CLEVELAND — A longtime reviewer sued his newspaper and the Cleveland Orchestra Thursday, charging that he was removed from his beat because of critical coverage of the conductor.
The lawsuit filed by Donald Rosenberg said the orchestra lobbied to get him reassigned and The Plain Dealer, Ohio's largest newspaper, breached its commitment to independence by caving into outside pressure.
The 56-year-old Rosenberg also says he was discriminated against because of his age.
The suit seeks more than $50,000 in damages in county court. It stopped short of asking for his return to the orchestra beat.
Rosenberg, who was the newspaper's orchestra critic for 16 years, was reassigned in September to cover other music groups. His removal from the beat caused a stir in the highbrow arts community, with The New York Times warning the reassignment would "send shivers down the opinionated spines of critics everywhere." The Music Critics Association of North America asked the paper to reinstate Rosenberg.
Editor Susan Goldberg said the paper wouldn't comment on the lawsuit. She has said that The Plain Dealer never allows complaints against a writer to dictate personnel decisions.
Robert Duvin, an lawyer representing the orchestra, said the orchestra had done nothing wrong.
Duvin said conductor and music director Franz Welser-Moest has passionate backers among orchestra fans and reviewers around the world who disagree with Rosenberg. If any vendetta existed, it was by Rosenberg against Welser-Moest, Duvin said.
Rosenberg relentlessly criticized the conductor, Duvin said, and the views were "not just spiteful, they were wrong."
According to the lawsuit, Welser-Moest began a campaign to damage Rosenberg's reputation and ability to work as the high-profile orchestra reviewer after Rosenberg reported comments made by Welser-Moest in Europe in 2004. The conductor called Cleveland "an inflated farmer's village" where the orchestra was dependent on money from aging "blue-hair ladies" who attend matinees because they are too tired to go out at night.
The lawsuit said the orchestra reversed its long-standing policy and denied Rosenberg the opportunity to go backstage, attend rehearsals and interview Welser-Moest.
Rosenberg often praised the orchestra but frequently panned Welser-Moest, comparing him to a traffic cop who failed to delve into the music's essence.
According to the lawsuit, the orchestra hired a public relations firm to lobby the paper to get more positive coverage and eventually met with Goldberg to complain that Rosenberg's relationship with the orchestra had become irreparable.
Plain Dealer Publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger, who serves on the orchestra board, told The Associated Press in October that he was unaware of any orchestra pressure to reassign Rosenberg. Egger declined to comment on Thursday.
Rosenberg was unaffected last week when the paper laid off 27 newsroom employees because of the struggling economy. The cuts were part of a previously announced reduction of 50 jobs, representing 21 percent of its unionized newsroom staff.
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