BY JUDD LEGUM – – – –
Two weeks ago, conservative billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his family purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest paper. On Tuesday, its editor-in-chief of five years, Mike Hengel, resigned.
If you are a subscriber to the Review-Journal, you would have read a grand total of 79 words on Wednesday about Hengel’s departure. According to the story, which did not have a byline, the decision was “mutual” and “he did not believe he was forced out.”
That wasn’t, however, the original story that was written by a Review-Journal reporter and approved by its editors. The actual story of Hengel’s departure was killed by the paper’s management team who now answers to Adelson, according to a source in the Review-Journal newsroom who spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution from the new ownership.
According to the source, the unpublished story revealed that Hengel was “offered” a buyout — but only after a public confrontation with Jason Taylor, the newspaper’s publisher, in a December 11 staff meeting.
At that meeting, Hengel confronted Taylor about why he personally removed quotes in the middle of the night from a different story about sale of the newspaper. The quotes Taylor cut were from Hengel himself, raising concerns about the new ownership, whose identity was being kept secret. Taylor did not consult Hengel before removing the quotes, the newsroom source said. Rather, Taylor contacted lower-level editors and ordered the cuts.
Taylor made it clear that, in his capacity representing the paper’s management, he would continue to personally review any stories about the sale of the paper to Adelson.
“He didn’t make any secret about him treating stories about the Review-Journal differently than other stories. He didn’t disguise that fact. He said: ‘I’m going to read and have final approval on stories that are about us.’ He thought that was reasonable,” the source, who attended the meeting, said.
Prior to the sale to Adelson, Taylor was not involved in reviewing or editing stories, the source said.
After the contentious meeting was the first time management approached Hengel about a buyout, the source added.
Hengel told the L.A. Times that “he first learned of his acceptance of the buyout” when someone read him an editorial by the Adelson family published Tuesday night that mentioned he had agreed to leave.
That article claimed the buyout offer was made by the “prior owners,” which was not true, according to a Review-Journal reporter who tweeted some details about Hengel’s departure. The prior owners offered some employees buyouts, but Hengel was not eligible.
The unpublished story of Hengel’s departure also put it in the context of the Review-Journal’s other recent reporting. Most notably, the paper reported that, about a month prior to the sale to Adelson, three reporters were abruptly ordered to drop everything and monitor three county judges. The assignment included monitoring the activities of a judge, Elizabeth Gonzalez, currently overseeing a wrongful termination lawsuit against Adelson and his casino company, Las Vegas Sands Corp. The reporters ended up writing 15,000 words about the judges, but none of it was ever published in the Review-Journal. But some of the information about Gonzalez ended up in an obscure Connecticut paper, the New Britain Herald, which is also tied to Adelson.
The publisher of the New Britain Herald, Michael Schroeder, also manages News + Media Capital Group LLC, the company the Adelsons’ created three months ago to purchase the Review-Herald. The controversial article, which includes a 10 paragraph section criticizing Elizabeth Gonzalez, contains passages that appear to be plagiarized.
The article was written by a reporter named Edward Clarkin. No one can find him. Editors at the New Britain Herald “can’t shed light on Clarkin’s identity, or how the business-court story came to be, or why the New Britain Herald was so interested in Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez.” Clarkin’s name, however, has an unusual connection to Michael Schroeder.
Adelson is one of the biggest Republican donors in the United States, spending over $100 million to influence the 2012 election. He is being heavily courted by the current field of Republican candidates.
So without an editor — or full control over editorial content — how does the staff of the Review-Journal forge ahead?
According to our source, it won’t be easy. “There so many questions about everything that it’s hard to know what to believe. It’s hard to know who is telling the truth, if anyone.”