Reporter Sues ‘NY Post,’ Disney

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(AP) A reporter claims in a $10 million lawsuit that she was fired by the New York Post because The Walt Disney Co. complained about articles she wrote on a dispute over Winnie the Pooh royalties.

Nikki Finke’s breach-of-contract and slander lawsuit was filed Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. In addition to the Post and its owner, News Corp., it names Disney as a defendant. The lawsuit claims Disney was trying to keep her from writing negative articles about the company at a time when its stock prices were down and shareholders were about to meet.

News Corp. and Disney are preparing to launch a joint venture, Movie.com, this year. Disney also is a major advertiser for the Post, the Fox News Network, and other News Corp. outlets.

Finke’s lawsuit said she was dismissed over two Jan. 29 stories published under the headlines, “Pooh Scandal is ‘$hred’ Hot” and “Deep Pooh-Pooh.” They described a dispute between Disney and Stephen Slesinger Inc. over Winnie the Pooh merchandise royalties.

In a statement, the Post said Finke performed free-lance work for the paper from Dec. 11 to Feb. 18 and called her lawsuit ridiculous.

Disney representatives declined comment to The Associated Press.

In a Fox News interview, however, Disney attorney Daniel Petrocelli said Finke’s article was “recklessly inaccurate,” including her characterization of Disney’s document destruction and assertion that Pooh products account for 25% of Disney’s revenue, the suit noted.

Court documents in a separate lawsuit filed by Slesinger against Disney show the entertainment company was sanctioned $90,000 last August for lost documents relating to Slesinger’s dispute over royalties owed on sales of Pooh products. The judge stopped short of ruling that Disney intentionally destroyed evidence, including files marked “Winnie the Pooh-legal problems.” He did say the destruction of evidence after the lawsuit was filed and Disney’s failure to disclose the destruction for 11 months “at the very least amounts to gross negligence.”

Disney maintains that the documents had little to do with the Pooh case.

Slesinger, which bought Pooh merchandising rights from author A.A. Milne in 1929 and made its first deal with Disney in 1961, claims Disney has withheld more than $35 million by failing to report sales of at least $3 billion in Pooh-related products

Disney claims the merchandise in question — computer software, videocassettes, and DVDs — is not covered under its agreement with Slesinger. Slesinger’s lawsuit is expected to reach trial later this year.

In one of her stories, Finke reported that Disney could lose as much as 25% of its annual gross revenues if it could not use Winnie the Pooh in toys and theme park attractions.

One article also cited court documents saying Pooh was the most lucrative of all Disney characters, even Mickey Mouse. Another article said Disney shred numerous documents that might have shown it withheld or underreported Pooh revenues.

Finke formerly worked at Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and for The Associated Press from 1975 to 1980.

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