Why Donald Trump's first big newspaper endorsement has an 'asterisk'

Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire owner of The Las Vegas Review-Journal, has not been shy with his political involvement during this and previous election cycles.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File
Sheldon Adelson, left, attends the third and final 2016 presidential campaign debate between Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Mr. Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate, has been a mega donor for the Republican party.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal has become the first major newspaper to endorse presidential candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 general election, publishing an unsigned editorial on Saturday that lauds the Republican nominee while acknowledging his flaws.

The show of support less than three weeks before Election Day could help Mr. Trump in Nevada, a battleground state, after a number of other major newspapers have broken their traditions of backing Republican candidates to endorse this cycle's Democrat or Libertarian alternative instead.

But, as The New York Times' Maggie Haberman pointed out, the Review-Journal's endorsement of Trump "may come with something of an asterisk."

That caveat is due to the newspaper's owner, billionaire Vegas casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, who was the biggest donor during the 2012 presidential elections. Having put up about $90 million for federal elections that year, Mr. Adelson has attracted the attention of the GOP's presidential candidates in the current race as well.

In May, as Trump emerged as the presumptive nominee, Adelson wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post urging the party to unify behind Trump.

"As Republicans, we know that getting a person in the White House with an 'R' behind his name is the only way things will get better," he wrote. "That opportunity still exists. We must not cut off our noses to spite our faces."

Although he once suggested he might give pro-Trump groups as much as $100 million, his actual allocation thus far has been about $5 million – "token support by Mr. Adelson's standards," as The New York Times reported in September, noting that Adelson had turned his focus to congressional candidates.

Democratic political consultant Hank Scheinkopf said the shift in priorities makes sense.

"Adelson is doing what everyone is doing – he's running away from Donald Trump," Mr. Scheinkopf told Fox Business last week. "If the polls are right, no one wants to be around a dead body or a losing candidate."

Until this past weekend, the largest newspapers to endorse Trump were the News-Press in St. Joseph, Mo., and the News-Press in Santa Barbara, Calif.

When Adelson bought the Review-Journal last year for $140 million – keeping his identity hidden until uncovered by the paper's own reporters – it sparked speculation about the buyer's motives. With a daily circulation near 100,000, the paper "remains a prime target for anyone seeking to influence voters in Nevada," as The Washington Post's media critic Paul Farhi wrote.

While some news media owners contribute to candidates for public office, Fred Brown, the vice chairman of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee, warns that it may be unethical for these owners not to follow the rules laid out for their employees.

"It's at best a double standard, and a questionable practice," Mr. Brown wrote. "But at the very minimum there should be public disclosure – in their own media – when media magnates get politically involved in this way."

Members of the Review-Journal's editorial staff did not immediately respond Monday to questions from The Christian Science Monitor regarding who, specifically, drafted and approved the unsigned editorial.

The piece describes Trump as "neither the danger his critics claim nor the magic elixir many of his supporters crave," casting him as the logical choice when considered in contrast to Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

"Yes, Mr. Trump’s impulsiveness and overheated rhetoric alienate many voters. He has trouble dealing with critics and would be wise to discover the power of humility," the article states.

"But neither candidate will ever be called to the dais to accept an award for moral probity and character. And we are already distressingly familiar with the Clinton way, which involves turning public service into an orgy of influence peddling and entitlement designed to line their own pockets – precisely what a disgruntled electorate now rises up to protest."

Most prominently, the editorial praises Trump's private-sector successes.

"Mr. Trump understands and appreciates the conditions that lead to prosperity and job creation and would be a friend to small business and entrepreneurship," it states. "Mrs. Clinton has spent most of her adult life on the public payroll."

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