You thought Thanksgiving dinner with your relatives was unpleasant?
A retired columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News has won a defamation lawsuit he filed against his former employer and co-workers after what was either the best — or worst — retirement party ever, depending on your point of view.
A jury in Philly last week awarded Stu Bykofsky $45,000 in compensation for “emotional distress” after a going-away party in 2019 at which one of his former co-workers accused Bykofsky of having “a taste for child prostitutes.”
I don’t know how I missed this story when it first happened, because it’s off the chain.
Bykofsky was a newspaper columnist in the Irv Kupcinet/Mike Royko mold — punchy, pithy, crusty, plain-spoken — who retired after 47 years.
Depending on your point of view, Bykofsky, now 81, was either the voice of the silent majority who took on creeps and politically correct wimps; or a stuck-in-his-ways, reactionary crank. (In 2007, he wrote a column in which he declared critics of the Iraq war were chattering “chipmunks” and suggested that the country needed another 9/11 “to restore America’s righteous rage and singular purpose to prevail.”)
From an interview he gave to Philadelphia magazine at the time of his retirement, it sounded as if the decision to leave the newspaper wasn’t entirely his.
Anywho, back in 2019, they held a retirement party for him in the newsroom shared by the Daily News and its sister paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer. For reasons best understood by God and, maybe, Gritty, they invited the Inquirer’s architecture critic, Inga Saffron, to say a few words.
Saffron and Bykofsky hate each other. Among other things, Bykofsky has frequently complained about bicycles and bike lanes. Saffron is an avid cyclist.
She began her remarks noting that she hadn’t spoken to Bykofsky in at least 10 years. It went downhill from there.
By the end of her speech, Bykofsky was shouting at Saffron, rolling his eyes and slapping his forehead in disgust.
He referred to her remarks as a “sack of shit,” which is exactly what you want to say to your co-worker before everyone sits down for cupcakes and fruit punch in the break room.
“Now, I want all of you to enjoy your cake. So. Enjoy.”
The “child prostitutes” remark stems from a notorious 2011 Bykofsky column recounting the “dark side” of a trip he took to Thailand in which he marveled at the apparent youthfulness of the sex workers, writing that they looked like they should have been going to Toys R Us, not walking the streets.
Video of the newsroom soiree was leaked to Philadelphia magazine … by Bykofsky’s girlfriend.
Testifying in court, Saffron called the column a “how-to primer on how to hire a prostitute in Thailand.”
The jury also awarded a separate $1,000 judgement against Saffron personally.
There are so many questions that spring to mind, such as —
- Who invited Saffron to talk, knowing that she hated Bykofsky?
- Why didn’t she say no?
- If she felt compelled to talk, why not simply be kind and say, “We didn’t agree on anything, but good luck on your retirement”?
- What, exactly, is wrong with all of these people?
To his credit, Bykofsky was gracious in victory. He called Saffron “smug,” “self-righteous” and a “big fat liar.”
At least he’s not bitter.
The parent company of the newspapers is now counter-suing Bykofsky. They’re accusing him of violating a non-disparagement clause in his retirement package.
Now, that sounds like a fun place to work. Maybe that’s why one of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s editors just quit to join the relative peace and quiet of the, uh, currently on-strike Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.