I’ve been away on business for most of the last week, so haven’t been posting, or even keeping up much with the news, so I’m late to the game with the latest of the Donald Rosenberg/Cleveland Orchestra saga. You will remember that Rosenberg was the Cleveland Plain Dealer music critic who covered the Cleveland Orchestra for years. This Fall he was reassigned by the PD editor Susan Goldberg to general arts reporting, and the plum orchestra assignment was awarded to Zachary Lewis, a former intern. There has been general speculation that Rosenberg was reassigned because of his relentlessly negative writing about the performances of the orchestra’s music director, Franz Welser-Möst.
On December 11, both the Plain Dealer and Daniel Wakin in the New York Times reported that Rosenberg has now filed a lawsuit against the management of the Cleveland Orchestra, the Musical Arts Association (the orchestra’s parent organization), and the Plain Dealer for defamation, as well as age discrimination. He is asking at least $50,000 in punitive damages. He claims that the orchestra has a vendetta against him because of his reviews. It should be noted that Rosenberg is the author of the definitive history of the Cleveland Orchestra.
As one might expect, a lawyer for the orchestra made some comments in defense:
“It’s a funny grievance coming from a lifetime reporter, that the people that he writes about have an obligation to stay silent,” said Robert Duvin, a lawyer for the orchestra. “We don’t have the same platform, so what we have to do is write letters or have meetings. You guys get to publish every day, and bring the hammer down as often as you want to on anybody you want to.”
Mr. Duvin said he could not address the specifics of Mr. Rosenberg’s lawsuit. But assuming it were true that orchestra officials had urged his dismissal, he said, “So what?”
“I consider what he wrote to be the equivalent of urging the removal of the music director of the Cleveland Orchestra,” Mr. Duvin said. “There are many people who considered his relentless negative assessment, when contrasted with worldwide praise, to be personal, petty and vindictive.”
This seems, frankly, like quite a clever money grab on Rosenberg’s part: the $50K damages sought is a small enough amount that it will be cheaper for the PD and Orchestra to settle and shut him up, no matter how trivial the complaint, despite the fact that he would be unlikely to prevail in court. It is an employer’s prerogative to reassign an employee to new tasks for any reason, or no reason at all. In fact, in the current economic climate, one might speculate that a second music and arts critic at the Plain Dealer is lucky to still have any job. Rosenberg claims that his right of free speech has been curtailed. Not really–again, as an employee–especially as a critic–for the Plain Dealer, he is subject to whatever the editorial policies that the newspaper deems appropriate. He may think that he will embarrass the Orchestra, but, in fact, he only diminishes his own stature by this trivial and petty action.
There is also a feature story in the December 2008 Gramophone magazine, the U.K. music journal about the Rosernberg matter. (Sorry, it doesn’t seem to be available online.) The article has quite a balanced review of the events to date, and notes that the fact that the reviews by Zachary Lewis this season have also contained negative remarks, which leads one to believe that the PD editor did have other reasons for reassigning Rosenberg. It is ironic that it is the same issue that includes an article listing the Cleveland Orchestra among the top 20 orchestras in the world.