David Carlson, SPJ president, 352-846-0171 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sinclair Broadcasting Co. hit a new low when it filed a $17,000 lawsuit against Jon Leiberman, a journalist it fired last year, the Society of Professional Journalists said today.
“This lawsuit smells bad,” said SPJ President David Carlson. “It smells like an effort to punish a whistleblower.
“What motivation can there be for a company the size of Sinclair to sue a journalist it fired?” said Carlson. “It would appear to be an effort to punish someone who exposed the company’s plan to air a biased documentary and call it news.”
“It is likely the company will spend many times more than $17,000 on the lawsuit. Therefore, it is hard to believe there is a financial incentive for it,” Carlson added.
The suit says that in October 2004 Leiberman, who was Sinclair's Washington bureau chief, broke company rules by speaking publicly about his bosses after they ordered Sinclair stations around the country to pass off as news a documentary critical of presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Sinclair fired Leiberman after he gave an interview to The Sun in which he said the documentary, “Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal,” was "biased political propaganda." The film featured charges that, by speaking out against the U.S. government’s handling of the Vietnam War, Kerry prolonged confinement of American prisoners of war.
News that Sinclair’s 60 stations, which reach some 24 percent of the U.S. television audience, planned to air the documentary two weeks before the 2004 election caused a furor. The company eventually changed its plan and aired only excerpts of the film.
The lawsuit charges that Leiberman broke company rules. It alleges Leiberman "divulged confidential and proprietary information" about the company "to individuals outside of the organization."
It claims that Leiberman, now working as a producer on America’s Most Wanted, owes Sinclair $17,000, a percentage of his salary, as “liquidated damages.”
“This lawsuit is ludicrous,” Carlson said. “Sinclair should be ashamed of itself.”
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.