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'Twas down and
truly dirty at Billboard

So says suit filed by ousted editors of music trade

   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 dishonesty.
   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 their departure.
   But their suit contends their ouster followed  months of tense confrontations with Billboard and VNU executives over the direction of the publication. 
  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 million.
  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 was fired.
   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 VNU’s 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 promotion.
   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, that’s 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 other people.
   Billboard staffers are said to have begun buzzing about a sexual relationship between Girard and Chang almost immediately upon Chang’s hiring in September 2003, saying that was the only reason she received the job.
   Billboard’s 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 having existed.
   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.

June 24, 2004 2004 Media Life

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