Las Vegas Review-Journal Columnist Resigns after Being Told He Could Not Discuss Sheldon Adelson
John L. Smith has written 5 columns a week for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for nearly 30 years, but he announced he would be leaving Nevada’s biggest newspaper this week. Smith told NPR Radio he was told he could no longer write about two of the biggest names in Las Vegas, including the new owner of the Review-Journal, Sheldon Adelson.
For the sake of journalistic credibility, John L. Smith decided he could not work under those terms. So he resigned from the newspaper he was associated with in the local community.
Sharks in the Desert
In an interview with NPR, the columnist said his decision to resign was made for him, because a journalist has to conduct himself in a certain way.
He told the interviewer, “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. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but there was no other decision to make — at least in my mind.”
John L. Smith and Sheldon Adelson have a long history. Back in 2005, Smith was sued by Adelson for comments he made in the book Sharks in the Desert about the power brokers of Las Vegas. In one chapter, Smith told the story of Sheldon Adelson’s rise from a working-class childhood in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood to his success as a billionaire casino owner.
The chapter included details of Adelson’s first avenue to wealth, vending machines, and how organized crime was involved in the vending machine industry in those days. Though Smith did not allege Adelson had any connection to organized crime, the gaming mogul sued for $15 million, claiming his reputation had been damaged. Smith won the lawsuit, but the legal fees from the court proceedings mounted and it forced the writer into bankruptcy.
2005 Lawsuit against John L. Smith
In a January interview with NPR, John L. Smith discussed the lawsuit. Speaking of his new boss, Smith said, “I was sued at a time when my daughter was in the hospital being treated for brain cancer.”
Smith’s daughter survived the cancer treatments, which include chemo therapy and radiation, but it put the family under financial stress. The lawsuit exacerbated that distress. Of the timing of the lawsuit, John L. Smith said, “I thought it was particularly cruel, quite frankly.”
$200,000 in Legal Bills
The legal bills from the lawsuit eventually reached $200,000, a sum even most successful columnists cannot dismiss. John L. Smith told NPR that Adelson agreed to drop the lawsuit and pay John L. Smith a $200,000 payment for medical bills, if he would not tell his bosses at the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
One other stipulation was attached to the offer. Smith explained, “I would admit that I meant to malign him, and libel him, and paid a $1 judgment, which would have ended my career. And he of course knew that.”
So the lawsuit continued for years, until it was dismissed with prejudice, meaning the suit could not be renewed. Despite the legal victory, Smith had to declare bankruptcy.
Smith’s daughter survived, but is confined to a wheelchair these days. Smith says she makes the best of life. He said of the hard times during the battle with cancer and Adelson’s lawsuit, “We just soldiered on.”
Las Vegas Sands Statement
NPR’s attempts to get a statement on the earlier story were rebuffed by representatives of Mr. Adelson. Ron Reese, the SVP for Global Communications at Las Vegas Sands, gave a statement on the reason for the lawsuit.
Mr. Reese said, “Las Vegas Sands operates in an extremely competitive and regulated industry, which requires complete transparency and the highest ethical standards. In short, Mr. Adelson’s reputation means everything — especially in this business.”
New Policies at the Review-Journal
In many ways, the firing or resignation of John L. Smith was probably preordained. Shortly after the Las Vegas Review-Journal was bought, the paper’s publish, Jason Taylor, began to review, delay, and change the writing in certain news articles. Mike Hegel, the paper’s editor at the time, took exception to the meddling of his writer’s columns, so he was fired. The message was clear that a new set of policies would dominate at the Review-Journal.
In response to Smith’s resignation, the paper’s new editor-in-chief, J. Keith Moyer, sent an email to NPR. The email justified Moyer’s new policy, which told Smith to stop reporting about Sheldon Adelson.
Statement from Las Vegas Review-Journal
Moyer’s email said, “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.“
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