‘AJR’ Editor Promises Legal Support for Writer Named in Lawsuit

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By: Joe Strupp

Editor Rem Rieder of American Journalism Review said his publication would provide legal support for freelance writer Susan Paterno, whose story about the Santa Barbara News-Press prompted a libel suit from the paper this week.

Although AJR was not named in the libel suit filed Dec. 12, Rieder said the magazine, which printed the story in its latest issue, would back Paterno up in court. He stood by the report, which cited numerous issues related to a five-month upheaval at the newspaper dating back to the resignation of several top editors in July.

“The story is carefully reported, carefully fact-checked,” said Rieder. “Suing the writer like this is just a form of intimidation. It is particularly unfortunate to see something like this from someone who owns a newspaper. You’d think someone who owns a newspaper would be committed to free expression.”

Paterno has been unavailable for comment.

The News-Press and owner Wendy McCaw filed suit in California Superior Court last week, claiming the AJR piece was “nothing but a biased, false and misleading diatribe” against the paper. It also criticized the story as “one-sided” and “false and defamatory.”

Rieder has said that the writer gave the News-Press an opportunity to comment for the story, but the newspaper’s owners declined. A spokeswoman for the paper, Agnes Huff, said News-Press executives did decline to be interviewed, but offered to respond to written questions that were never provided.

Rieder said such an offer did not occur. “As I understand it, that didn’t happen,” he told E&P. He also said that the magazine was not informed of the News-Press objections and clams of libel until it received a letter last week, at just about the time the lawsuit was filed.

“We are in the process of getting back to them about their concerns,” Rieder said of the letter.



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