Journalism is a hard business. For every scoop, there’s that story that gets away. There’s whispers you can’t confirm, even when your gut tells you it’s true. There’s innuendo without corroboration or a paper trail that goes cold.
If journalism was like the movies, I could have published what I knew about Steve Wynn about 15 years ago. But journalism is a lot more complicated than fiction. We’re not all Robert Redford and Tom Hanks. (Why are there so few journalism stories about women?)
I first learned about Steve Wynn and one of his female employees when I was working at the View newspapers. Back then, the Views were quite different than they are now. They had geographical zones covered by one reporter — Summerlin, North Las Vegas, Southwest, etc. The stories had bylines. Often, we took our own cover photos with our own cameras. They were truly community weekly newspapers.
My beat was Henderson, where I covered everything from city council meetings to business to schools — and everything in between — for four years. I was busy. I had to write at least five-to-seven stories a week, including two different cover stories for two different Views. It was a grind. I had terrible bosses and editors and then I had glorious bosses and editors. It was the very best school I could ask for as a young reporter in a new city.
There were two cardinal rules about working at the Views — which at that time were jointly owned and distributed by the Review Journal and The Sun. One was that you could never, ever cover The Strip (except in very grey areas) and if you got a Big News Tip you had to kick it up the line to the RJ. It was a tricky deal. We were employees of the company that owned the RJ. But we were also in a journalism ghetto. Las Vegas CityLife once called the Views “crap front to back” in their annual media issue. Any ideas we kicked up the line were often laughed off. How could anyone at the lowly Views have any good leads?
So, this is where I was working when I heard about how Steve Wynn scheduled a salon service in his office with a woman who worked at the salon in his casino. He asked for an appointment after-hours. When she arrived at his office, there were armed guards who searched her kit and took her phone and purse. She went into his office. He locked the door. What happened next … ? Within days, someone who worked for Wynn contacted her with a deal, she said. Take the money and never speak of this again.
When I first heard her story I was off the clock with friends at a piano bar at Mandalay Bay. I tried really hard to get her to go on the record. She was a single mom and could not afford to get blacklisted. She took the money. She wasn’t going to risk going up against billionaire casino-mogul Steve Wynn. And I didn’t really blame her. Besides, my gut said if this is true there had to be more people, more payouts. That means a paper trail. That means there could be others willing to talk. So I worked that angle for a while in my off time.
Then I hit a wall. I was young and still inexperienced. I also had very little time to be stalking Wynn properties, since I still had two Views worth of stories every week. I had a few friends in the RJ newsroom, so I discreetly asked them for advice. I was told in no uncertain terms to drop it and that my best move would be to send what I had to John L. Smith. So I sent him an email. I don’t remember ever hearing back.
In the meantime, I got a job with the now-defunct CityLife. It was my dream job! But I never stopped thinking about the story I knew about Steve Wynn. As longtime Siren readers know, I’m a survivor of sexual assault myself. I had questions that haunted me. Why did he give her the money? Did this happen to other women?
I mentioned the story to a couple of colleagues, but nobody really seemed to have any ideas about how to find more people. I mean we were still using MySpace back then. Facebook had only just started the year I started at CityLife (2004)! Twitter wouldn’t launch for another two years. iPhones didn’t debut until 2007. It was a different time. I remember pitching the story to Mike Zigler (RIP), who was my news editor while Matt O’Brien was on sabbatical writing his first book. Zigler didn’t think one anonymous story was enough.
So I put it on the back burner while I did my job. Every now and then, I’d poke around. I decided the story deserved to be told, whether it was by me or not. I started discreetly telling esteemed reporters, whom I thought would be intrigued by the lead. Then I started getting some freelance gigs in national publications. I took advantage of working with editors at Newsday and even Maxim (smirk if you want, but I bought a brand new couch with that money).
Then in 2007, I started The Sin City Siren. I became nationally syndicated. I worked with an international, feminist blogging consortium at Fem2.0, where I got to work with big name feminist journalists like Soraya Chemaly (although I’m sure she doesn’t remember me). But as cool as all that is, I’m still just a one-woman show. I don’t have a team of lawyers. I don’t have site admins. I don’t have a research department or fact-checkers. It’s just me. I knew if I published an anonymous story like this on my little blog, Steve Wynn would sue me into oblivion. (He still might.)
So while I have used this platform to advocate for fellow survivors of sexual violence, I knew I did not have the resources to tell a story like the one I heard about Steve Wynn. I’ve marched for women’s issues. I’ve organized for causes. I’ve given testimony at the Legislature as an advocate for sexual assault survivors. I took on the Ultimate Fighting Championship and got them to enact a code of conduct. I went viral with the story of an assemblywoman getting death threats for talking about abortion. I’ve talked about my story of sexual assault on TV, in national publications, in speeches — to give a voice to those who don’t want to talk about their experiences. But there was always a part of me that has felt a kind of guilt that Steve Wynn was out there. If he is guilty, shouldn’t there be justice? I knew a secret, but it wasn’t my secret to tell.
I did the only other thing I could think of. I told other journalists. Anyone I thought was trustworthy, I told. I figured maybe my tip could be the lynchpin in someone else’s story. Maybe someone else would be tenacious enough, some editor be bold enough. I wasn’t going to let this story die just because I couldn’t publish it myself.
When the #MeToo dam broke in October, I knew this was the time for the Steve Wynn story to come to light. I reached out to people again, hoping. Maybe my emails got forwarded to the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times. Maybe not. Maybe those reporters finally put it all together and my years of guilt are just collateral damage. Maybe some people were emboldened by #MeToo. Maybe we needed the tidal wave of #MeToo before any stories like this would be believed, before editors would stop letting fear make decisions or apathy rule. I don’t know. But I’m fucking glad the time has come!
This is the worst secret I ever had to keep for someone else. In a lot of ways, I’m still keeping it. I promised her that I’d never say her name and if I ever wrote a story, to only share the description, not the identifying details. I’ll take what she wants secret to the grave.
And even though I played no part in it being published, I like to think that the work I’ve done here as the Siren has in its own tiny way helped birth our current #MeToo moment. I hope the stories and work that exists here over the past 10 and a half years has made a tiny difference in the lives of people who read it. That me telling my story led to conversations that led to understanding that led to the wellspring of women demanding more. I think every feminist who has been out there working to make a change — we’re all a tiny part of it. Honestly, I’ll never know if I personally made a difference or made anything better.
I hope I have.