PHILADELPHIA (CN) – In the latest chapter of a long-running drama, Philadelphia’s former housing chief claims the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News targeted him in a yearlong campaign of defamation that “destroyed a hard fought and brilliant professional career.”
Carl Greene was fired in September 2010 from his job as the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s executive director amid allegations that he sexually harassed female subordinates.
Greene claims the campaign of defamation was executed through 246 articles, all of which he appended as exhibits to a 28-page complaint against the newspapers’ owner, Philadelphia Media Network, in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas.
Among his gripes are that an editorial that criticized Greene for hiring belly dancers for a PHA “diversity event … crudely, and with patent bias and prejudice, maliciously condemned the rich and age-old tradition of belly dancing, demonstrating a lack of sensitivity or understanding of the diversity of Philadelphia.”
The highly regarded Inquirer has won 18 Pulitzer Prizes. But 2010 was not a good one for the Inquirer and its sister paper, the Daily News, which spent the year in the throes of bankruptcy proceedings. Advertising revenues had tanked, the papers’ owner owed creditors hundreds of millions of dollars, and the newspapers were sold to senior lenders for about $139 million in a September bankruptcy auction.
Greene claims that it was against this backdrop that “In a desperate attempt to make the newspapers relevant and attractive to auction bidders and to generate much needed readership and revenue, the Inquirer and the Daily News set their sights on Carl R. Greene.”
Greene the newspapers of “abusive muckraking attacks” that “amount to commercial disparagement and trade libel and constitute the most pernicious form of malicious and groundless defamation.”
He adds, “That attack continues – unabated – today.”
Greene claims the newspapers executed this “onslaught” of defamation through the 246 articles about him, all of which, he says, “omit key facts, present information in a false or misleading way, and fail to give the public a fair and balanced report.”
He claims that taken as a whole, the articles falsely depict him as a corrupt, abusive despot who engaged in vast misappropriation of taxpayer dollars.
“For nearly a year, the Inquirer and the Daily News selectively reported about PHA events, nonprofit organizations, and decisions made during Mr. Greene’s tenure, intent on fueling their readers to believe that the newspapers had uncovered a criminal conspiracy, without regard to the true facts surrounding those incidents or events,” according to the complaint.
He adds: “The defendants have stopped at nothing to portray Mr. Greene as an incompetent, corrupt, and ineffective manager to sell more newspapers.”
Green says the defamation didn’t end when he was fired in September 2010. Even afterward, he says, “the Inquirer and the Daily News nevertheless continued to vilify his overall performance as PHA’s executive director through the series of articles referred to herein as ‘the Greene series.'”
Greene says the articles wrongly accuse him of a laundry list of improprieties, including unilaterally removing checks on his administrative power, terminating Housing Authority police officers to stymie an investigation into stolen building materials, and diverting funds from landlords participating in a subsidized housing program.
The defamatory articles contain a “pattern of non-sequiturs,” in which the newspapers report on old events in an opportunistic effort to pile on the already scandal-wracked housing chief, according to the complaint.
He claims that in November 2010, for instance, the Daily News published “one of its most inflammatory and fabricated reports,” under the headline: “How PHA Killed Mildred Barnes.”
Greene says that story reported that a Housing Authority tenant died in an abandoned PHA building as it was being demolished in 2005, and that Greene settled a lawsuit from the woman’s estate because he did not want to “‘taint his legacy,’ because under his leadership, ‘secrets were easier, tidier.'”
Greene claims: “There was no legitimate or newsworthy reason to rehash the circumstances of this unfortunate incident that the PHA had resolved with the family. In fact, the story was nothing more than a malicious attempt to blame Mr. Greene for a tenant’s death that occurred over six years earlier.”
The next month, Greene says, the Inquirer “selectively reported” that PHA managers, at Green’s direction, had hired belly dancers for a 2006 “diversity event.” That article, headlined, “Shaking their hips on the PHA’s tab,” included “a photograph of Mr. Greene and several professional dancers to suggest improper conduct or behavior by Mr. Greene, if not to ridicule him,” according to the complaint.
Two days later the Inquirer’s editorial board issued “a statement further condemning the event and also ridiculing the cultural art of belly dancing,” Greene says.
In that article, “The editorial board crudely, and with patent bias and prejudice, maliciously condemned the rich and age-old tradition of belly dancing, demonstrating a lack of sensitivity or understanding of the diversity of Philadelphia,” the complaint states.
Greene says the Daily News threw him under the bus again in reports on an annual retreat held for PHA workers in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains.
One piece “falsely reported that PHA staffers ate ‘rich foods,’ gourmet meals, foie gras, and other delicacies, and were treated to pharmacy items and candy at Mr. Greene’s direction,” the complaint states. “The article barely mentioned that the retreats served a purpose, and failed to note that retreats are in fact common in corporate governance and management models throughout the country.”
Greene claims that piece was part of a series “intended only to inflame the reader and destroy Mr. Greene’s reputation.”
Greene seeks punitive damages for defamation, invasion of privacy and commercial disparagement.
He is represented by Clifford Haines.
Philadelphia Newspapers did not immediately return a call requesting comment.