Much of the publicity about the casino magnate’s acquisition of the Las Vegas daily has focused on the degree to which he will use it as a vehicle to advance his political and financial interests. Among other things, he is said to be interested in luring the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas, a move that certainly could be a good fit culturally.
The R-J’s new editor, announced Friday, is Keith Moyer, who should be a valuable tool in the owner’s effort to expand his already giant footprint in the desert and maybe even to get the Raiders to move. Adelson’s always been a big GOP booster. Without any senior editors actually on board Friday, the paper endorsed Marco Rubio for president.
I worked for Moyer for several years at McClatchy’s Fresno Bee and it was for the most part an enjoyable experience. He’s a smart and pleasant fellow and he understands journalism. When he came to Fresno from Rochester, N.Y., he brought with him a stable of editors who had worked with him elsewhere and who were fiercely loyal to him. It was, to some extent, a cult of personality. Fortunately, they were a talented crew. A little odd, maybe, but talented.
When Moyer started in Fresno as executive editor, I was a reporter, the muckraking, troublemaking sort of reporter that editors simultaneously love and hate. For reasons that I’ll never understand, Moyer’s team decided I would be more useful on the desk. They persuaded me to become an assistant metro editor, initially in charge of political and government coverage. I don’t know why I agreed to do it. Money, I suppose.
Overall, it wasn’t horrible. Reporters working under me did some good work. At one point we put together a team to investigate point shaving by the Fresno State basketball team. We did a fine job, turning up significant evidence on the gambling front and even more on the illegal recruiting front. Jerry Tarkanian was the coach. However, Moyer lost interest and started killing stories after a bogus lawsuit was filed and it became clear that we weren’t likely to win any big prizes for our efforts.
Unfortunately, other things happened to rival that. For instance, there was that morning in 1997 when Moyer excitedly motioned me into his office.
The city of Fresno had been negotiating for months with an investment group that had obtained the franchise for a Triple A baseball team. They wanted to build a stadium in Fresno, or rather they wanted the city to build one for them. The talks went on and on, in private, and city officials vowed throughout that city money would not be used for a stadium.
Moyer was grinning. He said he had been at a meeting the night before with a representative of the team owners and others. A deal had been struck for construction of a downtown stadium and we were to have an exclusive on the story, a definite big deal.
So tell me the details, I said. Reporters on my team would be writing the story.
Well, he replied, the investment group would put up something like $20 million and the city would put in around $8 million after the stadium was completed, and the county government would provide a loan.
Wow, I said. Then I said it was surprising that the city had agreed to cough up taxpayer money after vowing for so long that it wouldn’t.
“We’re not going to get into that,” said Moyer.
I imagine I said something like “What?” or “Huh?” or “What the hell are you talking about?”
He said he had agreed that our story would not mention the city’s role.
I hoped he was joking. When it became obvious that he wasn’t, I’m sure I said something like “We don’t have any choice.”
His grin was long gone. He was flat out angry when he said, “I knew you were going to be like this.”
The conversation went on for a bit longer, with him doing most of the talking. Finally he said, “OK, dammit, put it in but not before the jump” or words to that effect. He meant don’t mention the city’s investment on the front page. Save it for the continuation of the story on page A16 or wherever. It’s called burying the lede, which usually happens because of a lapse in judgment and not by design.
I can’t find a copy of the story so I can’t be sure, but my recollection is that, at the end of the day, the part about the city putting up a few million dollars of taxpayer money wound up in the third paragraph. Call it a compromise. Based on news value, I would have put it in the first graph, but, like I said, I was a bit of a troublemaker.
Moyer certainly didn’t do anything evil that day or any of his other days at the Bee, as far as I know. Maybe his only sin that morning in 1997 was being overly exuberant about arranging an important scoop, but that’s not how it felt. I believe that if we had done what he had agreed to, we would have become conspirators rather than journalists. It became clear that day that I wouldn’t make it to retirement at the Bee. I moved on in 1998. Moyer kept moving up.
In Las Vegas, there was hope early on that Adelson’s recent purchase of the Review-Journal would not be the journalistic nightmare that it appears to be. There was the noble editor who reported that Adelson was the new owner, something Adelson the gazillionaire didn’t want reported. The optimists in the world of journalism cheered that as a hopeful sign. But that editor is gone now and word continues to trickle out about Adelson wanting to put his stamp on the news side of the operation and not just the financial side. Already there are tales of stories being killed and lists of troublemaking reporters being drawn up.
Adelson’s people reportedly interviewed quite a few candidates before hiring Moyer, who got to know the R-J’s new publisher, Craig Moon, while both were toiling in the Gannett trenches. I hope they get along great and do some solid journalism of the type they are capable of producing. I also hope that they remember that the newspaper’s job, no matter who owns it, is to cover things like the effort to attract the Raiders — but not to make it happen.