After weeks under a harsh national spotlight, the newspaper executive embroiled in a media-ethics scandal that involved the Las Vegas Review-Journal issued a formal mea culpa.
But the Tuesday apology didn’t address concerns about cross-country assignments that involved unusual scrutiny of Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez. One of those assignments resulted in a story about Gonzalez that inexplicably ran on Dec. 2 in a Connecticut newspaper. The other, issued by former Review-Journal owner GateHouse Media, had three Review-Journal reporters closely monitoring Gonzalez and two other judges without a clear purpose.
In fact, the statement from Michael Schroeder, who owns Central Connecticut Communications and managed the Review-Journal for two tumultuous weeks in December, raised more questions than it answered, media ethicists said.
“Schroeder’s note fails to explain anything that people want to know about this mystery article (on Gonzalez),” said Jay Rosen, a media critic and journalism professor at New York University. “What did he think he was doing? Why did he publish it? And did he temporarily forget that Bristol (Conn.) is not in Nevada?”
Schroeder’s apology — “I personally apologize to you, our readers,” he wrote in a note that ran in the print edition of his newspapers but was not published online — stemmed from his role in the Dec. 2 story, which ran in his New Britain Herald newspaper and questioned Gonzalez’ fairness.
Schroeder acknowledged assigning, editing and publishing the article, which criticized Gonzalez’ handling of a wrongful-termination case against Las Vegas Sands Corp.
The story has raised eyebrows because the family of Sands CEO and President Sheldon Adelson purchased the Review-Journal on Dec. 10 through its Delaware-domiciled News + Media Capital Group and installed Schroeder as the paper’s manager, though an Adelson spokesman said Monday that Schroeder is no longer manager of the RJ or News + Media.
The piece also contained plagiarized passages and made-up quotes, and was published under the pseudonym Edward Clarkin.
“The level of reporting in this story did not meet our standards. … You depend on us to provide true, unbiased information. We will continue to strive to do so and earn your trust on a daily basis,” Schroeder wrote in his apology to readers.
Reached on his cellphone Tuesday afternoon, Schroeder declined to comment further.
“Everything is in the letter,” he said.
Actually, one major element is missing, Rosen said.
“It’s not a genuine apology. In order to apologize properly, you first have to explain what you did,” he said.
For starters, Schroeder never disclosed who Edward Clarkin is. Signs point to Schroeder himself — his middle name is Edward and his mother’s maiden name was Clarkin. But he merely wrote in his apology that a “pseudonym … was used.”
Nor did Schroeder explain why he ran the story, whether anyone asked him to publish it, or where he obtained information used in the piece. Among the story’s details: Gonzalez “forced” Sands to respond to 70 or 80 detailed questions through “corporate designees” — something she allegedly didn’t require of other litigants in her courtroom — and fined the company $250,000 when it “couldn’t provide information because of restrictions against access” to data from Macau, where Sands has three megaresorts.
The report is especially troubling in light of the Review-Journal’s judge-watching assignment, which didn’t result in an RJ story though a long report was prepared for GateHouse executives.
“We still don’t know what happened to the material that RJ reporters collected,” Rosen said. “We don’t know what the connection is between that investigation of judges and this monstrosity that appeared (in the New Britain Herald). And most importantly, from my point of view, we don’t know where those instructions originated and why that assignment was given.”
Review-Journal executives have said they never sent the information to GateHouse corporate headquarters, and no one from there ever asked for the file.
Executives with GateHouse Media, which flipped the RJ to the Adelson family in December for $140 million after buying it in March for $102.5 million as part of an eight-daily chain, have repeatedly refused to tell RJ reporters the origins of the judge-watching directive.
In their response, Schroeder and GateHouse executives have missed a chance to repair damage to their papers’ credibility, Rosen said.
“When you have massive screwups and scandals like this, it’s not only that they wear away at trust, it’s that the response to them is a moment of truth,” he said. “If you genuinely screw up and you genuinely examine it, you can actually come out with more trust. Mistakes themselves are not fatal to trust. They can be an opportunity to … rebuild and actually strengthen the bond with readers. Acts like Schroeder’s just make it a lot worse and actually compound the original error.”
Contact Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @_JRobison on Twitter.