What’s the difference between character assassination and free speech? Well, it all depends on where you are when you make your “speech.”
In this case, Hong Kong-based Wall Street Journal reporter Kate O’Keeffe wrote the “speech” in question when she was writing a profile about Sheldon Adelson, a wealthy casino owner and longtime supporter of conservative politicians and political issues. He has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to GOP presidential candidates.
O’Keeffe made the remarks about Adelson in a December 2012 article, where she described him as a “scrappy, foul-mouthed billionaire from working class Dorchester, MA.”
Adelson, the chairman and CEO of Las Vegas Sands Hotel and Casino, filed his libel suit against the Wall Street Journal reporter in Hong Kong, which doesn’t offer the same protections available to journalists in the U.S. If the suit against O’Keeffe had been filed in a U.S. court it most likely would have been dismissed due to laws that protect a free press.
Adelson is represented by Attorney Kendall Coffey in this case. Coffey recently argued that O’Keeffe’s attempts to depose a former business associate of Adelson’s, architect Nikita Zukov, hired to work on an expansion of the Las Vegas Sands hotel, were an “incredible reach back” explaining that the issue “is in present tense about what Mr. Adelson is like at the time the article was written.”
Coffey goes on to explain that the relationship ended badly, perhaps inferring that negative feelings would influence Zukov’s memory and taint his testimony in support of O’keeffe’s characterization of Adelson’s speech. The use of bad language is alleged to have been harmful to Adelson’s business in Asia.
Jason Conti, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Dow Jones, owner of The Wall Street Journal, recently commented on the decision to allow O’Keeffe access to various documents, which she alleges, support the “foul-mouthed” characterization of Adelson’s speech. He said,” We are gratified that the court rejected Mr. Adelson’s attempt to avoid discovery in the United States. We will continue to vigorously defend our reporter in this meritless Hong Kong libel case.”
The lawsuit remains pending before the High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.