Libel and warmongering — that's entertainment

Expanded from the 8-3-2003 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
An updated version appeared in the 8-7-2003 Comstock Chronicle

"I resent the allegation and I resent the allegator."

— From the Amos 'n' Andy
classic 1950's television series

For many years, polls have shown that if Americans were allowed to vote the Bill of Rights up or down, most would cast ballots against the greatest expression of individual liberty ever uttered by mankind.

Screw freedom of the press, speech, religion, association, assembly and all that other stuff. Don't you dare pre-empt my football game with something that can wait — like the news or a tornado warning.

Last month came word of a poll which said most Americans think there is too much press freedom.* Can there be too much air to breathe? Apparently so.

Like political managers who revel in producing disgusting campaigns because their goal is to suppress participation, those who stand to profit most from the erosion of democracy gloat with every new revelation of our republic committing suicide.

Julius Caesar promoted his way to power as head of the Roman Colosseum. He knew that great rewards lay in store for anyone who could keep the masses amused and distracted from trifles like corruption and foreign wars. Our mass media today serve the bloodsport function of bygone eras. Al Gore's biggest defect as a candidate was his lack of entertainment value, which goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of the Clintons and the Bushes.

Dubya's standard of acceptance is far lower than that of even Bill and Hillary: all he has to do is look like a president in a tie or a flightsuit. Bush II has returned us to the depths of the worst president of the last century, Warren G. Harding, whose only qualification was that he looked like one.

A long time ago, an attorney friend of mine let slip some dangerous arrogance. "Right or wrong, legal or illegal, it doesn't matter. All that counts is what I can get away with in court."

That is the ethic of Richard Nixon. On the PBS 30th anniversary Watergate special last week, Nixon counsel John Dean lamented that the only lasting lesson of Watergate is "don't get caught." Oliver North and John Poindexter shredded the Constitution for Reagan and ended up superstars for their trouble. (Poindexter is currently the guy behind the Pentagon's twisted terrorism futures market.)

President Reagan would have been impeached over the IranAmok Affair save for the fact that his minions, mindful of Watergate, knew to shred and destroy evidence. The reason the White House has fought any disclosure of Vice-President Cheney's March 2001 dealings with energy moguls may well be that those meetings produced a blueprint for the invasion of Iraq.

With standards so low and facts so unimportant, it becomes understandable how the largest newspaper in Nevada could flush its integrity in just one edition. A few weeks ago, Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial writer Vinegar Vin Suprynowicz printed an allegation in his column. He quoted an anonymous retired judge who said that Gov. Dudley Do-Right had conspired with Nevada Supreme Court justices to knock out the constitutional provision for a legislative supermajority to raise taxes.

EXTRA — Read All About It

"I resent the allegation and I resent the allegator." —
From the Amos 'n' Andy classic 1950's television series

The original allegation — Vinegar Vin Suprynowicz prints that "The fix was in" (July 20, 2003)

When is an allegation not an allegation? — When the paper says so, dammit! (July 26, 2003)
(It probably depends on what your defiintion of "is" is.)

Judge throws out tax protestor lawsuit which was based solely on the LVRJ allegation (July 31, 2003)

VIN IN A SNIT — Convene a grand jury to do the investigation the newspaper failed to do in verifying the truth or fiction of the charges. (August 10, 2003)

LVRJ EDITOR THOMAS MITCHELL, without introspection, laments the public's falling support for freedom of the press.
(August 10, 2003)

Chief Justice Deborah Agosti, along with Associate Justices Bob Rose and Miriam Shearing, demanded that the paper retract its story (the first step in filing a libel action). The RJ refused, basically asserting that the paper never printed what it printed.

When I see that some sensitive soul has filed a defamation suit, I usually root for the offending news medium. Too often, libel litigation is used as a club by the rich to intimidate the weak.

In this case, I hope the blackrobes have the guts to followthrough and sue. American libel law allows news media lots of ways to weasel out. For instance, if a source is in any way credible, the publication is usually off the hook no matter how outrageous the assertion. Since 1973, the bottom line has been whether or not the news medium acted in reckless disregard for whether or not what it printed was false. That's a pretty vague standard, so a lot of such actions end up getting decided on cosmetics and who's popular in front of a hometown jury.

The Review-Journal has already adopted a siege mentality, stating that it will hide behind Nevada's press shield law in refusing to reveal Suprynowicz's source. But shouldn't such a big, fat rich paper be held to a higher standard? Don't they at least owe us some documentation rather than just a nameless person's assertion? They have accused people in high public office of unethical, disbarable and potentially criminal activity. If they have evidence, they owe Nevadans more than a "we stand by our story" defense.

Failure to substantiate such sensational charges is probably a pretty good indication why the citizenry thinks we have too much press freedom.

Freedom of the press is not a license to lie and smear.

IMPORTANT EVENTS. This Saturday from 11:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m., a Rally to End the Nuclear Nightmare will be held at UNR's Manzanita Bowl. Featured speakers include Charles Laws, a Bikini Atoll atomic test veteran, Darleen Graham, a Shoshone woman and nuclear testing downwinder, Japanese students and others. All of this is quite timely given recently announced War Department plans to restart nuke testing at the Nevada Test Site. For more information, contact John Hadder, (775) 827-4200, on the web at

A community forum on the grotesquely misnamed Patriot Act and civil liberties will take place next Sunday, August 10, from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at Sierra House Elementary School, Pioneer Trail at High Meadows Trail, S. Lake Tahoe, Calif. The event is being organized by the Lake Tahoe Democratic Club and is
supported by members of various community groups and businesses, including the Lake Tahoe Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. For more information, contact Steve Goldman, (530) 541-4956.

Be well. Raise hell.

* "The least popular First Amendment right continued to be freedom of the press — 46 percent said the press in America has too much freedom to do what it wants, up from 42 percent last year." (Margin of error is +/- 3%.) From the official poll document available through | U-News | C.O.P. | Sen. Joe Neal
Guinn Watch | Deciding Factors

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Copyright © 1982-2003 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 34-year Nevadan, a member Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of and Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.


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