Publisher has hissy fit over former columnist receiving Hall of Fame honor

In one of the most petty, petulant and pusillanimous acts of perfidy in the annals of alleged journalism, the publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal has resigned from the board of directors of the Nevada Press Association in a fit of pique over longtime newspaper columnist John L. Smith being named to the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, according to sources.

The announcement of Smith’s well deserved and frankly overdue induction into the Hall of Fame officially came during the NPA awards banquet in Mesquite Saturday night. Publisher Craig Moon’s resignation from the board came the day before. He reportedly did not attend the banquet, though few would have recognized him if he had.

Smith, who has written a general interest column four or five days a week for more than 30 years at the Review-Journal, about 5,500 columns, resigned earlier this year after being told he could not write about two of the most significant characters in the Las Vegas gaming industry — Sheldon Adelson, now owner of the newspaper, and casino executive Steve Wynn, both of whom had unsuccessfully sued Smith for libel over passages in two of the 15 books he has written.

Smith was among a handful of writers at the Las Vegas newspaper who unearthed the identity of Adelson as the paper’s new owner in December. That enterprise contributed to one of the newspaper’s awards Saturday night. Adelson heads the Las Vegas Sands hotel and casino operation and is a generous donor to Republican political candidates. All the reporters who unearthed Adelson as the new owner have since left the paper. At least two of them won writing awards in the NPA annual contest.

In the resignation letter that he left on the desks of fellow staffers, Smith wrote, “I learned many years ago about the importance of not punching down in weight class. You don’t hit ‘little people’ in this craft, you defend them. In Las Vegas, a quintessential company town, it’s the blowhard billionaires and their political toadies who are worth punching. And if you don’t have the freedom to call the community’s heavyweights to account, then that ‘commentary’ tag isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed. … If a Las Vegas columnist is considered ‘conflicted’ because he’s been unsuccessfully sued by two of the most powerful and outspoken players in the gaming industry, then it’s time to move on.”

Adelson’s suit said Smith’s book “Sharks in the Desert” made false implications that he “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

Adelson asked that the libel case against Smith be dismissed when Smith’s attorney, Don Campbell, obtained confidential Gaming Control Board records. “In short, Adelson’s claims were about to be exposed for what they were … false and vindictive,” Campbell said at the time. Though he prevailed, the litigation forced Smith into bankruptcy.

Wynn sued when an ad for “Running Scared,” an ad Smith did not write, said the book ”details why a confidential Scotland Yard report calls Wynn a front man for the Genovese crime family.”

The book itself reported that the New Scotland Yard report was “not entirely accurate” and was politically motivated and largely based on investigative efforts of U.S. authorities who did not reach the same conclusion. Smith eventually was dismissed as a defendant and the publisher of the book reached an undisclosed settlement.

That the suits over books unrelated to his job as a columnist were dismissed for lacking merit mattered not to the new Adelson minions, who haven’t been in Las Vegas long enough to learn what the word “juice” means, though they certainly kowtow to those who have it.

 

 

John L. Smith: The tweets heard ’round the newsroom

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While the management of the Las Vegas newspaper wimps out and refuses to acknowledge to its readers that its 30-year star columnist, John L. Smith, has resigned, the Las Vegas Sun insert in that paper today broke the news with a story in print that it had first posted online on Tuesday evening. A little slow on the uptake over at the Sun.

That Sun story relates:

On Saturday, editor Keith Moyer (editor of the Review-Journal) told a meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists at UNLV that Smith would no longer be allowed to write about Adelson “as long as I’m editor,” according to an R-J reporter who tweeted details of the event. Smith had written numerous times about Adelson, including in a December 2015 R-J column following the revelation that the billionaire Las Vegas casino magnate and his family had purchased the paper.

In that column, Smith called Adelson “precisely the wrong person to own this or any newspaper.”

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According to a Politico source, Smith was first told not to write about Adelson on Jan. 28, the same day that Craig Moon was named publisher of the paper, but that did not become public until Saturday, when Moyer used the excuse of the lawsuit as a conflict of interest, even though the suit was thrown out and Smith had written about Adelson many times over the years since then.

Apparently Moyer was not aware that Smith had also been sued unsuccessfully by casino owner Steve Wynn, because the reporter tweeted:

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This series of exchanges prompted a retweet by Smith and some additional commentary of the 140-character variety:

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Reportedly Smith and the reporter were chewed out for embarrassing the paper with their Twitter comments, though it was the editor who publicly embarrassed the paper. Smith was also told he could not write about Wynn, though he had recently been writing about the legal power struggle between Wynn and his ex-wife.

Smith resigned on Tuesday and the paper has since been silent on the matter.

“If I can’t do my job, if I can’t hold the heavyweights in the community to account, then I’m just treading water,” Smith told NPR in an interview. “It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there was no other decision to make — at least in my mind.”

Adelson sued Smith in 2005 over a passage in a book called “Sharks in the Desert” that Adelson’s attorneys said were false implications that Adelson “was associated with unsavory characters and unsavory activities.”

The case was dismissed in 2008 when Smith’s attorney obtained access to confidential Gaming Control Board records relating to Adelson’s gaming license. Had the case gone to trial, that could have become evidence. But with the dismissal it remains sealed.

In an affidavit filed in the case, attorney Don Campbell wrote that the “most compelling reason for Adelson’s dramatic desire to dismiss was unquestionably the fact that Smith was about to acquire evidence from the Gaming Control Board which would, by any reasonable analysis, lend itself to thoroughly impeaching critical portions of Mr. Adelson’s sworn testimony as it related to his personal and business history. …

“In short, Adelson’s claims were about to be exposed for what they were … false and vindictive.”

Moyer wrote in an email to NPR, “I was sorry to see him resign and I wish him the very best. I decided that the strongest measure was best for the Review-Journal. John had thousands of other people, things and news events from which to choose to write about.”

According to NPR, then-interim managing editor Glenn Cook had told Smith he could not write about Adelson, to which Smith replied, “He’s the one who sued me, he lost, and I’m conflicted?”

Smith says Cook told him: “You can’t do it or you’ll be fired.”

Moyer told NPR, “I never suggested or believed John would use his column to settle a personal score, but if his writing on Adelson and Wynn created even a perception of score settling in the minds of readers, then it would have reflected on the credibility of the institution. Invoking ‘conflict of interest’ restrictions might not be common in Nevada, but they are elsewhere.”

Moyer took the opportunity to lecture those who might deign to criticize the paper’s management and/or ownership: “The real question reporters should be asking is: ‘Did Sheldon Adelson order the ban?’ But I suspect they’re not asking that because they’ve already made up their minds that he did. Shame on them.”

Shame?

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