Last Wednesday, the Las Vegas Review-Journal dropped a bomb on Nevada’s media landscape…again. Political columnist Steve Sebelius announced on Twitter that he no longer had a column at the R-J. This came after several other former staff were let go or resigned on their own.
Now, we’re left to ask: What’s become of Nevada’s largest newspaper?
An already troubled asset
Though many were surprised by Sebelius’ abrupt departure, this shouldn’t have been a surprise to any of us. From suing over links to stories and slut-shaming a state legislator to publishing Reid family home addresses and running in-house campaign ads, Nevada’s largest newspaper has hardly attempted to secure any kind of reputation for journalistic integrity.
But at least, the R-J could claim some sort of editorial independence. Despite management’s regular hijinks, the paper still had plenty of talented and honorable journalists on staff.
New owner, new low
Las Vegas Sands CEO and right-wing mega-donor Sheldon Adelson attempted a secret takeover of the R-J in December 2015. Once R-J reporters uncovered the true identity of their new boss, Adelson promised the paper would maintain its editorial independence while it invests in its newsroom and rebuilds its reputation.
An exodus of staff from the R-J suggested otherwise. In a matter of weeks, the paper lost award-winning columnist John L. Smith, business reporter Jennifer Robison, gaming industry reporter Howard Stutz, deputy editor Jim Wright, and several other journalists. Robison and Stutz departed after they helped uncover the Adelsons’ purchase of the paper, and Smith resigned after being told not to write about Sheldon Adelson or fellow casino magnate Steve Wynn.
The Pravda-zation of the R-J
While Adelson has followed through on his promise to invest in the R-J’s newsroom, he’s also exerted far more control over its content. The previously libertarian minded editorial page reversed course on marijuana legalization last year, then was one of the only newspapers in the nation to endorse Donald Trump for President. Adelson is a long-time opponent of marijuana legalization, and he donated $25 million to a pro-Trump SuperPAC last fall.
Some personal news, peeps: After 17 years at the R-J, most as political columnist, the publisher today decided to eliminate my column. 1/
— Steve Sebelius (@SteveSebelius) July 19, 2017
Throughout this time, Steve Sebelius offered a rare alternative viewpoint. While other columnists were busy peddling Adelson-approved talking points, Sebelius provided a much needed independent voice. He criticized Democrats, Republicans, and anyone else he felt needed to be called out. With Sebelius gone, the R-J has further homogenized itself.
With one of the last independent voices gone, who’s left to speak the truth in the pages of Nevada’s largest newspaper?
That’s the $140 million question. With Sebelius out, who will ask the tough questions Adelson doesn’t want asked? Adelson has censored R-J coverage of stories involving him, from public funding for Raiders Stadium to the Adam Laxalt scandal. Who’s left inside the R-J to stand up to Adelson’s use of their paper to promote his agenda?
Now, more than ever, we need a free press that’s unafraid to speak the truth. The paper has lost a considerable amount of credibility in the last 19 months; cutting Steve Sebelius’ column is not the best way to reverse that trend.