The news you never knew you needed to know

The American news media, like good constitutionally protected watchdogs, have always acted in packs.

That's not quite the right word. I prefer flocks.

For all the potshots fired at the national press in the Age of Monica the Tattooed Lady, local media are, if anything, worse. What would be your reaction if you thought your news was censored by car dealers?

It is, every day. Auto dealers are the biggest advertisers in any market. Not even public broadcasting is immune from their wrath, which usually involves a threat to cut off advertising support.

Reno television stations years ago discontinued meaningful consumer investigative reporting. They found that more than 90 percent of complaints were about new car dealers. Rather than irritate major advertisers, they killed the features.

Local consumer reportage in most markets today remains limited to an occasional warning about telephone boiler rooms usually operating from Florida - guys who never advertise on local TV.

Friday night, Feb. 27, northern Nevada's KNPB TV-5 offers you a rare glimpse at the darkside of skewed news. At 9:30 p.m., (I got the time wrong last week), the Reno PBS affiliate becomes one of the few in the nation with the guts to air "Fear and Favor in the Newsroom." It will be followed at 10:30 by a half-hour on local censorship. KNPB's Rosemary McCarthy will lead a discussion between three local media luminaries and an obscure columnist from a Sparks newspaper whose laborite readers pushed the station to air the beleaguered documentary.

The panelists will include Ward Bushee, editor of the Gannett-owned Reno Gazette-Journal; Nancy Cope, news director of CBS affiliate KTVN TV-2; and Bourne Morris, University of Nevada-Reno journalism professor and former west coast head of the legendary Ogilvy-Mather international advertising agency.

"Fear and Favor" has cleared only about 14 markets thus far. They range from small (Redding, Calif.), to medium (Hawaii, Maine), to large (San Francisco, San Jose, St. Louis, the Twin Cities, Chicago, Long Island, NY). That's pretty pitiful performance. It's also understandable.

"The major news outlets employ a double standard, one for stories that could offend the powers that be, and one for all other news," Fear & Favor producers Beth Sanders and Randy Baker write in an upcoming article entitled "Corporate Control of a Free Press."

"It is this double standard which gives the news its Fortune 500 spin," they add.

DO YOU KNOW THE WAY TO SAN JOSE? "The most unfavorable review we have encountered appeared in the San Jose Mercury News (a paper whose dirty laundry does make an appearance in the film). Even that reviewer said that the program merited a broadcast on public television," write Baker and Sanders.

The San Jose story involves car dealers influencing the news. Ironically, it was the San Jose PBS affiliate, KTEH, which provided critical support allowing Baker and Sanders to complete their seven-year film project.

Over the past five months, I have summarized many of the program's segments. Two hold special import for Nevada. One shows how PBS News Hour editing reversed the meaning of a story on low level nuclear waste dumping. Another shows how then-NBC News President Michael Gartner censored bloody footage of the 1991 Gulf War.

The news media were totally schmoozed into compliance by Pres. Bush's jingoistic rabble rousing. Turned out he told more lies than Walter Cronkite reporting Gen. William Westmoreland's daily body counts during Vietnam. Only blood and guts might have brought vital inquiry to the Oil War, but we never saw them.

JUMPING JACK FLASH: We were never told how our smart bombs missed more than 90 percent of the time - or how many civilians were killed by that high-tech dumbness. Just last week, CNN aired a military puff piece on the new accuracy of the discredited Raytheon Patriot Missile system.

IT'S A GAS, GAS, GAS: How many times have you heard that Saddam gassed his own people? Well, something or someone certainly killed large numbers of the disfavored northern Kurds, but gas didn't do it. Only the San Francisco Chronicle reported the truth during the Gulf War, but the mythology persists as a convenient tool to fan the flames to this very day.

UNSCRAMBLED EGGS: This column exclusively broke the news during the Gulf War that Saddam Hussein had unfettered access to our Global Positioning Satellite System.

It was apparently left unscrambled because our military geniuses didn't order enough descramblers. As a result, according to nationally syndicated columnist Jack Anderson, field commanders were writing mom to send them GPS receivers from Radio Shack so they could find out where they were on the trackless desert.

I further exclusively reported in 1991 that  Saddam could have easily used our satellites to aim his missiles and direct his troops.  That revelation was re-confirmed in a Pentagon post-war analysis of U.S. military shortcomings. A summary was published in the Washington Post in July of 1991.

MEDIUM COOL: Try as I might, I couldn't convince any major news medium to pick up the story of the major satellite failure of what came to be known as the Satellite War. I guess media managers reflected the fantasy their consumers wanted to buy, that we could run a basically moral war in which only bad guys were killed. I was selling to the seduced, their minds downloaded into a bloodless cartoon, playing a marketing-driven electronic game.

The truth never had a chance.

PREDICTING NEW OOZE FROM OLD WOUNDS: At the first opportunity, you can count on my old friends in BigOil to jack up declining U.S. retail gasoline prices and blame Saddam. This column stood among only three small papers in the country which reported the facts behind gasoline price fixing by the major oil companies in 1996. Not even the vaunted Project Censored at Sonoma State was interested in reporting a scam costing consumers billions to this very day. Prepare for instant replay.

If you're interested in an entertaining evening which will validate all your worst fears and prejudices, do a little fear and loathing in the newsroom with Studs Terkel, local heavyweights and me this Friday evening beginning at 9:30.

KNPB TV-5 can be received from Lake Tahoe and northeastern California, down into central Nevada and up into Elko County approaching the Utah border.  Check your local cable system or over-the air translator for the proper dial position.  You may also contact KNPB TV-5 in Reno at (702) 784-4555 to find the station's dial position nearest you.

Tune in, turn on and tell a friend.

Start calling and mailing the PBS affiliate in your town to follow Reno's lead. It's important. Desert Smurf II seems just around the corner.

Be well.  Raise hell.

FEAR AND FAVOR REDUX: Barbwire by Barbano / Expanded from the 1-6-2015 Sparks Tribune


© Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a Reno-based syndicated columnist, a 29-year Nevadan, editor of U-News and campaign manager for Democratic candidate for Governor, State Senator Joe Neal.
Barbwire by Barbano has appeared in the Sparks Tribune since 1988 and parts of this column were originally published 2/22/98.

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Copyright © 1982-2015 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 46-year Nevadan, editor of and; and former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee. He is producer of Nevada's annual César Chávez Day celebration and serves as first vice-president, political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail

Barbwire by Barbano moved to Nevada's Daily Sparks Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in them parts ever since.
Whom to blame: How a hall-of-famer's hunch birthed the Barbwire in August of 1987
Tempus fugit.

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