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Tabloid Drama: Lawsuit Shocker, Surprise Exit

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Explosive Charges of Racism, Sexism at New York Post

New York Post Fires Another Reporter of Color

David Ng, No. 3 Editor at N.Y. Daily News, Out

Lou Dobbs Quits CNN, Says He'll Continue Activism

Plain Dealer Editor: We Don't Share Blame for Killings

AOL Lays Off Managing Editor of Black Voices

4 of Color to Testify at Hearing on Journalism

Prosecutors Accuse Medill's Innocence Project

Harsh Reminder That He Has "One of the Coolest Jobs"

Explosive Charges of Racism, Sexism at New York Post

Sandra Guzman, the Latina editor at the New York Post who was fired last month after having objected to the Post's infamous "chimp" cartoon, has countered with a lawsuit against the tabloid that, if it is to be believed, validates every suspicion uttered over the years about the newspaper's racism and sexism.

"The Post's blatant acts of race and sex discrimination and/or harassment have not been directed solely at its own employees," Guzman's lawsuit says. "Rather, the Post has also repeatedly targeted people of color and women outside of the Company with its racism and sexism through racially and sexually offensive news headlines, news stories and humiliating, insulting and degrading cartoons."

The 34-page filing takes the reader inside the tabloid's newsroom during the controversy that followed the February publication of the Sean Delonas cartoon comparing the author of President Obama's stimulus package to a dead chimpanzee. Sandra Guzman

The image was widely taken to represent Obama, although Delonas denied that. While owner Rupert Murdoch eventually apologized, Guzman writes that Australian-born Editor Col Allan, "while many protestors were downstairs protesting in front of the Post's building shortly after the cartoon was published, openly demeaned the protesters in racist terms by stating, 'Most of them are minorities and the majority are uneducated,' and then proceeded to laugh at the protestors. . . .

"Jesse Angelo, the Post's Managing Editor, admitted that he knew the cartoon was offensive prior to publication but decided not to do anything about it."

Charles Hart, the Post's Washington bureau chief, is said to have told Guzman that the Post's "goal is to destroy Barack Obama. We don't want him to succeed."

The suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims the Post has created a hostile work environment.

"By way of example only, on one occasion when Ms. Guzman and three female employees of the Post were sharing drinks at an after-work function, Defendant Allan approached the group of women, pulled out his blackberry and asked them 'What do you think of this?' On his blackberry was a picture of a naked man lewdly and openly displaying his penis. When Ms. Guzman and the other female employees expressed their shock and disgust at being made to view the picture, Defendant Allan just smirked. . . .

"A White male senior editor sexually propositioned a young female Copy Assistant, telling her that, 'If you give me a blowjob, I will give you a permanent reporter job. . . .

"In yet another example of the pervasive racism at the Post, a reporter asked her White editor if she could write a story about a recent incident in which several cars had been vandalized with the word 'Nigger' scratched onto the sides of the cars. Incredibly, the editor told the reporter that this racist incident was wholly unremarkable, asking the reporter, 'So what's the story? . . .

"A White male columnist would repeatedly walk into Ms. Guzman's office singing songs from the movie 'West Side Story,' specifically, the words, 'I want to live in America,' in a mocking and fake Spanish accent which Ms. Guzman found demeaning.

"Ms. Guzman even learned at one point that the Post had planned to run a cartoon in the newspaper depicting Jews as sewer rats."

Part of the lawsuit's introductory statement says, "despite the great diversity throughout New York City, only a handful of individuals of color or women have ever been allowed the serve as editors at the Post, and very few Black, Hispanic, Asian or female reporters currently work there."

Employees have in fact told Journal-isms that no one in the chain of command to approve the chimpanzee cartoon was of color and that there had not been an African American editor on the local news desk since 2001, when the late Lisa G. Baird, who had cancer at the time, was fired.

"Additionally, the last five employees who were recently terminated by Paul Carlucci, the Publisher of the Post, as part of the Post's purported financial 'cutbacks' have all been Black and/or other women of color," the suit says.

Guzman, a former editor in chief of Latina magazine, asserts that when she was hired, she was told by Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch and then publisher of the newspaper, that she was being brought aboard partly to increase the Post's readership among minorities, most notably Hispanics. Guzman describes herself as a black Puerto Rican.

She says she then created the "Tempo" section, a monthly insert to the Post that focused on issues affecting Latinos, as well as the "Tempo Express" blog for more immediate publication.

