High road to redemption
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“What a long, strange trip it’s been.” –“Truckin’”, The Grateful Dead
Credibility. Few things matter more to a journalist. It’s one of the earliest lessons and comes with continued education at every turn.
As a congregant of the Bob Stoldal Church of Journalism, first as an intern, then as his assistant, a reporter, producer and anchor, one scripture from his almost daily sermons stands out: Being a journalist entitles me to no favors (dinners, shows, free meals, etc.) to which my neighbor would not also be entitled.
It means you won’t find me at media events celebrating the newest bar or show or whatever. And it means when Jon Ralston and I are standing in line at a concert, waiting to pick up tickets at “will call” and someone recognizes Jon and offers to shuttle us to the front of the line, we stay put.
That doesn’t mean I have rejected gifts and favors from friends, most of whom pre-date my career in journalism. I was born here. I know a lot of people. But I have never expected nor accepted anything in exchange for doing a story. Period.
So when court documents first insinuated, then later screamed, that I had not only accepted gifts, favors, loans, living expenses and remodeling services in exchange for not only reporting but also orchestrating a media campaign against Jeff Guinn, the son of the former governor and principal owner of Aspen Financial Services, I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.
Now, four years and a state Supreme Court case later, I’ve done plenty of both.
The fits of crying were brief and usually preceded by reading a new court filing, accusing me of conflicts of interest that would end any career. That was likely the goal of Guinn and his attorney, John Bailey, who did nothing to ascertain the veracity of his client’s allegations, but included them with the caveat “upon information and belief.”
And there were efforts by Guinn family members to divide and conquer. They targeted Jon, who had written a book about Kenny Guinn, likely assuming he would choose his affinity for the family over his loyalty to me and the principles of journalism. It proved to be a fatal calculation, as would a later effort targeting Stoldal, our boss at Channel 3.
The Las Vegas Sun largely ignored my pleas to do SOMETHING! There had to be a way to quash this nonsense. But years passed, no requests for corrections, just accusations that progressively worsened. In 2011, I was subpoenaed, asked for documentation proving I’m not for sale.
Since many of the allegations focused on getting a bathroom remodel in exchange for reporting, I suggested turning over the receipts proving I had paid for it.
Jon instinctively knew any response was the wrong response, and would open the door to other “when did you stop beating your wife” accusations. For someone who makes a living demanding proof from others, it was frustrating not to able to show mine.
Jon turned to his attorney, Don Campbell, who immediately recognized the effort for what it was – a smear campaign designed to intimidate and stop my reporting. Campbell defended me in District Court, where Judge Allan Earl called me to the front of court, told me it would be best if I stopped reporting the Aspen story, and said he feared for my reputation!
He also granted our motion to quash the subpoena and told Guinn he could come back for an evidentiary hearing. Lacking that evidence, Guinn turned to the Nevada Supreme Court.
While Don Campbell had been kind enough to fight at the District Court pro bono, a Supreme Court battle would be costly.
In December 2011, Jon asked Brian Greenspun if he would pay for my defense. Brian listened for 20 minutes before disclosing to Jon that Guinn’s attorney, John Bailey, also represented him. Greenspun told Jon he didn’t understand the principle at stake.
Not only did he not get the principle, Greenspun also attempted to negotiate on behalf of his attorney and Guinn. “Tell Dana to answer five questions for Bailey. If she answers “no” to all five, the deposition will be over.”
Huh? I could see it – “First question: Are you still for sale, Ms. Gentry?”
Jon’s reply to Greenspun’s proposal: “ We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Another frequent sermon from the Church of Stoldal – don’t become part of the story. I continued reporting on Aspen, ignoring my case as best as I could, knowing I was walking a fine line.
Despite Greenspun’s failure to get it, in April 2012 the Las Vegas Sun wrote an editorial supporting me and condemning the effort to squelch my reporting. It also signed on, at the last minute, with other news organizations supporting our effort. So it was somewhat of a shock when I was taken off the story just three months later, days after writing about a federal grand jury subpoena in the Guinn case. I was told by managing editor Tom Gorman, who wrote that editorial supporting me, that I had become part of the story.
I had no choice but to quit. Jon left within days, too, partially for his own reasons but also in solidarity. Channel 3 hired us both.
My biggest fear leading up to the Supreme Court hearing in June was controlling myself while listening to Bailey’s smears. I had visions of jumping from my seat and calling him a liar.
But with my closest friends and the best journalists in town looking on, Don Campbell left no room for doubt about Guinn’s real intentions. With Campbell and the truth on my side, Guinn and Bailey were outmatched.
A few months back I was speaking with a class of journalism students at UNLV. A young girl asked if I’d advise a new journalist to stand up for her principles, too, at the risk of losing her job. I didn’t know what to say, even though I knew, fully aware of how lucky I’ve been to enjoy the support of so many.
Now, thanks to the Nevada Supreme Court, everyone knows the answer.
DANA GENTRY is executive producer of Ralston Reports on KSNV.