Thomas A. Rose, the deposed chief executive and publisher of The Jerusalem Post, has filed a $2 million lawsuit in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan against Bret Stephens, the former Post editor in chief who now sits on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.
In court papers, Mr. Rose, 43, claims that Mr. Stephens orchestrated his termination with Lord Conrad Black’s former media company, Hollinger International, by intervening with executives in Chicago and New York in 2004 when the media empire controlled the Israeli daily.
Mr. Rose is also suing Mr. Stephens for defamation, citing as evidence a widely circulated and now infamous May 2004 memo that Mr. Stephens distributed to Post staffers following Mr. Rose’s termination last year.
The memo, which was e-mailed to Post staffers two days after Mr. Rose was fired and soon found its way onto the Internet, paints a vivid portrait of Mr. Stephens’ feelings about Mr. Rose:
“For those of us who have seen up close the damage Tom [Rose] did to this newspaper, this is a happy event indeed,” Mr. Stephens’ wrote of Mr. Rose’s dismissal. “For those Tom damaged personally, with his abusive behavior and bizarre management style, it is happier still. So good riddance, Tom, good riddance. You will not be missed ….
“So many of us have been waiting for this day, and fighting for it,” the memo continues, “that we may be forgiven for thinking that Tom’s departure brings our problems to an end. It does not. It will be some time before we can undo the damage he wrought: To our finances, to our reputation, to our business relationships, to our morale, to the quality of our editorial product …. What we can say is that, with Tom gone, we can begin to address our problems in a rational and purposeful way.”
“The content [of the memo] is demonstrably false,” Mr. Rose said by phone on Sept. 12 from Indianapolis, where he now lives. Mr. Rose said he hasn’t been able to secure a job since his dismissal from the Post, and his attorney Michael Hurst said that Mr. Stephens’ memo was seen by hundreds of thousands if not “millions” of people on the Internet, which entitles his client to compensation for the losses incurred from the memo’s statements.
“The distribution method was of malicious intent and design,” Mr. Rose said. “The consequence has been personally damaging.”
Mr. Stephens declined to comment and referred questions to his attorney, James Garvey. Mr. Garvey didn’t respond to calls and an e-mail seeking comment.
The lawsuit is the latest distress signal coming out of the embattled daily, whose recent history is marked by the corporate scandal, financial hardship and bitter acrimony of its former owner, Hollinger International.
In the past five years, the paper’s staff has been cut in half, and last year, Hollinger’s independent investigation into improprieties by Lord Black and his deputy, David Radler, found that the Post fell victim to their $400 million “corporate kleptocracy.” The report showed that a portion of the Post’s charity fund was appropriated to the Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem for the Rona and David Radler Trauma Recovery Unit, while another $25,000 was donated to a business scholarship at Haifa University, which in turn, bestowed an honorary degree upon Mr. Radler in 2002.
Additionally, in 2003, at the same time the Post instituted an employee-wide 10 percent pay cut, Mr. Radler’s daughter Melissa, who served as the paper’s New York correspondent and worked from the offices of The New York Sun, received a raise that nearly doubled her $38,000 salary to $62,000, which came on top of a generous housing stipend; these benefits were not offered to other employees.
The Post is currently engulfed in no fewer than three lawsuits. This March, Mr. Rose filed a suit in Chicago against the Chicago Sun-Times, Hollinger, the Jerusalem Post and Mr. Stephens seeking unpaid severance benefits. The Chicago court dismissed Mr. Stephens as a defendant in that case, citing jurisdictional grounds. A $2 million suit against Mr. Stephens has since be refiled in New York, where he is on staff at The Wall Street Journal.
While Mr. Rose battles his former employers, the Post’s new owners have turned on each other as well. In December, Hollinger sold the Post for $13.2 million to a partnership between Israeli media titan Eli Azur of Tel Aviv–based M.T.L., and Canada’s biggest media firm, CanWest, run by media mogul Leonard Asper. The duo soon unraveled and are currently battling in New York Supreme Court over control of the paper.
Founded in 1932 as the only English-language daily published in Israel, the Jerusalem Post has secured a sphere of influence extending well beyond its weekday circulation of just over 11,000. In 1989, Lord Black purchased the paper for $20 million, and although it sagged financially, the Post became a flagship in Hollinger’s global fleet of newspapers, which also included the Chicago Sun-Times and the Daily Telegraph in London. Under Lord Black, the Post operated as a conservative beachhead in the Middle East as he swung the paper’s historically centrist editorial position rightward. Under Hollinger’s ownership, the paper churned through eight editors as morale plummeted. In 1998, Mr. Radler, who was recently indicted on charges of illegally siphoning $32 million in payments from Hollinger, appointed Mr. Rose publisher. In April 2002, Mr. Rose hired Mr. Stephens, a 28-year-old neoconservative wunderkind, to edit the paper. Former staffers say Mr. Rose exhibited an abusive and erratic management style in his campaign to slash the Post’s costs. In addition to laying off employees, Mr. Rose terminated the Post’s long-standing printing contracts with outside publications that used the Post’s presses, including Israel’s Yellow Pages, which staffers said left the Post in a perilous financial state. At the same time, staffers said that Mr. Rose launched expensive business ventures, including running articles from The Wall Street Journal and building a radio station that broadcast conservative talking heads like G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North, which contradicted his relentless cost-cutting dicta.
“It’s one thing to cut costs,” said Calev Ben-David, the Post’s former managing editor (now a director at the pro-Israel media group the Israel Project), speaking by phone last week. “It’s another thing to treat your co-workers with contempt. I think Tom Rose was despicable to the Post’s workers, and I’m not just talking about cost-cutting. I’m talking about his manner and treatment of people.”
