Even for a town like Las Vegas, April 6, 2016, was a big night. The city was gathering to celebrate the opening of the T-Mobile Arena, a $375 million building on the south end of the Strip that had been three years in the making. It was a glitzy Vegas bash. The Killers, a hometown alt-rock band, performed. Fireworks and a laser show lit up the sky. In a private box with two bars, alcohol flowed.
Inside were executives and editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest media outlet. In addition to a daily newspaper, the Review-Journal produces a number of niche publications, including Luxury Las Vegas, a glossy monthly, and El Tiempo, a weekly Spanish-language newspaper. Managers from some of those titles were at the party, too.
For the Review-Journal, the celebration was a coming out of sorts. Craig Moon, 68, had been publisher of the Review-Journal for less than three months. At his side was his longtime friend and lieutenant, Keith Moyer, 66, a former Gannett and McClatchy executive. Moon had lured Moyer out of a quiet academic life in Minnesota two months earlier to become editor in chief. Also present was Chris Blaser, 57, a former San Francisco Chronicle executive who had just taken over the Review-Journal’s circulation operation as vice president of audience.
Review-Journal employees who were at the party remember a boisterous atmosphere—and a high-profile networking opportunity to solicit ads promoting upcoming arena events: a Guns ‘N’ Roses reunion, a George Strait residency, and the inaugural season of a new National Hockey League team, the Vegas Golden Knights. But before long, Moyer killed some of the buzz.
Moyer, with a gray goatee and mustache, spotted Blaser talking to Leslie Frisbee, the editor in chief of Luxury Las Vegas. As the two leaned in to talk, Moyer called out to them. They turned in his direction, and he snapped a photo with his cellphone.
The picture shows Frisbee—a 49-year-old former health and fitness journalist with cropped blonde hair and green eyes—dressed in a long sleeveless burgundy gown, her back to Moyer, looking over her shoulder and smiling. Blaser, a compact, graying bachelor, peeks out from behind her in a blue-checked button-down. His right arm reaches around her lower back and his left hand rests on her knee. Moyer texted the photo to Blaser. “Here’s something you can jerk off to later,” Moyer said to anyone who was listening, according to a person who heard the comment. The party guest remembers that Blaser laughed and showed off Moyer’s text, which had the same message, to others nearby.
In the following days, the photo would rip through the paper’s offices, as staffers shared it via text. Frisbee and Blaser began dating, and would go on to see each other for several months. Moon took to commenting on Frisbee’s looks, saying that she was the “sexiest” and “best-looking” woman at a work event, or that she looked “really sexy in that outfit,” according to Marsala Rypka, a writer who freelanced for Luxury Las Vegas, and in whom Frisbee confided at the time the statements were made. Frisbee told Rypka that Moon kissed Frisbee unsolicited on the lips. “It took her by surprise,” Rypka told me. Over time, Moon’s behavior “was really uncomfortable,” Rypka said Frisbee told her. “It was blatant, and it was very, very awkward.”
In June 2017, Frisbee quit. She declined to discuss her experience, citing a nondisclosure agreement she’d signed. But more than 15 other current and former Review-Journal employees and vendors, in interviews conducted over 14 months, said that Moyer’s “jerk off” comment—he, too, declined to speak for this story, as did Moon—was among a number of inappropriate behaviors by a group of men who worked together off and on at various media companies over several decades and took over the Las Vegas media world.
Between April 2017 and February 2018, the Review-Journal was the subject of at least three harassment and discrimination filings with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; one with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission; at least two payouts involving nondisclosure agreements, including Frisbee’s; allegations of a hostile work environment (in an unemployment benefits filing) through the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation; and internal complaints to the paper’s human resources department by Frisbee and other staff members who claimed that the office atmosphere was hostile and abusive.
There were a number of inappropriate behaviors by a group of men who worked together off and on at various media companies over several decades and took over the Las Vegas media world.
The allegations—which a lawyer for Moyer, Blaser, and their colleague Frank Vega said they “categorically deny”—came as the #MeToo movement was exploding. That most of the people involved remain in their positions—one was promoted—even in light of some of the behaviors alleged by women at the Review-Journal, can be traced back to the paper’s change in leadership, about three years ago, as part of a bizarre, secretive sale.
