For just over three years, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has itself been making headlines for its peculiar brand of journalism. Ever since billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson took over the paper, outside observers near and far have noticed how the R-J tends to only “report” the news Adelson sees fit to print.
This week, a former R-J reporter has come forward to shed some more light on her former paper and its attempt to prevent her investigative journalism from seeing the light of day.
Let’s review the many troubles in this journal
In case you haven’t noticed the recent changes to hit the R-J, here’s a quick recap: In December 2015, a then secret buyer stepped up to take over the paper. At first, the new owner brought more resources to the newsroom and invested more in staff. But by early 2016, other big changes were underway, including changes to the paper’s once-strident libertarian editorial page and changes in how the newsroom covers certain stories that happen to involve one billionaire casino magnate who was eventually revealed to be the secret buyer: Sheldon Adelson.
This week, former R-J reporter Jennifer Robison penned an expose in Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) that not only sheds more light on what’s already been reported, but brings to light a new, dark, and very disturbing development in the R-J‘s newsroom. In her CJR story on her former paper, Robison revealed that Luxury Las Vegas Editor-in-chief Leslie Frisbee was an early target for sexual harassment in 2016, even to the point where her then co-worker and romantic partner Chris Blaser joined in on the harassment by sharing intimate details about their sex life with Publisher Craig Moon and Editor-in-chief Keith Moyer. And far from this being an isolated incident, Robison also noted how Moon and Blaser would engage in vulgar conversations about women they’d find on online dating sites while on company time, and how management would overlook that misconduct while lecturing women on how to dress for work.
About a year later, El Tiempo Publisher Maria Christina Matta-Caro and a colleague asked for assistance as applied for U.S. citizenship. Moon, Blaser, and colleague Frank Vega responded by mocking them as “illegal immigrants”, despite them holding green cards. Matta-Caro later learned that she was earning at least $40,000 less than male publication directors, even men holding similar positions but having little or no newspaper leadership experience. She would also learn about other women at the R-J similarly earning less than their male colleagues despite holding similar positions and doing the same amount of work.
So why are we only learning about this now?
In early 2018, Jennifer Robison turned to The Nevada Independent Editor Jon Ralston to see if they’d be interested in running her story. Ralston was interested, but ultimately The Indy decided to pass on the story. Even though they thought Robison’s story was solid, they were concerned about Sheldon Adelson’s army of pricey lawyers and penchant for extensive litigation.
Even though Nevada has an anti-SLAPP law that’s meant to curb lawsuits that are specifically designed to intimidate whistleblowers and/or silence critics, even these cases might still take some time to get resolved in court. That’s why I can understand The Indy’s decision here, because even with the anti-SLAPP law in place, Adelson could still force them to pay their lawyers to make their case in court for who knows how long until a judge somewhere finally dismisses the case on anti-SLAPP grounds.
However with CJR, a nationally renowned journalistic institution with plenty more resources to defend their publication in court, Robison found an outlet unafraid of Adelson and his army of pricey lawyers. Yet even then, attorney Ryan Stonerock of Harder LLP sent a threat letter to her and CJR, just as he had done to The Indy before they decided not to publish the story. In addition to his involvement in this case, Stonerock represented Hulk Hogan in the case that ultimately took down Gawker Media, Harvey Weinstein during his attempt to retaliate against The New York Times for reporting on his sexual harassment and assault scandals, and President Donald Trump while being sued by Stormy Daniels.
What do we make of a news outlet that itself makes this kind of news?
“If you come to work and you hate the people who own this paper, then leave" https://t.co/HMocLCwJ7T
— CJR (@CJR) January 10, 2019
If you’ve been following me for some time, you know that I occasionally feel compelled to check in on what’s exactly going on at the R-J, seeing that it’s still the most widely circulated paper in Nevada. While its reputation has been sketchy for some time, at least it once was willing to feature alternative voices and encourage reporters to seek the truth regardless of how the editorial board might feel about such truth.
That’s why this new revelation from Jennifer Robison truly troubles me. First, why is this paper still employing three of the apparent bad actors (Moyer, Blaser, and [indirectly] Vega) behind the multiple discrimination and harassment complaints? Second, if there’s really little or no truth to this story, why did the paper’s management and/or owner take the extraordinary step of using the same “power player” law firm that helped kill Gawker Media to intimidate another local media outlet that was considering publishing this story? And third, what does it say about a newspaper that it’s increasingly becoming notorious for suppressing stories about its own operations rather than doing more to improve its reputation as a credible news outlet?
And finally, there’s this: In the days following Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and a few other brave women stepping forward last fall to speak their truth on what (now U.S. Supreme Court Justice) Brett Kavanaugh did to them, many asked why they didn’t come forward sooner. This right here should help more people understand why. It’s hard enough for just about any survivor of sexual assault and/or harassment to come forward, and it’s even harder when the perpetrator has the money and/or power to bully one’s victims into silence. In that light, it’s remarkable that this story is even seeing any light of day, though it still serves as a reminder of how much further we still have to go to not only protect against harassment, but even just to allow the truth to be told about it.