Hirsh Goodman, a former Post vice president in charge of editorial operations, said he left the paper after a falling out with Mr. Rose in 2000.
“In general, he was an impossible person to work with,” said Mr. Goodman, who is now a senior fellow at the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.
In one instance in the fall of 1999, Mr. Goodman said that he traveled to London, to Lord Black’s Kensington townhouse, after editors at the Post complained of Mr. Rose’s management. Upon returning to Jerusalem, Mr. Goodman said that Mr. Rose took him into his office and said, “The next time you go behind my back, I’ll tear your tongue out of your head!”
Mr. Rose denied these accounts in an interview with The Observer and said that he was hired by Hollinger to cut costs. If his management style drew ire from the staff, he argued, that was a result of the harsh realities of the business, and it shouldn’t be used as a measure of his success.
“My management style may or may not have been one designed to win the hearts and minds of everyone who worked at the Jerusalem Post,” Mr. Rose said. “That wasn’t my job. My job was to transform a dying business into one that was competitive. My tenure at the Post was anything but a failure, which was why the defamatory e-mail was so damaging to me. It transformed my tenure at the Post into a referendum on whether I was a popular guy. Certainly that’s not why I was hired.”
Mr. Stephens left the paper last year for a position on The Journal’s editorial board; a well-known neoconservative, as editor of the Post he made Paul Wolfowitz the newspaper’s 2003 “Man of the Year.” The Post’s current editor, David Horovitz, said that despite the ongoing legal entanglements and financial constraints, he is guiding a more inclusive Post forward.
“It offers incredible responsibility and opportunity for an editor,” he said.
Wenner Media may lack Condé Nast’s Frank Gehry glitz, but Jann Wenner is playing real-estate catch-up.
This summer, Mr. Wenner commissioned an office-wide renovation to spruce up the quarters of Us Weekly, Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal, the first renovation since Mr. Wenner took the space in 1991.
According to a Wenner spokesperson, Mr. Wenner hired Studios Architecture, an international firm that remodeled MTV’s Times Square headquarters, for the job.
But according to a Wenner insider, the renovation work has dragged on past its Labor Day deadline. And now Mr. Wenner isn’t happy with Us Weekly’s mustard-hued paint job.
“Jann felt like it’s not working,” a Wenner source said. Mr. Wenner is discussing new color schemes for his most successful title, which include colors “squarely in the girl family,” according to a Wenner source who is briefed on the renovation.
Along with paint, new brown carpet was put down throughout the offices. Men’s Journal and Rolling Stone received area rugs in varying color splashes that brightened the floor’s dark shade. Later this fall, Us Weekly is set to get a plasma TV in its conference room along with new chairs, a source said.
But in the northeast corner of Wenner’s second-floor offices, workers have walled in an area where the Men’s Journal gear closet and Us Weekly I.T. department were previously located.
One staffer speculated that it could house Mr. Wenner’s forthcoming women’s weekly magazine, planned for a launch next summer. A Wenner spokesperson said the space would be used for Men’s Journal photo and design staffers.
Editors’ letters in the front of magazines, normally the place for an editor to ramble about a pet chow or prom-date memories, rarely feature rebukes of staffers.
But in October’s Lucky, editor Kim France writes about beauty director Jean Godfrey-June’s flailing attempts to apply Ms. France’s makeup during a frantic photo shoot for her editor’s picture.
“At first she messed up the brows,” Ms. France wrote in the caption below her editor’s photo; then, “she said in a panic, ‘I’m not a makeup artist, I’m a writer by trade!’” Ms. France concluded the caption: “Quit your day job, and you’re dead, Jean.”
More proof that writing about products and using them are two entirely different things.
“She had some new products in, and one of them she hadn’t tried before,” Ms. France said by phone on Sept. 13 of Ms. Godfrey-June’s beauty skills. “Sometimes you get Joan Crawford eyebrows if you don’t brush it off.”
Ms. France said she recited the caption to Ms. Godfrey-June before the page went to press. And she stressed that she wouldn’t allow Ms. Godfrey-June to abandon her editing duties for the beauty world.
“If Jean quit her day job and became a makeup artist professionally,” Ms. France said, “then she would be a dead woman.”
Ms. Godfrey-June was out of the office and not available for comment by press time.
New York Times pundit standings, Sept. 6-12:
1. Maureen Dowd, score 33.5 [rank last week: 4th]
2. Bob Herbert, 18.0 [5th]
3. Paul Krugman, 16.5 [tie-1st]
4. Thomas L. Friedman, 12.5 [no rank]
5. Nicholas D. Kristof, 9.5 [no rank]
6. John Tierney, 6.0 [6th]
7. David Brooks, 4.5 [3rd]
On Monday, Sept. 19, The New York Times is due to erect the TimesSelect pay wall on its Web site, charging readers for the privilege of seeing the opinion pages. In this last full week of free access, the Most E-Mailed standings say that is either a brilliant business decision or a terrible one: The columnists dominated the list, grabbing 13 of the top 25 spots. Thanks to ongoing public enthusiasm for Hurricane Katrina opinions, four columns were held over from the previous week, providing an unprecedented number of bonus points—particularly for Maureen Dowd, who ran away with first place this week.
But what will become of the pundit standings next week? Will there even be a Most E-Mailed list after the pay wall goes up to restrict the pundits’ readership?
Indeed there will be, said Times Web overboss Jon Landman. “It’ll be the same thing,” Mr. Landman said. “Presumably the contents will change, but if it doesn’t, that would be really good.”
Depending on how fast TimesSelect catches on, this may or may not be the End Times for the Times Op-Ed crew. But there is at least one ominous portent: This week, John Tierney broke out of last place—a sight as unnatural as a tide of blood. Close the shutters and tremble, ye pundits! The Four Horsemen are saddling up!