By Dennis Myers
In April 1982, a woman named Priscilla Ford was sentenced to death in Reno after her conviction on killing six people by driving a car down the crowded sidewalks of downtown Reno’s casino district on Thanksgiving Day in 1980. The Associated Press reported that if the sentence was carried out, she would be the first woman executed in Nevada.
That was quite a scoop, because it wasn’t true. In what the Philadelphia Record headlined as “A SHOCKING EXECUTION,” Elizabeth Potts was executed alongside her husband in Nevada in 1890.
This is a chronic problem in news coverage. It’s amazing how frequently reporters do not investigate the background of stories before making claims of firsts.
When Sue Wagner of Reno became Nevada’s lieutenant governor in 1991, there were press reports that she was the first woman to serve in the post. It was a particularly easy claim to check because there were plenty of people around who recalled Maude Frazier of Las Vegas becoming lieutenant governor just 28 years earlier.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that KOH in Reno was the first radio station in the state. It went on the air in 1928. Nevada Machinery & Electric was issued an earlier broadcasting license on May 29, 1922 for KDZK in Reno and there was a never-used license issued before that .
There has been a real comedy of errors over the first television station in Nevada. In 1983, the Nevada governor’s office put out a news release congratulating KOLO in Reno on its 30th anniversary, and also noted that it had been the state’s first television station it began operation as KZTV . Soon there were news stories reporting that KLAS in Las Vegas, not KOLO in Reno, was the state’s first — and that the governor’s press secretary was a former KLAS reporter.
That should have been a heads-up to KOLO, but when I worked there in the late 20th and early 21st century, the claim was still in its employee handbook.
And in 2003, KOLO execs elicited proclamations from the mayors of Reno and Sparks hailing the station’s 50th anniversary, declaring “KOLO-TV News Channel 8 Day,” and calling it the state’s first TV station. KOLO began broadcasting on Sept. 27, 1953, KLAS on July 22, 1953. It was a notable indication of the northern city losing its dominance to the south.
This kind of thing also happens at the national level, too. This month the Washington Post ran a long piece headlined “How NRA’s true believers converted a marksmanship group into a mighty gun lobby.” It claimed it all started in 1977:
“In gun lore it’s known as the Revolt at Cincinnati. On May 21, 1977, and into the morning of May 22, a rump caucus of gun rights radicals took over the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association. The rebels wore orange-blaze hunting caps. They spoke on walkie-talkies as they worked the floor of the sweltering convention hall. … The Old Guard was caught by surprise. The NRA officers sat up front, on a dais, observing their demise. The organization, about a century old already, was thoroughly mainstream and bipartisan, focusing on hunting, conservation and marksmanship.”
This bears no relationship to the pre-1977 NRA. I can’t speak to earlier years, but all through the 1960s and ’70s, the group’s reputation was the same as it is now, detested by liberals for its intransigence and dogmatism. In June 1968 Donald Rothberg of the Associated Press reported, “In the past – even after President John F. Kennedy was murdered with a mail order rifle – the NRA and its allies have successfully smothered proposals to regulate gun sales or require registration of guns.”
Time after time, even after dramatic incidents of the Sandy Hook type, such as a sniper at the University of Texas in Austin who killed 14 people and injured 32 others, the NRA beat back sentiment in Congress for controls on guns. Only in 1968, after the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, did Congress override the NRA’s objections — but just barely. The bill that finally passed was weak and watered down from its original version.
If anything, the only thing that happened after 1977 was that the NRA’s power declined a bit because of its leaders’ poor sense of public relations, as when the group convened a convention in Denver just 11 days after the massacre at nearby Columbine High School. Community groups and entertainers had cancelled events that might rub feelings raw in that unfortunate community, but not the NRA.
But for the Washington Post, history started in 1977.
Dennis Myers is an award winning journalist who has reported on Nevada’s capital, government and politics for several decades. He has also served as Nevada’s chief deputy secretary of state.