Guy W. Farmer: A Nevada newspaper saga
I’ve been a Newspaper Guy my entire adult life, and that’s why I’m so concerned about what’s going on at Nevada’s highest circulation and most influential daily newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal (LVRJ).
Yes, I know newspapers aren’t “trending” on social media, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter anymore as we prepare to choose a new president and new political leaders in November. Most voters read newspapers and many social media followers don’t bother to vote, focusing instead on what their cat had for breakfast, or the latest misadventures of the well-endowed but hateful Kardashian clan.
Here are the facts: the Las Vegas Review-Journal was recently sold to multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who owns the Venetian and the Palazzo on the Vegas Strip along with huge casinos in Macao, Singapore and Bethlehem, Pa., of all places. The sale resulted in an exodus of experienced journalists from the LVRJ newsroom, including Executive Editor Michael Hengel, 61, who took a buyout. Adelson said his children bought the LVRJ and disavowed any interest in running the newspaper, adding the paper would be managed by its former owner, Gatehouse Media.
Nevertheless, Adelson’s purchase of the LVRJ raises a number of interesting, and even troubling, questions. One of those questions is whether the casino mogul and major political campaign contributor will use the paper’s editorial page as his personal soap box. Adelson is a fervent supporter of Israel and mega-donor to conservative Republican candidates for state and national offices. As my politically astute Reno friend Ty Cobb put it, Adelson’s purchase of the LVRJ “raises questions about the paper’s future stance on issues of concern” to the billionaire including his personal friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his strong support for conservative candidates and his continuing opposition to Internet gambling.
On the latter issue, state gaming regulators are looking into Adelson’s purchase of the Review-Journal. The Gaming Commission and Gaming Control Board have previously questioned the outside investments of state gaming licensees. For example, the powerful Gaming Commission has ruled licensees can’t become involved in the so-called “medical” marijuana business because the drug remains illegal under federal law. Of course I endorse the Commission’s decision on this controversial issue and Adelson, who lost a son to drug abuse, is strongly opposed to marijuana legalization.
I can only imagine the turmoil in the LVRJ newsroom as veteran journalists warily eye their new boss.
“Newspaper owners aren’t supposed to interfere with news content,” top editors wrote in a commentary, “but it’s perfectly appropriate for them to seize full control of the editorial page and steer the philosophy of their editorial board.” The journalists recognized Adelson “will be all in for the Republican (presidential) nominee,” but that won’t change the paper’s conservative political philosophy.
However, the LVRG has supported the legalization of medical marijuana and the expansion of Internet gaming, so the paper’s opinions on those issues would probably change as the editors acknowledged when they wrote “whether any of this newspaper’s editorial positions change will go a long way toward further explaining why Mr. Adelson purchased the Review-Journal.” Most editorial writers march to the tune of their owners and publishers, and that’s just a fact of life in the newspaper business.
A personal postscript: The editors and publishers of the Appeal have never interfered with my columns, and that’s just how I like it. I don’t tell them how to run their newspaper and they don’t tell me what to write, so you’ll have to put up with me for a while longer. Thank you.
Guy W. Farmer, of Carson City, is a veteran journalist.