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Ousted critic loses lawsuit against Ohio newspaper
Question of the Day
CLEVELAND (AP) - An ousted critic who claimed he was removed from his beat because of critical coverage lost a lawsuit Friday against his newspaper and the Cleveland Orchestra.
Donald Rosenberg, 56, claimed in the lawsuit that the orchestra lobbied The Plain Dealer to replace him as orchestra reviewer because he frequently panned its conductor, Franz Welser-Moest. The Cuyahoga County jury ruled in favor of the orchestra on charges of defamation and interference with employment, and in favor of the newspaper on an age discrimination charge.
Rosenberg’s removal from the beat in September 2008 sparked an outcry in the arts community, and the Music Critics Association of North America asked the newspaper to reinstate him. After 16 years as the newspaper’s orchestra critic, he was reassigned to cover other music groups and replaced on the orchestra beat by a younger reviewer.
Rosenberg’s attorney, Steve Sindell, said freedom of the press independent of “the influence of corporate power” was the real loser in the verdict.
“If critics are at risk of losing their beats if they express their honest and courageous views _ because they’re unpopular _ this nation is in serious trouble,” Sindell said.
Suellen Oswald, a lawyer representing the Musical Arts Association, which runs the orchestra, thanked the jury for “recognizing all of our clients’ First Amendment rights and business rights.”
Attorney David Posner represented the Plain Dealer and its Executive Editor, Susan Goldberg, who was also named in the lawsuit. He said the ruling shows that Rosenberg was “completely wrong” when he accused Goldberg of caving in to pressure from the orchestra to reassign him.
Goldberg made an honest judgment about Rosenberg’s work and decided that he should be reassigned in the interest of fairness, Posner said.
“It confirms the Plain Dealer’s right to change reporters’ and critics’ beats and confirms that age had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision,” Posner said.
The suit asked for more than $50,000 in damages, but stopped short of asking for Rosenberg’s return to the orchestra beat.
Rosenburg claimed that Welser-Moest began a campaign to damage his reputation and ability to work as the high-profile orchestra reviewer after he reported controversial comments Welser-Moest made in Europe in 2004. In an interview with a Swiss magazine, the Austrian-born conductor called Cleveland “an inflated farmer’s village” and said the orchestra was dependent on money from aging “blue-hair ladies” who attend matinees because they are too tired to go out at night.
Welser-Moest did not dispute the comments, but said he made them in German and the meaning was lost in translation. In a video deposition played during the trial, he said the “inflated farmer’s village” remark actually was a compliment.
“It means in size it is bigger than the essence of it,” he said in the deposition. “If you look at the other ‘Big Five’ (orchestras), Cleveland is a very small city.”
After the comments were published, the suit said, the orchestra reversed its long-standing policy and denied Rosenberg the opportunity to go backstage, attend rehearsals and interview Welser-Moest, who has been the orchestra’s music director since 2002.
Rosenberg, who has written a book about the orchestra and covered 15 of its foreign tours, said Goldberg told him he had been “attacking” the orchestra. Goldberg, who has not commented publicly on the reasons for the reassignment, has said that the move was not due to outside pressure.
In one review, Rosenberg compared the conductor to a traffic cop who failed to delve into the music’s essence.
Welser-Moest “was conveying very little of the flavor of the music and essentially just duplicating the notes in the score without much character or color or real personality,” Rosenberg said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In a review of a performance in Vienna, Rosenberg said Welser-Moest “lapsed into uninflected routine in the second and third movements” of Mahler’s Symphony No. 2. Two days later, The Financial Times of London similarly called the movements “uneventful” and said the conductor “can seem aloof.”
A month after filing the lawsuit in December 2008, Rosenberg dropped other federal claims, including defamation, against the newspaper and Goldberg in order to allow the lawsuit to return to state court, where he believed he would receive a more balanced trial from an elected judge as opposed to a lifetime federal bench appointee.
Associated Press Writers Doug Whiteman and JoAnne Viviano contributed to this report from Columbus, Ohio.
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