By Jonathan Stempel
July 15 The New York Post is seeking to keep its
top editor from having to answer questions in a bias lawsuit
about his discussions with media mogul Rupert Murdoch over a
published cartoon that appeared to liken U.S. President Barack
Obama to a chimpanzee.
Calling the February 2009 cartoon "quintessential political
speech entitled to the strongest protections of the First
Amendment," the newspaper in a court filing late Friday night
also said the discussions were irrelevant to the lawsuit brought
by Sandra Guzman, a former associate editor.
In November 2009, Guzman, who is black and Puerto Rican,
sued the Post, its editor Col Allan and its parent News Corp
for alleged discrimination and harassment on the basis
of race, gender and national origin, saying she had been fired
in retaliation for complaints over inappropriate conduct.
She also claimed to have objected to the cartoon, which
referred to the $787 billion federal economic stimulus and
depicted a policeman shooting a crazed chimpanzee, a reference
to an actual incident in Connecticut.
Many people thought the animal was meant to depict Obama,
and Murdoch later apologized to readers.
In a June 29 order, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis in
Manhattan had ordered Allan, in a two-hour deposition, to answer
questions, including over whether he told Murdoch he disagreed
with publishing an apology, and whether he thought Murdoch
believed it was a mistake to do so.
But in Friday's filing, the defendants argued that the order
would let Guzman breach "the heart of the editorial process,"
and asked U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones to reverse it.
The defendants said the cartoon was intended to mock
Congress' drafting of stimulus legislation and made no reference
to race. They also called Guzman's request "nothing more than a
fishing expedition that would invade and chill the editor's and
newspaper's First Amendment rights to political expression."
"We have maintained from the very beginning that the New
York Post assertion of an editorial privilege was baseless,"
Guzman's lawyer Kenneth Thompson said in a phone interview on
Sunday. "We now look forward to bringing Col Allan back to
answer our questions."
The case is Guzman v News Corp et al, U.S. District Court,
Southern District of New York, No. 09-09323.