She said she was responsible for more than 25 other "even more successful" sections the Post published each year, such as the Black History Month, Environmental and Parade sections.

When Guzman was dismissed, Sam Stein reported at the time for the Huffington Post, "An official statement from the New York Post, provided to the Huffington Post, said that her job was terminated once the paper ended the section she was editing.

"'Sandra is no longer with The Post because the monthly in-paper insert, Tempo, of which she was the editor, has been discontinued.'"

A Post spokeswoman reaffirmed that position on Wednesday, stating, "This lawsuit has no merit and is based on charges that are groundless. As previously stated, Ms. Guzman's position was eliminated when the section she edited was discontinued due to a decline in advertising sales."

In her filing, Guzman asks why only her Tempo section was considered in evaluating whether she should be let go, says that white editors continued at the paper after the sections they edited were discontinued, and maintains that her firing was in retaliation for her in-house objections to the chimpanzee cartoon.

"Please know that I had nothing to do with the Sean Delonas cartoon. I neither commissioned or approved it. I saw it in the paper yesterday with the rest of the world. And, I have raised my objections to management," she wrote in a well-publicized e-mail.

As part of the retaliation, the suit says, Guzman was denied permission to cover a private reception at the White House in honor of the confirmation of Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She would have been the only member of the press present, and Sotomayor, a friend, personally invited her, she said. The Post's political editor, Greg Birnbaum, agreed with Guzman's request, she added, but Allan vetoed the idea.

The Post ultimately ran a generic Associated Press story about Sotomayor's visit to the White House, she said.

When the Post denied another request, this one to cover Sotomayor's investiture and again, attending as Sotomayor's personal guest, she went as a freelancer and sold the story to Latina magazine. The Post did not cover the investiture.

The suit says Guzman has also filed a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the New York City Commission on Human Rights and the city's Corporation Counsel.

New York Post Fires Another Reporter of Color

The New York Post fired another reporter of color, Austin Fenner, the same day Sandra Guzman filed her lawsuit over racial discrimination, Sam Stein reported Wednesday for the Huffington Post. 

Fenner, an African American, confirmed for Journal-isms "that I am no longer an employee of the New York Post." "A spokesperson for the New York Post said that the paper had 'no comment on Mr. Fenner's employment status,'" Stein wrote.

Fenner, 46, joined the Post from the New York Daily News in 2007 because, he told Journal-isms at the time, the Post approached him with "an incredible opportunity to do general assignment enterprise stories for them." The News made a counter-offer, but after weighing it against what the Post presented, "I decided that I would accept the New York Post's offer."

Like Guzman, Fenner was not happy with the Post's stimulus cartoon. He told Journal-isms, "It churned my stomach when I saw it."

While at the News, Fenner broke a January 2007 story that the Rev. Al Sharpton's ancestors were owned by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's forebears.

At the Post, he said he was proud of stories he did on discovering a Confederate flag on hunting grounds used by Vice President Dick Cheney in Dutchess County, N.Y.; landlords' efforts to get tenants out of rent-stabilized apartments, and the effect of Columbia University's expansion plans on neighboring Harlem.

Fenner started on the business side of the News in 1987 and became a reporter in 1994. In his last four months at that paper, he also covered the funeral of James Brown and the presidential candidates marking the anniversary of the 1965 walk for civil rights across the bridge in Selma, Ala.

He said he did not know what he would do next.

. . . David Ng, No. 3 Editor at N.Y. Daily News, Out

David Ng, the No. 3 editor at the New York Daily News and one of the highest-ranking Asian Americans in the newspaper business, is stepping down for unspecified "new challenges," he told colleagues Tuesday night.

David Ng

"I've had a great run here but new challenges await me," Ng, who is executive editor, wrote. "I want to thank Martin Dunn and the Daily News for the honor and privilege of being part of an outstanding team of journalists during one of the most important chapters in the News' history," he said, referring to the man who hired him, the editor in chief and deputy publisher.

"It has been an incredibly exciting and rewarding time for me personally and professionally. I'm thrilled to have had this front row seat to watch the News' many successes whether it was reinventing itself for the digital age or providing the best coverage of New York City."

Ng, 51, told Journal-isms on Wednesday that he did not want to expand on his statement. He came to the tabloid in 2006 from the Star-Ledger across the Hudson River in Newark, where he spent six years and was assistant managing editor, overseeing deadline production.

