Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Denied. No surprise." Prying? Or lying? Las Vegas Review-Journal editor can't wait to close the books on the Danny Gans story he can't tell

LAS VEGAS - “It was not a well-kept secret among his friends. We all knew Danny Gans was a drug addict.”

A source within the newsroom of the Las Vegas Review-Journal was talking this weekend about the case the newspaper staff was not allowed to investigate.

“And no one was surprised by the coroner’s announcement. But he was really cool. Because it wasn’t a homicide, all he had to do was list what killed him. Who knew what cocktail Danny was on when he died?

“Tabloid Baby was spot on. Every time. You had it right every step of the way. But our hands were tied. None of his friends or coworkers would go on the record. They were afraid they'd lose their jobs. And Steve Wynn was putting so much pressure on the paper…”

If it’s difficult to be a journalist at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, imagine how hard it must be to be the editor, knowing his stature diminishes a bit every time he’s forced by outside pressures to make it seem as if the paper’s crack investigative reporting team is trying its hardest to bring “justice” in the untimely death of the Las Vegas Strip headliner, while everyone who works for him knows he’s settling back comfortably after dodging a bullet from advertisers and casino magnates whose boots he licks.

Long tall Tom “McCloud” Mitchell, the Review-Journal’s fussily mustachioed Stetson-sporting editor, kept his reporters away from the Gans story for 39 full days, making any reporting— and it turns out investigation— off limits, beyond laudatory comments from the likes of Steve Rossi— until the Clark County coroner found a way to acceptably cloud the cause of death that everyone in town knew was fait accompli. (On May 13th, we reported that Review-Journal reporters and editors believed Danny Gans succumbed to painkillers; on May 25th, Marshal Mitchell called us "anonymous plagiarizing gnats.")

Seems the unwritten rule at the Review-Journal is that a reporter waits obediently for the public officials to hand him a statement, then gets to work and asks politely for more crumbs. When the crumbs are denied, the reporter must throw his hands in the air and walk away.

In the case of the Dilaudid overdose of Danny Gans, controversial Clark County coroner Mike Murphy took 39 days to come up with a delicately-parsed explanation of the clean-living entertainer’s death that threw up the admission that Gans had died “accidentally” from a “toxic reaction” the powerful opiate also known as hydromorphone, while pointedly leaving out all other details and refusing to answer other questions, including the amount of the “drug store heroin” found in the tissue samples, whether Gans had needle marks on his body, who prescribed the drug, or what other drugs-- including steroids-- were in Gans’ tissues.

Change the headline

After reporting the very controversial findings, the Review-Journal did its part in helping the coroner explain away the many unanswered questions-- and change the headline at the time, "Findings in death of Danny Gans leave questions," by digging up a local doctor who claimed he’d prescribed Dilaudid to Gans five years ago.

The doctor’s, and by association, the Review-Journal’s official, “magic bullet” theory: Gans had stumbled upon the old bottle in his medicine cabinet on May 1st, inadvertently popped a Dilaudid or two and died.

The effect of the tall tale, titled “DOCTOR SAYS DANNY GANS WOULDN’T ABUSE DRUGS,” worked as intended: newspapers around the world picked up the story and a new factoid was added to the Danny Gans death coverup:

Associated Press:
Doctor: I wrote prescription for Danny Gans’ drug

Doctor: I wrote prescription for Danny Gans

Honolulu Advertiser, San Jose Mercury News:
Doctor says Vegas entertainer Danny Gans had old prescription

Behind the scenes, Las Vegas Review-Journal reporters know better. Legendary tough-talking columnist John L. Smith expressed his skepticism yesterday in the buried blog section of the paper’s website:

“I’ve received a number of calls from people who claim Gans wasn’t always the clean-living guy his friends have described in the days since his death.”

“A number of calls?” Surely, the calls had begun long before the coroner’s press conference on Tuesday.

Surely, the tough guy columnist followed up on them.

Surely, he and the rest of the Review-Journal news team had been gathering information and following up on leads all along, ready to publish them as soon as the coroner had his say. Few stories in the so-called Sin City could be juicier than that of the secret double life of a charismatic, enigmatic star who built a reputation and industry on an anti-Vegas, holier-than-thou evangelical Christianity and family values ticket.

"Denied. No surprise."

We’d hoped that the Review-Journal would finally show its hand with a big spread in today’s Sunday edition.

It did not.

Instead, there was an “opinion” piece from editor Tom “McCloud” Mitchell, essentially a reprint of a blog post from earlier this week, in which he actually declares the Gans case to be closed, and makes it seem that once again, his investigation is being stymied by the coroner.

It should be noted that McCloud’s columns are usually accompanied by this photo:

Here is the editor's photo for this particular whopper:

Notice that Tom Mitchell is not wearing his cowboy hat, most probably because he realizes his column violates Tenet #3 of The Cowboy Code:

“He must always tell the truth.”

The column is entitled:

We pry because the dead can't speak for themselves

“The day after the coroner announced that the death of impressionist/singer Danny Gans was accidental, the Review-Journal received a reply to our public records request for Gans’ toxicology report. 

No surprise. Denied.”

Tom Mitchell explains that coroner “cited a 1982 opinion from then-Attorney General Dick Bryan” that maintains the confidentiality of medical records beyond the grave. He describes the decision as “bizarre,” “fashioned out of vagaries and sleight of hand,” and adds:

“…The living can speak for themselves. No one can really speak for the dead.

 Nothing against the coroner’s conclusion in the Gans case, but if the toxicology report were allowed to be inspected by an independent medical examiner, might not another opinion be found? Now the case in closed. No one, so far as we will ever know, will be found culpable or contributory. 

Gans can’t speak for himself. Who will?”

“No surprise… denied” is disturbingly similar to brings to mind the "The word is… No word”, the LVRJ lead of June 4th, when the paper wrote that the coroner still had no answers to Gans’ mysterious death, and that the Review-Journal would wait patiently until he did.

On Tuesday, Tom Mitchell sent a reporter to a news conference, reported what the coroner said, sent in the standard request for the complete report, was turned down and now wipes his hands of the matter. As far as he's concerned, the story’s over.

"We pry."

You pried?

“Now the case is closed. No one… will be found culpable or contributory.”

Now the case is closed?

”Gans can’t speak for himself. Who will?”

Who will?

The case is never closed as long as a journalist keeps it open (we learned that from those third-rate burglaries at that office-apartment-hotel complex hotel in Foggy Bottom back in ’72).

Who will speak for Danny Gans?

That’s your job, Tom.

You pried?

You didn't pry. You and the rest of the Las Vegas news media transcribed, paralyzed by the notion that it was somehow improper to pry until the coroner announced his official finding. Once that happened, you asked, but didn't tell.

The case is closed? Not by a longshot. There’s another major revelation about Danny Gans that we know you and your reporters know about.

Bet we beat you to it.



Anonymous said...

This source is obviously invented. It fits to neatly with your crackpot theories-- it's too perfect. And Steve wynn would never call the paper over this. That's conspiracy theory fantasy silliness. In the real world of journalism, such a call would become the news. Nice try hoping to be relevant!

Anonymous said...

Nice try, Steve Friess.