At the ‘Times,’ a letter to Sulzberger asks him to ‘reconsider’ firing beloved media lawyer George Freeman
A week after the beloved New York Times assistant general counsel George Freeman lost his job in a round of layoffs, nearly 60 Times journalists put their names to a letter to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asking him to "reconsider" the decision.
"Time and again, he has gone to bat intelligently, fearlessly and articulately for Times journalists against all sorts of threats from people and institutions we have written the truth about," the letter, which was obtained by Capital after it was sent via email last Thursday evening, reads in part.
"Many of us have memories of George taking on politicians, entertainment power brokers, companies and others who were sending their lawyers after us," the letter continues. "He has probably saved the Times millions in legal costs, and helped defend our reputation for accuracy and fairness."
Freeman's termination touched a nerve for current and former Times journalists, many of whom took to Facebook and the comments section on Jim Romenesko's blog, which first reported the news, to sound off on the matter.
In a comment posted on Capital, former Times reporter Jane Gross called Freeman's dismissal "the single most repulsive, inhumane, and downright embarrassing thing NYT management has done to date. ... If I were still there I hope I would have the courage of my convictions and quit. And I would like to know why his colleagues in the legal department didn't march out the door behind him."
Several sources familiar with the situation were unsurprised that Freeman was included in the layoffs, which this time around did not affect editorial staffers. Still struggling with declining advertising revenues, the Times Company is in a period of downsizing, and Freeman's job duties had been diminished following the sale late last year of its Regional Media Group, which included 16 smaller papers that had been a part of Freeman's territory on First Amendment and libel law issues.
But Freeman's popularity with the newsroom, which is already reeling from the protracted contract negotiations between Times management and the Newspaper Guild of New York, has made his termination a conspicuous move.
Freeman was friendly with a number of prominent members of the Guild, which represents more than 1,000 Times staffers, but the letter to Sulzberger was not organized by the union or on its behalf.
Reached for comment, a Times Company spokesperson would only say: "Arthur did receive the letter." (In addition to his role as publisher, Sulzberger is also chairman and interim C.E.O. of the Times Company.)
Freeman could not be reached for comment Monday morning, but he previously told Romenesko: "After 31 wonderful years at The Times, and working with 6 fabulous executive editors from Abe Rosenthal forward, I am both saddened and shocked ... but now I look forward to the chance of a new opportunity in the First Amendment world."
You can read the full letter to Sulzberger below:
We were saddened and dismayed to hear that the round of layoffs announced last week would include George Freeman.
Many of us have worked with George during his 31 years at the Times, and we like him, respect him and admire him. Time and again, he has gone to bat intelligently, fearlessly and articulately for Times journalists against all sorts of threats from people and institutions we have written the truth about.
Many of us have memories of George taking on politicians, entertainment power brokers, companies and others who were sending their lawyers after us.
Most important to the Times, George helped make sure that we were writing the truth, and being fair to those we wrote about. He has probably saved the Times millions in legal costs, and helped defend our reputation for accuracy and fairness.
George has also been an extraordinary spokesman and goodwill ambassador for the company. He has spoken at countless conferences and law schools, communicating the Times’s credo as the world’s premier news organization.
And he serves another valuable, less visible role – that of someone who creates a strong bond between the corporate and news sides of the paper, two parties often separated by a gap.
We urge you to reconsider.
Alison Leigh Cowan
Monica P. Johnson
Jennifer B. McDonald
Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Catherine Saint Louis
Cornelius G. Schmid
Sandra M. Stevenson