Thursday, March 6, 2008

Discrimination At `Times-Mirror-Newsday' Historically

(The following article about Times-Mirror-Newsday’s hidden history was written before the 2000 merger between the Tribune Company and Times-Mirror-Newsday. It first appeared in the March 6, 1991 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly Downtown.)

It wasn’t until 1963 that Times-Mirror-Newsday hired its first African-American reporter. One of its early African-American reporters, Les Payne, was only hired in 1969, after he had written speeches for U.S. General William Westmoreland in Vietnam during the Vietnam War era.

In 1978, a Times-Mirror-Newsday African-American reporter named Sam Washington committed suicide and in its obituary of him Times-Mirror-Newsday mentioned that he had beaten his wife during his lifetime. The small caucus of African-American reporters at the newspaper was angered by the tone of the Washington obituary because previously-published obituaries of white Times-Mirror-Newsday employees who had committed suicide had not mentioned the negative actions of the deceased. The caucus of African-American reporters then circulated a memo in which it declared: “This treatment was not surprising, for we know, as Sam reluctantly and quite painfully discovered, that the Suffolk editor particularly treats blacks in a dehumanizing manner.”

Like most U.S. Establishment mass media institutions, Times-Mirror-Newsday has discriminated against women historically. In December 1973, the women employees of Times-Mirror-Newsday filed a formal complaint against the newspaper for sex discrimination with the federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. And on Jan. 13, 1975, the Times-Mirror-Newsday women filed a class-action lawsuit which charged the newspaper with institutional sexism, the Carter vs. Newsday case. In 1982, Times-Mirror-Newsday finally agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the women reporters who were suing the newspaper. Times-Mirror-Newsday agreed to pay $130,300 in damages to 740 of its current and former women employees.

The New York editor of Times-Mirror-Newsday’s [now-defunct] “New York Newsday” edition, Donald Forst, gained something of an adversarial reputation with employees when he worked in the Long Island office of Times-Mirror-Newsday. According to Robert Keeler’s Newsday book, at that time Times-Mirror-Newsday women reporters had heard Forst “regularly use short, vulgar, offensive synonyms for the word `woman,’” and “knew that he had asked women personal questions about their sexual preferences and had described his own fantasies in graphic detail.”

Within three years after Times-Mirror-Newsday’s New York Newsday edition began to circulate in Manhattan under Forst’s editorship, according to Keeler’s Newsday book, its “newsroom in New York had taken on the air of a men’s locker room—too many crude and offensive epithets flung at women, too many sexual jokes and anti-gay put-downs.” In response, in the fall of 1987, the newspaper’s City Business Section editor, Amanda Harris, its Metropolitan Desk editor, Laura Durkin, and a reporter named Marianne Arneberg met at the Lion’s Head restaurant in the West Village to discuss what they felt was the sexist atmosphere at Times-Mirror-Newsday. They decided to meet every Sunday afternoon at Arneberg’s apartment with more than 20 other newspaper employees to discuss the newspaper management’s sexism in the area of assignments and promotion, as well as the sexist newsroom atmosphere. According to Keeler’s Newsday book, Times-Mirror-Newsday women reporters felt that the newspaper’s men were generally given higher merit raises by Times-Mirror-Newsday managers than women, for sexist reasons.

Around the same time its women staff members were complaining about the newspaper’s sexism, its then-New York Newsday metropolitan editor, John Cotter, was asked to resign by his Times-Mirror-Newsday supervisors in the corporate hierarchy because he used the word “n----r” in a professional conversation.

Asked by Downtown in early 1991 how he would respond to some of the charges published in Robert Keeler’s Newsday book that New York Newsday’s office atmosphere has, historically, been sexist and racist, then Managing Editor Toedtman answered that “Twenty-two percent of the Newsday metropolitan staff is minority or Black and Latino. I think there was a concern” about sexism in the editorial office but it has “long ceased to be a problem, although “we’re not any less vigilant.” In Toedtman’s view, the now-defunct New York Newsday in the early 1990s was “a very challenging place to work” and “our circulation is increasing because we are doing a good job covering New York.”

(Downtown 3/6/91)

Next: Times-Mirror-Newsday’s Connection To Former CIA Director Casey Historically