Muffins & muckrakers: 10 years before the masthead


They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom for trying to change the system from within.

I'm coming now, I'm coming to reward them. First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

— Leonard Cohen

I didn't really know what I was doing on that July day in 1988. The statewide magazines which had published my column were being shot out from under me. I had heard that the people down at the venerable Big Nickel building were taking the sleepy Sparks Tribune daily.

Randy Frisch and Bill Will read my stuff and asked me to write three sample columns. They were published.

Perhaps the best piece I ever wrote appeared toward the end of that year, my sad personal visit with the first person to die at the new Reno-Sparks AIDS hospice.

The joy of writing for this small bastion of journalistic independence has never diminished, although I consider the low point the day a new publisher called and told me that henceforth we were a family newspaper and I was to stop using dirty words.

I'm damned glad he didn't last.

You loved me as a loser, but now you're worried that I just might win.

You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline.

How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin.

First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

The high point of the Tribune as a daily came not during the feisty Randy Frisch years, but quite a while later. It turned out that we were strongest when weakest.

When Marlene Garcia took over as managing editor a couple of years ago, she had one whole reporter on staff and just about worked herself into the hospital.

Shortly thereafter, Dennis Myers came on board from the Reno News & Review. With all due respect to all the hardworking muffins and muckrakers I've had the honor to serve with over the past decade, the combined experience and maturity of Marlene and Myers made us pretty much the best we've ever been.

They had a pretty good base to build upon, the infamous stable of Tribune columnists. I read every paper in Nevada. Nobody publishes the diversity of commentary this paper does. Period.

The body politic damned sure needs it. Increasingly, the major media are shaping themselves in the image and likeness of their kindred species. The media overlords reflect the orthodoxy of that bloodless paper cannibal called a corporation. Legally as much a person as you or me, the mega-corporation stands immune to humanity no matter how many people power it as consumables.

The corporation has no emotions, but can recognize its familiars, its equals. It respects the silicon-cold, black-and-white efficiency of computers programmed with the creativity of cost accountants.

No corporation is yet pure. Every so often, media companies suffer a flashback and mistakenly uncover and publish something outside the approved corporate state orthodoxy. Whenever such fantasy gets out of control and upsets the obsolescent carbon-based, disposable lower production units (formerly termed "people"), then other corporate computers must intervene and reprogram the great unwashed.

We have seen several examples in recent years. San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter Gary Webb caused a sensation by disclosing evidence of CIA complicity in distributing crack in order to fund Ronald Reagan's illegal Nicaraguan war. The union-busting Knight-Ridder newspapers crucified their own man after more prestigious papers got into a snit and went out their way to discredit Webb's work.

He just wrote a new book ("Dark Alliance") greatly expanding and bolstering his original investigation.

"They don't want to get the population riled up about something important," Webb recently told the Bay Guardian. "Let's keep them riled up about Monica Lewinsky. That's the one thing you learn fast working in journalism — you're to spot media manipulation immediately. And to see the way the media is manipulating the public the way it is, it's just really depressing," Webb added.

I'm guided by a signal in the heavens.

I'm guided by this birthmark on my skin.

I'm guided by the beauty of our weapons.

First, we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.

Time and CNN recently caved to similar corporate pressure in retracting their story of U.S. nerve gas use in Laos during the Vietnam War. Too many eyewitnesses and heavy hitters, including a former joint chiefs of staff chairman, went on camera for me to disbelieve the report.

Locally, the Reno Gannett-Journal continues to refuse to inform its readers that two Union Pacific executives sit on its board of directors. The deadline for the Washoe County Commission to impose a sales tax increase on the citizenry to pay to depress UP's unsafe tracks through Reno fast approaches. I bet most of the county commissioners don't know of this corporate conflict of interest.

It is with pride, then, that I have finally realized what I'm doing and why I am so comfortable with this as a home paper. Sometimes, for every action, there is indeed an equal and opposite reaction. The proliferation of small publications in print, cable and cyberspace allows hope for the truth to spring eternal.

With this newspaper now back under the ownership of a dyed-in-the-wool newspaperman, let us sally forth for another decade and, of course...

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 7/12/98.

Lyrics from "First We Take Manhattan" by Leonard Cohen copyright 1988 by CBS Records, Inc., another media mega-corporation. It figures.