Late in the afternoon of December 10, 2015, at the offices of the Review-Journal, Jason Taylor, who had been publisher for just five months, gathered employees for a town hall meeting inside a cavernous brick outbuilding at the edge of the paper’s four-acre campus downtown. I was part of that meeting, as a staff reporter closing in on 11 years covering business and economics. Taylor announced that the Review-Journal had been sold for $140 million. The contract stipulated that GateHouse Media, the seller, never publicly identify the buyer, whom Taylor identified as a newly incorporated company in Delaware called News + Media Capital Group LLC.
After Taylor finished speaking, a man in a dark-gray suit introduced himself as News + Media’s manager. Named Michael Schroeder, he had previously been the publisher of three small community papers in Connecticut. He told the crowd that the new owners were excited to oversee the Review-Journal and that they had “expertise in the media industry.” He refused to go beyond that. After Schroeder’s talk, Michael Hengel, the editor in chief, stood and asked who the investors were. Schroeder shut him down. “They just want you to focus on your jobs, and not worry about who they are or what they do,” Schroeder said. Employees erupted in gasps and incredulous laughs.
Despite the cloak that had been thrown over the investors’ identities, there was little newsroom debate over the likeliest suspect: Sheldon Adelson, an 85-year-old casino magnate and Republican mega-donor. Over the course of his career, he had parlayed $500 million he’d made from the sale of COMDEX, a computer trade show, into the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a publicly-traded gaming empire that spans from The Venetian and Palazzo resorts on the Las Vegas Strip to identical hotel-casinos in Singapore and Macau.
Adelson had the money to overpay and he’d expressed interest in acquiring news outlets before. He had also attempted for years to control how reporters wrote about him. To the publishers of the Review-Journal, Adelson had made near-constant complaints about coverage of everything from gaming to campaign finance reform. Once, he called them to express discontent over an illustration that depicted him with a Mike Tyson-style face tattoo—a tongue-in-cheek take that accompanied a column in which Howard Stutz, a gaming reporter, likened Adelson’s legal skirmishes to Hangover sequels.
Adelson’s representatives—and even Adelson himself—denied for days that he’d bought the paper. But on December 16, thanks to tips from anonymous sources, the Review-Journal ran a story revealing that Patrick Dumont, Adelson’s son-in-law, had made the purchase in a deal that Adelson funded.
Nevertheless, some employees were hopeful. The Adelsons had a reputation for treating workers well at the Las Vegas Sands. Within weeks, the Review-Journal’s health insurance plan improved dramatically, and many staffers thought the upgraded coverage was a harbinger of better working conditions overall. Adelson, we learned, prided himself on how he treated employees. “There’s a reason why we’re the only property on the strip that’s non-union,” he told The Guardian. “We treat our employees so well.”
As change swept through the newspaper’s offices, however, at least for some on staff, the reality proved to be dramatically different.
At first, the Adelsons let Taylor, GateHouse’s president of Western operations, keep his job as the Review-Journal’s publisher. But the arrangement wouldn’t last. Taylor seemed sympathetic to newsroom concerns about editorial independence. He signed off on a lengthy statement written by editors and reporters disclosing the Adelson family’s business interests, and he approved its daily placement on page three. On the Review-Journal’s website, he allowed a detailed story about a January 2016 Nevada Supreme Court hearing involving a $115 million judgment against the Las Vegas Sands that had been awarded to a former Sands adviser. Taylor was out within weeks.
On January 28, 2016, in a hastily arranged all-hands meeting attended by more than 100 employees in the paper’s cafeteria, the staff met the new publisher, Craig Moon. Moon began his first speech in the job with a diatribe against sale-related newsroom leaks to the national media. Talking vaguely about coming changes, he said that he’d only read three days’ worth of papers before taking the position. “I’m going to see if I can get my head around what is going on and how we can move this forward,” he continued. He ended with a pronouncement: “If you’re not enjoying your job, you probably shouldn’t work here.” (Like numerous other employees in the room, I openly recorded the meeting on my phone.)
