Although both sides are being diplomatic about the move, Hengel’s resignation apparently reflects concern about the editorial integrity of the newspaper under its new owners.
Hengel revealed the news with an announcement to editorial staffers on Tuesday, and his departure was confirmed in a message from the new owners that appeared on the front page of the newspaper on Wednesday. The timing of Hengel's original buyout acceptance is unclear, making it hard to tell whether it was directly related to the impending sale.
However, in an audio recording cited by the AP, Hengel told the newsroom, “I think my resignation probably comes as a relief to the new owners,” suggesting there was indeed a serious conflict brewing over the direction of the newspaper. On Sunday, the newspaper ran an editorial noting its acquisition by Adelson and alerting readers to changes he might institute in the publication’s op-ed section.
In the official statement published on the newspaper’s Web site, the new owners promised “to publish a newspaper that is fair, unbiased and accurate.”
Despite that promise, there have already been rumors of editorial meddling by Adelson’s representatives. In the most important instance, three LVRJ journalists received assignments to investigate judges involved in legal cases in which Adelson has an interest. Hengel later spiked the story.
Adelson paid around $140 million for the newspaper in a transaction arranged by his son-in-law, Patrick Dumont, but tried to remain anonymous at first, raising red flags in the newsroom. In an article about the deal published by the LVRJ, Hengel was quoted as saying, “The questions that were not answered Thursday are 1.) Who is behind the new company? and 2) What are their expectations?” The quote was later removed from the article.
Once the identity of the new owner was revealed, liberal pundits pointed to Adelson’s heavy involvement in politics as a prominent donor to the Republican Party, and the potential influence he could wield over public opinion through the LVRJ in a swing state.