By: Joe Nicholson
After Philadelphia Inquirer editor Robert Rosenthal suggested to the Washington Post that
Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano was biased, Cipriano filed suit. Now he’s been suspended.
A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter who charges that he was forced to “water down” investigative stories about a local Roman Catholic prelate has filed a lawsuit against his editor, the newspaper and its parent, Knight Ridder Inc.
Ralph Cipriano, an 11-year Inquirer veteran and a former Los Angeles Times correspondent, filed the suit last week after Inquirer editor Robert Rosenthal suggested in a Washington Post interview that Cipriano was a biased reporter.
The lawsuit, which alleges libel and slander, seeks $50,000 in compensation and an unspecified amount in punitive damages.
Three days after Cipriano filed the suit in local Common Pleas Court, he was suspended with pay.
The lawsuit alleges that Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, leader of 1.4 million Philadelphia Catholics, “pressured the Inquirer to water down” Cipriano’s coverage of Bevilacqua’s decision to close churches and parochial schools in poor neighborhoods at the same time he spent $5 million renovating several buildings, including his own “Main Line mansion” and “a seaside villa that serves as his vacation home.”
The Inquirer caved in, the suit contended, because Knight Ridder wanted to staunch circulation decline and ordered editors to “avoid antagonizing the archdiocese so as not to further jeopardize declining readership.”
A spokesman for Knight Ridder did not return E&P’s calls. Bevilacqua’s spokeswoman, Cathy Rossi, declined to comment on the lawsuit.
In an brief telephone interview, Rosenthal told E&P, “I’m sort of in the middle of all this.” He promised to “call before noon” the following day with a reply to Cipriano, but didn’t.
The Inquirer issued a statement: “We disagree with Ralph because we believe our coverage of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been fair, accurate and relevant. We regret that Ralph has chosen a lawsuit as his means of addressing the matter of how the Inquirer covers a topic of great interest to our readers.”
Demand for Unpublished Stories
As E&P went to press, Cipriano’s lawyer, James Beasley, said the Inquirer was threatening to fire Cipriano if he did not immediately hand over copies of stories he wrote about Bevilacqua, but which the newspaper never published. A demand before pretrial discovery, Beasley contended, represented “retaliation” for filing the suit.
Cipriano’s reputation was tarnished “irreparably,” said Beasley, when Rosenthal was quoted in the June 13 edition of the Post saying Cipriano “has a very strong personal point of view and an agenda. . . . There were things that Ralph wrote that we didn’t think were truthful.”
Beasley added: “Have you ever heard of an editor calling one of his reporters a liar publicly? If there was a question about Ralph’s integrity, why did he allow him to continue writing stories?”
Editor Admits ‘Blunder’
Rosenthal later wrote the Post, saying he “should not” have called some of Cipriano’s stories “untruthful.” Cipriano’s suit said the editor also conceded at a staff meeting that his comment was “a blunder,” but it dismissed subsequent qualifications as too little to restore Cipriano’s good name.
The controversy over Cipriano’s coverage of Bevilacqua was characterized in the Post story as a “battle” that turned into “an unusually personal campaign against a single journalist.”
This spring, Cipriano used some of his unpublished stories in a 10,000-word take-out on Bevilacqua for the National Catholic Reporter, an independent national weekly. Cipriano said he followed Inquirer policy on outside writing, but it was questions about the Reporter article and Cipriano’s unpublished work that led to his editor’s harsh comments.
?(Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano, above, has filed a lawsuit against Inquirer editor Robert Rosenthal, left, for libel and slander. He’s asking $50,000 plus punitive damages.julia lehman) [Photo & Caption]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site:http://www.mediainfo.com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 15,1998) [Caption]