News is news


When the Review-Journal's banner headline read "Governor files divorce papers: Couple 'incompatible in marriage,' court documents state," I must admit being a bit squeamish about the tabloid feel of having to report such things.

But then I recalled the recent New York Times headline about New York's governor -- "Spitzer Is Linked to Prostitution Ring" -- and I did not feel so bad. News is news, and we must report it.

And our headline was nowhere near the one from a real tabloid. About former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, the New York Post headline screamed in full-throated, unapologetic, salacious all caps: "I WAS MCG AND WIFE'S THREE-WAY SEX STUD: EX-DRIVER."

The story explained the male driver "gave explicit details of three-way sex romps that he claimed to have had with the now-divorcing duo, starting during their courtship and continuing into the marriage."

All things are relative -- a tax cheat feels positively chaste at a gathering of thieves.

The divorce of Gov. Jim Gibbons and first lady Dawn Gibbons involves two public figures who have placed themselves before the voters, seeking their trust with taxpayer funds and policies.

When the governor asked the judge handling the divorce to seal it and conduct hearings in secret, a number of reporters and editors suggested the Review-Journal and/or the Nevada Press Association take legal action to open the case to public scrutiny. After all, both this newspaper and the press group were actively involved in persuading the state Supreme Court to rewrite court rules to strictly limit when and how court papers and proceedings may be kept from public view.

I demurred.

Being a strict constitutionalist, I appreciate the separation of power of the various branches of government and the checks and balances that separation is intended to create.

The state Legislature has spoken and the courts must comply.

State law allows "either party" in a divorce to be granted extraordinary privacy in just about everything except the initial filing and the final ruling.

The governor asked and the judge had no recourse but to grant, even though Dawn Gibbons' attorney has clearly stated the public should be allowed to see the legal proceedings involving these two high-profile figures.

There is something innately unfair about one party being able to seal a court case of any kind against the wishes of the other party.

Back when I was president of the press association several years ago, I suggested that we mount an effort to repeal the one-party divorce sealing law, arguing that a powerful spouse could effectively run roughshod without the taxpayers being any the wiser.

My idea was shot down like a clay pigeon. Among the more vocal critics were executives of the Las Vegas Sun, which this past week suddenly reversed course and editorialized for a change in the law in light of it being exercised by a politician whom they roundly despise.

The courts in all matters should be open to public scrutiny -- not just so the gawking masses can be entertained by Peyton Place-like tidbits of moral turpitude or, hypothetically of course, the debate over whether a suitcase full of cash received on a cruise is community property -- but because justice is more likely to occur when everyone is accountable to the voters. That includes the judge.

The governor, as chief of the executive branch, holds some important checks and balances. He can appoint judges and justices to fill vacancies. He has some considerable say on the budgeting of the judiciary. He can veto pay raises for judges.

It is too late for this case, but the Legislature should revisit this law for the sake of fairness.

-- -- --

To all those reporters and editors fawning over the candidacy of Barack Obama, you just might want to pay heed to one of his close advisers and not dismiss it as guilt by association.

No, not his Marxist liberation theology preacher, Jeremiah Wright.

No, not Marxist education professor and former Weather Underground homegrown terrorist Bill Ayers, who just lives in the neighborhood.

No, not the Marxist architect of Chicago community organizing, Saul Alinsky.

No, not his childhood mentor and Marxist Frank Marshall Davis.

But Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, an Obama adviser on technology who is a proponent of something called the "free culture movement," which posits that public interest trumps the quaint concept of copyright. It has been called intellectual property Marxism. In fact, the Web site freeculture.org calls its mission statement a "Manifesto."

There are reports that Lessig has ambitions for a federal judgeship or even the Supreme Court.

So, all you professional journalists who support Obama, be careful what you ask for. You just might get it -- good and hard in the pocketbook.

Thomas Mitchell is editor of the Review-Journal and writes about the role of the press and access to public information. He may be contacted at 383-0261 or via e-mail at tmitchell@reviewjournal.com.

 

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