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Fired Reporter Denies Telling Colleagues' Wives About Alleged Affairs

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 9, 2005; Page C01

The New York Times is not always the most collegial place to work, but this story sets a new standard -- if the allegations are true, which remains in dispute.

The Times has fired Susan Sachs, its former Baghdad bureau chief. According to Times sources who insisted on anonymity because personnel matters are involved, the paper's management accused Sachs of writing to the wives of two other Times foreign correspondents, to say that their husbands were having affairs.

Sachs denied to management that she had written the letters, but she was accused of not telling the truth based on electronic information involving at least one follow-up e-mail she is said to have written, the sources said.

Sachs said earlier this week from Paris that she is determined "to clear my name" and get her job back.

"I absolutely deny, in the strongest terms possible, the accusations raised against me by the Times. I am totally innocent and I am fortunate that friends and colleagues who have known me and worked with me during my 32 unblemished years in journalism, are supporting me.

"The accusations have nothing whatsoever to do with the credibility of my writing, reporting and journalism, and I want to emphasize that during my long career, my personal honesty and my integrity have never been questioned. I am pained that the Times took the action it did, and I am confident that in arbitration or through other legal means, my absolute innocence in this matter will be confirmed and I will return to the job I love."

The paper declined to comment.

"We don't talk about individual personnel matters," said Executive Editor Bill Keller. The two foreign correspondents involved -- whom The Washington Post is not naming because the truth of the matter could not be verified -- did not respond to attempts to contact them by e-mail.

The Newspaper Guild is representing Sachs, who has worked for the paper since 1998, in her attempt to regain her job. "We believe in her," said Guild officer Bob Townsend.

Corporations have occasionally dealt with executives having affairs with subordinates, most recently in the case of Boeing's Harry Stonecipher, who was dismissed as chief executive after admitting a romantic relationship with a manager at the company. But allegations about one employee notifying the spouse of another about alleged extramarital activity -- and whether such a warning should be viewed as the betrayal of a colleague -- have rarely if ever been publicly debated.

Sachs, who previously had been a Newsday correspondent in Moscow and the Middle East, wrote a number of important stories for the Times from Iraq. When U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein, she filed the front-page dispatch.

But Sachs ran into difficulties with other Times staffers in Iraq soon after the paper sent her to run the Baghdad bureau in October 2003. The Wall Street Journal reported that she had clashed with one correspondent who was carrying a gun for his personal safety. A "person close to" Sachs "says she objects to what she perceives as the Times becoming 'too armed,' " the Journal reported.

The New York Observer reported in January 2004 that the disagreements had grown personal. Citing a meeting involving the visiting foreign editor, the Observer said: "As evidence of the growing mistrust among Times Baghdad staffers, the beleaguered Ms. Sachs pulled out a tape recorder, demanding that the conversation be recorded."

The situation was defused last spring when the Times transferred Sachs to Istanbul. Her last story ran on March 13.

In an effort to disprove the accusation about the letters to colleagues' spouses, Sachs and her lawyer have taken one additional step.

"I have taken a polygraph test in which I denied any knowledge or involvement with the issues raised by the Times, and I passed with flying colors," she said. Sachs declined to comment on electronic evidence in the case "that we have not seen." If she cannot resolve her firing through arbitration, Sachs said, the case "will go to court."

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