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Coverage of Spin's Harassment Trial Favored Plaintiff

May 25, 1997

Thomas Mulligan's reporting on Spin's sexual-harassment trial was not only biased, it was guided by the plaintiff's lawyer ("Guccione to Appeal Sex-Harassment Verdict" [April 12], "Spin, Publisher Must Pay $110,000 in Harassment Suit [April 10] and "Workers Tell of Harassment at Spin Magazine" [March 21]).

I know this because I saw it with my own eyes in the courtroom. Mr. Mulligan did not approach me once for a comment, and only approached our lawyer, Betsy Plevan, after he had written his first piece. He showed no interest in our side--filing his story, as you know, before we presented our case.

How could you not notice the complete absence of any representation from our side? Furthermore, when he called my office for a comment for his post-trial piece, I returned his call the same afternoon, didn't hear back from him, but he went ahead with another slanted and inaccurate report. How ethical is that?

His second report stated the jury found me liable for "$90,000 in damages for [the plaintiff's] claim that Spin was a hostile workplace, plus $20,000 in back pay and liquidated damages [etc.] . . . " Untrue. The jury twice cleared me of all personal participatory liability, the essential violation of the law that would necessitate I pay something.

Yes, this jury was sent back for a second verdict after awarding only $10,000 and only for what they saw as an Equal Pay Act violation. That itself is a story: How many times have you heard of a jury being told to render another verdict because the judge didn't like the first one? We will appeal the second award of $90,000, if the judge lets it stick, which she hasn't ruled on yet. And, since we prevailed on the majority of the claims, we're applying for our legal costs to be paid by the other side, which the law allows.

But your readers would not know any of that, because that wasn't represented. Instead, what was represented was the plaintiff's counsel's spin on the whole affair. The plaintiff's counsel, who had painted a picture in the press of Spin as something equivalent to a Bosnian rape camp, and who had sought millions of dollars in punitive damages (none were awarded), is understandably embarrassed by the outcome. What is not so understandable is how the L.A. Times allowed its normally superb standards of balanced journalism to evaporate in this instance. If Mr. Mulligan's sympathies lie so intractably with the plaintiff, Staci Bonner, let him express them in an Op Ed. It does everyone else a disservice to mask it as factual reporting.


Editor and Publisher

Spin magazine

New York

Editor's note: The Times stands behind its coverage of the case and the facts presented in the stories.

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