Last week, the Washington Times laid off a large chunk of its newsroom, essentially junking its sports and Metro sections in favor of a more focused product. The new direction that the paper is unfurling—-whatever it is—-focuses on throwing less content on the street in hopes of reviving its business model.
The Washington Times, in other words, could be nearing its end.
That’s a bad thing not only for Washington Times employees and conservative journalism, but also for those who write about the paper. Every effort must be made to preserve what has become one of America’s greatest hatcheries of workplace weirdness. When it comes to internal strife, no one does it like the Washington Times.
Washington Times weirdness takes on a starring role in the lawsuit filed in December by former Washington Times Editorial Page Editor Richard Miniter. In his complaint, Miniter made a number of damning claims against the paper, including the charge that he was essentially required to trek to Manhattan for a “peace festival” and a religious service of the Washington Times-connected Unification Church.
That’s good and weird, for sure. But if you dig into the Miniter complaint, and the response that the Washington Times filed on Dec. 30, there’s plenty more.
1) Contractual Weirdness: Since when does an editorial page editor get a commission?
The first count of the Miniter lawsuit alleges that the Washington Times et al. “breached their contractual commitments to Miniter, causing actual and compensatory damages in an amount to be determined at trial.”
In its response, the Washington Times slaps back. The filing says, in so many words: How can Miniter claim breach of contract if he had no contract to begin with? Reads the motion: “[Miniter] does not provide a copy of the alleged contract or quote a single line from it. Indeed, he cannot, because he refused to accept or sign the contract he was offered.” (Emphasis in the original).
The Times sprinkles the court docket with all kinds of exhibits documenting Miniter’s contractlessness. And if you accept the Washington Times‘ version of events, it’s hard to see why the two sides didn’t manage to sign on the bottom line. After all, the Washington Times was proposing a pretty nice deal, especially in light of ongoing misery in the media industry. Here’s the offer Miniter was mulling as of March of this year: Annual pay of $225,000, with a $5,000 signing bonus and 3 percent annual raises. The contract had a one-year term and a good set of benefits.
Miniter wanted more, according to the Washington Times‘ court filing. Months after receiving the contract offer, he came back with his demands, asking for a 5 percent annual raise and a five-year contract term, not to mention much more cushy exit packages in case he was ever fired from the paper.
So far, so reasonable. But now cue the Washington Times weirdness. There was one demand in Miniter’s July 2009 proposed contract that makes little sense, at least for a guy who was in charge of an editorial page. Miniter, according to the Washington Times filing, was seeking a cut of revenues. Word for word, here is the language that he allegedly tried to get inserted in his employment contract:
Commission: In addition to the above salary, you will be entitled to a commission of not less than 10% of all gross revenue directly generated by you. This includes any advertising revenue over $100,000 by a single entity, real estate transactions, events organized or planned, new revenue-producing products or new revenue-producing services created for the Company, its affiliates, subsidiaries, and/or successors. Payments under this provision shall be made within 15 business days of the Company’s receipt of funds for the related event, transaction, sale or advertising. Payment will be made by electronic funds transfer of the total amount due (less any lawful withholding) to an account identified by Miniter for purposes of this clause.
How many journos out there are gathering commissions? Certainly not the chief of the Washington Post editorial page. “I do not get any compensation based on sales,” says the Post‘s Fred Hiatt.
Now, the court filings leave unexplained just how that commission request landed in Miniter’s proposed contract. Perhaps someone at the Washington Times told him he’d have to start generating some income. Such a request could well have prompted Miniter to propose a commission clause in his compensation arrangement.
Larry Klayman, the rabble-rousing attorney who’s representing Miniter, declined to comment on the provenance of the clause.
A couple of months after Miniter put that commission thingie in his proposed contract, the Washington Times did allegedly try to get him involved in sales, according to Miniter’s original complaint. It states that in September 2009, the Washington Times slimed Miniter with the “‘responsibilities’ for finding advertisers for The Washington Times, which was completely incongruent with his career goals and expertise. While Miniter is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, he has no experience in advertising and has not worked in that capacity as a professional.”
2) Telecommuting Weirdness: How many editorial page editors work from home?
One of the more memorable sequences of the Miniter complaint involves a series of Washington Times investigations into his management practices. In June 2009, according to the complaint, a Washington Times HR director told Miniter that she was bringing in an outside consultant to carry out a so-called “360,” or a complete audit of employee happiness with Miniter. The results of the review, according to Miniter’s complaint, were favorable.
Then things took a turn toward the really bizarre, according to the complaint: Two weeks later, the Washington Times launched a second investigation into Miniter’s department. Henceforth, Miniter was ordered to work from home.
On the question of whom Miniter-the-editorial-page-editor could contact from his home office, there’s a discrepancy between the two sides. Miniter & Co. say he was “told not to contact any of the employees in his department.” The Washington Times, on the other hand, says that Miniter “was told to remain at home and not contact staff members except on matters that were directly work-related.” So no recipe-sharing calls.
After all this, the Washington Times, by its own account, offered Miniter a new contract in mid-September 2009. Miniter didn’t go for it, and discussions betweens the two sides broke down; he was officially advised of his dismissal on Oct. 22.
3) Titular Weirdness: Fired editor finds long-term foothold on masthead.
Consider these dates:
- In July, Miniter was exiled to work-from-home duty.
- In late September, the Washington Times stopped paying him.
- On Oct. 22, he was notified of his termination.
YET! Miniter remained on the Washington Times masthead through Nov. 25.
Washington Times‘ take on Miniter masthead retention: That’s what Miniter wanted. A Times filing says that in e-mails dated Sept. 30 and Oct. 1, Miniter made this request. And the HR director, Sonya Jenkins, claims in an affidavit appended to the Dec. 30 filing that Miniter told her on Nov. 16 to keep his name up there.
Klayman’s take on Miniter masthead retention: “They said they fired Richard, so how can they put him on the masthead? They can’t do that because it would be a fraud on the public.”
That’s some fiery rhetoric. But really, how many people read the Washington Times masthead?