Let this be our Christmas story. Why? Well, that requires some explaining and perhaps even a stronger rationale than I’m yet able to muster. Because it has no cheer, redemption or family bonding. It’s about power, money, greed, recklessness and what can only be termed the sort of roughshod ridiculousness and surreal unintentional comedy that comes from being powerful enough or serving people with sufficient power that the ordinary sort of fear of getting caught and having to explain yourself simply doesn’t apply.
You probably heard sometime over the last couple weeks that there was a mystery brewing about the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The paper had been sold and for an oddly high price given the brutal economics of contemporary newspapering. The mystery was that no on knew who bought it. Indeed, even the people who run the paper were kept in the dark. Eventually, to no one’s great surprise, Sheldon Adelson was revealed, via a Connecticut cutout, as the buyer. Plutocrats have been buying papers since there were papers. And Adelson, in addition to being one of America’s top plutocrats, also makes his home in Las Vegas. So on various fronts, no terribly big surprise. But since vanity and influence are the usual reasons oligarchs buy newspapers, remaining anonymous is a bit hard to understand.
Again to no one’s great surprise, not long after Adelson’s identity was confirmed, it emerged that not long before, the still-mystery buyers had assigned a group of Review-Journal reporters to do a hatchet job on a state District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez, who’d offended Adelson by insisting he treat her like a judge when he was in her courtroom, during a trial involving Adelson’s Sands Hotel. In other words, if this were fiction and we were telling this story in the idiom of high end comic books and the city were Gotham City, Adelson would be acting pretty much like you’d expect the comical and operatically-drawn plutocrat character to act.
District Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez watches while a podium is moved before Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson testifies
Now, it so happens this isn’t the only continent where Adelson’s media ventures are expanding. As I noted last week, Adelson already dominates the Israeli newspaper world with his heavily Adelson-money-subsidized Israel HaYom, which is so widely understood to be a mouthpiece for Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu that it is commonly referred to in Hebrew as ‘bibiton”, which might loosely be translated as The Bibi Post.
Now, all this is old news in Israel and the transcontinental Israeli-American Diaspora chatterverse. But earlier this week, coming right after the Review-Journal news, The Forward revealed that Adelson’s family foundation was the largest single funder of something called the JNS, a Jewish news service which supplies syndicated material to Jewish publications throughout the US and other English speaking countries. Notably, it is the exclusive distributor of English-language content from Israel HaYom (the Bibi Times) in the US. Adelson’s role floating the JNS had been unknown even to the publications which subscribed to its service. Now, to be clear, there’s nothing inherently improper about Adelson funding the JNS. But it does add to the other evidence of Adelson’s expanding media ambitions as well as his efforts to keep his activities secret.
Sheldon Adelson and wife Miriam just after hearing former presidential candidate Mitt Romney deliver a speech in Jerusalem
But let’s go back to the travails of the Review-Journal, our main story. Once it was clear that Adelson had bought the paper and pretty much immediately put it to work as his own private PI service and PR agency, it seemed the paper was pretty much caput. But that wasn’t quite the end of the story. Because all of these revelations about Adelson’s purchase and subsequent abuse of the paper were getting reported in none other than the Review-Journal itself. The staff, as long as they had operational day to day control of the presses was essentially going rogue. They even ran a big front-page editorial promising to fight everyday for their independence from mogul Adelson.
Now, while all this was going on, another journalism mystery emerged on the other side of the country. Back on December 1st, a story appeared in The Bristol (CT) Press which seemed very out of place for a small community paper in Connecticut and surprisingly like the story the Adelsons had assigned to reporters at the Review-Journal about the judge who’d been mean (in his estimation) to Adelson. That story never ended up running in the Review-Journal. But here it was or some version of it, running in a small community paper in Connecticut, where it had no real conceivable relevance and bylined by a reporter who wasn’t even on The Bristol Press’s staff.
As emerged primarily in The Hartford Courant (but in other publications as well), the writer of the piece “Edward Clarkin” turned out to be almost certainly a made up person. Worse still, the piece appeared not only to contain a substantial number of plagiarized passages but also manufactured quotes by real people. The best reconstruction of the name “Edward Clarkin”, courtesy of the sleuthing of reporters at the Review-Journal, is that it is a combination of the middle name (Edward) of Bristol Press published Michael Schroeder and his mother’s maiden name (Clarkin). (Set-piece bad guys often end up being either very ironic or very unoriginal.)
Now at this point, there’s an element of the story, at least the story as I learned it, that was based on my own ignorance, or inability to keep up with the story quite as well as I might have. It’s pretty clear that in some fashion or another, the hit piece on Judge Gonzales which was supposed to run in Review-Journal ended up getting jammed into The Bristol Press, though how or why manufactured quotes and plagiarized passages ended up getting included is not altogether clear. But when I first heard about the Connecticut mystery, I didn’t realize who Michael Schroeder was.
Michael Schroeder, owner and publisher of The Bristol Press
So who is Michael Schroeder, in addition to being the owner and publisher of The Bristol Press?
Well, it turns out he’s the person in charge of News + Media Capital Group LLC, the at-fist-secretly Adelson funded entity that bought the Review-Journal. So to my question of, how on earth did some version of the hit piece article end up in a little-known community paper in Connecticut, the answer is pretty clear: that paper is owned by the guy who Adelson hired to be his cut-out in secretly purchasing the Review-Journal. Somehow or another, stymied at the Review-Journal, part of the Adelson crew pawned it off on Schroeder to get into print. Or perhaps, Schroeder didn’t even need to be asked.
Are you all still with me? Good.
The latest is that Schroeder apparently took the phony article directly to the printer of The Bristol Press, knowing full well that he couldn’t get the paper’s editorial staff to sanctify and publish this untouchable sample of journalistic excrement – not surprising based on what we know but still additional detail to the story.
And now two journalists, by different means, are out of work.
The first was the surprise news that Review-Journal editor Michael Hengel had accepted a buy-out and was leaving the paper. But it turns out it was a surprise even to Hengel, who said he learned he’d accepted the buy-out from an editorial the Adelsons ran in the paper.
Editor Michael Hengel announces departure to stunned newsroom (courtesy Las Vegas Review-Journal)
And last but not least, today we learn that Steve Collins, a reporter for The Bristol Press, who’s been covering Bristol for various outlets for 20 years has resigned his position with the paper, even though he has no future employment lined up, simply because he can’t live with himself if he continues to work for a clown like Michael Schroeder.
Now, I have an obvious interest in journalism and the journalistic profession. Perhaps not much less obviously I have a taste for scandals that are not merely outrageous but are baroque in their complexity and rise above mere bad acts to reach the more sublime human qualities like impulsiveness, greed that goes beyond mere greed, hasty efforts to cover up wrongdoing which take on a level of comedy that could never emerge from conscious design. Here is where we are getting to the level of scandal as art. And this is why Michael Schroeder is really the star of this whole show for my money.
Adelson, controller of billions, open buyer of power, subverter of court systems, legal practices and free presses on many continents, buying the local big city daily to deepen his grip on political power … this is not a story that surprises me. Indeed, I almost expect it, though the effort to buy the press secretly is a novel flourish. This doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s terrible for journalism. I do. But it’s Michael Schroeder who takes the whole thing to a new level – the slavering lackey, who has all the look of the toady, the third-string plutocrat, who may simply rate among the merely rich, who wants to be even more subservient and craven than his master demands.