Reid tries to
muffle critics

(reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal)

Has party preparing attack on
thinktank's tax-exempt status

A free-market Nevada think tank that blasted Democratic Sen. Harry Reid on the radio was ordered by a Vegas broadcaster to 'lay off' after orchestrated complaints by Reid staff and allies.

Has staff combing comments on
Reno talk show, seeking excuse for suit

The Democratic senator's staff is reviewing a tape of a talkshow hosted by KKOH's former Brian Maloney to see if any basis for a slander suit can be found.

Sunday, February 15, 1998

Group, Reid battle
over commentaries

A U.S. senator accuses a conservative institute of running political ads under the guise of commentary.

By Jane Ann Morrison

A conservative Nevada think tank that has blasted Democratic Sen. Harry Reid on the radio has been ordered by one broadcaster to lay off the attacks -- a move prompted by complaints by Reid's staff.

Democratic Party officials are now threatening to challenge the tax exempt status of the group, which buys air time on KNUU-AM 970 radio for its daily commentaries.

Reid described the Reno-based group, the Nevada Policy Research Institute, as "right wing zealots trying to help the far right." The senator, who is trying to thwart a challenge to his re-election by Republican Rep. John Ensign, objected to the tone, the partisan nature and the accuracy of the radio commentaries.

The free-market advocacy organization was founded in 1991 by former Nevada National Republican Committeewoman Judy Cresanta.

"The truth has no bearing on what they say," Reid said.

"I think they are running political ads under the guise of commentary." Democratic State Party Chairman Paul Henry said Wednesday that for several weeks, lawyers have been investigating whether the party can challenge the institute's tax-exempt status.

Henry -- who said he has never heard or read the commentaries in question -- said based on what others have told him, the institute's position is "heavily biased toward Republican views." Cresanta, told of the possibility the Democratic Party may ask the Internal Revenue Service to revoke the institute's tax-exempt status, called it an attempt to silence the group.

"This is a well-orchestrated attack by Harry Reid's office, using the party," she said.

Problems between the institute and Reid have been bubbling since December when the group's monthly newsletter, mailed out to 7,500 people, featured a cover story saying Reid's water settlement legislation in Northern Nevada hurt farmers in Churchill County.

In one radio commentary, the institute's contributing editor and research analyst, David Muska, promoted the article and said, "As for Harry, he doesn't have much to say about what he's done to Churchill County -- he's busy with other things, such as pressuring federal land bureaucrats on behalf of wealthy Las Vegas developers seeking to obtain prime real estate in Clark County." Joe McMurray, president and general manager of KNUU, said Reid's "people called and voiced their displeasure" after a commentary ran Jan. 28 criticizing Reid for using his position on the Senate Ethics Committee to allow senators to use box seats for basketball and hockey games in Washington, D.C. without violating the $50 gift limit.

The Ethics Committee ruled that box seats have no face value and are worth the cost of the club seats -- $48, which is $2 under the limit.

Muska's commentary criticized Reid, the committees' vice chairman, as conspiring with Ethics Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., to help senators get around the $50 gift limit.

Muska said the "little people ... can see through his shaky justification of yet another perk for himself and the national ruling class." Reid argued the Ethics Committee decision was unanimous.

"I didn't do it, the entire committee did it," Reid said. "It's an effort to hurt me politically. The truth has no bearing."

There is still time to turn on the radio and judge for yourself. The institute buys time to air twice-daily commentaries during the commuter drive time in Las Vegas on KNUU.

After Thursday, however, they won't be broadcast.

McMurray informed the institute he will no longer run commentary attacking Reid or anyone else. "I don't run anything on this station that attacks any individual, politician or otherwise," said McMurray, who started the station in 1977.

On Tuesday the institute said because of McMurray's "sudden effort to impose censorship on our commentaries," it will no longer buy advertising time from his station.

Negotiations are under way to broadcast the commentaries on another Las Vegas station, Muska said.

