Sniping over news in Vegas

The editor of The Las Vegas Review Journal
last week unloaded on a local station. KTNV-TV Las Vegas, wrote Thomas Mitchell, "is to journalism as the Mustang Ranch is to a convent." In the column in which he made the comparison to the well-known legal brothel, Mitchell said his paper had fought a lengthy and expensive battle to strengthen Nevada's shield law. But he said the station "flipped away" its rights by allowing reporter Kit Williams to testify at a homicide trial regarding a jailhouse interview "without so much as a whimper of protest." Mitchell told BROADCASTING & CABLE : "We can't afford to let this get away from us."

Lawyers for Clark Morse, accused of driving drunk, killing one woman, crippling another and leaving the scene, agreed with Mitchell that the station's refusal to fight the subpoena of Kit Williams caused the station to be used as an arm of the prosecution.

But KTNV General Manager Kris Foate says the case was a "study of margins and specifics" and had a precise fact pattern that was excepted by U.S. Supreme Court precedent. "It took the exact instance of our reporter as a direct witness to a defendant's confession without the existence of notes or tape" to fall through cracks in shield laws. "We would have vigorously fought turning over tapes or notes," said Foate. In this case, she said, the station followed the advice of its own attorneys.

Lucy Dalglish, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, noted that Williams did not testify about anything that was not reported in her original story. "I'm not saying this is a good accommodation," she said. "But it is not an uncommon one."