Stu Bykofsky, a former columnist for The Inquirer, has sued the newspaper’s parent company and its columnist Inga Saffron, saying she made false and defamatory comments about him at his newsroom retirement send-off last year.
A confrontation during the event between Bykofsky and Saffron, The Inquirer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic, was recorded on video. The incident quickly became the subject of news reports by various outlets, including Philadelphia Magazine, the Washington Post, Daily Mail UK, and the Washington Examiner, causing “extreme embarrassment and irreparable harm to Mr. Bykofsky’s reputation,” the lawsuit says.
The Inquirer published no accounts of the event.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages against The Inquirer and Saffron, but does not provide specific amounts.
Inquirer editor and vice president Gabriel Escobar declined to comment on the lawsuit, as did Saffron.
“The company policy is not to comment on ongoing litigation involving The Inquirer and its employees,” Inquirer spokesperson Evan Benn said.
On the video, Saffron, a bicycling proponent, criticizes Bykofsky for how he covered issues related to bicycling in Philadelphia, prompting a heated response from Bykofsky, who accuses her of lying. Other staffers can be seen nervously smiling or appearing uncomfortable. Saffron also talks about Bykofsky coming from an era of newspapers dominated by men — describing him as “a newspaperman, not a journalist.”
“With his leaving, I hope we are getting a little further away from that unfortunate time,” Saffron says.
After Saffron concludes, Bykofsky angrily says: “Half the things she said were lies."
The eight-page complaint, filed Wednesday in Common Pleas Court, says the July 12, 2019, event “should have been a joyous one with positive memories” for Bykofsky, who had worked for the Daily News and The Inquirer since 1972. But Saffron "commenced and concluded a tirade against him, falsely and maliciously accusing him of sexual immorality and criminal conduct, including engaging in child prostitution,” the complaint said.
In her recorded comments, Saffron highlighted a column Bykofsky wrote that was published by the Daily News in 2011, which she called “the infamous column about his taste for child prostitutes in Thailand.”
That column detailed a trip to Thailand by Bykofsky. “If the No. 1 industry isn’t catering to sexual tourists, I don’t know what is,” Bykofsky wrote. “Prostitution is terrible; poverty may be worse.”
The lawsuit said Bykofsky “strongly articulates his disapproval [of] the practice of child prostitution” in the column, “referring to prostitution as ‘terrible’ and that it ‘makes me feel bad.’”
About 60 people attended the send-off, according to the complaint, including Escobar; his predecessor as editor, William K. Marimow; and executive editor and senior vice president Stan Wischnowski. Those company leaders, the lawsuit says, “did nothing to restrain, cut off or otherwise abate Ms. Saffron’s tirade.”