Where I Stand:

A safe bet: August isn’t always a day at the beach

Why can’t a fellow take a little time off in the dog days of summer without something big happening in his absence?

The first time I remember the danger of vacationing in August was in 1972. My parents loved to travel to Southern California during that month for a little respite by the ocean. The time off brought them back refreshed and ready to recommit their newspaper to the job of helping to make this community a better place to live.

August 1972 was a slow month — just like I think most Augusts in Las Vegas have been ever since. But something happened to the Las Vegas Sun that changed the course of history and forever changed the way we do politics in this country.

You see, my father’s safe in his Las Vegas Sun office was broken into that month. At the time, it didn’t seem like much other than a second-rate botched burglary. It’s wasn’t until the following year, while the entire country was glued to the television set watching the U.S. Senate Watergate hearings that we found out what happened.

The testimony revealed that President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, had ordered the infamous “plumbers” — E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy — “to go out to Las Vegas and burglarize Sun Publisher Hank Greenspun’s safe.”

Yes, we were incredulous too!

Since that time, every person involved in the intricacies of Watergate has come to the same conclusion. Had it not been for that safe in that newspaper office in Las Vegas, Watergate would have never happened.

It is a long, interesting story (that can be told another time) that is difficult to understand let alone believe. And, yet, it happened. And in its telling, we can understand what an assault on our First Amendment looks like and the unintended consequences that can result.

President Richard Nixon resigned his presidency.

Fast forward 47 years to this past August. This time the assault on the Las Vegas Sun and the First Amendment to our Constitution did not originate in Washington. At least, I don’t think it did.

Shortly before President Nixon’s paranoia led his people to Las Vegas to pursue a life of crime, he signed the Newspaper Preservation Act, which allowed newspapers across the country to enter Joint Operating Agreements.

Those agreements were a recognition by Congress that it was U.S. policy to do what was necessary to promote independent and competing editorial voices in our communities — even if it meant allowing newspapers to violate antitrust laws, which it did.

The Las Vegas Sun and the Las Vegas Review-Journal entered into such an agreement — with the attorney general’s approval — in 1990. It is for a term of 50 years. That is why you get the Las Vegas Sun delivered as a section in the R-J every morning.

And true to the dictates of the Newspaper Preservation Act, I think it is safe to say the two newspapers have very different and competing views — on just about everything.

So, with more than 20 years left on the agreement, the Review-Journal has decided — in August — that it has had enough. It no longer wants to publish the Las Vegas Sun as part of the daily newspaper. It says it doesn’t think the Sun is a quality newspaper.

I don’t relish a yearslong battle with a billionaire owner, but I can still remember some of what I learned in law school. So fight I will. So stay tuned.

What has been most gratifying in the early days of this legal battle, though, has been the outpouring from our readers. When I say our readers I mean the daily newspaper readers of the Sun and R-J. We are publishing a representative sample here.

What you will see is that the people understand what is going on without reading a lawsuit, a motion or a brief. They understand what this fight is about — and most of them don’t like it.

They don’t like it because people in Las Vegas who have been fortunate to have two competing newspaper voices know what a treasure they have. There are two voices, multiple columnists with varied opinions, coverage of stories in one paper that wouldn’t be carried in the other and a robust discussion on practically every topic, election and idea that comes our way.

While a few letters are of questionable character, the vast majority — pro and con — are well-reasoned and well-written. I hope everyone reads them and learns what freedom under the First Amendment really means and what it could mean to lose it.

In August 1972, our government assaulted the Las Vegas Sun and the First Amendment by stealth, and a president came tumbling down.

This August, the Sun and the First Amendment came under attack in the open using the government (the court) as the weapon of choice. What will tumble as a result this time?

So, that’s all that happened to me in August. How was your summer?

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun