One town, two worlds
Expanded from the 12-3-2006 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

A wise person once said that God created the world, man built the cities and the devil thought up the small town.

Thanks to the Reno Gazette-Journal, the Biggest Little City just got smaller. While shrinking the community stature, the RGJ inadvertently performed a great service as two of its writers brutally demonstrated the disconnect between the classes in the little valley of the mucky Truckee.

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It's always good when someone holds up a mirror, even if they are too blind to see themselves.

In calling Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a coward, RGJ Sparks edition editor Alison Bath echoed nutso Ohio Republican congresscritter Jean Schmidt, who likewise swift-boated another decorated war hero, Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.

Murtha's sin was stating the obvious: our presence in Iraq is fueling the fire and we should get the hell out of Dodge.

"In case you missed it," Bath wrote, "Kerry encouraged students attending a California college to stay in school and earn their degrees lest they end up like those uneducated fools serving in Iraq."

Here's what Kerry actually said, according to the Washington Post: "Education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

Kerry later released the text of the unfunny joke he says he was supposed to read: "I can't overstress the importance of a great education. Do you know where you end up if you don't study, if you aren't smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

Ms. Bath gave his explanation a cold shower: "Kerry's words shocked and angered me. His arrogance and disrespect were – and still are – palpable. I am outraged and disgusted he chose to take a cheap shot – in the effort to pander to a clearly receptive audience – at the people who deserve his admiration and gratitude the most. The fact that he tried to weasel out of what was clearly an intended statement by claiming his comments were a joke told wrong is further evidence of his weakness and lack of integrity. How stupid does he think we really are? Apparently, pretty darn stupid."

Ms. Bath apparently did not consider that volunteering to become hamburger on the grills of Araby for no good reason seems, well, pretty darn stupid. Alas and alack, we are a nation weaned on the sanitized violence of cowboy and war movies and Ms. Bath reflects that Hollywood sensibility.

Lifestyle writer Siobahn McAndrew likewise started a minor brushfire in trashing Reno High graduate Amanda Robb's article entitled Murder in Reno in the December edition of Marie Claire magazine. Robb wrote of the exploitive environment of a community which could spawn a Darren Mack, the accused murderous millionaire.

"Sex, gambling and murder – none of it seems out of place in Reno," Robb wrote of her hometown. Her mom is the former principal of Wooster High School and Robb Drive in northwest Reno is named after her grandfather, so she cannot be accused of a carpetbagger's perspective.

Among other things, Ms. Robb got bashed for – gasp – accusing Reno of cold weather.

"She even got the heat wrong in the story, because the weather at night – even during the hottest of summer days – has never been oppressive," McAndrew wrote.

I don't know where Ms. McAndrew lives, but in my 36 years here, I've sweated through a few nights when it was too hot to breathe at 4:00 in the morning.

Back in the mid-1960s, the Wall Street Journal printed a front page piece on hometown press bias. The WSJ found that the Sacramento Bee, among others, apparently never reported bad weather. Muggy, hot San Joaquin Valley days were "unseasonably warm." When a frigid norwester blew in from Alaska, the California capital merely suffered a rare chill.

Their lukewarm reasoning reveals Ms. Bath and Ms. McAndrew reflecting the narrowness of their professional and social circles, elitism which contributes to a mindset of exclusion, something which this small town has never come to terms with.

Neither of these young ladies is willing to consider that her chosen target just may have a point. To do so would require that they recognize and defend the exploitation taking place all around them. It's much easier to ignore it and make smarmy comments guaranteed to generate guffaws and backslaps at the next cocktail soirée, notwithstanding that their own paper fairly drips with stories of the moral obtuseness of this boomtown backwater.

The recent Mizpah Hotel fire killed, injured and displaced dozens of poorly-paid worker bees because gambling lobbyists convinced lawmakers in 1981 that low-rise structures (defined as under 55 feet) don’t need fire sprinklers. The punchline to that unfunny joke is that the American public ended up paying to retrofit Nevada high rise hotels after two murderous blazes in Gomorrah South.

In a state stinking with corporate welfare, we still managed to place the lowly in jeopardy even when the postmortem safety devices were comped courtesy of the taxpayers.

Despite so many public treasury giveaways to profitable businesses which don't need them, mothers and children have been left to freeze on the streets of Reno because the city refused to make space available in an unfinished space which will be ready in a year or so.

Somebody's going to freeze to death again this winter because of such apathy. I suggest Murder in Reno as the working title for RGJ coverage.

There are two communities here – looking, talking, thinking, walking and writing past each other.

One is elitist, selective and immune to the indignities of the street.

There is term for those of narrow-minded perspective: illiberal.

Perhaps these ladies should read their own paper – and occasionally this one – to learn a little about the least among us.

Be well. Raise hell.


Amanda Robb's article appears in the December, 2006 edition of Marie Claire (with Ashley Judd on the cover), pages 116-121; not available online. (An article on ABC news anchor Elizabeth Vargas begins on page 124. Vargas at one time reported for KTVN TV-2 in Reno. Her parents still live in Reno.)

Ms. McAndrew's columns show the power of the RGJ as the principal news dissemination source for northern Nevada. Because of the RGJ exposure, both KRNV TV-4 and KOLO TV-8 did followup stories on Ms. Robb's article.

Like Ms. McAndrew, TV-8 reporter Terry Russell grasped at straws, questioning why Ms. Robb had "convicted" Darren Mack in her article and wondering why Mack's defense counsel was not contacted. Ms. Robb flatly replied that she didn't think Mack's lawyers would talk to her. Attorney Scott Freeman told Russell he would be happy to and that Ms. Robb's article reinforces his argument that his client cannot get a fair trial in Reno.

Moving the trial to Timbuktu will be fought out in court, but to follow Russell's line of reasoning to its logical conclusion, news reportage of Charla Mack's murder and the attempted assassination of Judge Chuck Weller should be governed by UK rules. The lack of a First Amendment under British law means that almost no information about a crime can be reported before a trial has been concluded.

In fact, Ms. Robb did not "convict" Mack. She noted several times in her article that he has been accused of crimes. She did not, however, add the magic word "allegedly" to every paragraph in recounting the charges against Mack, so Russell used that omission to undercut Marie Claire's credibility. But neither the RGJ nor KOLO TV-8 nor any other news medium clumsily interlarded "allegedly" into every sentence of the voluminous reportage on these sensational events.

Like Ms. McAndrew's goofy criticism of Ms. Robb's weather reportage, Ms. Russell's analysis provides another textbook example of phony theatrical trial logic: If any one small thing can be challenged, someone's entire credibility is suspect, notwithstanding the facts. (And if there are no flaws, pull a Karl Rove and invent some. Just win, baby.)

Most laughable and predictable has been the landed gentry's use of its stock defense against any criticism of the exploitiveness of Nevada: We have great weather. We get to enjoy the four seasons in the great outdoors and Lake Tahoe is just a stone's throw away.

It's called non sequitur. You can look it up.

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Copyright © 2006 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 38-year Nevadan and editor of Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune since 1988.

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