By some appearances, Moon was a marquee hire. He had led USA Today until 2009—when he retired, at 58, with a pension valued at more than $2 million, according to a 2008 Gannett filing with the SEC, and an overall retirement package worth $3.7 million, according to an Associated Press report. He settled in Tennessee with his wife, Patty, and their four daughters and son, and started a newspaper consulting business called Newsman LLC.
On February 3, 2016, in a meeting with about 25 reporters and editors (which I also recorded), he insisted that he didn’t routinely talk to the Adelson family about the paper’s content, but it was clear that he’d come into the job with marching orders. Over dinners with the Adelson family, he said, he’d quickly grown to “personally like them very much.” In the meeting, he told us that his political views were conservative, and mostly aligned with those of the Adelsons. He complained about “East Coast” media coverage of the sale. “My relationship is with the family, so that’s who I work with,” he said.
He repeated his suggestion that unhappy employees find other jobs. “If you come to work and you hate the people who own this paper, then leave,” he said. “That’s up to you guys. You guys figure it out. I want to have a good relationship with you guys, but if you aren’t having fun, go do something else.”
At Moon’s side for that meeting was a new face: Frank Vega, a self-described bulldog with a penchant for khaki shorts and golf sweaters. Vega said that he and Moon had known each other for 40 years and that he’d be working at the Review-Journal as a publisher’s consultant for a few months, commuting back and forth between Las Vegas and Florida, where he lived full-time.
Under Moon and Vega’s leadership, the disclosure statement disappeared from page three. Moon ordered that the editorial page reverse long-held positions to favor Adelson family priorities. Vega told staffers about a nickname he’d earned in the nineties as CEO of the Detroit Newspaper Agency: “Darth Vega.”
Moon and Vega would soon enlist the help of Moyer, another longtime friend and Gannett associate, as editor in chief. Moyer first met the staff on February 5th, at a meeting in the Review-Journal’s courtyard. Married with two grown children, Moyer seemed more upbeat than Moon. He talked of the paper’s “rich history of being a really good Nevada newspaper” and promised to realize even greater potential. “We’re going to be in a unique position because of our ownership, their ability to support us financially, and their desire for a first-rate regional newspaper,” he said. “I think they understand and agree that more resources are going to be needed to make that happen.”
But Moyer soon compelled a court reporter to include a series of Adelson-friendly talking points in an article on a wrongful termination lawsuit against the Las Vegas Sands. When a motion in that case went for the plaintiff, Moyer killed a story on the subject. John L. Smith—a Review-Journal opinion columnist who says Adelson sued him into bankruptcy “over a brief passage” in his book, Sharks in the Desert: The Founding Fathers and Current Kings of Las Vegas (2005)—was banned from covering Adelson, and then from writing about Steve Wynn, a casino mogul and Adelson’s chief rival. (Adelson’s case against Smith had been dismissed “with prejudice,” meaning that it could never again be brought before the court.) Now Smith, not wanting to accept the limits imposed on his coverage of two of the state’s most powerful men, decided to quit.
In the maze of sales offices down the hall from the newsroom, an entirely different set of problems was emerging. Around the time Leslie Frisbee started dating Chris Blaser, she became a target of unwanted attention from other colleagues.
Though Frisbee wouldn’t discuss her case with me, a letter she sent to advertising executives at the paper describes her experience. Frisbee wrote that Moon kissed her on the lips at “more than a dozen public work-related events.” She also recounted that male executives, including Moon and Blaser, “constantly and graphically discussed intimate details” of her relationship with Blaser. She referred to the T-Mobile arena party, including Moyer’s comment, writing, “I’ve never been so embarrassed in a professional setting.”
Frisbee also wrote that, in September 2016, Moyer asked her who she planned to take as her guest to the Nevada Press Association Awards. She named a male business associate. According to her letter, Moyer responded, “Well, that has to be better than having sex with Blaser.”
