submarine,” today’s Sun editorial proclaims.

Well, not quite. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has a total of about 6,600 nuclear weapons, but 2,600 are retired and awaiting dismantling. Another 2,200 are in stockpile and about 1,800 are deployed. Russia has similar numbers, they say. Enough to make the rubble bounce, as we used to say?

The Sun quotes a Time article that hysterically declares President Trump has put the Nevada National Security Site on notice to be ready to renew testing of nuclear weapons solely for the purpose of scaring potential enemies into backing down. The Sun declares that testing is totally unneeded. (The editorial did note that Gov. Brian Sandoval says he has been assured no nuke testing will take place in Nevada.)

The Sun says the mere idea of renewed nuke tests “demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding about the nation’s military and the world’s perception of the U.S. More than anything, it proves that Trump’s feelings of inadequacy and inferiority know no bounds.”

But is our nuclear deterrence still a deterrence?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, our ancient B-52 bombers and outdated cruise missiles are vulnerable to Russian and Chinese air defenses and we have only 20 penetrating B-2 bombers located at a few insufficiently hardened bases.

While we once had 41 ballistic-missile submarines, SSBNs, we are down to 14, the article notes, and those, too, are vulnerable.

“American ballistic-missile defense is severely underdeveloped due to ideological opposition and the misunderstanding of its purpose, which is to protect population and infrastructure as much as possible but, because many warheads will get through, primarily to shield retaliatory capacity so as to make a successful enemy first strike impossible — thus increasing stability rather than decreasing it, as its critics wrongly believe,” the writer, Mark Helprin, explains. “Starved of money and innovation, missile defense has been confined to midcourse interception, when boost-phase and terminal intercept are also needed. Merely intending this without sufficient funding is useless. As for national resilience, the U.S. long ago gave up any form of civil defense, while Russia and China have not. This reinforces their ideas of nuclear utility, weakens our deterrence, and makes the nuclear calculus that much more unstable.”

Helprin disputes the federation of scientists stats and states the Russians have 2,600 currently deployed strategic warheads compared to the U.S.’s 1,590.

Another WSJ writer points out that the U.S. has no tactical nukes, which means if confronted by another nation’s use of smaller nukes on the battlefield, the U.S.’s only ability to counter is with a full-scale nuclear exchange and a global holocaust — or to back down and lose all credibility for defense commitments.

Perhaps we should not be so fast in declaring there is no need for continued nuclear weapon development and testing. It is a mad, mad world after all.

Federation of American Scientists graphic

 

 

 

Should we have practiced journalism of rote regurgitation?

As in the case of the dog that did not bark, the solution to the mystery may lie in the answer to the question: Why?

On Monday the morning newspaper reported that 20 years ago the same paper, when I was editor, decided to “spike” a draft of an account about an ongoing lawsuit against casino owner Steve Wynn, apparently one claiming gender and age discrimination because one of Wynn’s casinos had created a policy requiring waitresses to lose weight and wear high heels.

I do not recall what was in the story or why it was not published, but I deeply resent implications and innuendo that the newspaper management at the time shirked its journalistic responsibilities. Monday’s story suggests the 1998 draft may have included accounts in court files by some plaintiffs that other women, not themselves, had been sexually harassed by Wynn. The story points out that reporting of court proceedings are protected against defamation litigation and quotes some journalism professor as saying, “Journalism has to be about courage.”

Apparently in the eyes of some, the journalism of verification has been supplanted by the journalism of rote regurgitation.

The code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists calls on journalists to “Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it.”

If someone walks through the front door and hands a reporter allegations of a salacious nature, the reporter would be obligated to verify. Just because someone makes the same allegations but launders them through court filings might sometimes protect the newspaper from litigation but does not absolve the paper from doing its job of responsibly reporting verifiable facts as accurately and fairly as possible. It is not about courage, it is about responsibility to the readers. (By the way, an online forum on responsible media warns, “The fact that documents are lodged with the Court in civil proceedings will not, of itself, attract privilege.” The privilege applies to evidence given in open court.)

The same due diligence would apply to the busboy as well as the wealthy casino owner.

As I said, I do not recall the specifics of this one incident 20 years ago, but the implication that the paper was lax in not reporting something just because it was filed in court is ludicrous and insulting and, dare I say, defamatory.

As for the credibility of the currently barking dog, former Publisher Sherman Frederick points out that longtime columnist John L. Smith resigned when the current newspaper management ordered him to never write about two of the biggest players on the Strip — Wynn and current newspaper owner and casino bigwig Sheldon Adelson — because they had unsuccessfully, repeat, unsuccessfully sued him over passages in books he had written.