Harassment as journalism

We’d rather be boiled in oil than find ourselves on the same side with Gov. Jim Gibbons, but events last week make it necessary.

No, we’re not talking about his role in the special session. There, he was as useless as ever.

It’s the matter of his being confronted at the Reno airport as he arrived back from a governor’s conference in Washington, D.C., that prompts our taking his side.

We will stipulate at the outset that he lied to a reporter, that he was wrong to do so, and that his lie makes him more difficult to defend.

But what was the camera crew doing there in the first place? Clearly, they had information that he had gone to the nation’s capital in the company of a woman who was named many months ago in his divorce action as his mistress.

But that naming was then. Time has passed. The governor is separated from his wife, has dated a number of women since the separation, and he’s entitled to do so. What was newsworthy about his doing so again?

When Gibbons was first confronted by reporter Jonathan Humbert and his photographer, Humbert told the governor, “Well, I think the taxpayers would want to know who’s accompanying you to on a trip to Washington, D.C., to meet the president and his wife.”

The governor then informed Humbert that no tax funds were used: “I just told you, no taxpayer money was ever spent on anything.” Granted, Gibbons is not terribly credible, but at that point, unless the reporter had evidence to the contrary—and he did not offer any—the faint claim to newsworthiness of Humbert’s scoop faded away completely, and he and his photographer should have done the same.

We encourage readers to go to the KLAS website and watch the tape of the encounter at www.lasvegasnow.com/Global/story.asp?S=12030844. At one point, Humbert tells the governor, “Sir, we are literally less than 12 hours away from a special session that’s going to decide almost a billion dollars in cuts and here you are with a woman who’s not your wife.” On the tape, Humbert’s voice drops when he speaks the last words, his tone conveying his notion that Gibbons is doing something shameful. Well, Humbert’s blue nose may be out of joint, but this is not the Victorian age. Separated people pursuing a divorce no longer need to seclude themselves until the divorce is complete.

In the course of the encounter, the governor’s driver threatened Humbert with arrest—“If you’re obstructing a police officer, I can take you to jail”—which was a mistake. It’s not a state employee’s job to run interference between a public official and a reporter.

And the woman who accompanied Gibbons to D.C. parsed her words with Clintonesque care as she tried to keep up the façade. She, like the governor, should simply have said they were in D.C. together and left it at that.

Think about it: Humbert had a interview with the governor and asked not about the budget crisis or the Southern Nevada water grab or his tax hike on mining but about … his date.

When Humbert told the woman that “the people of Nevada”—he is apparently their spokesperson—have an interest in Gibbons’ dates, she told him, “The people of Nevada need to know that he [Gibbons] is a very honorable, trustworthy man, which is a little less than I can say about you at this point.”

That last phrase—bullseye.