In April 2017, Frisbee filed a claim with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission, citing inappropriate workplace treatment. A month later, she approached the paper’s human resources department with a formal complaint letter about her experience. The paper sought legal counsel to investigate Frisbee’s claims. That June, the Review-Journal offered Frisbee a payout. Her resignation followed.
I’ve never been so embarrassed in a professional setting, she said.
The settlement marked the end of Frisbee’s case, and the paper required managers to undergo harassment training online. But other claims of sexual misconduct began to surface. Maria Cristina Matta-Caro, the publisher of El Tiempo, submitted a formal complaint to the Nevada Equal Rights Commission. “I was subjected to unwelcomed sexual comments, hugging, and other touching in the workplace by Managers within the Company,” she wrote in the complaint. Matta-Caro alleged that, at a work-related party, Blaser told her that she “looks like a supermodel, not a publisher” and asked if she were lonely, or where her boyfriend was.
Employees recalled that Moon and Blaser would look at profiles of women on Match.com and discuss them in vulgar terms. “Craig had a 30-inch monitor in his office, and they would sit in his office, talk about the women, and weigh them on a masturbation scale,” a former employee who overheard the talk “frequently” between April 2017 and September 2017 told me. “Everyone down the hall in the accounting offices could hear those conversations.”
Matta-Caro said that Cindy Meyers, the Review-Journal’s benefits manager, began sending women home for dressing in clothes that were “tight in the waist” or otherwise objectionable—a level of zealous wardrobe policing that female employees never experienced when wearing the same clothes before. In a June 2017 managers’ meeting, Matta-Caro recalled, Meyers suggested that women were at fault for dressing in a way that attracted attention, saying that women “needed to watch out for provocative outfits, and that underwear would be mandatory because a lot of women in the office were not wearing underwear.” Moon, who was seated at the end of a table, said that the paper “shouldn’t have to tell women how to dress.” (Meyers did not respond to a request for comment.)
Soon, a new dress code emailed to staff noted that “undergarments should be worn daily.”
In early 2018, three women, including Matta-Caro, filed complaints against the Review-Journal with the EEOC. In addition to harassment, Matta-Caro’s filing, submitted in February, cited sex-based discrimination in her salary and unfair treatment based on her ethnicity.
Matta-Caro said that she told EEOC investigators that she earned a salary of $60,000 a year while male publication directors—including first-time directors with little to no prior newspaper leadership experience—earned at least $100,000. In the complaint, she alleged that the paper had reporters and assistants earning a higher salary than she did.
She asked the Review-Journal’s human resources department to explain her pay disparity, she told the EEOC, but no one would. She also alleged that she asked Moon for a raise, and he responded by asking about her boyfriend because, he told her, he thought her boyfriend had money. After that, she was harassed by senior-level colleagues and was “held to additional requirements for access to benefits that other similarly situated executives not of my protected group are not subjected to.” (Neither Moon nor the Review-Journal has responded to the EEOC about this case.)
The same month, two other women submitted EEOC charges against the Review-Journal about unequal pay. The women, who both worked in sales, alleged in their filings that their base salaries—about $35,000 per year—were approximately half those of male colleagues with less experience. In the fall of 2017, their commission rates were reduced suddenly; when they complained, they alleged, they were fired, with no severance and only seven days of health coverage.
According to EEOC filings, the saleswomen were told that they were being let go because their positions were being eliminated. But not long after they packed their belongings, they saw that the Review-Journal was advertising openings for their jobs. The women shared with me more than a dozen screenshots of job postings online—which, they said, disappeared in January, after they first approached the EEOC. Wrote one of the women in her EEOC filing: “I was told that my discharge was due to position elimination; however, I am aware that a younger candidate, not of my protected class, was hired in place of me.” (In March, executives at the Review-Journal told the EEOC that they disputed the charges brought by the two saleswomen. Both women then challenged the paper’s denials through the EEOC, which continues to investigate; in July, a retaliation claim was added.)
