Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009 | 2 a.m.
When former state Sen. Joe Heck said last week he was “seriously considering” leaving the governor’s race to challenge Rep. Dina Titus, word came from an unlikely reporter: Chuck Muth.
The conservative activist and onetime executive director of the Nevada Republican Party broke the news through something called the Nevada News Bureau. It was one of more than a dozen political reports Muth has anonymously written in the past month, gearing up for the official launch of what he bills as “an independent news service.”
The bureau, however, will be run by Muth’s conservative nonprofit organization, Citizen Outreach, and overseen by a group with strong ties to the Sam Adams Alliance, another conservative nonprofit outfit, dedicated to “economic freedom and individual liberty.”
The Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which is supporting several news services across the country, was established by the alliance to “promote journalism and the education of the public about corruption, incompetence, fraud or taxpayer abuse.” The group, though claiming to be nonpartisan, has drawn its leaders from conservative ranks.
President Jason Stverak, for instance, is a former executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party and headed Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani’s campaign in that state.
Political scientists said the move represents a strategic shift by the political right to counter the success of the Web-savvy left in getting its message out. And it comes at a time when the newspaper industry in particular has laid off droves of journalists as revenue plummets. The Franklin Center sees its news bureaus as plugging the hole, by providing content free of charge.
Some media outlets have snatched up the Nevada News Bureau’s reports. The Sun, for one, jumped on Muth’s story about Heck, posting the news online.
In addition to the economic trends at play, there’s the growing appetite for opinion-based media that has driven the success of cable news commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow. The news is presented in a certain ideological light and the audience tunes in to have its beliefs affirmed.
Writing in the Atlantic this month, Mark Bowden outlined the problem this way: “Work formerly done by reporters and producers is now routinely performed by political operatives and amateur ideologues of one stripe or another, whose goal is not to educate the public but to win. This is a trend not likely to change.”
Muth said his was one of many conservative nonprofit groups that sought funding and the Franklin Center’s help at a meeting in Chicago this year. The overriding feeling: “We’ve seen the left do this. Our side needs to do the same.”
Muth insists the Nevada News Bureau will be an objective, nonpartisan news service, but he concedes his conservatism could play a role in coverage.
“We may take a different perspective on some stories,” he said. “Others will look at how budget cuts will affect welfare moms. We might look at how tax hikes affect small businesses.”
He added: “It won’t be what’s written, but what’s written about.”
In Nevada, the writing will fall to a staff of three, beginning this week. Elizabeth Crum, a conservative blogger and Citizen Outreach contributor, will serve as editor. Sean Whaley, a former capital reporter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, will cover the statehouse from Carson City. Muth expects to hire a third reporter to cover political campaigns from Las Vegas.
Muth said he would contribute occasionally — as a reporter, not a commentator.
One of the service’s first initiatives, he said, would be to push Gov. Jim Gibbons on his promise to put the “state’s checkbook” online.
On its face, however, the Nevada News Bureau would seem to violate traditional mainstream media boundaries between an outlet’s news reporters and opinion writers.
Crum has to this point been known for her blog, “E!! The True Conservative Story.” For his part, Muth is best known as a conservative media commentator (“Unfair, Unbalanced, Always Right,” his Web site boasts) and for prodding political candidates to sign anti-tax pledges.
Yet Muth insists: “If I write, it will be news reporting — no adjectives, adverbs or bias.”