Anthony Grant

Rachel Maddow v. Sheldon Adelson

Several months ago I picked up the phone and had a lengthy conversation with Rachel Maddow, the left-leaning host of The Rachel Maddow Show on the American MSNBC network. Actually, it was for an interview, but it felt more like an informal chat. Maddow was not just as chirpy and open-minded as she is on the air, but even more so. It was nice.

Not long after that, I picked up the phone to have a quick chat with Sheldon Adelson, a queer little man with a big wallet and bigger appetite for controlling things. I was hoping the chat would turn into an interview, and though it was not my intention to ask Mr. Adelson what color underwear he wears (but my guess is fuschia or dollar-bill green), I certainly did not intend to grill him. Doing so first thing is never a good way to get a second interview when you need it.

But there was a problem: while Ms. Maddow only too eagerly picked up the telephone (even though the call had been coordinated by her PR people), neither Mr. Adelson nor his people showed the slightest interest in talking to a lowly non-gambling scribe. I spoke to one of his reps at the Las Vegas Sands Corp., Adelson’s company that is now under investigation by the DOJ, and one whose alleged cock-ups have been in the sights of Ms. Maddow for some time now.

His people gave me the royal runaround, even though I explained that I didn’t care an iota about Adelson’s casino dealings, and even though I agree with Rachel that Macau is one of the ugliest places on earth.

We all know by now that casinos have made Sheldon a very rich man, and that he’ll grease the wheels of Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency as necessary and as he sees fit. Fine. (Well, not so fine if you’re a sharp critic of the American right, as Maddow is.)

I simply wanted to ask Adelson about a little newspaper (little in the States, at least) called Israel Hayom. Israel Hayom makes for an interesting and maybe even essential read, in the same way that The New York Post does — just don’t let anyone catch you reading it.

Regardless of your political beliefs, Israel Hayom is an interesting creature, journalistically speaking. It’s the power of money, in print and all over the place in Israel, apparently. Now it seems that Yediot Ahronot is about to let go a sizeable chunk of its staff, and I found the comments of an executive of that newspaper, quoted anonymously in Globes, to be quite interesting.

The executive said, “You must know that ‘Israel Today’ is destroying Israeli journalism” and “The fact a billionaire has come here and pours money on to the streets, destroying newspapers…is an issue that has not received sufficient discussion. Adelson has simply brought ruin to the Israeli newspaper market, and the Israeli politicians who benefit from its flattering coverage, have allowed this unprecedented phenomenon to occur for partisan reasons…”

I have no problem with a given newspaper creaming another in the marketplace. The pressure of that kind of competition keeps journalists on their toes. But whereas a man like Rupert Murdoch for all his ruthlessness really gets behind his product, champions it and defends it (even it its best use is lining the bottom of a birdcage), it seems that Adelson can’t be bothered with such mundane considerations.

Neither can the journalists who work for him/his newspaper. Because not only will Sheldon Adelson not talk about Israel Hayom, but the people at Israel Hayom will not talk about Israel Hayom (I know — I’ve tried). You might say, Who cares? Well, I do. I care about newspapers, who funds them, and why.

I don’t profess to knowing much about Israeli journalism, but I am bothered by the fact that just as billionaires have made out like bandits as they’ve pillaged the American economy and screwed over the middle class in the process, the same thing could be happening in the far more fragile economy of Israel. Any checks, any balances, any comment?

Apparently not. And people who refuse to speak about a person or product that is in the public eye either do not give a damn, which is sad, or have something to hide, which is probably worse.

I don’t think Sheldon Adelson has much to hide, politically speaking — we all pretty much know his thoughts on Barack Obama and on the Palestinian conflict, for example. But someone with that much money should have the balls to not let his money do all the talking for him.

When you own or otherwise bankroll a newspaper, you’re in the communications business. You talk. This is why people seem to like Rachel Maddow, and seem not to like Sheldon Adelson.

But if his chief goal is to be thought of as a nefarious election-throwing bogeyman, he’s on the road to a brilliant success.