It wasn't Ng's first time in the New York tabloid battles, vying with the New York Post for newsstand sales with eye-catching headlines and vivid writing.

As an announcement said then, he first worked for the News from 1993 to 2000, holding various top editing jobs including metropolitan editor and deputy managing editor, and he started his newspaper career at the Post, working his way from reporter to associate managing editor over 13 years. He started after his college graduation in 1980, when he began work as a dictationist.

In his time at the News, Ng survived a 2007 shakeup that claimed another Asian American, Dean Chang, the metro editor. Chang, who now works at the New York Times, told Journal-isms then that he did not think ethnicity played any role in the decision to oust him, and denied a report in the New York Post that his departure followed clashes with Ng. Regardless, the News masthead will soon be without either.

Ng's ethnicity was a source of pride for other Asian American journalists. When he was named executive editor, he told Journal-isms that his e-mail account grew by 100 e-mails. They came "from Asian Americans around the country, and non-Asian Americans."

At the Asian American Journalists Association convention in 2007, the association reported that Ng brought the audience to tears with the story of how, as a little boy on Sept. 10, 1963, his family's photo was on the front page of the night edition of the Daily News.

"The little boy didn't speak English at the time. He couldn't even read the story that went with the photo of his mom and sister. But he never forgot that night - and how important he felt. His family was on page one of the New York Daily News!"

"That woman in the photo is my mom. And that little boy - the one who grew up in a tenement and who had to learn to speak English - stands before you tonight, the executive editor of the Daily News.

"I tell you my story not because of what it says about me - but what it says about us, as Asians and as Americans because the truth of the matter is this: My story is our story."

Dunn said in his own message to staffers:

"After three and half years of the most dramatic changes in the Daily News' history, it is with appreciation and personal sadness that I announce David Ng is taking on new challenges outside the newspaper.

"During the two occasions David and I have worked together, we have brought some of the biggest stories to our New York audience, from the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 to the election of Barack Obama in 2008.

"In addition, David has also helped execute some of the most important developments in the news room, including the global search for new editorial systems and helping create new print and digital workflows for the production of the newspaper - all part of shaping a newspaper for the 21st Century. In addition, as a leader in the Asian American Journalists Association and the Asian-American community, David has brought a diverse perspective to the newspaper that has been invaluable. I wish him well in his new endeavors."

Lou Dobbs Quits CNN, Says He'll Continue Activism

Lou Dobbs, the controversial CNN anchor whose opinions on such social issues as immigration have angered Latinos and others, announced his resignation from the cable network on his show Wednesday night. 

Lou Dobbs

The announcement was greeted with jubilation by those who have complained about Dobbs over the years. A Facebook announcement brought replies of "Hallelujah!"

Dobbs does not appear to be going to another television network. A Fox spokeswoman told Chris Roush of Talking Biz News, "We have not had any discussions with Lou Dobbs for Fox News or Fox Business."

"Over the past six months, it’s become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us," Dobbs said in a statement.

"And some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond my role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem-solving, as well as to contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day. And to continue to do so in the most honest and direct language possible.

"I’ve talked extensively with Jonathan Klein, Jon’s the president of CNN, and as a result of those talks, Jon and I have agreed to a release from my contract that will enable me to pursue new opportunities.

"At this point, I’m considering a number of options and directions and I assure you I will let you know when I set my course."

Just last month, protesters complained that CNN was being hypocritical by touting its "Latino in America" series while at the same time airing Dobbs.

"I can't support someone who uses his national platform of influence to distort facts and create a false impression of a group of people who can't defend themselves," Marisa Trevi?±o wrote on her Latina Lista blog.

"Because undocumented immigrants can't speak for themselves openly, it's up to advocates and others who recognize that Dobbs, a commentator who has become drunk with his own power of influence, needs to be challenged — not for expressing his opinion but utilizing his CNN show as a vehicle to spread that opinion as fact, when as even the CBS correspondent Lesley Stahl told Dobbs, even they couldn't confirm some of the allegations he had made regarding undocumented immigrants."

In July, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes, called on CNN to remove Dobbs, with president J. Richard Cohen saying Dobbs is "trading in falsehoods and racist conspiracy theories."

Dobbs indulged the "birther" movement — people who question whether President Obama was born on American soil and, therefore, whether he was constitutionally entitled to be president.

