Ridder doubts story was spiked

By: Joe Nicholson

CEO disputes Philadelphia cardinal’s claim that an archdiocese PR agent killed unflattering story in ‘Inquirer’

Tony Ridder, chairman and CEO of Knight Ridder, said last week that he found it hard to believe that one of his papers, The Philadelphia Inquirer, allowed a Catholic cardinal to stop publication of a story.
During two wide-ranging interviews with E&P, Ridder also said he was “always looking” for new acquisitions, including newspapers in growth markets and Internet-related businesses. He said he was focused on building his company — and has no interest in selling newspapers in Philadelphia, Miami, or elsewhere.
Ridder referred to E&P’s Feb. 5 story about former Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano’s unsuccess- ful efforts to report that Car dinal Anthony Bevilacqua, who heads the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Philadelphia, was spending several hundred thousand dollars to renovate his 30-room mansion and $500,200 to fix up an oceanfront house. Bevilacqua told E&P that his publicity agent, Brian Tierney, met with Inquirer editors and “stopped the story.”
“I find it hard to believe that anybody, anybody, anywhere in Knight Ridder that isn’t an editor could stop a story,” declared Ridder. “I think that if somebody called and gave us facts that caused us to go back and do some further reporting, that could be one thing, but I don’t think anybody can stop a story in Knight Ridder.”
Tierney was profiled in the February issue of Philadelphia Magazine, which referred to the publicity agent’s meeting with Inquirer editors and said he “emerged a hero in the church’s eyes … .”
Ridder, who is based in San Jose, Calif., said: “The cardinal calling up and saying, ‘I don’t like this story. I don’t want you to run it.’ That is not something that happens in Knight Ridder. I mean, they may try it. But they don’t get away with it. So I don’t know the facts of the story that he says he was able to stop.”
Asked if a Bevilacqua boycott threat might affect the Inquirer, Ridder said, “We have boycotts all the time in Knight Ridder. We have auto dealers boycott us. I would hope that none of our newspapers would ever, ever, hold a story — stop a story — just because there is a threat of a boycott.”
Last month, the Inquirer settled a libel and slander suit brought by Cipriano, the paper’s former religion reporter, after his editor publicly questioned the accuracy of information he had written. E&P reported the paper “settled for an undisclosed sum, reportedly as much as” $7 million. A knowledgeable source told E&P that the settlement was definitely in the millions. Ridder said it “was nowheres near $7 million.” He said he couldn’t reveal the amount because “we signed an agreement that we can’t disclose it.”
Cipriano’s lawyer in the case, James E. Beasley Sr., said, however, that Ridder was “only trying to avoid any more embarrassment, I suspect,” when he suggested the settlement was significantly less than has been reported.
Beasley also revealed that he had written a letter to the Inquirer’s lawyer before the settlement, asking him to agree to keep unflattering testimony about Bevilacqua out of the case. “I wrote him a letter and said it is not my desire to involve the cardinal in any of this stuff. I mean, why create a situation that could be devastating to his reputation when it serves no purpose?” asked Beasley.
When E&P asked if there was any prospect Knight Ridder would ever merge with a larger company, Ridder emphatically said that was not in the cards — adding that he was interested in buying smaller companies, possibly this year. “We’re trying to build the business,” he said. “We’re looking for ways to be a bigger and stronger company.”

(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.editorandpublisher.com)
(copyright: Editor & Publisher February 26, 2001)

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