Now that we know the Adelson family owns the Las Vegas Review-Journal, what can you, our readers, expect?
Considering the independence of our newsroom and the determination of its dedicated staff are responsible for revealing the Adelsons' purchase of the newspaper in the first place, we're hopeful the Review-Journal will deliver more of the same.
When the sale of the Review-Journal was announced Dec. 10 — the second time the newspaper had been bought this year — none of the owners were identified. News + Media Capital Group LLC, an entity incorporated for the purchase of the Review-Journal and a handful of sister publications, was the only name given. And it was made clear that no other information about the newspaper's ownership would be provided. The secrecy surrounding the transaction was unprecedented in the U.S. media industry, which depends on transparency for its credibility.
We knew you wouldn't trust us if the identities of this newspaper's owners remained secret. And we knew we had but one chance to regain that trust: Being the first to conclusively report the identities of our owners.
Clues pointed to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire chairman and CEO of casino operator Las Vegas Sands Corp. By Wednesday, we had properly verified his ownership. In a copyrighted story by the Review-Journal's Howard Stutz, Jennifer Robison and James DeHaven, sources confirmed that Mr. Adelson's son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, a Las Vegas Sands vice president, arranged the deal with Mr. Adelson's financing. The story compelled Mr. Adelson's family to release a statement Wednesday night confirming their purchase. They said "it was always our intention to publicly announce our ownership of the R-J," but because of Tuesday's Republican presidential debate at The Venetian (a Las Vegas Sands property), "we did not want an announcement to distract from the important role Nevada continues to play in the 2016 presidential election."
The role the Adelsons play in the presidential campaign and their considerable political power demanded immediate disclosure of their ownership in the newspaper. Mr. Adelson, his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, and Las Vegas Sands are the biggest donors in American politics, with almost all of their support dedicated to Republican Party candidates and causes. In 2012, they gave at least $100 million and perhaps more than $150 million to candidates, super PACs and political nonprofits across the country. Last year, they gave millions of dollars to candidates for Nevada offices, from legislative seats to judgeships. Next year, they're expected to pour tens of millions of dollars into the 2016 campaign, if not more.
Having a casino magnate and the state's biggest political contributors control Nevada's largest media outlet is an ethical challenge. But every newspaper company in the country has conflicts of interest. The Washington Post is owned by Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. The Boston Globe is owned by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry. Two of the Review-Journal's previous owners, Stephens Media and Donrey Media, presented their own conflicts. Conflicts of interest can be properly, credibly handled by full disclosure and the absence of editorial interference by ownership.
Upon the Review-Journal's sale by New Media Investment Corp., which had purchased the newspaper in March, to News + Media Capital Group, New Media subsidiary GateHouse Media was retained to operate the Review-Journal. Review-Journal Publisher Jason Taylor has said that in face-to-face meetings with Adelson representatives, he was promised they would not meddle in content decisions. However, Mike Reed, CEO of New Media, said he couldn't promise that the Adelsons would not exert influence over newspaper content.
You can be assured that if the Adelsons attempt to skew coverage, by ordering some stories covered and others killed or watered down, the Review-Journal's editors and reporters will fight it. How can you be sure? One way is to look at how we covered the secrecy surrounding the newspaper's sale. We dug in. We refused to stand down. We will fight for your trust. Every. Single. Day. Even if our former owners and current operators don't want us to.
Mr. Reed told The Associated Press last week that the Review-Journal suffered no loss of integrity while its owners were anonymous, that the public didn't care about the buyer and that reporters pushed the story with the intention of creating controversy.
What we wanted was the openness we depend on to do our jobs.
Maintaining your confidence in our integrity starts with disclosure — and lots of it. Beyond the Adelsons' politics, beyond their casino and convention business through The Venetian, The Palazzo, the Sands Expo and Convention Center, and properties in Pennsylvania, Singapore and China, they're deeply involved in charitable and civic organizations. They have a foundation and a private school. We'll disclose their ownership of the Review-Journal when covering the gaming industry, when government actions affect their properties, when Las Vegas Sands and its subsidiaries have business in the courts, and even when we're reviewing or previewing shows, restaurants and events at their properties. We'll disclose candidates and office holders who've received political contributions from the Adelsons. And if a story might cast a Las Vegas Sands competitor in poor light, we'll disclose our ownership in that case, as well. We'll disclose, disclose, disclose. That way, you can be the judge of whether we're being fair or whether we've become a micromanaged public relations tool.
The Adelsons say their intentions are good, that they spent $140 million on the company "as both a financial investment as well as an investment in the future of the Las Vegas community. ... We believe in this community and want to help make Las Vegas an even greater place to live. We believe deeply that a strong and effective daily newspaper plays a critical role in keeping our state apprised of the important news and issues we face on a daily basis."
We'll do everything we can to to preserve our newsroom's independence — and hold the Adelsons to their word.