Was Firing Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow a Business Decision, or an Editorial Decision?

As the owners of Philly’s daily papers head to court, new leaked emails shed light on that crucial question. Or do they?

Bill Marimow

Bill Marimow

The drip, drip, drip of information and emails out of the ownership dispute surrounding the firing of Philadelphia Inquirer editor in chief Bill Marimow continues.

Now, a source close to the situation has released a few emails between Lewis Katz and publisher Bob Hall. In the emails, sent in August of this year, Katz and Hall discuss Marimow’s reluctance to fire some of his editors. The emails provide a window into the disputes that led up to Marimow’s firing, by Hall, last month, which sparked a series of lawsuits among the media company’s fractious ownership group.


In what now seems like a recipe for a long hair pull of a legal dispute, Interstate General Media, which owns the Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com, is essentially run by a two-man management committee of parking entrepreneur Katz and insurance mogul/New Jersey Democratic party boss George Norcross. According to the written terms of their agreement, the pair must reach some consensus on decisions related to “business and operational aspects of the company” but “shall have no authority with respect to editorial or journalistic policies and decisions.”

So the million dollar question is this: Is firing the editor in chief, or his subordinates, an editorial decision—or a business one?

Katz, in his lawsuit, filed by legendary trial attorney Dick Sprague, says it is a “major business decision” that could not be made without the approval of both Katz and Norcross. As a result, he claims, Hall had no right to fire Marimow, and so the suit demands that Marimow, the venerable, two-time Pulitzer winner, be reinstated.

But what these latest emails seem to demonstrate is that the dispute over authority ranges up and down the Inquirer's masthead.

The email exchange is business-like, with Hall advocating for the dismissal of two top editors. Katz, citing Marimow's belief in his editors, objects. In an email sent to Hall and CC’d to Norcross, he writes: “I'm against this action and I'm invoking my co-managing partnership agreement to block this attempt. We promised to keep our hands off of editorial [and] this seems to me to be getting closer to that line. George and I are scheduling a meeting this week to discuss the obvious dysfunctional partnership and a hopeful solution to a solution. Hopefully that process will lead to an amicable divorce and then this issue will get resolved among many others.”

An hour later, Hall responds, also CC'ing Norcross: “I agree that the owners have promised to keep hands off editorial,” writes Hall, “but from my years in the industry this is part of the role of a Publisher as I have hired and fired editorial staff in the past.”

I called Katz, on Friday of last week, and began reading him the email exchange, line by line, till he decided he needed to see the email to respond.

One business day later, a three-paragraph response from Katz's attorney, Sprague, arrived. “The email simply confirms Katz’s understanding of section 5.2 of the operating agreement,” writes Sprague, “that hiring and firing decisions are operational and under the authority of the management committee and that only changes in the content of the paper are subject to the prohibition.”

What, exactly, does Katz mean when he writes that “We promised to keep our hands off editorial [and] this seems to be getting closer to that line"?

“In my opinion,” writes Sprague, “[the email] shows Bob Hall acting on Norcross’ behalf since he is the only owner copied on the email interfering with the content of editorial by attempting to direct changes in the Sunday paper, requiring Katz to admonish Hall that Hall is getting close to the line.”

In this instance, the evidence of Norcross's interference would be that he is CC'd on the email exchange. According to the email record provided, however, it isn't Hall that first CCs Norcross. It's Katz. Further, Sprague seems to be suggesting that firing the paper's Sunday editor, as Hall advocated, would effect the paper's editorial content, causing Katz to admonish Hall that he is “getting close to the line” of violating the operating agreement not to interfere in editorial.

Of course, as publisher, Hall isn't actually bound by this pledge of non-interference. If he was, Marimow would essentially occupy a kind of editor-for-life position, in which any change in editorship would affect the paper's content and thereby become verboten. And so Sprague's opinion, that Hall was merely acting as Norcross's bagman, is crucial.

It's impossible to forecast, with any certainty, just how long witness testimony might last on Wednesday, and how deep down the rabbit hole of Katz V. Norcross we might spiral. Will any evidence be presented that Hall was acting on Norcross's behalf? Will these emails be discussed in court?

If Sprague can convince a judge that Hall was not authorized to fire Marimow without Katz's approval, Bill Marimow could plop right back down in his office chair by the end of the week, and the city's largest media enterprise will be right back where it started — led, if that's an appropriate term, by a two-man committee that must but can't agree.

****

Response from Sprague:

“The leaked email exchange is significant for a number of reasons: (1) It shows Bob Hall acknowledging the authority of the management committee in running the day-to-day operations by recommending to Katz that [two top editors] be fired; and (2) in my opinion it shows Bob Hall acting on Norcross’ behalf since he is the only owner copied on the email interfering with the content of editorial by attempting to direct changes in the Sunday paper, requiring Katz to admonish Hall that Hall is getting close to the line.

