Reno N & R Caught in the Middle of Prank

Bogus Personals Ad Embarrassing for Dems, PR Boon for Paper.

Congressman John Ensign was stunned. Nevada Democrats were embarrassed. And the rest of America was snickering after word of a bogus “Men Seek Men” personals ad received by the Reno News & Review made its way into national headlines last week.

Reported by such media outlets as Fox News and the Washington Post, the whole episode started innocuously enough: A faxed request to run a free classified ad.

The ad read: “Vegas politician seeks Republican mate while campaigning in Reno. Must be interested in animals, canoe rides on Lake Tahoe and possibly living in Washington. Being a Promise Keeper would be a plus.” The ad’s supposed sponsor was Nevada GOP Congressman John Ensign, who is currently challenging Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) for Reid’s U.S. Senate seat. However, the fax header indicated that it was sent from the Nevada Democratic Party’s Reno office.

According to Reno News & Review Editor Larry Henry, the fax was received July 15 by the classified ad department at Sacramento News & Review, the flagship publication of the three-paper News & Review chain. All classifieds are channeled through the Sacramento hub, says Henry.

“Although it listed Ensign’s name on the ad, [Sacramento News & Review Classified Ad Manager] Dube Petit noticed that the name of the [fax’s] sender was confidential,” says Henry. “She called one of the sales reps in our Reno office and asked, ‘Is Ensign a Democrat?’ That’s when she found out he’s actually a Republican.”

Petit then phoned the number listed on the fax, which turned out to be Ensign’s Reno office. She asked an Ensign official if the congressman wanted to run the ad. He didn’t; the ad was quickly pulled.

“That moment,” says Henry, “has just touched off a hailstorm.”

It also left Nevada Democrats scrambling as Ensign’s camp used the phony fax incident as artillery to go on the offensive. The congressman’s headquarters immediately shipped out a press release: “[This incident] signaled again … that they [the Democratic Party] plan to run the dirtiest campaign in Nevada’s history.”

As of July 21, Nevada Democratic Party chair Paul Henry — no relation to the News & Review editor — had yet to learn the identity of the rogue faxer. But he tells AAN News that a “complete investigation” has been launched and, “If we do find out who did it, that person will be fired on the spot.”

“We don’t know if it even came from someone in our Reno office,” adds Henry. “I’ve been told that a person could manipulate the fax machine to appear that it came from us even though it may not have…. But to the extent that one of our people may have been behind it, I’ve apologized. The whole thing’s been an embarrassment.”

Discomfort for Democrats, yes. But a free PR bonanza for the Reno alternative paper.

The News & Review’s Henry, a former staffer at the Las Vegas Sun, says the incident exemplifies what he sees as a national trend taking place among alternatives.

“Twenty years ago, there might be some people who thought that we would do something like this for publicity,” he says. “But when this story broke — and we were put in the middle of this big event — people didn’t look at us as this goofy, fringe paper. People looked at us like a legitimate newspaper. It shows that alternative newspapers are now a credible part of the mix.”