Nevada newsman talks of ordeal
  On being punished by Steve Wynn

  copyright (c) 1996, Electric Nevada

It was some weeks back and Electric Nevada was trying to land an interview with Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith, author of the Running Scared investigative biography of casino king Steve Wynn.
Smith -- not a surfer of the Web -- had never heard of EN and was skeptical.
"The problem that I would have with talking to you," he said, "is that I don't know you, first of all, and -- try not to take offense at this, but -- I've had Wynn's people run all kinds of games over the last year or two, all kinds of phony stuff.
"I've done interviews that were playful, at worst, with local radio stations, and they have ... called, and gotten cassettes, and they've tried their best to silence me."
Smith said Wynn's full-court press has not only largely suppressed the book nationally, [See accompanying story.] but also successfully intimidated conventional news media in Nevada.
"I'm pretty skeptical about being interviewed by people inside the state," he said. "There's been no support here. With the exception of .. a couple of journalists, there's been absolutely no interest in telling the truth with any kind of depth.
"I've talked to the New York Times, and I've talked to a lot of other groups, but frankly I'm real cynical about the lack of balls that Nevada reporters have."



What especially amazed him, said Smith, is the lack of interest shown by established Nevada media in the largest news story available to them -- Wynn's record and background.
"I'm a fourth-generation Nevadan, and I find [startling] the lack of interest in what is unquestionably the biggest story and the story with the most impact: 'Steve Wynn is the leader of the gaming industry. Who is Steve Wynn?'
"We have people in our state who make a living as so-called journalists [and] who don't even ask that question."
Later, after Smith had checked out the EN web site, he agreed to be interviewed. But he still declined to go into details of the 'games' he'd attributed to Wynn agents in the previous conversation.
"I'm not interested in fanning the flames," he said. "I'm interested in being frank with you. This is not my life's work; this was a number of


  

months' work. It was a story I thought was fascinating, and I thought was compelling and accurate, and I still do. What's the fallout of it, I guess, kind of takes on a life of its own.
"I look at it from just a writing and journalistic standpoint, and the facts are there, the documents are there. Somebody should have written this story years ago -- maybe a better writer than myself, maybe a better reporter. But the fact is that no one was doing it."
Smith has been on the Review-Journal for the last 10 years, most of that time writing a general interest column, on topics ranging from human interest stories to investigative pieces. Before the R-J, from 1982 to 1985, he'd been at the Las Vegas Sun as a sportswriter and columnist and editor.
He told EN he's been surprised and disappointed that journalistic 'professional' organizations in the state had not responded to the fierce attack Wynn has launched on the book and its author.
"I had been -- and actually still am -- under attack from someone who's got most of the power and most of the money in the state, and I was very disappointed at the lack of interest from any of the press organizations -- the Nevada Press Association, for example, or the SDX, Society of Professional Journalists -- in even writing a letter, or even exploring opening a file, or doing anything. I just kind of scratched my head over that.
"It didn't surprise me, 'cause I think they're fairly


lightweight operations anyway, and their excuse is, 'Well, we're just the press and this is a book.' But the fact is, it's the same thing. It's the First Amendment, and it's non-fiction, and it's journalism-oriented, and it's written by a journalist, and ... there's no pulse there. They weren't interested at all."
When Electric Nevada tried to locate a spokesperson for the Society of Professional Journalists by contacting the University of Nevada School of Journalism, we were referred to Professor Jake Highton, who said the SPJ in northern Nevada "has been dormant for a couple of years now."
Asked if there was a state organization, Highton said, "Well, I don't just know who you could call; you might try Las Vegas.
"The one in Reno used to be very active, but it just died in the last three years. I think there is one in Las Vegas."
Smith said the onslaught from Wynn's people has been an ordeal and that he now has more empathy for other people who find themselves accused.
"I've learned a tremendous amount about human nature, and about myself, and about what other people go through when they're accused of something.
"When they're pursued by a bully -- I don't know that everybody gets pursued by a bully the size of Steve Wynn -- but to be pursued by a bully of this size, someone who is as vindictive as he is... it's a learning experience, it really tests your mettle.
"It puts a lot of pressure on you; you get a lot of