The email simply confirms Katz’s understanding of section 5.2 of the operating agreement that hiring and firing decisions are operational and under the authority of the management committee and that only changes in the content of the paper are subject to the prohibition.

Finally, the leak of this email further demonstrates the defendants’ pattern of attempting to smear the good name and reputation of Bill Marimow, a nationally respected editor who won two Pulitzer prizes as a reporter. This email also is part of a smear campaign that now stoops to demeaning two superb journalists… .”

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  • Anon

    Deameaning two superb journalists? I am confused – aside from Marimow, who is the other?

    • Dalia

      Hall is trash and does what he’s told. His contract is over and he should be over as well. Hopefully Hall gets booted out and Marimow returns back to work. and the truth about him and that dirty Norcross comes out. Norcross

      Norcross is known for starting trouble and concocting and misleading people. Norcross prides himself in dragging the people of Camden in and out of court and making their lives a miserable hell. He thinks this is funny, him and his sidekicks Senator Sweeney and him. Now he can see what it’s like have his behind drug into court and BEING SUED. He has interfered in the court system in Camden County so much. Now it’s his turn to see what it’s like being powerless. He’s a bully and a bold faced liar.

      Everything Norcross touches, he destroys. He created one of the poorest cities in America by stealing state and federal dollars for his precious Cooper Hospital and his one bid contract Insurance Company Conner Strong. Now he’s running around with Christie making deals by stealing votes so all the incumbents in NJ get back in. It’s disgraceful and disgusting what is going on in the State of NJ. It’s all Corruption with a capital C.

      CAMDEN NJ – the city where all the federal and state dollars go into his hospital and insurance company leaving the people impoverished and poor. He don’t care about anyone but himself, his family and his personal friends. He’s trash.

    • http://phillymag.com/news Brian G. Howard

      The two journalists mentioned are the two sub-editors Hall advocated dismissing.

  • Joseph

    Norcross is Notorious for SMEARING people he wants out of the way. This is exactly why he should NOT be in the social media or newspaper business. It’s like giving a hitman a loaded gun. He going to do the same thing he has been doing with other news papers and social media sites i.e., Courier Post and AOL Patch. He paid off every last one of the those Courier Post editors to get them to write stories that GEORGE wants. Occasionally they take money for advertising and let a few things slip by, but it comes with a cost. Norcross should be locked up in FEDERAL PRISON ON A RICO. He is a CRIMINAL. He wire taps so make sure you check emails between Norcross and Hall and get text and phone records, they may have used disposable phones, who knows, but I’m sure they met and discussed how they would fire Marimow. Norcross has an agenda and with the next presidential election, he wants to make sure he is owning that paper and taking over PA. By owning this paper, he will destroy many lives in PA just as he has in NJ. Trust and believe when I tell you how dangerous this man is. He’s sneaky and he lies. PLEASE GET HIM OUT OF THAT CITY BEFORE YOU REGRET IT. Norcross is NOT your friend and he STABBED you in the back. He has been doing this for years. It could have been stopped if NJ leaders hadn’t been so caught up in lets make a deal with George and did their job. We are experiencing this now and good people have been pushed out of the way, abandon and shut down because of GEORGE NORCROSS and his cronies interfering in MEDIA and ONLINE HARASSMENT. This is why he wants his DAUGHTER ALEXIS to push this digital media. He wants to link up negative stories and use them to harass and destroy people. I know this evil dictator for what he is, I know him real well and I know about the two editors he wanted to fire. They were friends of a talk show host who contacted me about two of his close friends being fired. He was trying to help them keep their jobs and a week later, he turned up Dead. This is very fishy, I think their was foul play, but there is no way to prove it, but it would not cease to amaze me if Norcross wasn’t behind it. He so desperate and greedy to get what he wants. I sincerely hope Marimow gets his job back and the Judge doesn’t cut Norcross any breaks. Norcross has been a complete MONSTER and he needs to be thrown in jail for criminal behavior. He is a danger to every community and a danger to our COUNTRY. He is worse then terrorist cells. I truly believe he bares the make of the beast under that white hair 666. He is the ANTICHRIST.

  • GUEST

    THE NEW TAMANNY HALL MUST FALL.

    By Carl J. Mayer

    After a pitched court battle, the public last year got a staggering glimpse of New Jersey politics’ brutal and corrupt underside. The New Jersey Attorney General released surreptitious tape recordings prepared during a political corruption investigation. The transcripts were only coughed up when reformers and news organizations, including the New York Times, brought a lawsuit.

