Nevada gets into the act

A Nevada state agency is being accused by a Nevada contractor of trying to prejudice his court case in another state, and he’s fighting to clear his name on the agency’s Web site.

Don Rue is upset with a news release the Nevada State Contractors Board issued on July 30. The headline read, “Nevada Contractors Illegally Operating In Lake Tahoe Fire Area.” (See main news story.) The news release then identified Rue—in bold print—as one of six Nevada contractors “who were illegally seeking work.”

In fact, it has not yet been established that Rue was acting illegally. And a link on the site to the news release used an emotionally loaded headline: “Nevada Contrators [sic] Nabbed In California Sting.”

The release violates a basic journalism tenet by failing to include a legally important adverb: allegedly. Nor does it use any other protective hedges, such as “investigators claim.”

It’s also not clear why Nevada’s board is doing public relations for a California agency, as well as attesting to another state’s actions, particularly before anyone has been convicted of anything. The Web site has an accusatory orientation—there are “ten most wanted” lists posted for northern and southern Nevada.

“This has got my name in bold print as a scumbag,” Rue says. “If I looked at this, I wouldn’t hire this Don Rue guy.”

Ed Lenert, who teaches media ethics at the University of Nevada, Reno and is also a lawyer, agrees that, the way the news release is written, it prematurely damns Rue and the others who were arrested."The headline seems conclusory, and there seems to be a need for a greater statement of evidence,” he says. “Without further information, this seems to be rushing to judgment.”

When questioned, NSCB public information officer Art Radler, who wrote the release, said, “We stand by the release we put out.” Art Nadler then added, “We don’t feel we convicted him. … We stand by the press release the way it’s written.”

Nadler called back about 30 minutes later to amend his statement. “Normally, we state that it is alleged,” he then said. “It was an oversight on our part.” However, the Web site material has not been changed. Asked whether he felt the Nevada State Contractors Board owed Rue and the others an apology, Nadler was unrepentant. “That’s our statement,” he replied.