MIAMI BEACH, Fla., Aug. 25, 2004 LAWFUEL – Best for law, law news, legal news, legal research — Dwight Owen Schweitzer,
the former editor and publisher of the Jewish Star Times, a community newspaper owned by The Miami Herald, brought suit against the Knight Ridder-owned newspaper, its publisher Alberto Ibarguen and others over two defamatory articles published about him in The Miami Herald.
In a statement released today Schweitzer stated that, “The Miami Herald published two false and misleading stories about me to shield them from criticism over the closing of the newspaper I had been heading for the previous two and a half years. The stories were false, purposely distorted, and based on un-witnessed and uncorroborated versions of a minor arrest which had occurred a month earlier.” Schweitzer added, “The Herald had no witnesses to the alleged events they printed and no corroborating source for the story, a violation of the journalistic standards of The Herald and its owner, Knight Ridder.”
“What is so shameful about their conduct is that they knew
that their readers would more likely believe a story
published in the newspaper of the company I worked for. They certainly would have believed that my employer would not purposely lie, distort and offer as ‘facts’ un-witnessed and uncorroborated allegations about one of their own,” Schweitzer said, “although that is exactly what they did.” The stories were printed under the by-line of Joan Fleischman, also a defendant in the case, but “were written and published with Ibarguen’s specific knowledge and approval,” Schweitzer added.
Although Schweitzer had told The Herald of the misdemeanor arrest in early November, the false and distorted story was printed weeks later; three days before they announced the closing of the Jewish Star Times, a decision actually made two months earlier. “The defamatory stories were printed when I was out of the country in Taiwan as a guest of the Taiwanese government and the first story was timed to make it appear as if the closing of the Jewish Star Times was connected to the arrest,” added Schweitzer, who had been a practicing attorney for 32 years before becoming the publisher of the Jewish Star Times.
“I had told The Herald in November that the case would be dismissed, which in fact occurred a few days after the first article appeared and while I was still in the Far East. In order to cover up the false and misleading content of the first story,” Schweitzer went on, “The Herald then published a false and misleading version of the dismissal; purposely misquoting the remarks of the Assistant State’s Attorney found in the official transcript to disguise the fact that the decision to dismiss the case had actually been made before the first story had been published.”
“The Herald refused to allow me to comment on the incident
in the closing edition of the Jewish Star Times and then attempted to coerce me into releasing them of liability for the defamatory stories before they would give me my severance pay.” Schweitzer went on to say that, “I can only assume that Ibarguen’s motivation to defame me was at least partially based on personal animosity arising out of the unexpected popularity of the Jewish Star Times, and the fact that my work was, by then, in worldwide syndication at the request of the Knight Ridder-Tribune News Service who had invited me to submit my work for syndication without Ibarguen’s knowledge, and my editorials and opinion pieces were soon being reprinted all over the world.”
Schweitzer “based that conclusion on a remark made to me by Ibarguen when he told me ‘I thought we hired a publisher and we wound up with a columnist,’ although Ibarguen’s decision to close the paper came at a time when we had exceeded Ibarguen’s own budget requirements, I had recruited fourteen members of the Jewish community to write features for the Jewish Star Times every week for free, and almost 28,000 people had previously subscribed to receive the paper, over a third of whom did not subscribe to any other Herald newspaper.”
Schweitzer concluded by saying that, “I left a successful career to come to The Miami Herald to help produce the best Jewish newspaper I could, and their desire to avoid adverse community reaction from closing it did not give them the right to divert attention by falsely ruining my reputation not only in the community I had been embraced by and come to love, but as a respected journalist whose work was increasingly read by Jews and non-Jews all over the world.”
The lawsuit was filed in the Circuit Court of Miami Dade
County and includes the intent to seek punitive damages
against the defendants.