This is probably not the time to joke about Billboard magazine
having to face the music.
But to say the least a lawsuit filed yesterday in a Manhattan court isn't
going to score well with parent VNU's top executives in the Netherlands. Or with the
spouses of several company executives.
Trade publishing was long legendary as a hotbed of crooked journalism and generally
slimy characters, and no more so was it true than among the entertainment trades.
Yesterday's lawsuit, filed by two ousted editors of Billboard, contends such
practices still flourish at the music trade, or did until they were kicked out last month.
The suit papers, filed for former editor in chief Keith Girard and former
senior editor Samantha Chang, describe widespread sexual hanky-panky among top Billboard
executives, sexual and racial harassment, editorial interference aimed at pleasing
powerful advertisers, and a generally distasteful work environment of backstabbing and
The pair is seeking $29 million in damages.
Billboard is not commenting on the suit, which was filed in New York State
Supreme Court. The suit names Billboard publisher John Kilcullen, executive editor Ken
Schlager and VNU chief operating officer Howard Lander, among others.
Just a month ago, on May 24, Girard and Chang were summarily canned,
and each was escorted from the building. Girard had joined the publication a year earlier
following the death of editor in chief Tim White. Chang came on later, also arriving from
Investment News, where she had worked with Girard.
At the time the pair left Billboard, neither side was saying what led to
But their suit contends their ouster followed months of tense
confrontations with Billboard and VNU executives over the direction of the
The lawsuit alleges that Girard and Chang found themselves in a newsroom
culture in which corporate management readily sacrificed editorial integrity for the sake
of financial interests, [and] sexual philandering among senior and junior-level staff
members was not only condoned but encouraged.
Among the allegations is that Kilcullen butted into editorial matters in an
effort to placate advertisers, despite having told Girard he would have complete authority
over such matters.
The trouble began in early April, when Billboard ran a one-page story about
the legal troubles of Warner Music Group chairman Lyor Cohen.
Cohen objected, and in May, Kilcullen informed Girard that he was no
longer to publish editorials, editorial cartoons, articles or features that might
piss off major record companies and cause a loss of advertising revenue for
Billboard, the suit alleges. The magazine was feeling huge financial pressures,
having seen its subscriber base shrink by half. It was also running in the red by some $4
Kilcullen reportedly sent the following email to Girard: I want you to avoid writing provocative headlines or
employing photos and cartoons that are not in the best interest of BIG
[Billboard Information Group]. I need to review and approve front cover headlines and
photos, cartoons and editorials.
At that point, Kilcullen allegedly told Girard his job was on the line if he
persisted in running stories that irked advertisers, and it was shortly after that Girard
Other allegations in the suit papers are considerably juicier.
According to the court documents, Schlager kept a phallic green vibrator in
his office and showed it to Chang on at least one occasion, even turning it on to
demonstrate that the batteries still worked.
Schlager, who is married, is also said to have made a pass at Billboard staff
writer Carla Hay at a Beverly Hills music conference.
According to the suit, Schlager told Hay, I have something to show you
in my hotel room. Hay understood the salacious nature of the comment and reported it
to VNUs human resources department, but no follow-up ever occurred.
Schlager is further accused of engaging in sexual horseplay with a
subordinate female staff member during a business trip to Los Angeles.
This reported incident took place in the presence and full view of
other VNU employees, says the filing. The staffer in question later received a
The suit fingers Kilcullen for inappropriate sexual behavior with the same
employee at a trade conference in Cannes, France.
The documents also roast Lander. He is said to have indulged in ongoing
sexual relationships at various times with at least two subordinate female staff members,
despite being married.
Beyond characterizing the Billboard office as sexually inappropriate, the
lawsuit filed by Girard and Chang portrays it as openly racist.
At weekly Billboard editorial meetings, whenever a news item [or] other
issue involving Asia came up, it became a running joke among Schlager and/or others to
comment that oh, thats something for Samantha to handle, usually causing
laughter among the staff.
The documents also addressed long-standing office rumors of an affair between
Girard and Chang, calling them unsubstantiated and false. Both are married to
Billboard staffers are said to have begun buzzing about a sexual relationship
between Girard and Chang almost immediately upon Changs hiring in September 2003,
saying that was the only reason she received the job.
Billboards human resources department apparently believed the
whisperings, eventually forcing Chang to report to Schlager instead of Girard. This
occurred despite frequent and adamant denials by both parties of a relationship ever
The pair is said to have attempted a settlement with VNU before filing the
lawsuit, to no avail.
VNU reportedly offered Girard 15 weeks pay as severance, while Chang
was offered only two weeks pay.
When Girard and Chang said the offer was unacceptable, the company reportedly
challenged them to sue.