Archive Contents

Poll cats, windbags, dirtbags and desert denouncers


We all live in Grimy Gulch. (No, this is not another column on downtown redevelopment.)

Grimy Gulch is the longtime setting of the Tumbleweeds cartoon strip.

The title character, an aw-shucks cowboy, resides in the old west town. A running gag involves the endless pursuit of  'Weeds by spinster Hildegard Hamhocker.

One day, as our hero stands his usual watch in front of the Grimy Gulch Saloon, the newsboy for the local paper runs by.

"Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Tumbleweeds to marry Hildegarde Hamhocker."

A suddenly galvanized cowboy gallops to confront the madcap editor of the "Desert Denouncer."

"Why did you print that story about me marrying Hildegarde?" screams the beleaguered beau.

"Because it's news, boy, big news," proclaims the wildeyed journalist.

"But it's a lie!"

"That ain't news."

I felt like Tumbleweeds last week.

As many of you know, my profession involves dreaming impossible dreams and fighting unbeatable foes. Given my penchant for managing political underdogs, I marvel that my lifetime batting average still hovers around .600.

Part of the job requires dealing with the likes of the Desert Denouncer.

Last week, the Aaron Russo for Governor campaign pulled a bit of political chicanery which would make any propagandist proud. I must admit it was a well-executed sucker punch.

I got a call from a Carson City man supporting the gubernatorial bid of State Sen. Joe Neal (D-North Las Vegas). He had heard a poll reported on the local hate radio station's breakfast time newscast.

The Neal suppporter expressed disappointment at hearing that his candidate appeared to run so far behind recently announced Las Vegas Mayor Jan Jones.

This gentleman also marveled at how soundly millionaire movie producer Aaron Russo was beating fellow megabucks candidate Kenny Guinn and Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

One of the station's news people told me that the Russo campaign had faxed a printout of a poll from the Las Vegas Review-Journal's website. The item aired for two days. Neal supporters were disheartened, Russo's ecstatic. It's news, boy, big news.

But it's a lie.         The Las Vegas Review-Journal has neither conducted nor published any such poll. Their most recent scientific survey was released in late February, showing Mr. Guinn leading Sen. Neal by 11 points statewide and by a single point in Las Vegas, a statistical dead heat.

Nothing like that found its way onto hate radio last week. The Review-Journal invites website visitors to register their opinions on topics in the news. Anyone with a computer may "vote" as many times as he or she wants.

In a previous R-J websurfer query, Mr. Russo likewise blew away Mr. Guinn and Sen. Neal. After making a very slow start, he turned the trend around overnight. Amazing. Big news.

After the candidate filing period closed last Monday, Nevada's largest newspaper started another web edition trial heat. The Russo campaign pumped those results to the media. The hate radio station apparently presented them as an accurate representation of Nevada public opinion. The same outfit recently singled out Sen. Neal for a ban from appearing on its talk programming. (See the April 26 Barbwire entitled "The truth, the untruth and nothing near the truth.")

I have a large computer mailing list of Sen. Neal's supporters. I could have put out a bulletin asking them to pepper the newspaper's website with Neal votes. I'd rather have people doing something productive, like organizing neighborhoods and raising money.

When journalists do sloppy work, the whole enterprise suffers, public cynicism grows and barbarians enter the gates.

For most of the 1980s, Democratic candidates couldn't figure out the source of vicious, often untrue, rumors which regularly blindsided them. Unfortunately, their supporters did not often listen to religious radio stations, source of many of the stealth bombs which nuked so many careers.

Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) was defeated in the 1980 Reagan landslide. He was especially hurt by Rev. Jerry Falwell's troops accusing him of being a "babykiller." In fact, his position on abortion was exactly that of the conservative Mormon and Catholic churches.

At least with the emergence of commercial hate radio, the Typhoid Marys are out of the closet.

The public has begun to wise up. It was best summed up recently by a cartoonist who drew a pollster questioning an apron-wearing grandmother at her front door.

"I think the dirtbag is doing a great job," sweet granny said.

LAST SHOT: This Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. at McQueen High School in northwest Reno, the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees will consider replacing its police force with heaven-knows-whom. In light of the most recent schoolhouse carnage, the timing could not be better for both the besieged officers union and student safety.

Perhaps the elected officials will finally listen to reason about the questionable wisdom of firing their experienced police force.  They should consider expansion, not cutbacks, with an eye toward budgeting for metal detectors at every location.

Nevada recently received fair warning by the narrowly avoided near-death experience of Yerington High School in nearby Lyon County.

That, alas, would have truly been big news.

Happy Memorial Day.

Be well. Raise hell.


© 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 5/17/98.