Don't forget the outrageous attempt to chill the media closer to home

At its heart, the story of the Department of Justice grabbing journalists’ phone records is of an abuse of power – an attempt by an administration to discourage leaking by seeking the source through a fishing expedition of reporters’ private communications.

Like any journalist – and, I hope, many non-reporters – I am outraged and sickened by this revelation. But I am also reminded of a similar fishing expedition right here in Nevada designed to chill reporting, undertaken not by the government but by unscrupulous lawyers seeking to use the government to obtain private information.

In some ways, it is even worse: Fabricating information about a journalist to try to deter her aggressive reporting, which has never been challenged or rebutted by the subject of her stories, and attempting to use the court system as a gag to silence her.

I refer to the case of my “Ralston Reports” producer Dana Gentry, who has relentlessly reported on lawsuits against hard-money lender Jeff Guinn, the son of the former governor. Guinn has been accused of defrauding investors and has caught the attention of law enforcement, too – facts that Gentry has reported on “Ralston Reports” and elsewhere. Gentry never has failed to try to solicit comment from Guinn and/or his lawyers, who have responded with silence until they initiated a smear campaign through the courts.

This defamatory effort by Guinn and his leeching lawyers at Bailey-Kennedy has ended up in the hands of the state Supreme Court, which will hold a hearing on June 4. The issue is simple: Should Gentry have to give up private financial records to prove that the allegations of improper behavior (they have no merit, by the way) are not true?

My irrepressible producer has wanted to provide the proof of her innocence from Day One. But Gentry has held off because she knows of the greater issues at play here, quite similar to the one now raised by the DOJ’s snooping: An obscene invasion of privacy and an unconscionable attempt to chill reporting.

At least the DOJ has a superficially reasonable cover story for its piercing of the right to privacy: It wants to protect the American people from the threat of terrorism. And it may even be legal.

"I have never heard of a subpoena this broad," New Yorker writer and CNN contributor Jeffrey Toobin said on the network's site"It's legal, as far as I can tell. The administration isn't violating the First Amendment. But they are certainly doing more than has ever been done before in pursuing the private information of journalists. And we'll see if there's any political check on them, because there doesn't appear to be any legal check on what they're doing."

There is, however, a legal check on what Guinn and Bailey-Kennedy are doing.  Many other news organizations have joined in the case to support Gentry, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Unfortunately, despite support from great people at the Las Vegas Sun, that newspaper played into the hands of the attorneys when Editor Brian Greenspun dictated last year that Gentry be taken off the story. By coincidence, Greenspun has been represented by one of Guinn’s attorneys, John Bailey, and once offered to negotiate a deal with him for Gentry.

But we do not negotiate with terrorists.

Those AP writers will have the full backing of their news organization as they fight against the intrusion into their professional and private lives. I have no doubt we will eventually hear the whole story of what occurred, that there will be consequences, that the wagons will be circled.

So, too, in Nevada, I believe that the justices will not allow this horrific precedent to be set, that without probable cause of any kind, attorneys can force reporters to answer “When did you stop beating your wife?” questions designed to stifle them.

Frankly, I would rather have my phone records secretly seized than allow lawyers to interrogate journalists based on lies concocted about their integrity. But I hope both Supreme Courts, the one in DC and the one here, make sure neither is ever allowed to happen again.