Radical media, politics and culture.

NY Times Blacklists 11 Writers/Plaintiffs in Rights/Royalties Dispute

The New York Times has apparently adopted a policy to "not engage"
any of the eleven writers listed on an internal memo circulated by Times staffer Michaela Williams. All the writers are co-plaintiffs in a well-known class-action lawsuit by the Authors Guild and the National Writers Union against the Times over electronic rights and royalties disputes.

Three key documents in the dispute are reproduced here verbatim.

Missouri School of Journalism Associate Professor and previous Times freelance writer Mary Kay Blakely, one of the eleven blacklisted, has responded to the Times action in a letter to Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger, reproduced below:From: Mary Kay Blakely

To: Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr., Publisher, New York Times

Dear Mr. Sulzberger,

As one of the plaintiffs in the Tasini v. New York Times law suit, I am
deeply grieved by the actions your legal team has taken in the wake of
the Supreme Court decision. The blacklist of writers sent to Times
editors by Michaela Williams on September 18 is now circulating widely
among writers and authors all over the world. I received a copy this
morning from the National Writers Union in New York. Almost immediately,
before I could respond myself, I received e-mail messages and calls from
writers in Vermont, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, London,
and Cape Town, South Africa.

If Williams imagined this list would not
reach the writers named--and those who support us--there is an egregious
failure to communicate among your staff. Asking your editors to censor
any group of writers violates their integrity as journalists. And
certainly, it violates the principles of a free press. But suppressing
this group--because we challenged the Times management and
policies--brings only disgrace to its revered motto. Of all the possible
responses to the Supreme Court‚s ruling, your legal counsel is steering
the most destructive course, as painful and compromising to your staff as
the blacklisted writers.

The Times editors who work regularly with free lance writersˆin my case,
for two decadesˆinevitably form deep and strong friendships. Before the
Hers column launched my byline in 1981, I was an unknown writer in Fort
Wayne, Indiana, collecting a steady stream of rejection letters from
national magazine editors. That changed dramatically when the Times
published my essays and those same editors began soliciting work from me.
They have been, ever since. It‚s possible my writing could have reached
its larger audience without the Times...but it would have taken much
longer, and I would not have had the invaluable help from my first and
finest mentors, all acknowledged with great affection in my subsequent
books. So when the National Writers‚ Union asked me to become a plaintiff
nine years ago, I was mightily torn. I did not want to damage these
important relationships, personal as well as professional. First, we had
to talk.

Of course the plaintiffs talked too, long and hard, about why we should
risk being blacklisted at the Times. (We are not stupid...all of us
anticipated being banned from publication by the Times and the other
defendants.) It was 1993, the dawn of electronic publishing. Nobody knew
where it would take us, but all of us knew "first North American serial
rights" was about to become meaningless. Legal counsel on both
sidesˆwriters and publishersˆagreed on this much: We all needed a clear
definition of copyright law as we entered the Information Age. I was on
the first negotiating teams the National Writers Union formed to create a
fair standard contract with publishers. Since compliance was voluntary,
we had limited success.

When negotiations failed, I joined the suit for two reasons: As a single
mother and writer whose published body of work earned a significant part
of my annual income, I needed to protect my livelihood. Both of my sons
attended college on earnings from my subsidiary rights. As an independent
journalist not affiliated with any single institution, I had a second and
even more compelling reason: If it became impossible for free lance
writers in America to survive financially on the work we produced, it
would subdue (though never silence) a vital and necessary voice in our
national press. If we lost our subsidiary income, only writers who were
independently wealthy, or supported by spouses and family, could afford
to keep writing. I had also learned by then, after some grim publishing
experiences, that it was essential for writers to maintain control over
how our intellectual property could be usedˆwhere it was published, in
what form, for what audience, to which end.

The deepest irony for me: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg based her decision
largely on an essay I wrote for the Times, "Remembering Jane," which had
caused considerable angst for the editors and management as we prepared
it for publication. It described the increasing violence at abortion
clinics, and told the story of what women in Indiana had to endure to
obtain "safe and legal abortions." It cited facts that had to be verified
with Operation Rescueˆand once its members knew of the forthcoming
publication, they circulated instructions to halt it. For a whole week,
the fax machines at the Times were jammed with voluminous, unsolicited
documents from the organization‚s headquarters and threatening letters
from zealous members. The editors received phone threats. None of us
could ignore these warnings, since bombs and shootings had already
exploded elsewhere.