    Listening to these tapes, citizens in New Jersey and around the nation should seethe with indignation at the perversion of American democracy by corporate lobbyists, political bosses and criminal wrongdoers. They should be doubly indignant that State Attorney General Peter Harvey refused to bring an indictment as did US Attorney Chris Christie. Shame on them for taking a dive while New Jersey power brokers continue to intimidate the public.

    The recordings, for example, capture New Jersey political boss (and bank executive) George Norcross instructing a councilman in Palmyra, a diminutive New Jersey municipality (pop.7091), to fire the town attorney, because he dared criticize Norcross’ control overSouth Jersey politics: “I want you to fire that f—[Y]ou need to get this f— Rosenberg [the town attorney] for me and teach this jerk-off a lesson. He has to be punished.”

    “A lot of people don’t like John Harrington,” Norcross is heard saying of an attorney then being considered for a judgeship, and who is now a state court judge. “The best thing you do . . . Make him a f—— judge and get rid of him. . . Harrington disappears… whatever the case. We move on.”

    Later, Norcross explains how he handled a member of the New Jersey legislature: “I sat him [the legislator] down and said … ‘don’t f— with me on this one… Don’t make nice with Joe Doria [a Norcross enemy and Assemblyman] …if you ever do that and I catch you one more time doing it, you’re gonna get your f—— b—- cut off.’ He got the message.”

    Norcross brags that his political enemies will always respect him “[b]ecause they know we put up the gun and we pulled the trigger and we blew their brains out. . . “
    Nobody can dismiss these tapes as the vulgarian rantings of a would-be mafia-don. They demonstrate how malevolent power politics works in New Jersey and, increasingly, the nation.

    Who is George Norcross, anyway? He is one of the dozen or so most powerful men in New Jersey, more powerful than Governors or Senators, and he doesn’t hold any office. He is the new face of American politics: meet the CEO as political boss. By day, Norcross sits on the board of Commerce Bank and controls $60 million of that company’s stock; by night, he ladles out corporate cash to political candidates and rules with an iron fist.

    Apparently, devoting attention to even the tiniest New Jersey municipality is quite lucrative for Commerce Bank: one fifth of the bank’s business is government deposits, a cool $4 billion of taxpayer dollars. The $17.7 billion-a-year financial behemoth has ladled out more campaign cash and received more government no-bid contracts than any financial institution in New Jersey. The new suburban corporate Tammany Hall would make portly old Boss Tweed salivate.

    This is no petty corruption. It is systemic, its tentacles radiate from top to bottom, it reaches across all three branches of government and it is bi-partisan. Graft is destroying democracy in New Jersey. Boss Norcross, himself, sums up the deal. “[I]n the end,” says Norcross on the tapes, “the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Because not that they like me, but because they have no choice.” (Again, no idle boast: Corzine is one of Norcross’ largest contributors and Norcross and his bank shower millions on Republicans and Democrats, alike.)

    The Garden State has become the Graft State, and news organizations have documented, in series after series, the corrupt — often criminal– payoffs that corporations like Commerce Bank make to extract millions in government favors. The results have also been detailed: searing poverty in New Jersey’s inner cities, including Newark (the second most impoverished American city) and Camden (the most dangerous city in the land); worst-in-the nation environmental problems that ravage middle-class communities; and the highest property taxes in America.

    It is long past time for prosecutors to deal with the George Norcross’s of the world and crack down on boss-led political crime with the same ferocity that they attack mob-led street crime. The citizens of New Jersey and the nation will not long tolerate the tyranny of the new corporate Tammany Hall.

    That the New Jersey Attorney General refused to indict Norcross when two members of his own party offered to testify that Norcross bribed them is an outrage. Even more contemptible is the Attorney General’s refusal to release hundreds of additional hours of tapes (only ninety minutes were made public), allowing citizens, finally, to listen to how their own leaders enrich themselves and their corporate benefactors at the expense of taxpayers.

    The Justice Department should move with a bi-partisan coalition of U.S. Attorneys from New York and Pennsylvania to jointly subpoena Norcross and the other bosses before a Grand Jury now that U.S. Attorney for New Jerey Chris Christie has refused to indict.

    At the very least, Boss Norcross and his brethren should be brought in for questioning.

    The new Tammany Hall must fall.

    The Untouchables Group recently moved before the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals to allow citizens to directly present evidence of crimes to Grand Juries. We will keep you posted.

  • GUEST

    The post below speaks for itself. It’s a disgrace that this has been going on for over a decade and nothing is being done. Same cast of characters running a muck in NJ and preparing to run for election in America. No Way. No Way

  • GUEST
  • Kelly ripoff Ripa

    DOUBLECROSS NORCROSS