Critics protest newspaper publisher's seat on casino board

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Three dozen citizens picketed the Reno Gazette-Journal Wednesday, claiming the publisher's seat on the board of directors of a large casino taints the newspaper's editorials and news coverage.

Several protesters carried signs in front of the newspaper building at noon urging Sue Clark-Johnson, publisher and president of the Gannett-owned newspaper, to resign her position on the board at Harrah's Entertainment Inc.

Clark-Johnson said the allegations of biased reporting were false and unsubstantiated.

''They cast aspersions on a dedicated newsroom, which does its best every day to provide balanced, fair coverage of the events and people that shape this community,'' she said in a statement.

''For our part, we will continue to report the news, as we always have, with fairness and balance,'' she said.

The protesters were a collection of past political candidates and citizen activists, including several who rallied against demolition of the historic Mapes Hotel-Casino in Reno in January and a few who have had a running feud with the Reno City Council.

''She's on the board of directors of Harrah's and that's a direct conflict of interest,'' said Mike Robinson, a Reno real estate broker.

Kerri Garcia, a spokeswoman for Harrah's Reno, said there was no conflict of interest.

''She's been on the board for some time now. We are happy she is on the board. She is a respected member. We don't see any conflict of interest. There hasn't been any,'' Garcia said.

In addition to her seat on the board at Harrah's, the critics said the newspaper's coverage is skewed because Clark-Johnson serves as a leader of two business groups in Reno, the Forum for a Common Agenda and One Region, One Vision.

They said the criticism was directed at the newspaper's editorial board and not its reporters.

Judy Herman, a former city council member who lost a mayoral race to incumbent Jeff Griffin a year ago, helped organize the protest but said she did not think it was necessary for Clark-Johnson to leave the Harrah's post.

''She could maintain her seat as long as there was some way to assure the editorial board is not biased,'' Herman said.

''The Forum for a Common Agenda is made up of the major casinos and big business. She may have too many friends in the community,'' she said.

Clark-Johnson said critics were accusing the newspaper of biased reporting of downtown redevelopment, demolition of the Mapes hotel, plans to build a trench for the railroad through downtown and a bond issue for a hotel room tax to help finance a new convention center.

''The allegations that have been made via an e-mail campaign, picketing and rumors are totally inaccurate,'' Clark-Johnson said.

Clark-Johnson said the critics ''have every right to their own opinion.''

''We believe strongly in the First Amendment and the right of free speech. And we defend it vigorously in our reporting, on our editorial pages and in court if need be,'' she said.


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