"Remembering Jane" was postponed two weeks while editors talked with top
management, talked with me, all of us contemplating the safety and
security of Times employees and property. Some revisions had to be made
before everyone was satisfied the content was unquestionably sourced, was
vital to public interest, and was worth the risks. And then the Times
bravely published it. With those 1100 carefully chosen words, we helped
raise the nation‚s consciousness about violence against women, and
increased police protection at Indiana clinics. Among the hundreds of
essays I‚ve published by now, "Remembering Jane" brought some of the most
impassioned mail and numerous reprint requests.
So imagine: Those same editors who took a genuine risk to publish the
essay cited in the Supreme Court decision are now being asked to
blacklist me...to censor now, for the sake of imagined profits, what they
refused to censor then, for the integrity of the free press.
It was never a goal of The National Writers Union to sink the Times into
financial ruinˆwhy would we down the ship so many of us were aboard? The
costly and acrimonious legal battle began only after mediation failed
repeatedly. Perhaps your legal counsel advised against yielding any share
of future profits because if you won the suit, you wouldn‚t have to.
("Power concedes nothing without a demandˆit never has and it never
will." I read those words from Frederick Douglass years ago, quoted in a
Times editorial.) The subsequent contract--claiming all rights the
Supreme Court ruled you couldn‚t assumeˆis an outrage to writers, their
literary agents, and the deeply embarrassed editors who work with us

I am writing this in the aftermath of a terrorist act that engulfed the
whole country in oceanic grief, profoundly changing the world. While the
editors of the Times are raising thoughtful questions about how to
recover our security without ignoring the lessons of the McCarthy Era,
their own management is issuing blacklists. Circulated seven days after
the devastation in our beloved city, this reckless return to business as
usual is an ominous sign that the Times will not be leading us to a more
just and enlightened future. There has never been a more critical time to
examine the way we do business in America.

To proceed on this punishing courseˆrestricting editors, coercing
writersˆonly guarantees more costly law suits, more blacklists, more
humiliation for an esteemed institution. Banning thirteen writers in the
National Writers Union and Authors Guild accomplishes nothing, except
revenge. It won‚t persuade thousands of other writers in those
organizations to surrender the rights we‚ve just won. It won‚t disgrace
us among our peers. Our work can‚t be erased from databases now without
serious damage to your public trust. There are honorable ways to usher
the Times into a profitable future, and some of the best minds and
imaginations are right in your building. I can only speculate from my own
experience, but I think your editors will tell you that free lance
writers are not the enemy. I think they will tell you they need us.


Mary Kay Blakely, Associate Professor

Missouri School of Journalism

CC: Joseph Lelyveld, Executive Editor

Bill Keller, Managing Editor

Gerald Boyd, Deputy Managing Editor

John M. Geddes, Deputy Managine Editor

Soma Golden Behr, Assistant Managing Editor

Tom Bodkin, Assistant Managing Editor

Carolyn Lee, Assistant Managing Editor

Michael Oreskes, Assistant Managing Editor

Allan M. Siegal, Assistant Managing Editor

Craig R. Whitney, Assistant Managing Editor

Howell Raines, Editorial Page Editor

Here is Michaela Williams' original Times memo:

Memo from The Times

X-Sender: mickey@mailgate.nytimes.com

Date: Tue, 18 Sep 2001 17:07:03 -0400

To: "News Exec":;

From: Michaela Williams mickey@nytimes.com

Subject: Tasini plaintiffs

Sept. 18, 2001


I'm sending this list around again, just in case it didn't reach you
earlier. Please see that relevant assigning editors and backfield
editors and clerks get copies.

Our lawyers recommend that the newspaper not engage
any of the below named plaintiffs to write for the newspaper.

These are the original named plaintiffs in the Tasini lawsuit:

Jonathan Tasini

Barbara Belejack

Mary Kay Blakely

Barbara Garson

Daniel Lazare

Margot Mifflin

Joan Oleck

Sonia Jaffe Robbins

Lindsy Van Gelder

David S. Whitford

H. Bruce Franklin

Named plaintiffs in a class action suit filed by the
Authors Guild against The Times:

Derek Bell

Lynn Brenner

Thanks, Michaela

The creation of the blacklist has led co-plaintiff Jonathan Tasini, President of the National Writers Union, to recommend the course of action advised in a memo under his name to Blakely:

From: "National Writers Union"

To: "Mary Kay Blakely"

Subject: The New York Times Blacklist

Dear Mary Kay Blakely,

I thought The New York Times could not stoop lower.
First, they stole your work. Then, they tried to scare
and intimidate writers by demanding that they sign
away rights they we all won in the U.S. Supreme Court.

But, the Times has now gone even further: it has created
a blacklist. Several days ago, I was provided an internal
New York Times memo by a confidential source (the memo
is pasted below). In the memo circulated throughout
the top echelons of the newspaper, top Times editor,
Michaela Williams, writes that "our lawyers recommend
that the newspaper not engage any of the below named
plaintiffs to write for the newspaper." The memo then
lists all the original 11 plaintiffs in Tasini v. The
New York Times.

It is a sad day when the paper of record resorts to
the kinds of tactics that have left deep scars on the
soul of this country.

Here is what we must do RIGHT AWAY:

1. Send an e-mail to Michaela Williams at: mickey@nytimes.com
Express your outrage at The Times' action. Ask her
to justify such actions that remind us of the discredited
and immoral blacklists of the 1950s. Make the point
that blacklists are contrary to freedom of expression--the
ideal that all newspapers must live by.

Please send a copy of your e-mail to letters@nwu.org

2. Call the office of Arthur Sulzberger at 212-556-3588.
Convey the same message by phone that you sent via
e-mail to Williams.

3. Circulate this alert to other writers, websites
and listservs. Ask your colleagues to take action also.

We will suggest additional action in the next day or so.


Jonathan Tasini