Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Second Suit over Arizona Editor 'S Remarks

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Second Suit over Arizona Editor 'S Remarks

Article excerpt

Another batch of laid-off reporters c/aims damages for derogatory comments an editor made about them in a journalism review; his tongue already cost him his job

THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC has asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit by 18 former newsroom employees who claim a former managing editor defamed them.

Meanwhile, a second group of laid-off editorial staffers has sued the paper on the same claim.

The motion for summary judgment was made to Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John H. Seidel, who could rule in August or September.

Phoenix Newspapers Inc., which owns the Republic, contends the remarks by then-managing editor Steve Knickmeyer are opinions protected by the U.S. Constitution and cannot be objectively proven false. It also argues that because Knickmeyer pointed his criticism at "most" of a large group of former employees, it's impossible to identify whom he disparaged.

Knickmeyer was quoted in the January! February 1998 Columbia Journalism Review as saying "most" of those laid off were "fat, lazy, incompetent and slow" Some 60 people lost jobs when the afternoon Gazette closed in January 1997. Knickmeyer resigned amid the furor his words caused.

The law "protects Knickmeyer's use of slang and invective to express his own subjective view that 'most' of a large group of PM employees were not very good' reporters," argues PM attorney David J. Bodney.

"Indeed, his comment that 'most' of them were 'fat, lazy; incompetent and slow .. .' is the sole basis for plaintiffs' action. But it has been repeatedly held that comments critical of others' professional performance - including charges of incompetent journalism - are not actionable as a matter of constitutional law."

"We contend that the statements are not actionable under the First Amendment," Rodney said. "They are not susceptible to the rigorous test as 'facts' under the Constitution. …

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