Of the world’s wealthiest individuals, casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson may be the only one who fights so many court battles in defense of his reputation—at least seven in as many years, four involving journalists, the latest a libel action he’s filed in Hong Kong against a reporter based in The Wall Street Journal’s bureau in that city.
The object of his ire is Kate O’Keeffe, who he claims defamed him in a story that ran in the Journal back in December about the protracted legal feud, now in its third year, between Las Vegas Sands and Steven Jacobs, who was abruptly sacked in the summer of 2010 as head of the company’s Macau casino operations. LVS says he was insubordinate and exceeded his authority and therefore removed for cause. Jacobs claims he was forced out for refusing to go along with activities he believed were illegal. His action for wrongful termination, filed in Nevada state court in Las Vegas, has shined an unwelcome spotlight on some of the murkier aspects of the business of casino gambling in southern China and resulted two years ago in LVS coming under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
As O’Keeffe alone is named in the suit—not the story’s co-author, Alexandra Berzon, the Journal’s principal gaming reporter in the States, and not the Journal or its publisher, Dow Jones, the only entities in a position to pay up—perhaps there is more here than a question of reputation. O’Keeffe’s unvarnished coverage of Macau and of Las Vegas Sands’ troubles with Jacobs and the U.S. government cannot have done much to endear her to the company or its combative chairman. In any event, the Journal, through a spokesperson, has vowed to “vigorously defend Ms. O’Keeffe”.
“The higher your reputation when you face a crisis, the better off you are when coming out of the crisis,” said Associate Professor Ernest F. Martin Jr., who teaches public relations in the U.S. at Virginia Commonwealth University, which developed the program with funding from the Macao Foundation and City University of Macau.
Macau’s casinos fared well in the program, which has tracked more than 5,000 English-language news stories totaling 5.8 million words published worldwide over the last two years. The program sifted the contents of those stories into six categories: “Products and Services, Financial Performance, Emotional Appeal, Social Responsibility, Vision and Leadership” and “Workplace Environment”.
The goal is to enable operators to play a more active role in determining how they’re portrayed and consequently how they’re perceived, above all by investors.
“Media reputation can be tracked and measured,” Martin emphasized. “The [tool] allows the casinos to monitor their own performance in each component and allows them to tailor their reputation the way they want by engaging the media and getting the right stories into the press.”
In the heat of last year’s U.S. presidential race the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee thought to make hay of a charge contained in court documents filed by Jacobs.
Clinging to that slope is the National Jewish Democratic Council. A political action group whose stated aim is to win “Jewish support for Democrats at the federal and state levels of government”—the complete opposite of Adelson’s princely support of the Republicans—they made similar use of the charge, and while they did remove the offending material from their Web site, they refused to cave, defending their action as protected “political speech”.
Adelson is now after them for $60 million. They’re determined to fight him. “We will not be bullied into submission,” they said.