Las Vegas Sun

June 15, 2019

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The senate race:

R-J story critical of Harry Reid ad misses its mark

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Sharron Angle

Sharron Angle

Politicians often complain about how they are characterized in the media, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s campaign is especially livid that one of its TV ads was mischaracterized and deemed inaccurate by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

In a news story posted on its website Wednesday, the R-J reported on a Reid re-election commercial that featured a kindergarten teacher thanking him for securing federal stimulus money to stave off teacher layoffs.

The story’s headline read, “New Reid ad stars teacher whose job wasn’t on the chopping block.”

The commercial “gives the impression the stimulus kept (the teacher) in the classroom with her kids,” the R-J said in offering its characterization of the ad. The newspaper’s story further reported that the teacher was never under threat of being laid off and that her school received no stimulus money.

In fact, Reid’s TV commercial never claimed the teacher’s job was specifically saved, or that her school received stimulus money.

Reid’s camp aggressively defended the commercial’s accuracy and called the R-J’s reporting “shoddy” and “biased” in favor of Reid’s opponent, ultraconservative Republican former Assemblywoman Sharron Angle.

The Reid campaign points out that stimulus money saved teachers’ jobs and benefited Nevada schools, as the commercial said. In fact, the source cited by the commercial to bolster its facts was no less than the R-J itself.

Sought for comment, R-J Editor Thomas Mitchell hung up on a Sun reporter.

Reid spokesman Jon Summers said he hopes the newspaper just made a mistake.

“If it was intentional, then it speaks for itself,” he said.

Media and political experts mostly agree newspapers remain objective and nonpartisan.

“What’s really changed with the media is, we used to be able to count on newspapers to give an accurate reporting of what was really going on. They’d almost be the referee,” said Jim Spencer, president of the Campaign Network, a communication and campaign consulting company. “If someone put out an ad that was inaccurate, newspapers set the record straight. That just doesn’t go on anymore. Now newspapers say both sides have a point.”

The he said/she said approach might seem fair, but it also could turn off readers seeking an authoritative voice on which to base their opinions.

“I’d rather read a strident, partisan, passionate argument against Harry Reid full of substantiation and fact, and then next to it read the same with the opposite point of view,” said Marc Cooper, a journalist and professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. “My personal opinion is that newspapers should have a point of view, but declare their bias.”

The R-J’s editorial pages embrace libertarianism.

The commercial features kindergarten teacher Bridget Zick thanking Reid for securing stimulus money to prevent teachers from being laid off. “We’re still teaching because of Harry Reid,” Zick says. “That’s the power that he has.”

The Reid camp said Zick put a face on the issue.

And Zick’s remarks were accurate.

“The stimulus funds did help both retain and create jobs, absolutely,” in Clark County and Nevada, said Charles Harvey, Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons’ stimulus director.

Stimulus money isn’t distributed individually to schools, and it isn’t earmarked to protect specific jobs. Instead, the federal government directs funding to school districts, which decide how to use it.

The Clark County School District received about $36 million in stimulus money, Harvey said. The federal government pumped another $82 million of stimulus funding into Clark County for education. The total created or saved 2,475 jobs, Harvey said.

Within an hour of the R-J story going online, Summers had fired off his rebuttal. Time was of the essence. With the Internet, Google alerts and Twitter posts, stories — even inaccurate ones — can spread like wildfire.

“You either define, or you get defined,” Summers said. “It was important to correct the record and get out our position, which wasn’t in the R-J, and serve as a reminder to other outlets that look to the R-J for story ideas to do their homework.”

In the wake of the R-J’s story, former Republican Gov. Bob List said he agreed with the newspaper’s assessment of the commercial, while Assemblyman Mo Denis, a Democrat, said the newspaper’s take was wrong.

“When we talk about education, I just want to make sure we talk about the real data,” Denis said. “We’re talking about our kids. We need to stop playing political games and really talk about what’s there.”

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