In a letter written Tuesday to McMurray, Cresanta said she believes Reid has "targeted our organization for suppression." She contended Reid's campaign against her organization and its 1,100 members is "part of a statewide effort to quash anyone who attempts to offer critical review of how the senator exercises his considerable power."

Muska said that of the 235 commentaries he had written and delivered since last year, only five have been critical of Reid.

"I think he's so used to having puff coverage from the Nevada media, he's developed a thin skin," Muska said.

"He's gotten an imperial attitude about these things." Muska said he has been critical of Vice President Al Gore, the National Organization for Women, Gov. Bob Miller and Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, and even Ensign, but its only now he's been told by McMurray he's overstepped the boundaries.

McMurray said the other commentaries haven't really attacked individuals.

"Mike O'Callaghan called and said, `Why the hell are you letting these people do that?' " McMurray recalled.

O'Callaghan, a former governor and Las Vegas Sun executive, is a longtime mentor to Reid, dating back to the days when he was Reid's high school boxing coach.

McMurray insisted he didn't feel intimidated or threatened, saying Muska was "making a mountain out of a molehill." Andy Schwartzman, president of the Media Access Project based in Washington, D.C., said while the think tank has a First Amendment right, the broadcasters are responsible for the editorial judgment. Although a candidate's paid political advertising cannot be censored, a commentary may, he said.

"The broadcaster is fine in saying we won't run this," he said.

One option available is to allow the institute to pay for its commentary and to give equal time to the subject of the commentary. Reid spokeswoman Jenny Backus said that is one option Reid is considering.

Among the contributors to the institute's monthly magazine are Review-Journal editorial writer Vin Suprynowicz and the newspaper's free-lance columnist Jon Ralston.

 Sunday, February 15, 1998

Reid's staff scrutinizes
talk show commentary

By Jane Ann Morrison

An ongoing conflict with a conservative think tank's scathing commentary is not the only dispute Sen. Harry Reid and his staff have had recently with conservatives on radio.

The Democratic senator's staff is reviewing a tape of a show by former Reno talk show host Brian Maloney to see if anything slanderous was said, Reid spokeswoman Jenny Backus said.

Some radio executives shrug the complaints off as another sign that because the senator is engaged in a close race with Rep. John Ensign, a Republican, his staff is paying closer attention to negative radio programs.

Maloney, who recently left Reno conservative radio station KOH 780-AM for a job in Seattle, contends the complaints are an effort to stifle his free speech.

In a recent interview, Maloney said he hosted a program that discussed a Wall Street Journal story about how Reid advocated a Del Webb Corp. land exchange in Clark County.

The three-hour show aired on Jan. 16, and on the following Monday, Backus said she requested a copy of the show.

"Whenever somebody wants a tape and suggests courses of action, that implies they are looking at legal action," Maloney said. "I really felt this was an attempt to stifle my free speech." While KOH management didn't tell him to back off, Maloney said he could tell they were concerned.

Backus and Reid contend they have a legitimate right to complain if Maloney's comments were false. "I'm very happy he's left," Reid said.

The senator said he didn't know if Maloney's program really hurt him politically because "he was so absurd." After Maloney was hired by the Seattle station, he said Reid staffers called KOH to find out about his departure.

"I don't like the retaliatory tone of all of this. It seems vindictive," Maloney said. "I can't believe I'm reading a Wall Street Journal front page story on the air and I'm getting in hot water." Dan Mason, KOH program director said there may have been a little pressure applied by Reid's staff to have Maloney back off.

He wasn't as upset about the issue as Maloney, figuring recent events are a sign that Reid is "engaged in a real election. That may make him pay a little more attention to the radio shows." Ensign and Reid both are frequent guests on talk radio shows across Nevada, where they can deliver their message directly.

"Talk radio is like going to a town hall meeting," Ensign said. "You have to answer people who totally disagree with you. I get treated more positively than Harry does on talk radio." Reid said he enjoys appearing on talk radio but believes its power has "peaked out. It's not as big as it was a year or two ago."


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