Radetich scandal compounds KTNV's credibility problem


C-R-E-D-I-B-I-L-I-T-Y

That's oxygen to news outfits. And KTNV-TV, Channel 13, is running out of breathable air.

As the Sun reported, Nina Radetich was taped telling the owner of auto repair chain Tire Works -- under investigation by Channel 13 for fraudulent practices -- that her boyfriend could provide some media-spin consulting to combat her own station's negative reports.

Ethically? Obscene. Not that it's a job-breaker, apparently.

"We're standing by her 100 percent," says VP/GM Jim Prather. "She regrets having made that mistake and I think we have learned from this incident. Nina has worked very hard for more than a decade to provide news coverage to Las Vegas and I don't think we should lose sight of the work she's done."

True, and yet ... that hiss you hear? More air escaping the deflating balloon that is Channel 13 credibility.

"They've branded themselves as 'You Ask, We Investigate,' and she is the face of that with Darcy Spears, and there's a big problem when the face of it is manipulating it," says one Channel 13 insider. "It's unfortunate because viewers had been responding. I don't think it was malicious, but she's done damage. At other stations, she'd be suspended for investigation or fired."

Another source claims that "anger and disgust is building at the station. There is a group of people who want to go to Prather and complain but they are afraid of what will happen. ... Prather has created a mess because of his obsession with Nina, a lot of animosity with females at the station. He told one longtime anchor she should look and act more like Nina."

Radetich anchored Tuesday's newscasts, then took previously planned vacation days, conveniently keeping her off the radar until the sting of publicity lessens. (She did not respond to a request for comment.) She returns Monday.

At a Tuesday staff meeting after the announcement that Radetich would remain, an insider says she oddly read a prepared statement (to friends and co-workers?) apologizing for the media hubbub, but not her actions. Prather took the people-who-live-in-glass-houses approach, asking employees whether they've ever made mistakes they wish they could take back, severely understating the magnitude of the offense. He was met with stony silence.

Resentment doesn't end there. An insider says one employee removed Radetich's picture from a locked cabinet displaying portraits of all the anchors. Management's trying to ID the perp.

Fallout from Nina-gate prompted the station owner, Journal Broadcast Group, to send three executives to Las Vegas from their Milwaukee headquarters to confer.

Competitors also are incensed. "That's outrageous conduct and it blackens all of us," says Channel 3 news chief Bob Stoldal. "Think what would happen if I or George (Channel 8's George Knapp) did that. If this happens over here they'd be out on their ass in 30 seconds."

Prather's perceived favoritism might figure into her survival. Consider that ex-anchor Ron Futrell -- for whom charges stemming from a hit-and-run incident were dropped -- was canned for "serious misconduct" unrelated to journalism, while Prather deemed Radetich's affront to journalism a "lapse of judgment."

But Channel 13's modus operandi on these matters also seems based on what the cameras see, not what the facts say, as if visual documentation of an offense makes it real for viewers, therefore a more fireable act.

Futrell's disheveled mug shot hit the press in July '08 -- fired. Last February, Rikki Cheese, picked up on a DUI charge, sidestepped a public mug shot -- employed. In August '08, reporter Jeff Gradney shopped for a male sex partner on Craigslist for a threesome with his girlfriend, accompanied by a photo of them enjoying a carnal romp -- fired. Radetich commits an out-of-camera-range offense -- employed.

Station management expects outrage from journalists but cares most about viewers, whom they may assume will shrug off Radetich's sin as an abstract concept, a journalism-school debate devoid of sensationalism that would pressure them to fire her.

That's a dangerous miscalculation. Her act wasn't only an egregious professional betrayal, but yet another body blow to credibility that won't escape viewers.

Prather and news director Karin Movesian bear responsibility for a newsroom culture that allows this debacle. Vegas may have a rogue's reputation for skirting rules of conduct other cities abide by, but beware when you hoodwink your own. You'll be punished by viewers' contempt, already evident as they've relegated "Action News" to ratings also-rans.

What miserable timing for missteps as all of us in mainstream media struggle to remain relevant in the Internet age and hemorrhage viewers/readers, a trend unlikely to reverse even when the economy rights itself. Younger viewers already are dismissive of traditional media. Why provide more reasons to reject them as untrustworthy fossils?

Few suicides are as painful as slowly bleeding to death from self-inflicted wounds.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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