Altamira & Bullfrog County Times

Altamira Communications, a political public relations firm, has played the bad cop to the OIZ Advertising good cop in the nuclear industry's repository promotion. It was Altamira's job to be out front and take the political heat, battling the anti-nuclear forces toe-to-toe. This turned into a bitter public relations war. Though Bob Loux and NWPO denied it, they had their own public relations shock troops, having hired Kamer-Singer Public Relations and a group called Cygnus Scientific to fill the opposing role.

Don Williams headed up the Altamira operation. One of the original founders of Altamira, Williams is known for his ability to attack and prick political opposition. Many people in the community consequently saw Altamira as bullies in the Yucca Mountain battle. When Altamira attacked sympathetic figures like Judy Treichel, they were condemned as heartless. Yet, the anti-nuclear forces in Nevada were hardly helpless despite a cultivated image to that effect.

NWPO regularly spent funds on lobbying and public relations efforts. Citizen Alert, the powerful Safe Energy Communication Council and a dozen or more well heeled environmental groups, some with multimillion dollar budgets, were able to mount coordinated attacks. What black-hat Altamira and white-hat OIZ faced was a well funded and organized professional political advocacy coalition that was ready to fight a long and bitter war over Yucca Mountain. Someone needed to keep the Greens honest and Altamira took this rather thankless task on as its own.

Don Williams attacked NWPO head-on a number of issues that NWPO tried to finesse. When Judy Treichel began sending "informational" material to the high-schools, Williams made an issue out of the bias it contained. It was William's group that hammered Loux on the question of where NWPO money was being funneled, running a letter writing exchange trying to get answers to these money questions out of the Loux fiefdom.

To compensate for media perception already biased against Yucca Mountain, two local reporters were brought on to the Altamira staff to act as liason with the press and to blunt the attacks of the environmentalists. Brian Gresh and George Knapp, reporters for Channel 8, the local CBS affiliate were hired in November of 1991 for sums claimed to be in the six figures. Unfortunately, the perception that Gresh and Knapp were mercenary hired guns was not lost on either the media or the environmentalists who proceeded to use this to their advantage in press releases. Of course, the fourth estate conveniently overlooked the paychecks being collected by NWPO'staff.

One of the duties of George Knapp and Brian Gresh was to produce a fax attack tabloid called the Bullfrog County Times. In modern political warfare, fax machines have become a quick and direct way to reach influential members of the community because they are a precisely targeted information channel. Knapp and Gresh's satiric efforts in the Bullfrog were not without effect.

Bullfrog County refers to an aborted attempt in 1987 by then governor Bryan to carve out a separate county around Yucca Mountain from the already existing Nye County. The purpose of this move was to wring the most concessions from the federal government by creating a special tax district. Naming the fax attack the Bullfrog County Times was a none too subtle satire on Senator Bryan's and other state politicians opposition to Yucca Mountain.

Some of the Bullfrog's statements bordered on schoolyard level tauntings of the anti-nuclear cadres. Especially hard hit were Judy Treichel of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force and Bob Loux of the Nuclear Waste Project Office. For example:


The Treichel Issue

Fans of Bob Loux (and who isn't) may be disappointed with the latest edition of the Nevada Nuclear Waste News. According to our official "Loux Watch" talley, the boyish anti-nukester is quoted a mere eight times in the June issue of NNWN. This not only falls far short of Loux's record setting 25 quotes in an earlier issue, it's well below his twelve-quote average.

The Times is confident that NNWN will make it up to Loux somehow. After all, NNWN publisher Judy Treichel is Loux's main P.R. squeeze. If these two were in high school, Judy would probably be wearing Bob's letter sweater. For those who don't know, Loux is the guy who has awarded nearly a million dollars in contracts to Treichel, including her $337,000 doozie. These fat contracts probably represent the most stupid expenditure in state history. [Bullfrog Times, Vol 1 number 3, June 18, 1992]

The Sawyer Commission also took a lambasting:

Halloween is still two months away but our favorite frightmasters are already gathering together to conjure up their all-too-familiar tall tales of boogeyman, goblins, and other assorted make believe menaces. Yes, the Sawyer Commission is meeting again. These high priests of p.r. hoodoo and scientific voodoo really should consider holding their meetings at night, in the woods, while sitting around a campfire, because their endless stream of "scary" findings are just about as believable as the ghost stories one hears at a summer camp bivouac. And instead of having people like Don Schlesinger or Michon Mastadon serve on the commission, maybe they should appoint Freddy Krueger and the movie psycho who wears the hockey mask. [Bullfrog County Times, Volume 1 number 14]

If the Bullfrog took some liberties with the language, it also asked some hard hitting questions about what was going on in the state, especially probing Loux's control of the Nuclear Waste Project Office:

Loux has always pursued his own agenda, even when he's been in conflict with (Miller) administration policies. You see, Loux is a holdover from the Dick Bryan days, a Bryan mole in the Miller camp. Miller may be the boss, but Loux's loyalties will always be with Bryan. That's because Bobby and his senatorial patron are the baton twirlers in Nevada's neverending anti-nuke parade. . . .

