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What really happened when Dana Gentry left the “Las Vegas Sun”

Dana Gentry. COURTESY PHOTO
Dana Gentry. COURTESY PHOTO

Dana Gentry spent more than three years untangling problems at Aspen Financial, an investment company run by Jeff Guinn, the son of former Gov. Kenny Guinn. She tracked lawsuits filed by jilted investors, federal investigations and countersuits. Her stories appeared on Channel 3’s Face to Face and in the Las Vegas Sun.

The longer she followed the story, the more complicated it became, with more allegations, more lawsuits and more investigations. But she was dogged and stayed on it, even after attorneys for Aspen alleged that Gentry had accepted personal favors from disgruntled Aspen investors.

Aspen’s attorneys never provided any evidence of this, even to the district judge who requested it. Naturally, Gentry wanted to prove them wrong.

“As a journalist, it’s hard to read allegations about yourself that aren’t true,” she said. “The first thing you want to do is present the evidence.”

Answering the allegations would have legitimized them, she felt. So she had to stay quiet while the journalistic imperative drove her to stay on the story. If she backed off, it would prove that the subject of an investigative piece could force a reporter off the beat by challenging her character.

“It’s killing the messenger,” Gentry said.

As the campaign against Gentry escalated, the Review-Journal and Nevada Press Association filed legal briefs in her support. Tom Gorman, executive editor at the Las Vegas Sun, said in an e-mail that the paper provided legal support. But Gentry said they never did anything about the subpoena she received, and didn’t join the R-J’s amicus brief until the last day. In April, the paper published an editorial supporting her.

“Guinn’s attorneys want nothing less than to impede the news-gathering process by being allowed to spuriously insinuate that a journalist is guilty of impropriety, without providing evidence to support their claim,” read the editorial.

Sometime between the publication of that editorial and the end of August, editors at the Sun made a decision that essentially achieved what Aspen’s attorney’s had set out to do: They took Gentry off the story.

“Dana had been following the story intensely, and then found herself part of the very story she was covering,” Gorman wrote in an e-mail. “Any prudent editor would take a reporter off a sensitive, contentious story if that reporter becomes part of the story.”

Former editor and journalism professor Mary Hausch said she supports Gentry in her legal fight. Gentry should not cover her own involvement with the case, but somebody else at the Sun should have, Hausch said.

Gentry did not write about her subpeona, but she continued to file updates about Aspen’s mounting legal problems.

“I would hope that the editors there would have strongly indicated that they were backing her, while practicing ethical journalism,” she said.

By removing her from the story, the Sun essentially did Aspen’s bidding, Gentry said. So she quit. Face to Face (now Ralston Reports) host and Sun columnist Jon Ralston followed.

“I’m so disheartened that the Greenspun company didn’t back me up,” Gentry said. “It bodes ill for anyone who does hard-hitting reporting.”

Gentry spent much of her career covering conflicts of interest. Jeff Guinn’s father vetoed stronger regulations on the mortgage lending industry that would have affected his son. That came up in her research. As one of the few journalists who grew up in Las Vegas, she had a unique advantage in understanding the terrain.

It also came with a hitch. Many of her stories involved people she knew personally. High school classmates initially tipped her off to alleged improprieties at Aspen Financial. She also knew Jeff Guinn and used him as a source on several occasions.

“I can’t let those relationships get in the way of reporting,” she said. “Because I know everyone, I just would not be able to do my job.”

Nevada still functions like a small town in some ways. It’s easy to get entangled in an interest conflict. Gentry said Brian Greenspun, editor and publisher of the Sun, is represented by the same attorney, John Bailey, who represents Jeff Guinn and Aspen Financial. Greenspun did not respond to e-mails seeking comment.

The state Supreme Court hasn’t ruled on Gentry’s subpoena. Her attorneys have argued that the state’s shield law, which protects journalists from having to share confidential sources and other news gathering material, applies in her case.

“It has been going on forever,” Gentry said. “I’m really trying not to pay attention.”

When she left the Sun, Gentry said she would keep reporting on Aspen Financial on her two television shows, Ralston Reports and Vegas Inc. Gorman wrote that he assigned another reporter to follow the case. But the last update about Aspen Financial is dated July 24, 2012, one week before she left. And guess whose byline it has? Dana Gentry’s.

The original version of this story included a quote from Mary Hausch that suggested Gentry reported on her own legal troubles. She didn’t. The problem arose from a miscommunication between the reporter and Hausch. CityLife regrets any inconvenience this has caused.