Dobbs said Wednesday night he was "the last of the original anchors here on CNN," and had worked there 30 years.

Klein issued this statement:

“Lou Dobbs is a valued founding member of the CNN family. For decades, Lou fearlessly and tirelessly pursued some of the most important and complex stories of our time, often well ahead of the pack. All of us will miss his appetite for big ideas, the megawatt smile and larger than life presence he brought to our newsroom, and we’re grateful to have known and worked with him over the years. With characteristic forthrightness, Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere. We respect his decision and wish him, Debi, and his family the very best.”

Dobbs said, "I truly believe that the major issues of our time include the growth of our middle class, the creation of more jobs, healthcare, immigration policy, the environment, climate change, and our military involvement, of course, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"But each of those issues is in my opinion informed by our capacity to demonstrate strong resilience of our now weakened capitalist economy and demonstrate the political will to overcome the lack of true representation in Washington, D.C.

"I believe these to be profoundly critically important issues and I will continue to strive to deal honestly and straightforwardly with those issues in the future. Unfortunately, these issues are now defined in the public arena by partisanship and ideology rather than by rigorous empirical thought and forthright analysis and discussion. I will be working diligently to change that as best I can. And, as for the important work of restoring inspiration to our great free society and our market economy, I will strive as well to be a leader in that national conversation."

Plain Dealer Editor: We Don't Share Blame for Killings

Susan GoldbergIn a column last week on the horrific killings in Cleveland of at least 11 African American women, all apparently lured to a house by convicted sex offender, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Phillip Morris asked, among other questions, "Was this newspaper somehow also a party to silence, ignorance, if not rank indifference?"

The answer, according to Editor Susan Goldberg, is a firm no.

"Phillip has been writing very powerfully about this awful situation — especially a column that ran on Friday Nov. 6," Goldberg said, replying to a question from Journal-isms.

Addressing a question hovering over the city — how the women could have been missing without notice for so long — Morris wrote that "as the unmistakable smell of rotting human flesh enveloped the neighborhood . . . a community shut its eyes and held [its] nose."

Morris "will be writing again for Sunday," Goldberg continued.

"We have been relentless in our pursuit of corruption and mismanagement across the county and in law enforcement," the editor said.

"Our recent investigative reporting has led to the resignation of the sheriff, contributed to the overwhelming decision of voters last Tuesday to completely change the structure of county government and led to changes in how medication is administered to inmates in the county jail, following the death of Sean Levert," she said, referring to the son of O'Jays lead singer Eddie Levert and member of the hit-making trio LeVert. He died in 2008 at age 39 after a medical emergency in jail.

"The paper has written less about missing people, though we certainly have written quite a bit about some — Shakira Johnson and Gina DeJesus are two cases that come to mind. I say all this to say, No, I do not think we (or local media in general) were complicit in these murders, nor do I think we share in the blame. Is there more that we can write about the needs of the community? Absolutely. It's what we do. This weekend, we will take an extensive look at missing people in our community.

"It's easy to look back and say we could have, we should have, wish we would have. But it's hard for us to be blamed for a serial killer preying on vulnerable women. Cleveland [is] weighed down by its problems. Phillip and others have written — and will be writing more extensively — about a tragic case of a five-year-old boy who was apparently beaten to death by his mother, after what police say was years of abuse. And no one noticed. No one. It's tragic and we have, and will continue, to shed light on how something like that could happen.

"We also have written intensely and extensively about rape and its impact on women. We have written extensively about the impact of poverty.

"In sum, I believe we can be, and are obliged to be, a part of the solution. In this case, you can be assured we are and will continue to look closely at the Cleveland police department, to ask tough questions and to hold them accountable."

AOL Lays Off Managing Editor of Black Voices

Sheryl Huggins SalomonSheryl Huggins Salomon, managing editor of AOL Black Voices, was laid off on Tuesday as AOL trimmed about 100 positions.

Salomon, managing editor since July 2008, told Journal-isms she was the only one at Black Voices who lost her job. She came to the Web site after seven years as vice president and editor in chief of NiaOnline.com. "I will continue to write for Black Voices as Contributing Editor," she said.

"Tuesday’s layoffs were scattered throughout different areas of the company and were not necessarily tied to any one particular business segment," Mike Shields wrote Tuesday for Mediaweek. "The reduction in staff comes about a week after parent company Time Warner’s latest earnings calls, during which it was revealed AOL’s ad sales revenue dropped by 18 percent during the third quarter.