In light of these political realities, Miller has sometimes had to look the other way while Loux uses his office and his $5 million budget to buttress the bank accounts and political activities of his anti-nuke friends, including crusading flower children like Judy Treichel and Citizen Alert. . . .

. . . A few days ago, (Loux) was caught red-handed and red-faced. A report written by his office concerning the nuke rocket project was submitted to the Air Force by Citizen Alert. Word for Word. Pretty nifty, huh? State employees, with salaries paid from public funds, do all the work and then hand over their report to Citizen Alert. Why not make Citizen Alert the official spokespersons for Nevada on all environmental issues? Cut out the middlemen. [Bullfrog County Times, Vol 1 Number 18]

The Bullfrog also came under attack from anonymous sources:

A mysterious plot aimed at muzzling the Bullfrog County Times has been thwarted, and some people are wondering what role state officials may have played in the squalid little drama. If you believe that state officials and state contractors should not use public funds to mail out poison pen letters, then read on.

Someone has mailed dozens of anonymous letters to nuclear industry executives and utility commissioners all over the country. The letters, which were mailed from Oakland, California, complaining about the Times' lambasting of various anti-nuclear crusaders. The phantom author apparently hoped to undercut support for the Times. It didn't work.[Bullfrog County Times, Vol 1 Number 16]

The anonymous letters were likely sent at the request of NWPO staff. The Oakland mail origin fueled speculation that the San Francisco P.R. firm Kamer-Singer under NWPO contract may have had something to do with this (though this is unconfirmed). NWPO was obviously conducting more than science at Yucca Mountain, it was in fact conducting a public relations campaign complete with dirty tricks, something not included in its mandate. This issue was derided in the Bullfrog to seemingly deaf ears:

Loux must have been stifling his giggles when he told his audience (on NWPO's KDWN radio show) that Nevada doesn't spend any of its oversight money on public relations, media, or advertising. Lucky for him the remark was made on radio. Otherwise we could have seen that he was biting his hand to keep from laughing. Nevada isn't spending any money on public relations, huh? What about the $205,000 contract given to a Las Vegas p.r. firm to handle "media relations" What about the other two p.r. firms which were given contracts by Loux? What about the $200 he spends to pay for each of his radio shows? What a jokester he is. He should move to Paris and let the French decide whether he's a greater comic genius than Jerry Lewis. The fact that he would pay for a talk show and then use that same show to claim he isn't spending any money on media is a classic moment in comedy.

Altamira and the Bullfrog County Times played rough in the public relations wars being fought over Yucca Mountain. Yet, we've shown NWPO conducted its own breed of rough politics, with Bob Loux playing the cracker-barrel populist. Altamira's efforts thus may have actually helped balance the public relations wars with the state agency, especially given the flamboyant nature of Nevada politics.

The area where Altamira's effectiveness suffered most was because of its involvement in its reporting on UFOs and "site 51" (the not-so-secret air force base claimed to house an alien space ship). Discussions with Don Williams of Altamira suggest that this involvement was at least moderately driven by the profit motive, perhaps answering why Altamira sent its reporters Knapp and Gresh to the Soviet Union in 1993 to research stories on Russian UFO sitings. Whether Altamira's UFO reporting had much impact on public perceptions of their Yucca Mountain campaign is hard to tell, however, the media did take some interest:


They Were KidKnapped

There's nothing quite like ratings week for top-notch investigative TV journalism. Take, for instance, Channel 13's decision to unleash George Knapp, a grand mullah in the Church of Stratospheric Proctology, so he could produce a five-part series on people who claim they've been abducted and violated by bald galactic invaders. Knapp, who has won cash awards from UFO groups for his "reporting," presented the subject with all the skepticism of a wild-eyed toddler approaching Santa Claus. Station honchos even let Knapp go so far as to scare parents with a warning that children are particularly susceptible to being beamed up to the orbiting craft. Now, the fact that there are people who think they've been gynecologically examined by big-headed creatures in spaceships is indeed worthy of study (much like epidemics of medieval peasants who swore they were possessed by demons), but giving true-believer George Knapp 25 minutes of precious air time on the topic is akin to asking Shirley MacLaine to investigate channelers. [Las Vegas Review Journal, Sat. February 13, 1993, p10B]