Demoted Cleveland critic sues paper, orch. leaders
Don Rosenberg, the longtime music critic at the Cleveland Plain Dealer who was removed from covering the Cleveland Orchestra at the start of the season, filed suit today in the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, against the paper and its editor, Susan Goldberg; as well as Gary Hanson, executive director of the orchestra, and Richard Bogomolny, chairman of the Musical Arts Assocation, which operates and manages the orchestra.
When I reached Don on the phone, he said: "I was just not going to let it ride. I had to make a statement about a lot of issues." Those issues include defamation; interference with press freedom; and age discrimination (Don, who's in his mid 50s, was replaced by now 32-year-old writer Zachary Lewis).
The suit charges that the editor and orchestra officials conspired "maliciously, intentionally, willfully, unlawfully ... retalitorily ..." to remove the critic from his duties. In fascinating detail, the suit lays out a scenario that begins with an article by Don that appeared in the Plain Dealer in August 2004 reporting on an interview Cleveland Orchestra music director Franz Welser-Most had given to a Swiss magazine. In that interview, the conductor was quoted making some cutting remarks about Cleveland's provinicialism, its audience of "blue hair ladies," and the "rich widows" needed to fund the arts. Welser-Most also was quoted as favoring a system of charging money to get an audience with him (it sounds rather like something that Illinois Gov. Blagojevich might have thought up) -- more than $5,000 before the donor would get a handshake, but, for $10 million, "of course, you go to dinner."
"I was just being a dutiful reporter," Don said today. But once those comments hit the Cleveland paper, orchestra officials reacted angrily; the suit alleges that the p.r. director told Don he would suffer "consequences." The suit goes on to describe efforts over the next few years to "besmirch Plaintiff's reputation as a music critic"; various meetings held between orchestra administrators and the paper's editor to discuss critical coverage of Welser-Most; the supression of an article Don wrote and another he planned to write that would have contained negative assessments of Welser-Most's tenure at the orchestra; and, finally, in September, the demotion to arts and entertainment reporter.
The suit seeks damages "well in excess of $25,000" for compensatory damages and the same for punitive damages. "It's going to be a long process," Don said. "There are no guarantees. I'm learning a lot about law, let me tell you."
The "Plaintiff's Notice of Depositions" starts with Welser-Most; his deposition is tentatively set for March 18. That should be very interesting.
Included in the suit as Exhibit A is the letter of support for Don sent to the Plain Dealer editor signed by many critics from around the country and released through the Music Critics Association of North America. The editor never responded to that letter.