"But that timing may be coincidental, as AOL is said to be mulling a much larger restructuring that could result in far more layoffs. Currently the company employs close to 7,000 people."

4 of Color to Testify at Hearing on Journalism

Sen. John Kerry held a May hearing on 'the future of journalism.' The Federal Trade Commission said in August it would hear from journalists of color when it held two days of public hearings on the future of journalism.

The agency is keeping its word.

Susan S. DeSanti, director of policy planning, told Journal-isms that the agenda for the Dec. 1 and 2 hearings, now titled "From Town Crier to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?" would be released on Monday.

But she said confirmed panelists include Bryan Monroe, visiting professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a former president of the National Association of Black Journalists as well as former editorial director of Ebony and Jet magazines; Karen Dunlap, president and CEO of the Poynter Institute; Kathy Y. Times, the current NABJ president; and Joaquin Alvarado, senior vice president for diversity and innovation at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

When Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., held a Senate committee hearing in May on the future of journalism, diversity advocates complained that the "D-word," which they argue is central to the success of journalism, hardly came up.

In September, Denise Rolark Barnes of the Washington Informer represented the black press at a hearing by the Joint Economic Committee on the future of newspapers.

A last-minute addition made after the committee was questioned about the diversity of the witness list, Barnes testified that "what papers like ours need is legislation that will end discrimination on the part of advertising agencies as it relates to ad-purchasing in minority-owned media, and that promotes diversity in advertising agencies' hiring and promotion practices."

Prosecutors Accuse Medill's Innocence Project

"Prosecutors on Tuesday accused former journalism students at Northwestern University of paying a witness to record a video statement to help them prove that a man had been wrongfully convicted of a 1978 murder in a Chicago suburb," Emma Graves Fitzsimmons reported Tuesday for the New York Times.

"The new accusations shed light on why Cook County prosecutors had subpoenaed the grades, e-mail messages and records of students who investigated the murder conviction for the university’s Medill Innocence Project. The judge at a hearing on Tuesday did not rule on whether the university would have to turn over the documents."

"The Northwestern students, and their professor David Protess, denied the allegations Tuesday, calling the state's court filing part of a 'smear campaign,'" Karen Hawkins of the Associated Press added.

"'It is so filled with factual errors that if my students had done this kind of reporting and investigating, I would give them an F,' Protess told reporters after court."

Meanwhile, the National Association of Black Journalists joined the organizations protesting the "sweeping subpoena requesting students’ grades, Mr. Protess’ grading criteria, syllabus, unpublished interview notes and records of reimbursements for travel" sought by the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

"The request is disturbing. It questions the methods of journalists rather than focusing on facts relevant to a potential wrongful conviction," NABJ leaders said.

"It unnecessarily places Mr. Protess in danger of incarceration for contempt for failing to turn over student records that under normal circumstances are protected under federal privacy laws. Worst of all, it appears intended to intimidate journalists both present and future from pursuing important investigations regarding the criminal justice system," read the letter from NABJ President Kathy Times and Keith T. Reed, who represents the region on the NABJ board of directors.

Harsh Reminder That He Has "One of the Coolest Jobs"

John Smallwood, the Philadelphia Daily News sports columnist who spent a month in an induced coma and is now undergoing rehabilitation, told readers of his situation for the first time in a column Wednesday.

John Smallwood"I have one of the coolest jobs around. I get to write about things that are my passion. I've covered some of the greatest sporting events," Smallwood wrote.

"This has been a harsh way to be reminded of that, but it's an offshoot of what I'm going through.

". . . Television doesn't accurately display the explosion of emotion during a big Eagles victory.

"I'm in physical therapy rehabilitation now. Hopefully, I will able to go home soon and get back to work.

"The games must go on. It's just been painful to watch them go on without me."

Smallwood previously had Hodgkin's disease, which causes enlargement of the lymph nodes, and returned to the hospital Sept. 24 to have two heart valves replaced.

Opening his chest exacerbated lung problems that could have resulted from previous radiation therapy, Pam Candelaria, a sister, explained, so doctors attached him to a heart-lung machine and induced the coma.

Smallwood is recovering in Wilmington, Del.

Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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Comments

David Ng resignation

David is an accomplished journalist whose talents and leadership will serve him well in his next incarnation. This is definitely a loss for the New York Post.

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