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Gibbons’ comments elicit incredulity

CARSON CITY — Gov. Jim Gibbons on Tuesday suggested that if people are free to spread malicious rumors about him, he shouldn’t be criticized for repeating rumors about others.

“Is there a double standard?” Gibbons said. “I don’t think there should be a double standard. … Let me say that I’m one who has been subjected to a lot of false rumors that have been published by people — statements created and fabricated against me. … So I don’t think there should be a double standard.”

Gibbons, a Republican, was responding to an uproar he caused Monday, when he told the Reno Gazette-Journal he had heard that Democrats had paid off the Wall Street Journal to write damning articles about him.

On Tuesday, those comments reverberated around the state and beyond. Gibbons’ willingness to put any stock in the idea that a respected national publication would take payoffs from a political party was widely perceived as bizarre.

Community College of Southern Nevada historian Michael Green said anyone with common sense would have laughed off that conspiracy scenario, but Gibbons appeared to have taken it seriously, revealing an “amazing view of the world.”

Green also called Gibbons’ comments “mind-boggling,” “ridiculous” and “memorably bizarre.”

“What Gibbons is doing is sounding like a guy broadcasting from his bedroom on public access on the far end of the AM (radio) dial in Buttflap, Alabama,” Green said. “It doesn’t come across as coming from a governor. It doesn’t sound like someone in a state that’s trying to be taken seriously.”

Conservative activist Chuck Muth said at best, Gibbons’ remarks came off as “defensive” and “whiny” in their attempts to deflect blame for the governor’s own problems.

“They are in a bunker mentality, and they have been under siege since before the election,” he said. “I understand the paranoia running through this administration, but I don’t think it’s healthy.”

In two question-and-answer sessions with reporters Tuesday, Gibbons said he had just been answering a reporter’s question when he said he had heard of a conspiracy against him.

“I’m not paranoid,” he said. “I’m not thinking people are out to get me. I just repeated that what I had heard was what was asked of me. … The question was had I heard, and I said yes, I had heard.”

Gibbons was asked multiple times whether he believed the rumor.

“Do I believe it? I don’t know if I believe it or not. It’s a rumor,” he said. “I have no way of knowing. … It’s just a rumor. There are rumors all the time, and I’m one who’s always subject to rumors being published. So I understand the fact about rumors. They’re just rumors.”

Pressed again on the subject he said, “My answer is I don’t have any knowledge one way or the other. Is it possible? I mean, that’s the far side of the moon. You know, does the sun ever shine on the far side of the moon? There’s always a possibility of anything in life, but do I give great credit to that? No. It’s just a rumor.”

Gibbons wouldn’t say where he had heard the rumor in question.

Asked whether he thought it was plausible that such a thing could happen, he replied cryptically, “I find it plausible that the sun will rise tomorrow.”

Gibbons also Tuesday continued to insist that the Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote articles about his questionable ties to defense contractors had attended an October gubernatorial debate in Elko and said he found that suspicious.

“Now, don’t you find it strange that the Wall Street Journal would find a debate in Elko County, where he could come to Elko County for a debate? Now, why would somebody from the Wall Street Journal come all the way to Elko County?” Gibbons said.

Gibbons said he “walked up and introduced myself and said hello” but that the reporter didn’t interview him.

“I had already talked to him, this same guy, on the phone a couple of times,” regarding allegations he took cash, gifts and campaign contributions from Reno businessman Warren Trepp in exchange for help getting federal contracts, Gibbons said.

Gibbons said his campaign staff had told him his election opponent, Democrat Dina Titus, had put the reporter up to it, an assertion his former campaign manager denied.

“My campaign told me that,” Gibbons said, refusing to specify the staffer. “So all I’m doing is repeating the story I heard, and that’s the honest truth.”

Robert Uithoven, who managed Gibbons’ campaign for governor but left Gibbons’ employ shortly after the election, said he never heard such a notion.

“I can’t speak for everyone in the campaign, but I certainly would never have suggested something like that,” he said. Uithoven, now a political consultant in Reno, said he didn’t know the reporter had been at the debate until Gibbons told him a few days later.

“I never would have suggested to my boss such a theory,” he said. “That’s the first time I’ve heard of it.”

Uithoven said the campaign might have suspected the Journal was being fed information by those who opposed Gibbons politically, but “that’s a lot different than suggesting that a reporter’s a willing accomplice.”

Uithoven, who said he still supports Gibbons, added, “I know the true danger of conspiracy theories is repeating them.”

University of Nevada, Reno political scientist Eric Herzik said Gibbons “should not have said it.”

“He should have stepped above that kind of fight, but he didn’t,” Herzik said. “It’s going to backfire on him. He’ll be seen as at least a little irresponsible, and his critics will think he’s a little loony.”

Even among those who played significant roles in contributing to Gibbons’ campaign and helping him get elected, there is widespread frustration with his performance. Several influential Republican political figures would not talk about Gibbons for attribution but said privately they were worried about the impression created by his talk of a conspiracy.

On the other side of the aisle, state Democrats vigorously denied they engaged in any collusion or bribery with the Journal while expressing disbelief at the very notion.

“It’s out of the realm of possibility,” Nevada Democratic Party spokeswoman Kirsten Searer said. “It’s absurd to think that a nationally respected publication such as the Wall Street Journal would take a bribe from a political party to go after an elected official.”

She said it was “irresponsible” of Gibbons to perpetuate such an idea. “This isn’t someone who seems to vet out the information he puts into the public sphere,” she said.

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