  

sleepless nights and stomach pains. It affects your family and everything, but it also strengthens you, I think."
Smith said that Wynn, a billionaire, had bragged to reporters that he was going to take away Smith's house.
"I'm thinking to myself... my wife lives there, my daughter lives there.. The bank owns 99 percent of it. And this is the mentality at work. This is the kind of mind at work."
Wynn is pursuing his campaign, said Smith, even though Wynn knows that the book is based on documents which are part of the public record.
"He knows where all the documents came from," contends Smith. "He knows that all the documents are authentic. He can disagree with what's in the documents, and I disagree with what's in the documents in some areas -- and I mention that in the book. Where it's inconsistent, I make it inconsistent."
In the book, Smith takes issue with conclusions drawn by England's New Scotland Yard investigations of Wynn, and suggests that a political agenda, rather than actual evidence, probably was behind the agency's harsher allegations.
Wynn is also pursuing his campaign, said Smith, while refusing to acknowledge that he's a public figure. Under U.S. Supreme Court decisions, public figures are subject to 'fair comment and criticism.'
"Well, he's a public figure and he won't even admit he's a public figure. That's what's so silly about this thing. It would be nice if the people involved would grow up here a little bit, but you're dealing with an enfant terrible... a guy, you know, who has things his way or has a tantrum. It's just a fact.
"I can live with it. And .. after researching the book, it's not a big surprise."
"One of the funniest stories I read, was in the Sun, a few months ago, when they had him the second-most powerful guy in Nevada. Which I thought was funny, when Bob Miller was the first. Well, let me tell you something. If you know insiders in Nevada politics, you know that Steve Wynn would yell at Bob Miller before Bob Miller would yell at Steve Wynn. You know?
"Steve Wynn's the kind of guy who yells at everybody. And that's just his personality."
Smith was asked whether the episode detailed in the adjoining story -- when the Chicago Mob sought, unsuccessfully, to get Wynn to take a lesser


price for $73.6 million worth of Teamster hotel promissory notes -- might not suggest that Wynn is out to take anybody who gets in his sights, or has something he wants, even if it's mob figures.
"I think that's an observation that can be made," he said. "I don't think that that's far-fetched.
"And that's also an argument that I believe I in fact made in the book, that that's one of the things you can speculate on . But if a guy won't talk to you, and won't come clean, as it were, won't be honest and frank about his business dealings, how can you find that out --whether he was tool of the mob or was a guy who came in contact with it occasionally?
"This is a person who claims never to have heard anything about the mob, in the casino business, from the mid-60's. That's bullshit; that's a lie. And we'll prove that in court.
"He'll look like a monkey. I can't wait to go to court over this. The delays are what their game is. You know, they've dragged this thing along for, I don't know how long. Maybe they're hoping my publisher expires, or the money runs out. But the idea that this person doesn't have a clue about what this book is about, that's just as far-fetched as can be."
Electric Nevada sought responses from Los Angeles attorney Barry Langberg, Wynn's lead counsel on the various suits going on around the country, and also from Wynn's Mirage Resorts headquarters in Las Vegas.
In Los Angeles, neither Langberg nor his assisting counsel responded to our calls by deadline time. At Mirage Resorts, Allen Feldman, vice president of public affairs, said Mirage would not comment, nor would it make available a package of allegations sent to booksellers and book distributors around the United States.
"Well, you're welcome to get a copy of any of the court documents involved," said Feldman. "We won't comment on this, now that it's in litigation."
"You won't comment?" we asked.
Feldman's voice tightened. "Now that it is in litigation," he repeated.
The case has been "in litigation" since early summer of 1995, when the book was first announced by publisher Lyle Stuart, and immediately met by Wynn's filing of a libel suit -- even before the book was available to be read.

 -- Steve Miller


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