- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2002

As the nation's fastest-growing city, Las Vegas lacked a conservative media outlet until Fox News Channel premiered there Nov. 15 on Cox Cable.

Fox's arrival in the gambling mecca was the result of a successful grass-roots campaign involving a local talk-show host, a U.S. senator, the Nevada Republican Party and a local business consultant.

Joe Gelman, the business consultant, says he was the individual who got the ball rolling. For him, it was a "matter of principle that we get the same news that the rest of the country was getting."

Not that Las Vegas is purely conservative territory. Nevada's Democratic senator, Harry Reid, is majority whip to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and state voting records show a virtual tie between registered Republicans and Democrats. A nearby military base, Nellis Air Base, brings in a more conservative element, as does the large local Mormon community.

In any case, Cox officials, operators of the only cable franchise in Las Vegas, claimed there was insufficient interest to warrant their carrying the Fox News Channel. Plus, they claimed in a letter to Mr. Gelman, it would be too expensive to do so. In other words, Fox was charging a hefty price for the privilege.

Not satisfied with that explanation, Mr. Gelman and others found a sympathetic ear and a powerful voice to air their concerns in KXNT radio host Alan Stock. He asked his listeners to call Cox if they would like to see Fox News on the air in Las Vegas.

"We had thousands of people calling in on a regular basis, so we knew they (Cox) were getting calls," Mr. Stock says. "I have nothing against Cox. I just wanted Fox News Channel as an alternative."

Then the Republican Party of Nevada weighed in. "We polled registered Republicans in Clark County and when a lot of them called back we gave them Cox's telephone number," said former State Party Executive Director Ryan Erwin. He thinks officials at Cox ended up receiving so many calls "they had to give in."

But that wasn't how officials at Cox saw things. Fox lowered its asking price and then "it became a business decision that made sense," said Steve Schorr, vice president of public affairs.

When queried about this, a Fox News Channel spokeswoman said the company never reveals the terms of its agreements with cable companies.

Plus, one of the state's U.S. senators was taking credit for influencing Cox's decision. Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction (among other things) over telecommunications issues.

In a July 10, 2001, letter to Mr. Gilman, he wrote "At the request of many Las Vegas residents, I urged the president and CEO of Cox Communications to add Fox News Channel to their Las Vegas cable network I was pleased to learn that according to Cox due to my intervention in this issue, Fox News should be on the air in the coming months."

Fox News finally came on the air in Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Nov. 15 amid a flurry of welcomes to Las Vegans by Fox air personalities such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. The city needed some good news, as ever since September 11 Las Vegas has experienced massive layoffs in its hotel and casino industries because of 75,000 fewer visitors. To date, there has been a $78.7 million loss in convention business.

Fox has at least one definite opponent: stockholder Brian Greenspun, who owns about a 20 percent stake in Cox Las Vegas. He was a college roommate of former President Bill Clinton and someone with whom Mr. Clinton often stays when he is in Las Vegas.

"They're very good friends," Mr. Gelman said. "Everyone knows that Fox News Channel provides fair and balanced coverage when it comes to Bill Clinton. It's my opinion that Greenspun had a thing against Fox News, which resulted in Las Vegas being the last major metropolitan area in the country not providing access to Fox."

Mr. Greenspun dismissed the charge as being "100 percent untrue," saying that he had absolutely nothing to do with Fox News being or not being on the air in Las Vegas.

But he does say he is not at all thrilled about Fox News being on the air in Las Vegas.

"Had I been making the decision today, I would never have let Fox on," he says.

Milton Schwartz, the former chairman of Nevada's Clark County Republican Party, said that Mr. Greenspun had an "agenda" and that involvement by him was indeed "conceivable."

A number of listeners who called Mr. Stock's radio show said they were convinced that Mr. Greenspun was the root cause of the problem. Mr. Stock agrees.

"He did play some role, not the defining role, but he did have some influence I'm just not sure to what degree," he said.

Eric Hulnick, news director of Las Vegas Fox affiliate KVVU, demurred.

"It would be hard for one stockholder to do something that would hurt their bottom line," he says. "I don't think someone's political [agenda] would get in the way. The more news voices there are in a community the better chance the public has of getting the truth. Fox obviously has a conservative bent to it. I think that's healthy."

A Fox News Channel official made it clear he didn't care to stir any waters.

"There is some truth to [Coxs explanation] that it was a business decision; but it was one that was significantly influenced by the community," said John Malkin, vice president of affiliate sales and marketing. "The whole story was a textbook grass-roots effort by the people of the Las Vegas community."

Mr. Gelman said: "I understand Fox's reluctance to comment on this any further after having achieved victory. If I was them, I wouldn't comment either. But I can assure you at the height of the battle that we all regarded Greenspun as being the primary obstacle."

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