Beyond unequal pay, there came allegations of harassment based on race. Matta-Caro—originally from Colombia and the only minority among the company’s directors and publishers—told the EEOC that Vega, Moon, and Blaser taunted her and a colleague about their immigration status. Both were legal US residents with green cards. In June 2017, Matta-Caro asked Moon and Vega if she and a graphic designer could borrow $1,000 to help cover the cost of the process to become full citizens. The loan could be paid back out of their wages, Matta-Caro suggested—an arrangement similar to the one that the Review-Journal uses to help employees buy personal computers. Moon asked what would happen if he said no. According to Matta-Caro, Vega turned to Moon and Blaser, who was sitting in on the meeting, and said, “They’re illegal immigrants. Will they have to leave?” In response, she said, the three men laughed.
Matta-Caro said she told the men that she and the colleague, a graphic designer, were legal residents, which meant that they wouldn’t have to “go back.” They simply wanted to become US citizens. (The graphic designer, who quit the Review-Journal in January 2018, asked not to be named, as she is going through the citizenship process with her new employer.)
It is my duty to draw a line and speak up for myself and the rest of the people who are in the same or similar situations and are afraid of speaking up, she said.
Matta-Caro, who still works for El Tiempo and is in her eighth year with the Review-Journal, has asked for back pay and for the EEOC to demand that the paper stop harassment and discrimination at the company. Her case is still pending. “It is my duty to draw a line and speak up for myself and the rest of the people who are in the same or similar situations and are afraid of speaking up,” she told me. “Because they need that job and they want to convince themselves that they need to be grateful for it, even though they are being mistreated.”
Among the reporters who covered the paper’s sale, I was the last to leave. I gave notice in May 2016 and moved to San Francisco to start a new career in corporate public relations. I left on good terms—a month before, Moyer had given me a ten percent raise. I stayed in touch with longtime friends and associates both in the newsroom and in the sales office.
In October 2017, days after exposés on Harvey Weinstein elevated the #MeToo movement to national prominence, my phone screen lit up. A former colleague had sent a curious text message: “Do people still call you as a reporter?”
I arranged a time to talk and soon began reaching out to more sources, all of whom described a workplace they saw as toxic. I was told that, in December 2017, in what may have been a bid to involve the Adelson family in the staff’s complaints, someone claiming to be a former employee sent an anonymous email to Miriam Adelson, Sheldon’s wife, and to Patrick Dumont, his son-in-law, outlining some of the alleged misconduct. But nothing much seemed to come of that tip at the time: employees heard of no investigation, and there were no masthead changes as a result.
Anna Park, an EEOC attorney, told me that the agency could neither confirm nor deny investigations unless they result in litigation. But I learned that the agency submitted the women’s charges to the Review-Journal in February—just as the paper was turning up heat on Steve Wynn with a series of pieces detailing his inappropriate behavior toward female employees at Wynn Resorts Ltd.
Early last year, I pitched this story to the Nevada Independent, a small online news startup in Las Vegas. The Independent agreed to consider publishing my piece if I could include responses from the Adelsons and the paper’s executives. But when I called for statements, what followed was a months-long series of unreturned phone calls, ignored emails, disregarded text messages, refusals to comment and, finally, threats of legal action.
First reached in February 2018 by phone and asked to comment on the filings and payouts, Moyer told me that he was “recovering from cancer surgery and not in a frame of mind to talk about this with you right now.” He said that he would have Cook respond “if he wants to talk to you.” Cook never called. When I tried Moon, he said that he couldn’t talk because he was in the middle of dinner. He did not return repeated phone calls or texts throughout the rest of February. Nor did Kim Taormina, the Review-Journal’s new director of human resources.
On March 1, I texted and emailed Ronald Reese, a spokesperson for Las Vegas Sands, to request a comment from the Adelson family on the EEOC filings and legal settlements. Reese didn’t provide a comment, but on March 8, multiple Review-Journal employees told me that Stanley Weiner, a labor attorney with the law firm of Jones Day, had begun an internal investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior. Weiner also represented the Las Vegas Sands in labor-related cases. He did not return a phone call seeking comment. On March 15, I emailed Reese and Dumont again; neither responded.
On March 26, a story in the Review-Journal reported that Moon, who had nearly a year left on his contract, had decided to retire. He was quoted as saying, “I’m ready to return home to Tennessee to spend more time with my family and pursue endeavors there.” In his place, Moyer was promoted to publisher.
