A judge presiding over a discrimination suit against the New York Post ordered the paper's editor to disclose the reaction of Rupert Murdoch, the media magnate whose company owns the Post, to a controversial 2009 editorial cartoon.
The cartoon, which many considered racist, depicted the author of the $787 billion-stimulus bill as a chimpanzee who was riddled with bullet holes. "They'll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill," said one figure in the cartoon.
According to Reuters, Col Allan, the Post's editor, tried to invoke editorial privilege to avoid answering questions in the case, brought by Sandra Guzman, a former employee.
Guzman, who is African American and Puerto Rican, filed a lawsuit against the company in 2009 for discriminating against her on the basis of race, gender and national origin. In her 36-page complaint, Guzman claimed that a male editor sexually propositioned a female employee, that Allan rubbed his genitals against a female colleague and that she was referred to as "Cha Cha No. 1."
The Post said Guzman's job was eliminated because her monthly in-paper insert, called Temp, was discontinued due to poor ad sales.
During a deposition, Allan did not answer repeated questions from Guzman about the chimp cartoon, including whether Allan took issue with Murdoch's public apology for its publication.
Ronald L. Ellis, the magistrate judge, said in an order that journalistic privilege was not applicable to conversations between editors, though in the past courts have recognized that privilege regarding conversations between reporters and their sources.
"Allan is not invoking a privilege that involves a reporter and a source with regard to the 'newsgathering' process," Ellis wrote. He also said Guzman's questions were relevant to the case.
The chimpanzee cartoon was a source of controversy even inside the paper. At the time, Guzman made her disapproval of the cartoon known in an email to other reporters:
Thank you for your feedback. Please know that I had nothing to do with the Sean Delonas cartoon. I neither commissioned or approved it. I saw it in the paper yesterday with the rest of the world. And, I have raised my objections to management. --Sandra Guzman.
But Allan pushed back at criticism of the cartoon, particularly that of Rev. Al Sharpton, who said at the time the cartoon was "troubling at best given the historic racist attacks of African-Americans as being synonymous with monkeys."
"The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut," Allan countered. "It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist."
Murdoch later apologized for the cartoon with a statement.
"I want to personally apologize to any reader who felt offended, and even insulted," the News Corp. head wrote. "I can assure you -- without a doubt -- that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation. It was not meant to be racist, but unfortunately, it was interpreted by many as such. We all hold the readers of the New York Post in high regard, and I promise you that we will seek to be more attuned to the sensitivities of our community."