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October 18, 2018

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A powerful vehicle for change

Hank Greenspun's front-page "Where I Stand" columns had great influence.

As the late Art Trelease, a longtime Las Vegas city manager and native Las Vegan, quipped for the 40th anniversary issue of the Sun: "At City Hall, you read the Review-Journal to see what was happening and you read the Sun to see if you dared come to work."

A big reason for that was Greenspun's column, which could stab with rapier sharpness into the heart of troubling issues and corrupt politicians. For the Sun's editor and publisher, it was all just part of a day's work as a newspaperman.

The name "Where I Stand" came about in response to a competitor.

In the early 1950s, Review-Journal Executive Editor A.E. Cahlan wrote a column called "From Where I Sit." So Greenspun took his column one level higher by standing and doing something instead of just sitting and griping.

"It started as a gag simply to spoof Cahlan, but soon became one of the most widely read columns in the state of Nevada," Greenspun said in his book of the same name published in 1966.

While lambasting crooked politicians was Greenspun's specialty, he also could write witty columns on subjects such as how to treat your wife on Valentine's Day.

Greenspun also wrote about children -- disabled, neglected, abused, and otherwise troubled kids -- with great compassion.

His columns on the Vietnam War were poignant. Greenspun even predicted in the late 1960s that the United States would not win. He was caught up in the Watergate scandal when the Watergate burglars attempted to break into his Sun office safe.

And Greenspun's columns on civil rights and world peace -- he arranged for the historic meeting between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in Jerusalem -- were thought-provoking pieces.

The 1950s through the 1970s were fertile times for a crusading editor-publisher.

Locally, Greenspun had exposed the shenanigans of power-hungry political boss Sen. Pat McCarran, Sheriff Glen Jones and silver king James Ray Houston. Nationally, he took on red-scare demagogue Sen. Joseph McCarthy and Vice President Spiro Agnew.

Hank's first great battle was against McCarran, who tried to shut down the Sun by ordering an ad boycott after the Sun criticized his actions.

When McCarran died in 1954, Greenspun gave Sun readers an insightful look into the workings of the man but without any false accolades.

-- Hank Greenspun, Where I Stand, Sept. 30, 1954.

The first major local story that gained nationwide attention for the Sun came not long after the paper's birth, when federal agents raided Roxie's brothel on Boulder Highway and arrested its owners, Roxie Clippinger and her husband, Eddie.

The Sun uncovered proof that Sheriff Jones had a financial interest in the establishment, which led to his indictment. Jones lost his $1 million libel lawsuit against the Sun, which was heralded by the Wall Street Journal as "Nevada's most influential newspaper" for its coverage of the scandal.

After the libel suit was filed, Hank pulled no punches with the powerful sheriff about how he would defend himself and the Sun -- with the truth.

In the 1970s, when the Sun and Greenspun exposed gubernatorial candidate Houston's silver company fraud, Houston supporters protested in front of the Sun office, accusing the paper of a political smear.

Houston fled Nevada, a fugitive from justice. The Sun won best news story of the year from the Nevada Press Association. Houston later was acquitted by a jury.

Greenspun was not shy about taking on powerful national figures such as McCarthy, whose witch-hunting ruined everyone from common citizens to Hollywood personalities.

McCarthy era

Greenspun wrote a number of columns denouncing McCarthy and his tactics, but none more shocking than the one for which Greenspun was indicted -- and later cleared of any wrongdoing -- on charges of using the U.S. mail to incite McCarthy's murder.

Greenspun, a Republican, pulled no punches when it came to members of his party whom he felt were crooked, and that included Agnew, Richard Nixon's vice president, who resigned amid a federal probe into possible tax fraud, bribery and extortion in connection with kickbacks from contractors while he was Maryland's governor.

Community ally

But there was a gentler side to Hank Greenspun and his Where I Stand column.

In 1952 Greenspun used his column to make a passionate appeal to help raise funds for an operation for a deformed infant of a World War II hero who had fallen on hard times.

As a result, Patricia Lee Druschel, who was born with defects of the mouth, lips, nose and throat, received the money for corrective surgery. She was the daughter of Navy turret gunner Francis Druschel, who earned the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism for rescuing the radioman after their plane crashed in the Pacific.

Greenspun once received from a 15-year-old boy a heartbreaking letter telling how his father was in jail in Florida, leaving him, his younger sister and mother destitute in Las Vegas. The young man was contemplating ending it all.

When Cary Sayegh, the son of a prominent local businessman, was kidnapped in 1978, Greenspun made an unusual front-page offer to the kidnappers. With the parents' knowledge, he offered the kidnappers anonymity, vowing to go to jail rather than reveal their names to authorities if they could work out a deal to save the child's life.

Sayegh was not returned. No one has been convicted of his kidnapping.

Greenspun also could poke fun at himself, as he did in his advice to men on Valentine's Day.

War critic

No two events of the 1970s received more attention than the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal that brought down Nixon.

Greenspun, a former Army officer and devoted patriot, was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War from its start.

Watergate might never have come to light if it weren't for what took place at the Sun in 1971 -- the burglary of Greenspun's office allegedly by the same people who were believed to have burglarized the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Sun break-in supposedly targeted Howard Hughes memoranda and documents to determine how much money Hughes had given Nixon in cash and sought what role then-national Democratic Party Chairman Larry O'Brien had played in the Hughes organization in an effort to discredit him. There also reportedly was information on Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie in Greenspun's safe.

Greenspun was unbending against those who would deny people their civil rights and disrupt worldwide harmony.

In the 1960s, as the civil rights measure was about to become law, white Southern lawmakers said the law would be an infringement upon states' rights by the federal government. When some Nevada politicos indicated that they leaned toward supporting that position, Greenspun answered.

After watching the success of the early space shuttle missions, Greenspun shared with readers his thoughts of achieving brotherhood on Earth before we think of exporting our way of life to other worlds.

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