I finally reached Taormina in mid-May. When I asked about the EEOC filings and allegations against the paper’s leadership team, she refused to comment, saying repeatedly, “I don’t want to speak to you about that.” When I pressed, inquiring if someone else at the Review-Journal might offer a formal comment, Taormina said that she’d have someone return my call. No one ever did.
Around the same time, I emailed and texted Moon, Moyer, Vega, and Blaser, asking detailed questions about the allegations that had been made against them. To more than half a dozen follow-up emails and texts, Moon never responded. Moyer, Vega, and Blaser hired an attorney through whom they “categorically” denied the claims in an “off-the-record” statement that was “not for publication.” The attorney, Ryan Stonerock of Harder LLP in Los Angeles, blamed “disgruntled employees” who were “terminated” and “made no allegations whatsoever” until they learned that they were being let go.
Stonerock also referred to the internal investigation in March 2018 and said that it did not “result in any adverse actions” against his clients; instead, Moyer was promoted and Vega and Blaser retained their positions. Asked to provide a copy of the final report, Stonerock declined, citing employee privacy laws. He did not respond to a subsequent request for a redacted version that blacked out identifying or sensitive information.
Stonerock—whose firm won a $140 million judgment for Hulk Hogan, the professional wrestler, in a privacy case against Gawker, and represented Weinstein in his $50 million threat to sue The New York Times—also told me twice that I and the Nevada Independent would be sued if we published any “false and defamatory” statements.
Finally, in May, through Reese, the Adelson family declined to comment on a detailed 27-point list of the allegations in this story; why Moon retired with nearly a year left on his contract; when the family learned of settlements and EEOC complaints involving the paper; whether they hired an outside attorney to investigate the charges; and if they would share the results of such an investigation.
In August, after months of consulting with attorneys about Stonerock’s threat letter and the Adelsons’ denials, the Nevada Independent decided against publishing my story. “We appreciated the diligent reporting by Jennifer and had no doubts about the credibility of the story,” Jon Ralston, the editor, later told CJR. “But as a nonprofit startup being threatened by costly and protracted litigation, we chose not to publish the piece even though we believed we would ultimately prevail in any legal action.”
Ahead of the publication of this story, Stonerock sent another letter, this time to CJR and me. “My clients believe that several of the primary sources for the Story are disgruntled former employees of the Review-Journal who harbor animosity toward the Review-Journal because their employment was terminated—tellingly, they made no allegations whatsoever until they learned that their employment would be terminated.” I was again informed that I would be the target of legal action.
Back at the Review-Journal, Moyer still serves as publisher. Blaser remains in his job. Matta-Caro says that she has seen Vega in the Review-Journal’s offices in recent weeks, and he is reportedly consulting for the Adelson family—advising them at Israel Hayom, a paper that the family owns in Tel-Aviv, and on potential daily newspaper purchases in the US.
In 2017, Frisbee and Rypka started a multimedia company called the CLASS Project (CLASS is an acronym for Compassion, Living Consciously, Authenticity, Service and Solutions). They also launched WE TOO, a support initiative for women. (Its name stands for Women Empowered Together Optimizing Opportunities.)
Matta-Caro told me that she’s pleased Moon is gone and that in October she received a raise. But her attorney, Patrick Kang of Ace Law Group in Las Vegas, said that her pay increase doesn’t bring her salary to parity with male employees in similar jobs. Her EEOC case remains open. The Review-Journal never formally responded to her filing, and she’s still requesting back pay and other damages from her months of alleged inappropriate treatment.
Moon has put out feelers for another publishing job. His LinkedIn page has a cheery message: “So what’s next for me? Actively seeking a contract position. I enjoy working with smart people, building teams and mentoring talented managers for their next career move.”
He would seem to have the financial flexibility to wait for just the right gig: He left the paper with a $500,000 severance package, according to a copy of his severance agreement. His wife, a contractor in the sales department, is also gone from the Review-Journal; she received a severance of $50,000.
Illustration: Darrel Frost.