LAS VEGAS (CN) — Nevada’s biggest newspaper became the news again, when longtime Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith resigned after being told not to write about its new owner, Sheldon Adelson.
Smith said the Review-Journal barred him from writing about Adelson, CEO of Las Vegas Sands and a major contributor to Republican campaigns, or about Wynn Resorts CEO Steven Wynn. Adelson and Wynn both have sued Smith for libel — unsuccessfully — in the past.
Smith filed for bankruptcy after Adelson sued him in 2007.
The columnist left several copies of his resignation in the newsroom on April 26 — a week ago today — in which he said, “recent events have convinced me that I can no longer remain employed at The Las Vegas Review-Journal.”
“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,” Smith wrote in the letter.
Smith had worked for the Review-Journal since 1982.
Adelson bought the Review-Journal in December through the New Media Investment Group. His involvement remained secret for weeks, stirring concern in his own newsroom even before he took over.
Adelson demanded $15 million from Smith in his June 2007 lawsuit. While defending himself in the lawsuit, and filing for bankruptcy, Smith’s 8-year-old daughter was being treated for brain cancer.
Adelson accused Smith and Barricade Books of libeling him in what Smith called a “brief passage” in his 2005 book, Sharks in the Desert: The Founding Fathers and Current Kings of Las Vegas.
After Adelson dropped that lawsuit, Smith wrote in a 2013 article published by The Daily Beast that Barricade Books was facing its own financial problems at the time and sought to appease Adelson by offering to print retractions and corrections, but Adelson, “sensing weakness,” pressed the lawsuit, leading to Smith’s bankruptcy.
Adelson offered to place $200,000 in a medical and education account for Smith’s daughter, Smith wrote, but he said he refused the offers from the “billionaire bully.”
“The case wasn’t about defamation, but about making me an object lesson for my newspaper and other journalists who dared to criticize the billionaire,” Smith wrote. “And if I should be crushed in the process, hey, so much the better.”
Adelson agreed to dismiss the complaint with prejudice after former federal prosecutor Donald Campbell agreed to represent Smith pro bono, grilled Adelson for eight hours, and gained access to Adelson’s Gaming Control Board licensing information, according to Smith’s column on the battle.
Barricade Books settled for an uncollected judgment against it and ran a corrected version of Smith’s book in subsequent printings, Smith said.
That set to, and Smith’s 2001 book about Steven Wynn, prompted Adelson to ban him from writing about either of the casino billionaires, Smith said.
Smith’s books about Wynn, Running Scared: The Life and Treacherous Times of Las Vegas Casino King Steve Wynn, prompted Wynn to sue Smith and his publishers, claiming that promotional material defamed him as a “front man” for the Genovese organized crime family.
Smith was dismissed from the complaint because he didn’t write the offending material. Wynn won a $3.3 million award from publishers Barricade Books and Lyle Stuart, which forced Barricade into bankruptcy. But the Nevada Supreme Court reversed and remanded, and Wynn and Lyle Stuart settled out of court confidentially in 2004, and the case was dismissed.
No contact information for Smith could be located beyond his Twitter account.
Smith on April 30 used his Twitter account to resend a post by Nevada journalist Jon Ralston, which claims the Review-Journal spends seven to eight hours vetting any stories even remotely tied to Adelson.
Las Vegas Review Journal editor J. Keith Moyer did not return a call seeking comment Monday.
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