After nearly four years of psychological trauma, legal expense, aggravation, and sleepless nights, I am free of all entanglements with my former employer, the Philadelphia Inquirer.
And after nearly four years, I have removed a gag order, and I’m free to speak.
But first, the background:
It started on July 12, 2019, at an in-office retirement party that I did not want.
Instead of a gold watch or a plaque, I was stabbed in the back by Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron with defamatory remarks that a jury in December 2022 described as “outrageous.” The jury found Saffron and the Inquirer guilty of defamation.
In her “remarks,” Saffron admitted she was settling a personal grudge of some kind. Her own attorney, during the trial, admitted the party was not the time or place for such remarks.
Actually, there is no time or place for employing lies to destroy someone’s reputation. Acting as some kind of a self-appointed feminist avenger, she added, after attacking my professional ethics and character, that I had “a taste for child prostitutes.” Jaws dropped in the Inquirer newsroom, even among people who did not care for me or my centrist political and social views.
When this happened, had Saffron or the Inquirer apologized, that would have ended it. But they didn’t and her vile, malicious lies about me were now all over the internet, where they would never die.
Some people, like Helen Gym, gleefully tweeted out that “goddess of journalism” Saffron had given the sexist, “neocolonialist” ogre, me, his comeuppance. Gym and others were tweeting, repeating, and endorsing Saffron’s baseless, defamatory lies.
That left me with no option but the courts to reclaim my reputation, even though I knew defamation suits are difficult to win. Very difficult.
Truth doesn’t always triumph, but in this case it did.
I sued the Inquirer a few months after the event. The Inquirer sued me three years later, claiming I had “disparaged” them in violation of a “voluntary” separation agreement I signed just before I left. I’ll discuss how “voluntary” it was a bit later. In its suit, the Inquirer, playing the victim, demanded I return the $58,000 buyout package I had accepted to leave. That was pretty shocking, and frightening.
Their evidence of “disparagement” was that I had furnished a video of the party to Philadelphia magazine for posting on the internet, they claimed. I did not. I gave it to the magazine so it could verify what Saffron said. I never gave permission for it to be posted.
The other disparagement charge was truly a laugher.
After Saffron’s unprecedented, vicious attack on me, I said her words about me were “fucking lies,” and “sack of shit lies,” (which they were), that Saffron is “a lying, bitter, malicious crazy person,” (which she is) and, “I don’t know what I liked best — the demonstrable lies, the careless factual errors, the false impressions, or the guilt by association.” I said that, it was sarcasm, and every word was true. The jury verdict is proof.
Here’s the point: What I said was in my own defense, in response to Saffron’s vilification of me.
The insanity began when the Inquirer sued me for making a completely truthful statement.
They lie about me, I sue them.
I tell the truth about them, they sue me.
That was due to Paragraph 9 in the separation agreement. Here is the heart of it: “He will not make nor cause to be made any oral or written statements that disparage, are inimical to, or damage the reputation of the employer or any of its affiliates. . . This agreement includes, but is not limited to, any statements or postings online.”
In other words, it’s a lifetime gag order.
When was the last time you heard of a newspaper, which exists only because of Constitutional freedom of expression, trying to stifle someone else, especially a 47-year veteran staffer with many awards and an unblemished record?
The Inquirer suit against me was filed years after my so-called offense, and coincidentally(?) as my suit against them was heading toward trial.
Attempt to intimidate me? You decide.
At one point they offered a deal — you drop your suit, we’ll drop ours. They figured with their deep pockets and my limited assets, they could make me quit by browbeating me with bucks.
Instead, as my able attorney, Mark D. Schwartz, put it to them, “You poked the bear.”
I liked the metaphor.
About three years before my departure, the News staffers got moved into the Inquirer newsroom, as plans were laid to starve the Daily News to death.
The person doing the newsroom layout was a friend, and she arranged for me and columnist Jenice Arsmtrong to be seated next to one another. We were always the newsroom Odd Couple. Jenice is half-Woke, while I am awake. Very different. We never let our different opinion on many matters interfere with our friendship.
Even though Jen had my back, the Inquirer was a hostile work environment for me.
I was a leading Daily News columnist, the most senior of any nonsports columnist in the joint. Guess how long it took for one of the three top Inquirer bosses to walk over to my desk and welcome me to the newsroom.
I am still waiting.
As I like to say, “F ‘em if they can’t take a joke.”
My last column for the Inquirer began this way: “Well, they finally got me.”
Does that sound like I left “voluntarily”? It was as “voluntary” as walking the plank on a pirate ship.
I can write all this now because the Inquirer and I have just settled the suit they brought against me.
Unlike Fox News, they don’t have to pay.
Like Fox News, no apology.
Not that I was expecting it.
Demonstrably, they hate me, even though I remain a loyal subscriber to the paper, whose business motto ought to be, “Well, we are better than nothing.”
As a subscriber, it saddens me that a newspaper that begs for donations in full-page ads decided to waste thousands of dollars on lawyers, money that would have been better spent on quality journalism. Who makes these foolish decisions? The publisher? The board? The lawyers would not tell me who gave the orders.
When they offered to drop the suit, with both parties just walking away, Schwartz and his able co-counsel Jason Pearlman, told me that would be a “win,” that my departing bonus was safe and I wouldn’t incur any further legal bills.
“It feels like a Pyrrhic victory,” I grumped.
The no disparagement clause in the 9-page separation agreement I signed amounts to a lifetime gag order. Anytime I post something on Facebook or my blog (Stubykofsky.com, go there and sign up) they don’t like, they could haul me into court, even if what I wrote was entirely true.
I couldn’t live like that. I told Schwartz that was my red line, that the Inquirer, like Moses, could set me free or we would go to court and they could roll the dice.
The Inquirer agreed to drop the clause.
“You’re a good poker player,” said Schwartz.
I don’t play poker, but I have 60 years experience of talking to and reading people.
I also insisted, and won, that the terms of the settlement not be confidential.
Which is why you are reading this now.