Room with a view

Sheraton redux: When then first lady Hillary Clinton first used the phrase “vast right-wing conspiracy” to describe the forces out to drive her husband from office, she was ridiculed by Washington pundits and prognosticators alike. Then Joe Conason and Gene Lyons wrote the superior The Hunting of the President, and the first lady’s supposed paranoia didn’t look like fantasy anymore. It turns out there was a vast right-wing conspiracy out there trying to bring down Bill Clinton. Of course, ol’ Bill helped them a bit.

It seems that vast right-wing conspiracy also had a hand in a local story that played out over the past six months at the Sheraton Hotel. In July, employee Heath Langle gathered enough signatures of other workers to force a special vote on whether the Sheraton should be an open shop. It was a closed shop, meaning that employees had to join the union to work there. Langle also called in the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW) to help him with his complaints. The organization filed charges with the National Labor Defense Relations Board (NLRB) claiming the union tricked employees into authorizing the union by using “dual-purpose” membership forms.

Well, the NRTW and Langle eventually lost. In November, the NLRB found no wrongdoing on the part of the locals and in December, Langle’s co-workers voted overwhelmingly to support the union. Case closed, right?

It may be, but the very presence of the NRTW in Sacramento should give pause to anybody who believes in a multiple-party political system. In 1999, the NRTW received $250,000 from the John M. Olin Foundation which also funded the ultra-conservative groups, the Heritage Foundation and the Americans for Tax Reform (which was the single largest contributor to a measure that would have required unions to get annual written approval from each member before spending any portion of their dues on political activities).

If Bites would be so bold as to judge the NRTW by the company it keeps, we might think that the Foundation doesn’t really care at all whether workers like Heath Langle can choose to belong to a union or not. Instead, we might think the NRTW is simply acting as the legal muscle for a more far-reaching conservative effort to dismantle the Democratic Party’s dominant money and support base, the unions. But then again, they wouldn’t try to do that. Would they?

Kings’ ransom: With the NBA season in full swing and Chris Webber back in the fold after starting the season on the injured list, we thought it was time to check in on one of the great love affairs in River City, between the Sacramento Bee and the Sacramento Kings.

Bites has heard that Kings beat writer Martin McNeal is writing a book with Webber on the star forward’s life. McNeal hasn’t answered one SN&R’s reporter’s questions on the deal, but the book will likely be another one of those “even though I haven’t even lived half my life yet, here’s my life story” athlete autobiographies. Which is probably just what entertainment-starved Kings fans will eat up with a fork and spoon.

That’s all fine and good. But we’re wondering if the Bee editors have given this much thought. After all, Chris Webber is not only one of the Sacramento area’s richest residents, he’s also probably our most famous citizen (sorry, Gray). Does the Bee really want to have one of its reporters in a business deal with one of its most notable subjects? Especially when Webber is a huge part of Kings basketball, which McNeal is supposed to objectively cover?

The New York Times faced a similar dilemma in 2001 when editors there put the kibosh on a book deal between its main NBA writer, Mike Wise, and Shaquille O’Neal.

There is, of course, a long history of sports writers co-authoring books with sports stars. And certainly sports writers from dailies are held to different ethical standards than hard news reporters, rightly or wrongly. But there’s an argument to be made that the Times set the ethical standard on what papers should do if a reporter wants to enter a business venture with a subject he or she covers. And wouldn’t anything south of the Times standard be pure Hicktown?