The photo that accompanies this column is exactly what it appears to be " your governor embracing a woman in a dark parking lot.
For some of you, this photo, taken last Saturday at the Reno Rodeo, is legitimate news because you believe it may call into question the judgment and moral character of Gov. Jim Gibbons, the most public of our public officials. For others it's the lowest form of paparazzi journalism, invading the privacy of a governor who is doing nothing illegal or improper. And there's a great number of you who are withholding judgment until you know more.
Here you go:
What it shows, according to the governor, is him comforting a stressed out friend.
"She was upset, crying," he said during a quick hallway interview with our reporter, who'd been trying to get a comment from the governor or his staff for two days. "She couldn't get her breath. I put my arms around her."
That he was with the woman isn't a revelation " we reported it in Sunday's paper as such: "Gov. Jim Gibbons was in attendance (at the rodeo) Saturday night with his female companion. The two were seen holding hands often. Gibbons' companion walked ahead of him when photographers started shooting photos of the couple."
Our photographer, Brad Horn, was there covering rodeo events, but changed his focus when he noticed the governor and his companion. We didn't run this photo, and others that are now on our Web site, at the time largely because we wanted to give our estranged-from-his-wife governor a chance to comment.
In the interim, we did a little checking on our own and now know his companion to be the ex-Playboy-model, ex-wife of an ex-Reno mayor. She is not the woman with whom he has widely been accused of having an affair of late and with whom he exchanged hundreds of text messages at all hours. But he has been seen around Reno with this woman, too. In fact, there are cell phone pictures of the two together at a Reno restaurant posted on area blogs.
With the governor's explanation in hand, any trepidation I may have had about running the photo is gone. I believe, in fact, that the photo is perfectly illustrative of the enigma that is Gov. Jim Gibbons. But, most of all, I believe it is something that many Nevadans want to know about, and there is no reason why I should prevent that from happening.
For the governor's harshest critics, "enigma" is far too kind. For his supporters (and there is a camp of approximately 20 percent of Nevadans who believe he is doing an excellent or good job, according to polls), this entire discussion is nothing but a liberal attempt to sabotage his resolute leadership as the state's economy crumbles beneath him.
But here is the enigma: This is a governor, who in response to a scathing editorial in the Elko Free Press that accused him of having an affair (with the woman other than the one shown in this photo), wrote a quick reply that denied the charge and included the words, "I strongly believe that even public officials deserve a certain measure of privacy."
And yet surely the governor has learned by now " even if his public explanations of all of his perceived indiscretions are accurate " that what people see is so important that it may as well be reality. Discretion is any politician's best friend. So what is the public to think when he strolls through an arena hand-in-hand with a woman who is not the woman he is married to? There were probably few other places in Northern Nevada that night where more people could be found than where he chose to hold hands with his friend, and we're sure images of the two were captured on many cell phone cameras.
The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that the governor wanted to be seen with his companion. I don't know why he decided that was wise in the face of his messy divorce proceedings and charges from his political opponents that his behavior is an embarrassment and a distraction from the serious business of the state. Could it simply be that he relishes the image of ex-fighter pilot turned Playboy governor? If so, we're only doing our part in helping him in that endeavor by printing this photo.
I'll skip all the talk about integrity and moral character. The governor is a human being and, like you and me, he has his failings. But there is this " the governor is the state's leader, and where leaders lead, followers follow. If you haven't figured it out by now, this parade isn't headed to church.
Is this all a sign that our governor has a problem exercising good judgment? We'd planned on writing a story probing that subject, but very few people wanted to go on the record, and no legislators seemed willing to ripple the waters that could sink the ship of this special session. But those same people may have set a new mark for off-the-record eye rolling, sighing and head shaking when our reporter presented the question of whether the governor's personal behavior is appropriate and wise.
Should he as the state's top elected official be held to a higher standard, at least when he's not behind closed doors? That's something each voter has to decide individually. As for me, I'm not about to let any politician have it both ways. If they make morality an issue when they look good, then I'm going to hold them to it when their behavior puts their integrity in question.
Some will say we're just trying to sell papers by printing this photo. If it were true, I'd probably have made a wiser choice putting it on the front page. For that matter, what Nevada newspaper editor has ever shied away from selling papers, especially when we have a governor who makes it so easy?
- Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org