Inquirer chair says co-owner in control
PHILADELPHIA — As feuding owners fight for control of Philadelphia's two largest newspapers, the board chairman testified that politically powerful co-owner George Norcross runs the show.
Norcross is an insurance executive and Democratic powerbroker in New Jersey. He and five other business leaders pooled $55 million to buy The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News last year.
However, philanthropist H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest, the board chairman, said that 18 months later, “everything is really done (at) the direction of Norcross.”
The declaration was made as a judge weighs a lawsuit seeking to undo last month's firing of Inquirer editor Bill Marimow and oust the publisher who fired him.
Fellow investor Lewis Katz, the former New Jersey Nets owner, testified that he and Norcross bought equal shares of the company for $16 million apiece so that they would both have to agree on major decisions. They had never worked together previously.
Yet Katz said Marimow was fired last month without his consent. He and Lenfest have sued their partners over the firing.
Common Pleas Judge Patricia McInerney must decide whether to return Marimow to the newsroom and oust Publisher Bob Hall, who fired him. The Norcross faction argues such a move would cause yet more turmoil in the troubled newsroom.
The hearing will continue on Thursday, when Katz's testimony resumes. Norcross may also take the stand. His roster of lawyers in the City Hall courtroom includes Michael Chertoff, a former U.S. appeals court judge and Transportation Security Administration secretary.
Katz, in his testimony, said the owners signed noninterference pledges to assuage concerns that they would meddle in editorial decisions. But it's unclear whether the pledge was meant to include hiring or firing the editor.
Lenfest called that a business decision under the owners' domain.
Hall, though, has argued that he had the unilateral power to fire Marimow, who refused to follow Hall's order to fire five senior editors.
Marimow said he had assurances that Hall did not control his fate.
He testified that he was hired by Katz and Norcross after conversations mediated by then-investigative reporter Nancy Phillips, who is Katz's longtime companion. She had worked with Marimow during his previous stints as editor and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter.
Phillips, now the city editor, said she helped work on an “official version” of Marimow's hiring, for public consumption, that said then-Publisher Greg Osberg had been involved. The story was meant to protect Osberg's feelings, she said. Osberg testified that he had no part in the hiring and quit six weeks later.
The media company also operates the free Philly.com website, now run by Norcross' 25-year-old daughter, and fee-based websites for each newspaper.
It's changed hands five times in the past seven years and, like its peers in the industry, dropped precipitously in value. The company was sold for $515 million in 2006, nearly 10 times its purchase price last year.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Sex-soaked culture faulted for fraternity house parties
- Pennsylvania’s DEP chief seeking gas pipeline strategy
- Veteran designation on Pennsylvania driver’s licenses loosely audited
- PennDOT turns to roundabout intersections, citing safety, cost
- Trooper severely injured when hit by own car
- Impact of Ohio’s moves to reduce Lake Erie algae years away
- Pa. trooper wounded in barracks ambush hopes to return to force
- Four veterinarians charged for doping race horses at Penn National
- Mother, grandparents of starved boy sentenced to prison
- PSU president will back tuition freeze if Wolf’s funding plan passes