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John L. Smith Resigns from Las Vegas Review Journal
Friday, April 29,2016 : TOP LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL COLUMNIST RESIGNS (Update)
Ban on writing about Adelson and Wynn the final straw for long-time writer John L. Smith.
The row at the Las Vegas Review Journal in which editor Keith Moyer indicated that he would not permit long-time columnist John L. Smith to write about Las Vegas casino owners Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn came to a head this week with the resignation of the respected columnist.
Our readers will recall that the family of land casino mogul Adelson bought the newspaper in a controversial deal last year, and that since then the former editor Mike Hengel and another respected writer, Howard Stutz, have departed, along with former publisher Jason Taylor.
In a letter to his colleagues in the newsroom, Smith wrote:
"I learned many years ago about the importance of not punching down in weight class. You don’t hit “little people” in this craft, you defend them. In Las Vegas, a quintessential company town, it’s the blowhard billionaires and their political toadies who are worth punching. And if you don’t have the freedom to call the community’s heavyweights to account, then that “commentary” tag isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed.
"It isn’t always easy to afflict the comfortable and question authority, but it’s an essential part of the job. And although I’ve fallen short of the mark many times over the past three decades, this is a job I’ve loved.
"But recent events have convinced me that I can no longer remain employed at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, a spirited newspaper that had battled to remain an independent voice of journalism in this community. If a Las Vegas columnist is considered “conflicted” because he’s been unsuccessfully sued by two of the most powerful and outspoken players in the gaming industry, then it’s time to move on. If the Strip’s thin-skinned casino bosses aren’t grist for commentary, who is?
"It’s been an honor working with you all. Your hard work and dedication remind me every day that journalism is better than ever — even if management leaves something to be desired."
The confrontation between Moyer and Smith became news when the former referred to it during an interview with Mary Hausch, a journalism professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, at a Society of Professional Journalists meeting.
Moyer claimed that it was a conflict of interest for Smith to write about Adelson, who sued the columnist for libel after Smith published a book about him. Though the case was eventually dismissed, the legal fees bankrupted Smith.
The ban on writing about Steve Wynn came shortly after, when Moyer learned that he, too, has crossed swords with Smith.
Although not directly involved in the turmoil, which has evoked ethical concerns from a number of writers, the respected Las Vegas journalist Jon Ralston wrote on his blog that the new policy at LVRJ almost invited powerful people to sue the paper's reporters.
“No one would argue Smith should disclose the lawsuits if he writes about these public figures. But to bar him from writing about either man? Is the standard now that if you sue a reporter at the RJ, that is a method to kill coverage? Really?”
However, Moyer remained convinced that he had made the right decision, telling the newspaper Politico:
“While John may well be able to write objectively about Adelson, this isn’t about whether he might be able to do so. I’m not ever suggesting that John would ever use his column to settle personal scores. … He has a long and deep legal past with these two men, and I just think for the credibility for the newspaper, he should find other things to write about.”
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