That whirring sound you hear is the Harry Reid spin machine shifting into overdrive, pulling along its wholly-owned subsidiary, the Las Vegas Sun.
That guffaw in the background is radio provocateur Rush Limbaugh laughing all the way to the bank as the bidding for Reid's letter -- the one demanding Limbaugh apologize for on-air remarks -- topped $2 million. Limbaugh says he plans to match the winning bid and contribute all the money to a fund that provides scholarships to children of military and law enforcement personnel killed in the line of duty.
Somewhere in the middle of this cacophony is a little opinion poll asking Nevadans whether they recognize certain people favorably or unfavorably. When pollster Brad Coker and I were talking about preparing our October political poll, I suggested, on a lark, that we add to the customary list of politicians the name of Limbaugh, who at the time was engaged in a verbal donnybrook with the man he calls "Dingy Harry."
The week before our survey was conducted, Nevada's senior senator, on his "majority leader" letterhead, along with 40 other Democratic senators, sent a letter to the head of Clear Channel Communications, which syndicates the Limbaugh radio program. They were demanding that Limbaugh apologize for what the senators characterized as calling troops who oppose the war in Iraq "phony soldiers."
Limbaugh explains the remark was a reference to a handful of people who had falsely claimed to be military veterans.
When the poll was published this past Monday, it found Reid and Limbaugh with similar numbers. Reid's favorable rating was 32 percent, and his unfavorable rating was 51 percent with 15 percent neutral. Limbaugh's respective numbers were 34, 50 and 15.
In reporter Molly Ball's story, Coker was quoted as saying, "That's how polarizing Harry Reid has become. ... Rush is trying to be polarizing. Reid just does it anyway."
Reid's staffers questioned the accuracy of the poll and trotted out an August poll by a Democratic pollster showing Reid with a 56 percent approval rating, which the Review-Journal reported as well in the same story.
Of course, Limbaugh could not resist reading the poll results on the air, poking another needle in his Dingy Harry voodoo doll.
Within hours of publication, Sun columnist and Reid waterboy Jon Ralston was whining in his e-mail newsletter, which reaches a minuscule audience, that the results were bogus.
In his narrow world of blindered lefties, the poll numbers did not make sense and should not have been published. He suggested the Review-Journal was being "cheap and irresponsible" and should have done the poll over again.
Reminds me of the cloistered journalist who could not believe Richard Nixon had been elected president because she did not know a single person who voted for him.
Reportedly, Reid went on a local public radio program and complained about the poll results. Since it was on the same time as Limbaugh, I'm not sure how many heard him.
But that wasn't enough. On Wednesday, the Sun sicced a reporter on it. He sent an e-mail saying his editors wanted him to look at the poll results and asked about the methodology of the poll, telegraphing that the agenda was set, the template laid. I replied that the methodology is on our Web site, as it always is.
For the story, the Sun found some associate professor in Virginia to be dubious.
If the spinmeisters at the Sun don't believe the pollster I've worked with for nearly two decades and whose poll results have closely matched the results of the only poll that really counts -- the elections -- then I encourage them to spend their own money and conduct their own poll. And use a polling firm as reputable as Coker's Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, not some partisan hack. Otherwise, they're just cheap and irresponsible.
-- A tip of my Comstock-brand 5X beaver hat to all three Nevada representatives who voted for the Free Flow of Information Act on Tuesday, especially to my favorite congresswoman, Shelley Berkley, who spoke on behalf of the bill during debate. The bill will protect reporters from being required to reveal sources in federal cases, a protection a majority of states already afford reporters.
"This legislation strikes a careful balance by protecting journalists from being forced to reveal confidential sources unless there is a significant threat to our national security," Berkley effectively argued. The bill passed 398-21.
Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@ reviewjournal.com.