The tiny editorial writing department of the Tribune was out of control. For years, the men who worked there were obsessed with talk of sexual escapades and adventures with illegal drugs. Off-color remarks between the editorialists, such as "It's too bad women don't have flat heads so that we could have a place to put our beers while they're giving us blow jobs," were common. Historical issues under discussion included whether Catherine the Great died after having had sex with her horse. Even a Thermos bottle of coffee assumed phallic proportions when one writer held it up in the office and discussed its relationship to human anatomy.
That lurid picture of writers at work is painted by Lynne Carrier, the only woman in the editorial department, who last year filed a sexual discrimination suit against the newspaper, its former editorial boss Joe Holley, and chief editor Neil Morgan. Carrier alleges that her complaints about the "locker room" work atmostphere went unheeded and actually made things worse for her when an editor was "screaming at the top of his lungs, screaming," Carrier testified. "He was red in the face, his skin was sort of shiny, and he was screaming about 'You have violated the trust of your supervisor. You are a mean-spirited — you are a mean woman....'"
This summer, both Morgan and Tribune publisher Helen Copley proved their own versions of the controversy in separate depositions. But the recall powers of the 67-year-old editor and his 68-year-old boss were weak. Copley, who arrived for the videotaped session using a cane and wearing an oversized pair of dark glasses, said she had been totally ignorant of the allegations of sexual discrimination at the Tribune.
Although Carrier had filled a complaint with the state department of Fair Employment and Housing, in June of 1989, Copley claimed she didn't find out about Carrier's repeated charges of harassment until her lawsuit was filed more than a year later. Even then, Copley testified, she never bothered to discuss with Morgan the charges against him.
In fact, although each day's edition of the Tribune lists her title as "Publisher and Chairman of the Editorial Board," Copley maintained she makes it a policy not to attend any board meetings. When an attorney asked, "Under what circumstances would [Morgan] discuss with you matters that would appear on the editorial page?" Copley replied: "None." Asked why, she replied: because she goes to all the editorial board meetings at the Union, but not the Tribune.... They're two different newspapers. And the editorial page of the San Diego Union is a Republican reflection, which I am. The Tribune is an independent.... I hire an editor to run that particular newspaper." Later, when she was asked whether she felt an obligation to guard against sexual discrimination at the newspaper, the publisher responded: "We have that, but not one person can police every single person in that building."
Copley's version of her role at the Tribune, however, was at odds with the testimony of her editor, who disclosed that he once "fixed" an editorial about the Star Wars anti-missile defense system because he thought Copley wouldn't like the original version. "It's my memory that the editorial attacked Star Wars," said Morgan. "And I wanted it to support Star Wars, because I believed that was Mrs. Copley's intent." The edior testified that Copley "had mentioned Reagan's great success with Star Wars, and I knew she was enthusiastic about the prospects." Morgan added that he had discussed the issue with Copley "many months earlier."
According to earlier testimony by Carrier, Morgan frequently invoked Copley's name during arguments about editorial policy. When questions about the Star Wars editorial arose, for instance, Carrier said that Morgan called her into his office and said that "Helen wanted to fire me and that [Morgan] personally had intervened." Later, the editor told Carrier that "there were enemies of the Tribune in the [Copley] organization and that I must always be careful to know what [political issues] they will be upset about or else the whole paper might collapse, and, like, 139 jobs would be lost."
In his deposition, Morgan said, "I don't remember" when asked whether Copley had expressed "any displeasure" with the Star Wars editorial. (Copley herself had earlier testified that she never discussed the matter with her editor.) Morgan also didn't recall telling Carrier that he had saved her job from the publisher's wrath. "I don't know that I saved it. She still has it." He insisted that Copley had never threatened to fire Carrier or himself over editorial police. But when asked whether his boss had been unhappy with any Tribune editorial runduring the past two years, Morgan replied, "I don't remember."
Other incidents, such as when the newspaper ran the identical editorial twice, were fresher in the editor's mind. "I tried to determine that it wouldn't happen again. It's a big embarrassment." Of the hiring freeze now is force at the embattled paper, which is rapidly losing circulation, Morgan observed: "The whole question of movement of staff people in the face of a hiring freeze is under discussion. We don't know where we're going to be from week to week."
As for the trouble in the editorial department, Morgan blamed his codefendant and former editorial page chief, Joe Holley, who has since quit the Tribune and moved to Texas. "Joe did not manage that department very well," said Morgan. "here was a general level of dissent in that department, which to me reflected uneven management. From where I sat, all I knew is that things were not going very smoothly in that department." When asked whether he remembered what he told Holley about correcting the situation, Morgan replied, "No, I don't."