Las Vegas Sun Publisher and Editor Brian Greenspun has claimed in court that the Review-Journal is trying to drive him out of business.
But Greenspun repeatedly sought a lucrative buyout to break up a long-running joint operating agreement between the two newspapers that kept the Sun afloat, federal court papers filed Monday by the Review-Journal allege.
A few months after the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson bought the Review-Journal in December 2015, Greenspun offered to give up the Sun and “to make me go away” in return for $20 million, the court papers allege.
“Mr. Greenspun never expressed any real concern about the printed Sun or its editorial voice ceasing to exist, in sharp contrast to assertions used in pleadings to this court in an effort to support the LV Sun’s sham litigation,” the court papers state. “To the contrary, Mr. Greenspun was eager to be bought out, repeatedly attempting to push the deal forward.”
Greenspun could not be reached for comment late Monday. Greenspun and the Sun have not yet had the opportunity to respond to the latest filing in court, and prior filings have contradicted some of the Review-Journal’s claims.
The Review-Journal’s allegations are part of a lengthy response the newspaper filed in answer to a Sun federal lawsuit, which alleges anti-trust violations and seeks, among other things, to block the Review-Journal’s push in state court to end the latest version of the JOA signed in 2005. The Review-Journal contends the Sun has not lived up to its obligation under the agreement to put out a quality newspaper.
The parties entered into a JOA in 1989 under the U.S. Newspaper Preservation Act to keep the Sun afloat and preserve its presence in Southern Nevada. The two newspapers merged their business operations but remained independent editorially.
For the next 16 years, the Review-Journal printed the Sun as an afternoon newspaper. Then, in a new joint operating arrangement in 2005, the Sun agreed to be distributed as a section in the morning Review-Journal. By its terms, that agreement is scheduled to expire in 2040.
Each news organization’s website operates outside the joint operating agreement.
The Sun filed a complaint against the Review-Journal in state court in 2018 that raised concerns about the distribution of profits under the JOA and how the Sun is promoted in the joint newspaper.
A judge more than a year ago put a hold on the state litigation until a federal court resolves matters that may impact the state case.
The court papers filed Monday state that during the buyout talks, Greenspun implied that a deal would make the lives of the Adelsons easier.
“Throughout those discussions, Mr. Greenspun concealed the fact that the (2005) JOA was never actually approved by the (U.S. Department of Justice), attempting to leverage millions of dollars out of the LVRJ by intimating that he would enforce an agreement he knew to be unlawful,” the filing alleges.
Greenspun offer rejected
The Review-Journal rejected Greenspun’s $20 million offer, and he later indicated he would accept less money, the court papers say.
In May 2017, Greenspun proposed ending the JOA in return for $5 million and his own column in the Review-Journal, according to the court filing. Greenspun also proposed splitting up the printed media market in Las Vegas, with him staying out of daily publication and the Review-Journal mostly leaving the weekly news and entertainment portion to him.
According to the allegations, part of Greenspun’s proposal included a “no poach” agreement between the two news organizations to not solicit each other’s employees. But the Review-Journal rejected that idea.
That prompted Greenspun to up his buyout demands to $10 million, the court papers state.
When it became clear to Mr. Greenspun that the Adelsons would not pay him $10 million and refrain from future competition with him, Greenspun schemed to retaliate against the Review-Journal, the papers allege.
“Mr. Greenspun’s scheme included directing LV Sun to breach the 2005 JOA by tanking its quality and sabotaging the JOA, and it culminated with the filing of the sham anti-trust lawsuit in this (federal) court,” according to the filing.
The Review-Journal alleges that the Sun withholds local news content in favor of wire service stories and uses its print edition to drive readers away from the companies’ joint print product and to the Sun’s website instead.
“Instead of helping to make the Review-Journal/Sun newspaper a success,” the court papers allege, “Mr. Greenspun is deliberately subverting it — starving the LV Sun’s pages of original content, loading them with syndicated filler, which is often outdated, as well as using access to the LVRJ’s large readership to try to convince those readers to drop the printed newspaper in favor of LasVegasSun.com.”