Who’s gutless now?
About two months ago, UNR journalism professor/Sparks Tribune columnist/KUNR commentator Jake Highton recorded an incendiary radio spot on recent goings-on at the University of Nevada, Reno. Highton has been what he himself calls “harshly critical” of UNR administrators’ dealings with personnel at the Mackay School of Mines. Mackay Dean Jane Long was fired earlier this year, shortly after expressing discontent with UNR’s plan to morph the mining school into a new College of Science.
“I wrote that [UNR President John] Lilley was autocratic, squelched dissent, was not the choice of the faculty committee, pushed bad ideas, thought UNR was a junior college before he arrived, was lightly credentialed for a university president and had plunged into reorganization immediately in order to make his mark before getting the lay of the land,” Highton explained in a recent Tribune column. “I also wrote that Provost John Frederick was Lilley’s hatchet man and sycophant.”
The broadcast of Highton’s commentary was to run at 7:30 a.m. on a Monday. KUNR didn’t air the piece.
Highton said that KUNR News Director Brian Bahouth decided not to run the program because it lacked balance. But that rule hadn’t been applied to other commentaries that Highton had produced.
“For almost two years, [Bahouth] let me talk against [President] Bush, against his cabinet, against everything,” Highton said. “Suddenly he would not broadcast my commentary on the Lilley affair. … That’s why I say he was gutless: He refused to air my program. In my judgment that’s a clear case of censorship.”
Bahouth said he chose not to run the commentary “belittling President Lilley and the provost” not because he was in the mood to censor some free speech, but in the name of fairness. He said he was thinking about the best interest of his listeners, who might benefit from an actual dialogue.
“Instead we got the provost on a one-hour call-in show,” Bahouth said. “Jake was invited to appear in the studio, where he could belittle and grill the provost to his heart’s content. He declined.”
Bahouth was disappointed that Highton wouldn’t appear on the show. Bahouth was even more disappointed that Highton didn’t even call in during the hour show—especially since Highton later lambasted Bahouth’s interview in his Tribune column.
“That program could have also used some balance, since the articulate Frederick easily swatted away the softball questions—while Bahouth fawned,” Highton wrote.
Bahouth agreed that the issues needed debate. But he wasn’t about to air Highton’s comments unless the professor had the courage to sit “hip to haunch” with the individual he was attacking.
“It’s pretty easy to lob grenades, to hunt fish in a barrel,” Bahouth said. “I expressed concern to him that his wanting to say his piece unopposed was nothing more than him wanting to further his agenda rather than making a difference. He said, ‘Agenda? I have none. I am a man of the left.’ … The funniest thing is that we’ve aired Jake over and over again. And I’ve taken a lot of heat—let me emphasize, a lot of heat. I was happy to let him come on the show and really say his piece, but he let me down.”
Bahouth said that he laments losing Highton as a friend, especially since the two men are on the same end of the political spectrum. But Bahouth also resents being called a censor.
“The idea that I’m afraid for my job at the university—that’s ludicrous,” Bahouth said. “Anyone who listens to KUNR knows that we don’t shy away from anything. … Maybe Jake has more in common with George Bush than he thinks, since Bush also avoids press conferences.”
Bahouth also criticized the Reno News & Review.
“It’s a convenient position you guys take,” he said, “to question my bravery when I’ve run over one hundred of his commentaries. Why don’t you run his column? … I appreciate the RN&R’s zeal, but I think the word is ‘cheap.’ ”
Highton said he’s 99 percent sure that Bahouth did not invite him to appear on the show alongside Frederick. Regardless, he probably would have declined.
“I’m a commentator, not a debater,” Highton said.
Highton agreed that Bahouth had taken a lot of heat over past commentaries. But now, Highton said, Bahouth is “in denial.”
“He fancies himself as a fearless journalist, a courageous journalist,” Highton said. “But he was afraid [the commentary] might offend Lilley. He thought, ‘Jake has tenure, I don’t.’ … He has a guilty conscience. He knows he should have aired me.”
Said Bahouth: “Jake ducks debate. His favorite word is ‘gutless.’ Guess who that word applies to today?”