REPORTER SETTLES WITH PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

By: Joe Strupp

In Unusual Libel Case, Cipriano Sued His Editor


A highly unusual libel case – a reporter sued his own editor
– ended this month when Ralph Cipriano, who covered religion
for The Philadelphia Inquirer, agreed to settle the
lawsuit with his former employer for an undisclosed amount.

Philadelphia Newspapers Inc. (PNI), parent of the Inquirer
and Philadelphia Daily News, announced the settlement with
Cipriano Jan. 5. In a joint statement, both parties said Cipriano
had agreed to drop his suit – scheduled to go to trial in
March – in exchange for damages reported to be as high as $7
million.

The suit stemmed from comments Inquirer Editor Robert J.
Rosenthal made to Washington Post media writer Howard
Kurtz about Cipriano’s coverage of the Catholic Archdiocese of
Philadelphia. Kurtz quoted Rosenthal as saying, “There were
things we didn’t publish that Ralph wrote that we didn’t think
were truthful. He could never prove them.”

Cipriano, 47, claimed Rosenthal’s comments were defaming and
filed suit in August 1998, initially seeking $50,000 in damages.
An 11-year Inquirer veteran who also had worked at the
Los Angeles Times, Cipriano was fired shortly after filing
the lawsuit.

Kurtz’s story appeared after Cipriano publicly criticized the
paper for refusing to print some articles he had written about
the archdiocese, specifically information about the spending
habits of Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua, which some said placed
priority on enhancing the facilities and lifestyles of priests at
the same time church schools were being closed in poor
neighborhoods.

“Everything I wrote was true. That’s really the bottom line,”
Cipriano told E&P. He wrote a lengthy article for the
National Catholic Reporter in 1998 with much of the
information he contends the Inquirer declined to print.

Rosenthal has defended the decision not to publish the
information, claiming much of it had already appeared in the
newspaper.

Cipriano told E&P that he planned to continue his recent
work as a free-lance writer in Philadelphia – and did not
rule out reporting on the archdiocese.

Attorneys for PNI, owned by Knight Ridder, declined to comment on
the case. But Rosenthal, who had not denied making the
disparaging comments, expressed his apologies. “I regret my
remarks, and that we weren’t able to resolve this in a way other
than litigation,” he said in a statement. “But I am happy we have
been able to put this matter behind us.”

Kurtz said he was surprised that his story would lead to such a
lawsuit, but commended Rosenthal for not backing away from his
comments, saying, “I appreciate that fact.”



Reporting contributed by Joe Nicholson

Joe Strupp (jstrupp@editorandpublisher.com) is an associate editor for E&P.



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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