NY Post editor must answer Murdoch, chimp queries

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(Reuters) – The editor of the New York Post may be forced to answer questions about his discussions with media mogul Rupert Murdoch over fallout from the newspaper’s publication of a cartoon that appeared to liken President Barack Obama to a chimpanzee.

A federal judge in Manhattan said editor Col Allan could not invoke “editorial privilege” and avoid answering questions posed by Sandra Guzman, a former associate editor suing the newspaper for alleged employment discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, gender and national origin.

Guzman, who is black and Puerto Rican, in November 2009 sued the Post and parent News Corp, which Murdoch runs, saying she had been fired in retaliation for complaints over inappropriate conduct.

She also claimed to be among those who objected to the February 18, 2009 cartoon that depicted a policeman shooting a crazed chimpanzee, a play on an actual Connecticut incident.

The cartoon referred to the recently adopted $787 billion federal economic stimulus and many people saw the chimpanzee as a depiction of Obama. Murdoch later apologized to readers.

In an order dated June 29, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis said Allan refused during a seven-hour deposition in February to answer several questions related to the cartoon and one related to a photo of a nude man published in connection with former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey’s divorce.

The questions over the cartoon covered such matters as whether Allan told Murdoch he disagreed with publishing an apology and whether Allan understood Murdoch to have believed it was a mistake to do so.

In ordering Allan to submit to another two hours of being deposed, Ellis said the editor had been seeking to improperly broaden the scope of journalist privilege.

Ellis said this privilege more typically applies to cases involving reporters and the protection of sources as part of the “newsgathering” process.

In contrast, in the employment discrimination context, “the plaintiff may explore the motivations of decision makers, or individuals who influenced the decision maker or participated in the decision,” Ellis wrote.

News Corp and a lawyer for the Post did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. A lawyer for Guzman did not immediately respond to a similar request.

The case is Guzman v News Corp et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 09-09323. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York- editing by Andre Grenon)

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