Who Are the New Secret Owners Behind the Curtain at the Las Vegas Review-Journal?
Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
— George Orwell (“1984”)
An astonishing thing happened in Las Vegas, Nevada this past week. The largest newspaper in the state, the Las Vegas Review-Journal was sold off — to someone.
Trouble is — no one knows who.
Not even the writers and editors on the news staff know who they’re working for, right now. A number of reporters have even taken to Twitter the past few days, speculating publicly on the media mystery of the great unknown.
What’s both astounding and frightening is that the largest media outlet in the state is now under the total ownership and control of someone whom we do not know. This might not be so alarming if the business entity under question was a small factory making widgets. But this is a local media empire. For a century, the LVRJ hasn’t just been our eyes and ears, but the voice of a local community, accustomed to its role and responsibility of asking the tough questions rather being the spurious object of public speculation.
Media’s job is to insist on transparency at all times, whatever the subject matter. That’s how news is gathered, and gets reported. Irony of all ironies, the LVRJ’s new ownership not only lacks transparency. The mysterious entity has even gone to extraordinary lengths to carefully craft the purchase of a major metropolitan newspaper so that ownership will remain a hidden secret. That’s not enhancing the public’s trust in news. That’s violating it. That’s destroying it.
James DeHaven, a LVRJ reporter, went so far as to write about the controversy swirling around his own newspaper in yesterday’s edition [“Pressure to go public grows for new Review-Journal owners”]. According to his report, last week the LVRJ was sold for $140 million to News + Media Capital Group LLC — “a newly formed, Delaware-domiciled company backed by ‘undisclosed financial backers with expertise in the media industry.” Records show that News + Media Capital Group LLC was formed in Delaware just two months ago. No one had ever heard of this financial group before.
Incredibly, as a Delaware limited liability corporation, News + Media is not required to list its owners in any public document. Hence, no one knows who owns and operates the largest newspaper and media outlet in Nevada.
That hasn’t stopped widespread speculation, much of it from credible sources. Some reports are surfacing the new buyer could be Sheldon Adelson, a political lightening rod at the moment, and one of the most contentious personalities in American business and politics. Adelson’s aims to buy and control things are a matter of historical record, and his prospective ownership of Nevada’s largest newspaper would be nothing short of a travesty. One suspects much of the community’s faith in its hometown newspaper would be destroyed were Adelson’s involvement to be confirmed.
Whoever the new LVRJ’s owners are, they need to come forward and be identified — immediately. The public has a right to know who’s providing our news and information. We also have a right to know who’s writing the checks that could influence editorial positions, news assignments, investigations, hiring, and what gets reported as the news versus what’s ignored and discarded. New ownership may think it can run to Delaware and keep a secret. But they can’t hide. Not for long. Whoever’s behind the curtain now pulling the levers, Oz will be outed.
Once we do know more, even that won’t ally far more serious concerns. The way this sale has been handled has been abominable — even scandalous. If the new owners are already so secretive as to their identity and intentions, what will happen once they start making really big decisions that affect the news? When so many newspapers around the country are already in serious financial trouble, good reporters are being tossed away, and influence continues on a slippery slope of decline within our communities, transparency remains the one noble virtue which bolsters our faith in media as the beacon of truth. Then again, perhaps this is the dubious intention of the new owners. To buy our news and control it, so their dirtiest deeds then go unreported.
Indeed, these are scary times when secret business enclaves are so powerful, they can purchase the distribution of information and yet still remain anonymous. That means, they control what we read and what we see. That’s the ultimate violation of humanity and destruction of public trust.
Even author George Orwell couldn’t have imagined a Dystopian nightmare where no one even knows who “Big Brother” is anymore. In Las Vegas, the new year “1984” has already begun.
Writers’ Note: A few hours after this essay was posted, Forbes online did confirm that Sheldon Adelson is indeed the buyer and new owner of the LVRJ.