All eyes on us

A week in the life of Nevada’s national media profile

Brothels such as the Chicken Ranch in Pahrump supported a $5 sex-act tax—the latest Vegas story to make national headlines.
Photo: Sam Morris/Las Vegas Sun

Cancer patients cast aside, gubernatorial divorce squabbles, debating a prostitution tax, contemplating a school closure, harassment of Muslims—WTF is going on in Nevada? It’s always refreshing to take a moment to see the state through the eyes of the national media. You can hear a collective scoff from our countrymen as you assemble the impression the stories create. Sadly—or perhaps delightfully—they’re all true stories, as stories go. Consider a tasty sampling of recent national coverage:

On April 5, 60 Minutes zoomed in on Las Vegans dying of cancer without treatment because University Medical Center stopped its oncology program. It was horrifying. Upshot: Nevada lets poor people die because it didn’t manage its money right and is a cold, uncaring place.

From the Archives
Funny while it lasted (4/16/09)

By April 8, the tone of national coverage had changed back to a more common one, that of comic disdain, when the nation considered our prostitution-tax bill. This AP story ran in Business Week, among other outlets: “Legislative hearings often can be dull, but that was hardly the case Tuesday as prostitutes and owners of legal Nevada brothels showed up to tell state lawmakers they support a bill to levy a $5 state tax on sex acts ...”

The Los Angeles Times’ take was even better: “With its gleaming Vegas Strip and stucco sprawl, Nevada has portrayed itself as a model of the civilized West. But every so often, such as Tuesday, holdovers from its boisterous beginnings show up at the Capitol—and they are named Chicken Ranch, Pussycat Ranch and Shady Lady. Here’s Nevada’s dirty little secret: Many lawmakers would like to keep the state’s legal brothels a dirty little secret.”

Soon, however, prostitutes would be upstaged by our governor. Hundreds of media outlets pounced when the Gibbons’ divorce papers were released, including the Today Show. Meredith Vieira introduced the segment with a straight-faced news delivery, but the piece launched into a jackpot metaphor in the first sentence, as in, jackpot of dirt. Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith was featured, saying, “This is a three-ring circus, and all three rings are full.”

By midweek, hundreds more media outlets were running stories of Nevada Energy’s proposed rate hike—in a recession—along with stories with this lead: “Nevada posted its 14th straight month of revenue declines in February.”

Then there were the accounts of hating Muslims and closing rural schools. Google News was awash in re-publications of this AP story from April 8: “A Nevada school district agreed to pay $400,000 to a Muslim girl and her friend over allegations that other students threatened to kill her in the stairwell for wearing a religious head scarf and the staff did nothing to stop it.” And on April 13, the New York Times ran a sad story of rural Nevada schoolchildren facing abandonment by the school district:

“‘When you get into survival mode, when you get into severe budget cuts,’ Mr. [Mark] Jones [the school principal] said, ‘sentimentality, while it’s understandable, shouldn’t be the deciding factor.’” Adios, quaint rural education.

Appropriately, the week was bookended by another 60 Minutes feature on Vegas the following Sunday, April 13. This one was upbeat. Chipper, even. It featured Steve Wynn laughing and reflecting on his successes. He told the reporter that he’d never known a gambler who actually made money in the long run, while showing off his collection of fine art. Outside, a city and a state collapsed around him, and he boasted, “The only way to make money in a casino is to own one!”

So it shakes down to this: While the state is running out of money because people aren’t gambling enough (even though they can’t win, in the long run); and cancer patients, rural kids, Muslims and people who need electricity are doomed; there’s still the possibility of taxing  the institutionalized but semi-secret exploitation of women. But we’re too busy with a philandering governor’s personal life to really think this through, so instead, let’s focus on the good things: Steve Wynn is still rich.

It’s all in one week in Nevada.

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