For a journalist like me, seeing a newspaper fade away is beyond heartbreaking. It marks the departure of a friend I can argue with, compete with, disagree with, and yet respect.
Unless Las Vegas Sun Publisher Brian Greenspun decides to put his own money into reviving the Sun (which I doubt) or finds an investor (which might happen), it’s likely the print version of the Las Vegas Sun will succumb, mostly because his three siblings don’t want to keep pouring money into it. The dissolution of a joint operating agreement with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, as three Greenspun siblings want, probably dooms the newspaper as an paper insert in the R-J. But the Sun may survive on the Web, if Brian Greenspun digs deep into his pockets.
The saddest newspaper ending I have watched was the Valley Times. Bob Brown (no relation to our publisher of the same name) was a passionate newsman. He worked for newspapers all over the state, including the R-J as editor, before buying the Valley Times in North Las Vegas in 1973.
He turned it into a must-read publication for politicians, business people and gamers, even though by 1979 its circulation hovered under 10,000. The R-J was the biggest paper, with a circulation of more than 69,000, and the Sun’s circulation just topped 43,000. Take my word, competition among the three was fierce.
Brown was one of those newsmen praised even today as lovable and a magnificent journalist.
Sadly, he loved his newspaper so much, he did everything he could to keep it going. He stopped paying taxes, a mistake. He got in bed with the mob, an even bigger mistake. He used his newspaper to launder money for the mob and, on the mob’s behalf, tried to extort a politician.
His newspaper’s financial woes made Brown vulnerable to selling his credibility.
The Reno Evening Gazette’s 1979 expose of the ties among Brown, mob associate Frank Rosenthal and mob frontman Allen Glick showed how Brown compromised his ethics in 1976 by switching his editorial position from criticizing state gaming officials for not being tough enough on Rosenthal to becoming the guy’s champion.
State and federal authorities began investigating Brown’s relationship with Rosenthal when the mob associate was entertainment director at the Stardust, then owned by Glick’s Argent Corp.
After his election in 1978, Gov. Robert List said Brown and Rosenthal tried to extort him when he was attorney general and running for governor. The newsman promised to withhold unfavorable stories if List would assure that Rosenthal received a gaming license. List refused. The state never changed its position that Rosenthal didn’t deserve a license.
List told me he reported the extortion attempt to the FBI but declined to wear a wire because the extortion attempt (which Brown and Rosenthal denied) took place in the final hectic days of the campaign. After the election, Brown published stories about List taking comps at the Stardust while attorney general — and when the Stardust was under investigation — and getting reimbursed $30 per diem by the state. List repaid Glick $3,200.
Brown faced tax troubles in the 1970s. He stopped paying withholding taxes for his employees and owed $137,000. Then, in July 1982, the Internal Revenue Service seized the newspaper’s assets and closed the offices in an effort to cover $200,000 in back taxes. That drove the Valley Times into bankruptcy court.
Brown was indicted on criminal tax charges. He pleaded guilty in 1983 to filing a false income tax return in 1976 and underreporting personal and corporate income in 1976 and 1977.
In 1984, Brown testified against ad man Jerry May, helping convict May for an illegal money-laundering scheme.
Brown admitted cashing $368,000 worth of checks written to the Valley Times by May’s Southwest Advertising. He kept 10 percent and passed the rest on to May in 1976 and 1977. The checks to the newspaper were to pay for ads that never ran, and most money returned to May was kicked back to the Chicago mob.
Brown said he participated in order to keep the Valley Times alive.
The investigation was part of a federal probe into the systematic corporate looting of Glick’s Argent Corp., which included the Stardust, Fremont, and Hacienda resorts. Yet even the prosecutor called Brown “a pillar of the community.”
“He has devoted a large measure of his life to the public affairs of this state when any number of other pursuits would have been easier and more financially rewarding,” wrote then-Strike Force prosecutor Stan Hunterton.
Brown died June 8, 1984. Two weeks later, the paper closed, stripping from Las Vegas the honor of being the only city with a population of 500,000 to have three daily newspapers.
By that time, it had few employees and little of consequence to read, except for Brown’s editorials and his political insiders column. The man considered the soul of the paper kept it going throughout his lifetime despite the disgrace of aligning with mobsters to do it.
I hated to see the Valley Times shut down, just as I’ll hate to see the Las Vegas Sun insert disappear if Brian Greenspun decides he can’t afford or manage to keep it going in print.
The paper version will be missed, even though there are days when there is little of consequence to read that is locally produced. But there are days when particular local stories shine. And that Pulitzer for Public Service in 2009 never goes away, even if the print newspaper does.
Yet deep down, I feel worse about the Valley Times and the tragedy of a man corrupted to keep his newspaper alive, than I do about infighting within the Greenspun family over money.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275.