Paging Public Editor! Rightwing Billionaire Revealed as Influential Newspaper's New Owner
After GOP mega-donor outed for purchase, watchdogs raise concerns over public implications
Now that casino magnate and billionaire rightwinger Sheldon Adelson has been outed as the mystery buyer of an influential Nevada newspaper, a watchdog group is demanding that the publication appoint an independent public editor to monitor conflicts of interest and ethical breaches.
"Vigorous, independent journalism is vital to the health of democracy," Todd O'Boyle, director of Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, said Tuesday responding to Adelson's purchase of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "While the First Amendment protects Mr. Adelson’s right to buy the paper and direct its operations, citizens should exercise their right to demand that he operate it in the public interest, or openly declare that the reporting from his publication will be slanted."
"Mr. Adelson is perhaps the most deep-pocketed political donor in the country," O'Boyle added. "He is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars—and maybe more—to secure the Republican presidential nomination and then the presidency itself for his preferred candidate."
Jim Naureckas, the editor of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting's watchdog journal Extra!, explained how the purchase could impact people locally as well.
"Local newspapers are the main vehicle for the public to get a glimpse of what's going on at the level of government that most impacts their lives," Naureckas told Common Dreams. "Las Vegas is a one-industry town, and Adelson is a casino billionaire who is part of that industry. This is not going to be good for the people of Las Vegas."
The warnings are the latest twist to a saga that started off shrouded in secrecy.
Earlier this month, staffers at the Las Vegas paper announced on Twitter that a buyer had purchased the publication for $140 million on the condition of anonymity, including from the outlet's own workers. In demanding information about their new owner, journalists cited ethical requirements for journalistic transparency, and according to the New York Times, some were actively investigating the sale for a potential article.
But then late last week, Fortune published the explosive revelation that Adelson—a controversial figure—had orchestrated the sale and structured it through his son-in-law Patrick Dumont, the current senior vice president of finance and strategy at Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp.
Adelson's family soon confirmed the purchase, claiming they kept the sale secret because they "did not want an announcement to distract from the important role Nevada continues to play in the 2016 presidential elections."
Earlier this week, the Review-Journal ran an editorial reflecting on the potential implications for the paper, which they say has a "conservative/libertarian tilt," concluding that the publication could see some major editorial shifts, from a "complete reversal" on its drug policy positions to a noticeable shift on defense spending.
Looking to another Adelson purchase, the editorial also noted that the magnate "isn't shy about using his free Tel Aviv newspaper, Israel Hayom, to support Mr. Netanyahu and their shared positions. Whether any of this newspaper's editorial page positions change will go a long way toward further explaining why Mr. Adelson purchased the Review-Journal."
However, separate Review-Journal reporting from four days ago indicates that the Adelson purchase may already be impacting its journalistic coverage.
"Just over a month before Sheldon Adelson's family was revealed as the new owner of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, three reporters at the newspaper received an unusual assignment passed down from the newspaper's corporate management: Drop everything and spend two weeks monitoring all activity of three Clark County judges," journalists James DeHaven, Jennifer Robison, and Eric Hartley wrote.
It turns out that one of the people closely observed was District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, whose "current caseload includes Jacobs v. Sands, a long-running wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp.," the journalists noted.
Naureckas emphasized that Adelson's latest purchase is "part of a trend of rich individuals buying papers as a kind of hobby or a vehicle to promulgate their points of view."
"It puts a tremendous amount of information power in the hands of a tiny number of people," said Naureckas. "Invariably, they're extremely wealthy people, because only the wealthy have enough money to buy a newspaper as a personal possession."