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Democrats, Republicans quiver in fear of press coverage

If reporters are excluded, stories — whether good, bad or indifferent — don’t get told.

It’s stupid that both Democrats and Republicans have tossed the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s new political reporter Ramona Giwargis out of two events she went to cover.

How dumb or cowardly are these people who kick the press out? The losers are the readers.

Without RJ’s former political reporter Erin Neff in the room, people would never have known that former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., told Del Sol high school students in May 2005 that President George Bush the younger was a “loser.” Reid later apologized for calling him a loser.

Reid also called Bush a “liar” because Bush switched his position on placing a nuclear waste repository in Nevada at Yucca Mountain. As a presidential candidate, Bush said he opposed it unless it was based on sound science. In 2005, Bush said Yucca Mountain was the right place to store nuclear waste. Reid never apologized for calling the president a liar. Twice.

Without a reporter in the room, people would never have known that Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman told fourth-graders the one thing he’d take if stranded on a desert island was a bottle of gin.

These men were aware a reporter was present and still had no hesitation to say things that became not just local stories but national stories because they were so outrageous. Neither man seemed to care, even though their comments said plenty about them.

One comment said Reid had no respect for the office of the president.

The other said Goodman had no filter between what is OK to say to children vs. adults.

Both men habitually speak off the cuff, which makes some love them and others loathe them.

Now in today’s political cesspool, comments like theirs wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But it’s been more than a decade since those comments were uttered.

Lame excuses

Within the past two weeks, the Red Rock Democratic Club and the Nevada Republican Men’s Club each denied access to Giwargis, both using lame excuses that have created ill will toward the clubs and their members.

On March 28, Giwargis sought to cover a forum of Democratic candidates running for Congressional District 4.

Club President Dan Kruger told the reporter that she couldn’t enter so candidates can “speak freely.”

That seems to suggests that the event’s speakers — state Sen. Pat Spearman, Regent Allison Stephens, former U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, educator John Anzalone and businesswoman Amy Vilela — could be the sort of people who change their words depending on their audience.

On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller spoke at Cili Restaurant at the Bali Hai Golf Club. He would be sharing his deep insights with the Nevada Republican Men’s Club, a group which used to welcome press coverage in my day. Today, however, it has become a secret society, like something out of a Dan Brown novel.

Club president Pauline Ng Lee said Giwargis couldn’t enter because she might block the servers.

Hooey.

Lee and the other members should be embarrassed and humiliated by such a vapid excuse for keeping the press out.

Cili’s has great servers and could certainly work around a single reporter. Is Lee saying there wasn’t a single empty seat available?

If Heller asked that press be banned, as rumored but not confirmed, then he’s the bad boy in this scenario.

Heller is far from the state’s most accessible politician. Most political reporters, including Giwargis, use some sort of recording device so a speaker can’t say, “I didn’t say that.” There is no deniability.

At events like these, Democrats and Republicans relax, feeling they are among friends. So they can be stupid and get away with it? Or give brilliant speeches that few ever hear?

Part of politics

In Heller’s case, he’s been heckled, but that’s part of politics. I’m not a fan of heckling or clucking chickens, but that’s me.

But he’s also been taken to task in group settings that he expected to be friendly.

If you can’t handle a heckler, you probably shouldn’t be in Congress.

“It doesn’t strike me as being a wise strategy to antagonize the press,” said former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, one of the most press savvy and accessible politicians in Nevada history.

But he admitted it’s a strategy that can and does work. Chic Hecht hid from the press when he challenged U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon in 1982. He won.

In 2014, Sen. Michael Roberson advised GOP candidates not to respond to the press. When I called Patricia Farley and Becky Harris for basic stories, and each Republican failed to return my calls, I was livid. But they both won.

This may continue, but the news media will remember and keep a running tally of who the wimps are.

Candidates should insist that the press be allowed in or refuse to participate. In the long run, it’s to their benefit.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Sundays in the Nevada section. Contact her at jane@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.

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