Did Bill Marimow Ask for $1 Million to Leave the Inquirer?

One side of the ownership dispute says yes. The other side says he simply wasn’t for sale.

Bill Marimow. Photo | AP / Joseph Kaczmarek

Bill Marimow. Photo | AP / Joseph Kaczmarek

The two sides in the dispute among owners of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and philly.com got hung up on one issue in last-ditch settlement talks: the fate of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow.

According to a person with knowledge of the negotiations, Marimow requested four years salary, equal to about $1 million, to vacate his editor’s position.

Attorney William Chadwick, who represented Marimow, rejects this account.

“The assertion that Bill Marimow asked for any money during the negotiations — much less 4 years severance — is absolutely false,” says Chadwick. “His primary concern is and always has been the journalistic independence of the Inquirer. For that reason, Mr. Marimow rejected numerous offers of severance because they did nothing to ensure the journalistic independence of the paper, which he believes cannot be maintained so long as George Norcross controls the paper. Mr. Marimow believes Norcross’s motivation for removing him as editor stems from Norcross’s desire to control the content of the paper, which Marimow has resisted.”

A spokesman for insurance executive and political power broker George Norcross III, Dan Fee, responds: “There has never been any credible evidence that George Norcross has either directly or indirectly attempted to influence the newsroom, or the journalistic and editorial operations of the company. None has appeared in print, none was introduced in the hearings and they never even bothered to call him to testify under oath when they had the chance. They’ve made a lot of allegations, and provided no facts. And if they had any, they would be public by now. Other than that, we can not have any comment on discussions between the parties.”

Marimow, a two-time Pulitzer prize winning journalist, in his second stint as editor of the Inquirer, was fired in October by publisher Robert Hall. The dismissal set in motion a wave of suits and counter-suits that continues to this day. The court proceedings, which went on over a couple of weeks at City Hall, made public a schism that had been present since the early days of the new ownership group’s existence.

The primary combatants are George Norcross III, an insurance executive and the Democratic party boss of South Jersey, and Lewis Katz, a parking lot magnate with deep political connections of his own. The pair sit on a two-man management committee that, according to the terms of their operating agreement, must agree on major business decisions. Katz, the longtime companion of Inquirer city editor Nancy Phillips, backed Marimow and contended, in court, that he had not been allowed to exercise his blocking rights as a co-manager. His lawyers also argued that Hall, the publisher, had been acting on Norcross’s behalf both in requesting that Marimow fire specific sub-editors and ultimately in firing Marimow himself.

Chadwick adds that shortly after Marimow had been fired, Katz was approached, through a back channel, with a pair of offers. The first was for three years’ salary, which Marimow rejected after hearing about it from Katz because it did nothing to ensure the journalistic independence of the paper.  The second offer was so large Katz told Marimow it would “make him a rich man,” and that he didn’t want to specify the figure for fear it would “ruin his day.”

According to Chadwick, Marimow declined this second offer without ever hearing what it was worth.

“If Bill Marimow was offered something by Mr. Katz,” Fee responds, “they should be asked where the money was coming from. Clearly they thought it was worth giving him money to go away or else they wouldn’t have even raised the issue with him. Otherwise, this allegation should be considered just another in their series of illusionary claims.”

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