Staff Reporter Sues The Inquirer

Posted: August 08, 1998

Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano yesterday sued his newspaper and its editor, contending that he was defamed in remarks made by editor Robert J. Rosenthal about Cipriano's reporting on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

The suit, filed in Common Pleas Court, contends that Rosenthal's comments - quoted in a Washington Post article in June - destroyed Cipriano's reputation, injuring his opportunities for advancement and future employment.

The article by Post media critic Howard Kurtz reported on a controversy over Cipriano's assertion that The Inquirer had refused to publish all of his investigative findings about the archdiocese and Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua.

Cipriano had just published a 10,000-word article on Cardinal Bevilacqua and the archdiocese in the National Catholic Reporter. Kurtz's article explored why the piece had not appeared in The Inquirer. He quoted Rosenthal as saying that Cipriano ``has a very strong personal point of view and agenda. . . . There were things we didn't publish that Ralph wrote that we didn't think were truthful. He could never prove them.''

According to the article, Cipriano countered: ``I wrote the story because I believed this guy [the cardinal] was not above scrutiny. He was a sacred cow at my newspaper.''

In a statement, Pamela Browner, a spokeswoman for Philadelphia Newspapers Inc., publisher of The Inquirer and Daily News, said:

``We disagree with Ralph because we believe our coverage of the Archdiocese has been fair, accurate and relevant. We regret that Ralph has chosen a lawsuit as his means of addressing the matter of how The Inquirer covers a topic of great interest to our readers.''

In addition to Rosenthal and PNI, the suit names Knight Ridder Inc., the newspaper's parent company.

The controversy stems from a long-running dispute between Cipriano and his editors concerning what he has perceived as the paper's unwillingness to report aggressively on the archdiocese, the spiritual life center for more than 1.4 million Catholics in the region.

Cipriano has worked at The Inquirer since 1987 and was appointed to the newspaper's religion beat in 1991. His suit contends that when he unearthed hard-hitting stories about the Catholic Church, they were watered down or brushed aside ``under pressure from Knight Ridder to boost circulation'' and avoid antagonizing the archdiocese.

Cipriano, who in a 22-year career has worked at the Los Angeles Times, the Albany Times-Union and other papers, left the religion beat in 1993. His suit asserts that the archdiocese had waged a campaign to have him removed.

The airing in the Post of The Inquirer's internal decisions, and the perception that its editor was not standing by a reporter, caused consternation in the Inquirer newsroom, where some colleagues sympathized with Cipriano and others disputed his perception.

In a letter to the Post published July 22, Rosenthal said Kurtz's article did not include his statement that much of the material in Cipriano's National Catholic Reporter piece had been published in articles he wrote for The Inquirer.

The editor continued: ``I should not, however, have described as untruthful some of the material Mr. Cipriano wrote that we did not publish. I should have said he told us things as he was reporting that he had not substantiated, and that we would not, of course, publish them until they were substantiated.''

Cipriano's suit says that this ``weak letter of explanation'' did nothing to repair the damage to his reputation.

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