Photo: Associated Press

Nevada journalist and talk show host Jon Ralston is reporting that John L. Smith, a columnist at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, has resigned from the paper after his editor, the newly installed Keith Moyer, banned him from writing about their employer’s new owner, the Nevada billionaire and GOP power broker Sheldon Adelson, as well as fellow billionaire Steve Wynn, who owns a number of hotels in Las Vegas. In a memo Smith printed out and distributed in the Review-Journal’s newsroom, and later published by Capital, the columnist wrote:

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?

Though Smith doesn’t entirely spell it out, both Adelson and Wynn have sued Smith for libel on the basis of books Smith had written about each of them. Both of the billonaires’ lawsuits, filed in 1997 (by Wynn) and 2005 (by Adelson), were eventually dismissed by judges overseeing the cases. The existence of the second lawsuit prompted Moyer, who came to the paper in early February after Adelson’s acquisition was complete, to formally ban Smith from writing about Adelson, who has a number of business concerns in the area. Moyer told attendees about this arrangement at a recent meeting conducted the Society of Professional Journalists. At the same gathering, captured by a Review-Journal reporter on Twitter’s livestreaming service Periscope, he admitted he was unaware of Wynn’s 1997 lawsuit. He apparently expanded the ban to include coverage about Wynn, too.

As Ralston notes in his original piece, banning Smith from commenting on either Adelson or Wynn sets an odious precedent, under which powerful and immensely wealthy public figures can effectively silence a pesky Review-Journal columnist simply by suing him or her for libel, no matter how frivolous the grounds for doing so would be. Because, in this case, it doesn’t matter that both lawsuits were eventually dismissed; it simply matters that they were filed in the first place. “Is the standard now that if you sue a reporter at the RJ, that is a method to kill coverage?” Ralston wrote. “Really?”

To any reasonable witness of observable phenomena, all of this would suggest that Sheldon Adelson is in fact wielding influence in the Review-Journal’s newsroom, to the direct detriment of its own readers. Keith Moyer, however, doesn’t see it that way. Following Ralston’s report, he told Capital’s Peter Sterne, “Sheldon Adelson has absolutely no role in how we run the R-J newsroom, other than providing us unwavering financial support.”

If you know any more about the ongoing implosion of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, please get in touch.