The new owners of the Las Vegas Review-Journal pledge not only to publish a better newspaper, but also to hire "a reader advocate or ombudsman to respond to reader concerns."
That's a fine idea.
The ombudsman can start by trying to explain to readers why News + Media Capital Group manager Michael Schroeder is still associated with a company that promises to produce a product that is "fair, unbiased and accurate," now that a spotlight has been shined on his bias, deceit and suspected plagiarism.
Schroeder, publisher of the diminutive Connecticut daily the New Britain Herald, was trotted out two weeks ago as the face of a Delaware LLC that had just announced its $140 million purchase of the Review-Journal. For several reasons, not the least of which was the above-market purchase price, staffers immediately suspected that casino mogul and multibillionaire Sheldon Adelson was the money man behind the corporate curtain. Schroeder raised red flags with the staff when he refused to identify the new buyers and remarked, "They want you to focus on your jobs ... don't worry about who they are."
Talk about shooting yourself in the loafer. If Schroeder's lack of transparency ended there, by now his odd behavior might have been all but forgotten after the Adelson family's more recent acknowledgment that it had purchased the newspaper. Wealthy families buy newspapers all the time. The only real question is whether the Adelsons, given the family patriarch's status as an unprecedented Republican Party mega-donor, would keep their promise to protect the independence that's essential to the process of gathering news and crafting commentary.
Unfortunately, Schroeder's journalistic puppetry in preparing an inaccurate story about business courts meant primarily to smear District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who happens to preside over a bruising ongoing litigation involving Adelson, sends a disturbing message to the staff and readers alike. The story, published in Schroeder's New Britain newspaper, raises serious questions: Not about Gonzalez's competence, but about Schroeder's veracity.
Under the byline "Edward Clarkin," almost certainly a Schroeder alter ego, the piece contains an inaccurate appraisal of the judge and sections that appear to have been lifted without proper attribution, or created from whole cloth. The Hartford Courant reported the article contained "several passages that are nearly identical to work that previously appeared in other publications."
Ill-conceived, poorly executed. Nice job, Hemingway. To call the story ham-handed does a disservice to ham.
When Review-Journal reporters attempted to interview Schroeder about the story, he was no help and said he had "no idea" how to reach Edward Clarkin.
Who knows. Maybe Schroeder doesn't own a mirror. I'm guessing he has an imaginary friend.
He wasn't much more loquacious when a reporter from The Courant came calling, responding in an email, "I have no comment on our newsgathering, story selection or writers, as always."
Well, Schroeder owes Review-Journal readers some answers. And the longer this lingers, the worse it looks for Schroeder, the newspaper — and especially its new owners.
This can't be the person Adelson intended to be associated with the Review-Journal as it enters a new era of ownership devoted to creating "a better newspaper, a forward-thinking newspaper that is worthy of our Las Vegas community." Decide for yourself whether Schroeder is worthy of running Connecticut newspapers in New Britain and Bristol.
Following revelations about Schroeder's shenanigans in the Gonzalez hit piece, devoted veteran reporter Steve Majerus-Collins resigned from The Bristol Press citing a lack of professionalism by the boss. In a heartfelt, eloquent and stinging farewell on Facebook headlined, "Why I quit my job as a reporter today," Majerus-Collins illustrates Schroeder's track record of undercutting reporters and playing footsie with advertisers at the expense of the news.
When he became aware of the half-slick hack work that produced the Gonzalez story, Majerus-Collins resigned, offering, "In sum, the owner of my paper is guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions."
"There is no excusing this behavior. A newspaper editor cannot be allowed to stamp on the most basic rules of journalism and pay no price."
Schroeder has already tried to hustle our own reporters, and by extension the readers they serve. This is much worse than an inauspicious start to a working relationship. In a few lame moves, he has managed to make a mockery of the new owners' mission statement.
The damage is great. The Adelsons have now hired crisis manager and attorney and former Clinton administration special counsel Mark Fabiani to attempt to untangle this self-inflicted mess. That's another fine idea.
I'm betting Fabiani more than earns his fee.