Sheldon Adelson Has Acquired the Las Vegas Review-Journal
Last Thursday, Nevada’s largest newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was sold for $140 million. That a newspaper was sold is not in and of itself that interesting. What was interesting about this was a) the exorbitant price that was paid for the daily and b) that the identity of the buyer was unknown. Rumors have been swirling and today Dan Primack of Fortune.com confirmed them: casino magnate and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson has purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
The secrecy surrounding the sale irritated many in the media and politics, including many of the newspaper’s own reporters. On Monday, a number of Review-Journal reporters tweeted photos of the company’s “Code of Ethics,” highlighting the “Be Accountable and Transparent” commandment.
The day after the sale, Review-Journal reporter James DeHaven wrote about the questions about the new owner. At the time, all that was known was that the newspaper was bought by News + Media Capital Group LLC, a company that nobody really knew anything about. Neither News + Media manager Michael Schroeder nor Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher Jason Taylor would reveal anything, though Taylor told employees that the new owners would not interfere in the editorial content of the paper.
That didn’t satisfy anyone. DeHaven discussed the issue with a “trio of media watchdogs” and said that they agreed that, “Not disclosing ownership…raises ethical questions about how reporters can possibly disclose conflicts of interest with the company that signs their paychecks.”
One initial piece of evidence that it could have been Adelson behind the purchase was the sale price. At $140 million for the Review-Journal and its sister publications, News + Media paid $38 million than the New Media Investment Group paid earlier this year the entirety of Stephens Media LLC, which included the Review-Journal, eight daily papers, and 65 other weekly newspapers. Whoever paid that lofty price not only had the cash to burn, but also had an unusual motivation to get involved in the Nevada news business.
According to a piece by DeHaven published Tuesday, Adelson bid on Stephens Media in February, offering to buy just the Nevada papers.
Further, Schroeder has a number of past ties to Adelson involving newspapers. In the same Tuesday article, DeHaven wrote that Schroeder bought the Central Connecticut newspapers in 2009 after learning about their availability from an “investor friend.” He was also an executive at defunct newspaper BostonNOW with Russel Pergament. That newspaper just happened to be published in Adelson’s hometown.
Continuing to connect the dots, Pergament is CEO of NAN Holdings, a venture capital fund that invested in Jewish News Service (JNS). JNS, in turn, has an exclusive agreement to distribute content from the Adelson-owned Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom.
On Wednesday, in addition to Fortune’s revelation that Adelson was the buyer of the newspaper, Review-Journal journalists DeHaven, Howard Stutz, and Jennifer Robison reported that Patrick Dumont, Adelson’s son-in-law, facilitated the purchase.
Of course, the question remains: why the shroud of secrecy?
“Clearly this isn’t a vanity play, and it’s also hard to imagine it as a financial investment (particularly given the steep price tag),” Primack wrote. “What that leaves is political influence, particularly in a swing state like Nevada. That said, however, it would seem difficult to direct editorial coverage when the actual editorial writers are in the dark as to who signs their paychecks.”
Primack opined that Adelson may have wanted to wait until after Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate, held at the Venetian in Las Vegas, a property owned by Adelson’s Las Vegas Sands Corp, in order to avoid a distraction. Adelson has essentially played the role of puppet master in Republican politics, donating millions upon millions of dollars to candidates who are willing to put his desires first. He contributed about $100 million to GOP campaigns during the 2012 election cycle.
Adelson met with reality show host and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Tuesday afternoon ahead of the debates. Trump claimed the meeting was Adelson’s idea, but the New York Times reports that it was Trump’s camp that reached out to Adelson. Clearly, Trump does not need Adelson’s financial backing, but the Times speculates that Trump may be angling to wrench Adelson’s money away from Marco Rubio, who it is rumored Adelson supports.
In October, Trump tweeted, “Sheldon Adelson is looking to give big dollars to Rubio because he feels he can mold him into his perfect little puppet. I agree!”
As readers of this site well know, Adelson has said he will do “whatever it takes” to stop online gambling in the United States, claiming that he wants to protect the vulnerable such as children and problem gamblers, but everyone knows that he is afraid that his brick and mortar gaming properties will lose money to internet gambling sites. He is the force behind the Restoration of America’s Wire Act (RAWA), a federal bill which would make online gambling illegal. Rubio has come out in support of RAWA.
While Adelson certainly has influence in the GOP because of his bottomless pockets, most legislators, even those in the Republican party, have seen through RAWA, calling it “crony capitalism.”