Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 | 2 a.m.
In March, KTNV-TV, Channel 13 news aired a series of undercover exposes on Tire Works — a Las Vegas auto repair chain the ABC affiliate reported was ripping off consumers.
Days before the first Tire Works segment aired, recorded phone calls obtained by the Sun reveal, Channel 13 news anchor Nina Radetich was telling the Tire Works owner that her boyfriend could help the company handle media relations to counter the negative coverage coming from her newsroom.
Radetich, who introduced a number of the auto repair sting segments during news broadcasts, was also recorded asking Tire Works owner Roshie Weightman to keep their conversations secret.
The recorded call opens with idle chitchat between the two women, which is cut short when Weightman asks Radetich for her boyfriend’s phone number again, indicating this is one of several phone calls between the two.
Radetich gives Weightman the contact information for Jack Finn, a special projects manager at NV Energy and former spokesman for Sen. John Ensign and former Gov. Kenny Guinn.
Speaking of Finn, Radetich says on the tape: “He sort of does this stuff on the side. But he is more than willing to talk to you and this is, like, his favorite thing to do. I’m not kidding. If he could do this full time — consult and tell people how to handle the media — he would. So I wanted to kind of give you that heads-up. That’s his cell phone and he’s more than happy to talk to you.”
Weightman then says she hopes Finn can come up with some advertising ideas and help Tire Works “kind of show our ethics and integrity and that we’re not bad” — to which the news anchor replies:
“He is the master of that, and also, I have not told a soul at my station that we’ve talked. I’m just kind of letting you know that because a couple of the sales people have said, ‘Hey, has Roshie called you?’ and I said, ‘No,’ so I just kind of wanted to keep that between us, just so you can have that heads-up.”
Tire Works has advertised on the Channel 13 Web site.
Radetich did not respond to the Sun’s request for comment.
After reviewing a transcript of the recorded conversation, provided by the Sun, KTNV Vice President and General Manager Jim Prather said the station considers Radetich’s actions a lapse of judgment. He would not discuss whether there had been or would be any punitive measures taken in response.
“Upon review, it has absolutely no impact nor will it have any impact on our news gathering in the Tire Works investigation,” Prather said.
Kelly McBride, head of the Ethics Group at the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit journalism think tank and training center, said, “There is no circumstance where a journalist working with a newsroom should be offering advice or services to a source outside of what the newsroom is doing.
“The station credibility rests on its loyalty to the audience, and so the minute somebody does something that undermines that loyalty, it harms the station’s credibility,” McBride said.
The first Tire Works story ran on KTNV on March 31, one day after the state Business and Industry Department filed a complaint against the 13-store chain, alleging the company had engaged in deceptive business practices by charging customers for services they didn’t need. In the first news segment, TV cameras rolled as a car from the state’s motor pool — deemed to be in tiptop shape — was dropped off at various Tire Works locations by Consumer Affairs Department investigators, who argued that expensive repairs and tuneups later recommended by Tire Works mechanics were bogus.
This was the first of multiple stories the news station did on Tire Works in the weeks that followed.
Weightman says she first called Radetich when she learned of the TV investigation, hopeful the news anchor could help her get balanced coverage.
The women have known each other for about four years, Weightman says. In the past, Weightman has made large donations to an annual charity fundraiser — Nina’s Night Out — founded by and named after the news anchor.
Weightman claims Radetich told her in an earlier, unrecorded phone call that Tire Works would have to pay for Finn’s services, and that Weightman could “spin” the story in her company’s favor by emphasizing the corporate donations to Radetich’s charity and others.
Weightman says she was aghast at the suggestion.
“I wanted to run into the bathroom and vomit,” she said. “Am I in 1920s Las Vegas? I’m feeling like I’m being shaken down and living in old world Las Vegas. This was unheard of. There was another agenda here.”
Weightman would not say whether she has talked to Radetich since.
State law prohibits recording telephone conversations unless both parties agree. The source who provided the recording to the Sun assured the newspaper that it was obtained legally.
Finn said he thought Radetich “did a pretty good job of upholding her ethical standards.”
When Weightman found herself in a public relations crisis, Finn said, she reached out to the news anchor for advice. Finn says Radetich recognized she was “ethically bound” from giving personal guidance or advice to Weightman, and rightly suggested she seek help from a third party — him.
Finn, who worked as a TV news reporter before becoming a spokesman for politicians, says he never talked to Weightman.
In the ongoing segments, the TV station’s coverage was often described as a “joint investigation” or “team up” between the news outlet and Consumer Affairs.
In court filings, attorneys for Tire Works argue this stated partnership was unfair to the auto repair chain because it made the TV coverage look like definitive proof of fraud, even though the complaint against the company had just been filed.
When this issue and others came up in court, Deputy Attorney General Raelene Palmer, who is representing the state in its complaint against Tire Works, told the judge, “I know the media says there’s a partnership, but there is no partnership with Channel 13.”
When the Sun asked KTNV’s Prather about this discrepancy, and whether the claims of a partnership were exaggerated, he said the station “worked with the state by documenting the state’s investigation.”