Last week, after days of secrecy and denials, billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family confirmed that they had purchased the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The days since have not gone well for the new ownership of Nevada’s largest newspaper.
On Tuesday evening, the paper reported that Mike Hengel, the Review-Journal’s top editor, had accepted a buyout and was stepping down. The byline-less article noted that “Hengel described his decision to leave as ‘mutual’ and said he did not believe he was forced out.”
Other publications shed more light on the announcement. Politico Media reported that Hengel had told his staff that the new ownership situation “had the makings of an adversarial relationship.”
“I think it would have been a long shot to think that I would have been able to continue on for very long in this role. That’s just my opinion. I don’t want to speculate. I just don’t think that it would have been something that I would have been comfortable with,” Hengel reportedly explained.
And, according to a tweet from one of the reporters present, the outgoing editor opined that his resignation “probably comes as a relief to the new owners, and it is in my best interest and those of my family.”
On the front page of Wednesday’s paper, a letter from the Adelsons to readers noted that Hengel and “other R-J employees” had accepted a “voluntary buyout offer from the previous owners.” In the letter, they promise to make the needed investments to make the paper successful and “to publish a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.”
But CNN Money reported that “on several occasions since the sale, management has removed or changed passages from stories relating to the sale, according to reporters at the paper and outside news accounts.”
And over the weekend, three Review-Journal reporters wrote that paper employees had been instructed, just weeks before the sale, to “drop everything and spend two weeks monitoring all activity of three Clark County judges.” One of those judges: “District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, whose current caseload includes Jacobs v. Sands, a long-running wrongful termination lawsuit filed against Adelson and his company, Las Vegas Sands Corp., by Steven Jacobs, who ran Sands’ operations in Macau.”
And while the Adelsons pledge fairness, impartiality, and accuracy, the man who has been called the Republican Party’s single largest donor’s record would seem to contradict that. He owns several papers in Israel, that have parroted his staunch support of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his hawkish Likud Party. His Israel Hayom free daily has even earned the nickname “Bibiton,” roughly translated to “Bibi Newspaper.”
The Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday that Hengel first learned of his own “voluntary buyout” buyout reading the Adelsons’ editorial. “I figured, I may as well see what the offer was,” he quipped to the Times.