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Ron Vitto vs

The Media

Ron Vitto is a long time Las Vegas sportscaster who was brought on by OIZ Advertising in October 1991 to give credence to their pro-Yucca Mountain campaign. The amount of character assassination Mr. Vitto suffered as a result of having sided with the pro-Yucca forces was substantial, so much so that it calls into question the motives of his attackers, both in the media and the political arena.

After all, Vitto was chosen specifically because of his local reputation as a stand-up kind of guy, one who wouldn't steer you wrong. In an amazing transformation, Vitto was demonized by his former media colleagues and by members of the community, accused of being a liar and having sold out to the nuclear industry. Typical was a parody sung sung by disk jockeys Johnson and Toftee on their show on KKLZ in 1991:

YUCCA MOUNTAIN MAN

(sung to the theme, "Secret Agent Man")

There's a man who's selling out his neighbors

Ronny Vitto's downplaying the dangers

He's getting paid you see, by the sleezy DOE

Odds are he don't care about tomorrow

Yucca Mountain Man! Yucca Mountain Man!

He's taking him a paycheck, to look the other way

There's a guy you used to look up to

Now you got to wonder what Ron's up to

I guess he needs the bucks, to trudge through toxic muck

Vitto's sinking low into tomorrow

Yucca Mountain Man! Yucca Mountain Man!

Ron's making him a fast buck, and giving up his good name

Don't listen to him babe!

He's just getting a paycheck

Ron don't mean nothin' no more

You sold out man!

[Johnson and Toftee, KKLZ, 1991, as found in NWPO release of Yucca Mountain Man series]

It was Johnson and Toftee who were hired by Jan Jones (Las Vegas Mayor and Sawyer Commission member) for the Fletcher Jones auto dealership to do the two-headed Yucca Mountain Man parodies in their car ads.

Was Vitto's media transformation because he'd actually sold his soul to the devil? More likely it was because character assassination was simpler for the anti-nuclear forces than trying to win the debate on the basis of science. Especially interesting was the media and NWPO's response to a television advertisement in which Vitto had held a simulated nuclear pellet in his hand, attempting to demonstrate that the pellets were solids and not in volatile liquid or gaseous form. NWPO claimed this was an attempt at subterfuge and that Vitto was portraying the radiation from the pellets as harmless. Bob Loux suggested there was enough radiation in a real pellet to destroy the entire population of Nevada and that Vitto would be dead before the commercial was finished.

Curiously, no one in the media bothered to interview Vitto to find out his side of the story. As someone who suffered a year of vehement attacks in all the media outlets and even rated his own bumper sticker (Bury The Waste In Vitto's Back Yard) , one would think Vitto would have been interviewed by at least one intrepid reporter keen on digging up the dirt on why he had defected to the pro-nuclear side. Instead, the lack of professionalism of local reporters on this issue became a story in itself. Instead of doing their homework, reporters accepted NWPO's aggressive public relations effort to portray Vitto and anyone defending nuclear energy, or the study of the repository, as corrupt..

I asked Ron Vitto whether he thought the infamous pellet ads were meant to hide the dangers of radiation:

"I have been paid to be the announcer on television ads promoting public education on the subject of a nuclear repository. That does not mean I would knowingly say anything I knew to be untrue. I was encouraged at all times to research and question what was being taped for airing. I accepted the position for one reason. I did it because I believe the nuclear industry is the lesser of environmental evils and that Yucca Mountain is the best site on the planet to bury the wastes. [personal communication, May, 1993]

Honest people can certainly debate whether Ron Vitto's conclusions are correct concerning things nuclear, but the attacks that were made were brutally personal. For example, in a report done by Dan Burns of Channel 3, the local NBCaffiliate, Burns referred to the "so-called nuclear expert, Ron Vitto." In fact, Ron Vitto never claimed to be a nuclear expert, instead relying on the on-air statements of Dr. Phillip Klein and other nuclear professionals to provide expertise. Ironically, Dan Burns himself later laid claim to being a nuclear expert with his own reporting series. The fact that Burns report was poorly researched and distorted some nuclear issues was made painfully clear at the Sawyer Commission meeting of June 4, 1992 when Dr. Bob Luna from Sandia Laboratories thoroughly discounted the series .Later of course, Dan Burns went to work for Science Applications International Corportion on Yucca Mountain issues.

The fact that journalists attacked Vitto so rabidly even though he was one of their own shows how heightened emotions were able to take over reason at Yucca Mountain. A comment by Ron Vitto puts this in perspective:

"The fact is that politicians will always be politicians and businessmen will always look at the bottom line. What is extremely disconcerting to me has been the lack of integrity of the print and broadcast media in regard to Yucca Mountain. This includes obfuscation of facts and the injection of opinion for research in the guise of reporting." [personal communication, May, 1993]

Vitto seems to be upset at the local Nevada media more because they didn't do their professional homework regarding the repository than because they were biased in support or opposition to Yucca Mountain. In private conversations, Vitto has never been shy about expressing his feeling that you have to keep a watchful eye on the technocrats at DOE and in the nuclear industry, a position that is in complete variance to the media picture of him as a sell-out to nuclear bureaucrats. Vitto is capable of seeing both sides of the issue and had the media interviewed Vitto they would have discovered this for themselves. However, equally important in Vitto's mind seems to be the idea that the media should at least look at both sides of the story and do their job as impartial observers, not as self appointed politicians running for office with predefined agendas. Again from Vitto:

"It may be time for someone to report on the reporters. The truth is, broadcast journalism is no more than a search for the share-point." [personal communication, May, 1993]

Remember, this is from someone who has been in the broadcast profession for nearly thirty years. Hopefully, this puts some of the reporting that was done in Las Vegas on the Yucca Mountain issue in better perspective.