In December 2002, I read two articles online from the Miami Herald about Dwight Owen Schweitzer. He was the editor and publisher of the now defunct The Jewish Star Times. He'd been arrested [but never prosecuted] for allegedly kicking a hooker, whom he had befriended three days before.
I laughed and laughed.
From Joan Fleischman's column in the December 7, 2002 Miami Herald [Dwight says many of the things in the below article are false]:
I remembered Schweitzer emailing Jim Romenesko to get him to remove his links to the Herald stories because they were defamatory. I thought Dwight was just trying to avoid bad publicity for his misdeeds.
Then I completely forgot about Dwight Owen Schweitzer until this weekend when I read he was suing the Miami Herald for defamation. I decided to interview him about his career in Jewish journalism and see if I could gently nudge the conversation towards the things that truly matter -- hookers.
We speak Sunday, August 29, 2004.
"When did you start your work in journalism?"
"I had limited experience in journalism when I was a lawyer. A client of mine was a publisher of a business magazine in Hartford, Connecticut, where Alberto Ibarguen [now publisher of the Miami Herald] and Willard Soper and I came from. In my early days at the Miami Herald, we were referred to as the Hartford Mafia. Alberto started as a legal aid lawyer when I was practicing law. Willard was a banker at Hartford National. Alberto left the law and went to work for Willard.
"Alberto left banking to go into journalism, going from The Hartford Courant to Newsday to El Nuevo Herald to publisher of the Miami Herald. Alberto hired Willard to run new business development for the Miami Herald. They had launched a newspaper called The Jewish Herald in November of 1999. The managing editor, Gerald Schwartz, quit four months later. Willard and I had been close friends for years. He called me from out of the blue in March 2000 discussing this Jewish newspaper. After half an hour, Willard says, I know it's crazy, Dwight, but how would you like to publish this thing? I then knew there was a God.
"I said, send me some issues and let me have a look at it. I was not impressed by what I saw. I sent him back a memo telling him about the type of paper I'd like to publish. I listed about 20 things I wanted to do with it.
"I had 16 interviews. I think everybody but the local proctologist interviewed me. There were people at the Herald. There were people from the Jewish community.
"I was so naive that I never thought of these as job interviews. They came to me. I didn't come to them. I thought I was being introduced around.
"The Jews understood it as a plus that I didn't know anybody in South Florida. The Gentiles didn't understand that."
Under Dwight's direction, the Jewish weekly lost about $20,000 the first year. "The ambitious plan we had put together to take the paper from serving a single county to a tri-county paper, and to a subscriber paper [was hurt when the Herald's president Joe Natoli became the publisher of the San Jose Mercury News]. There was nobody to steer the ship, to crack the whip. We lost a lot of money the second year, and did not become profitable until the last quarter of the third year. Then they decided to go out of the Jewish newspaper business.
"I had been invited to be on the editorial board of the Miami Herald and to syndicate my work through the Knight Ridder news service. I was writing about a lot of things, not just about Jewish issues.
"The Jewish Star Times [renamed from The Jewish Herald] is, to the best of my knowledge, the only weekly Jewish newspaper launched by a major daily paper.
"I started at the end of May 2000, and the last edition of the paper was December 13, 2002.
"We started out giving free home delivery to anyone who asked for it. About 28,000 asked for it. The bad news was that the Miami Herald charged us 11.5 cents for each delivered paper. That was an expensive bite to my bottom line. We decided to charge for delivery. We got about 6,000 people willing to pay for it.
"In the beginning we had in-paper delivery to targeted zipcodes with a high proportion of Jewish households and had racks all over north Dade. We also dropped off [free] copies to condominiums, gated communities...
"I had one full-time reporter and one part-time. I was able to recruit 14 people from the Jewish community who would write features for me [for free] every week on food, fashion, society... We had anywhere from 28-55 pages.
"I wanted to keep our ad/editorial ratio to no more than 50/50. The Jewish Journal [of South Florida] is about 70/30."
In winter, South Florida has about 750,000 Jews. "We're the second highest concentration of Jews in North America behind New York and ahead of LA.
"I had a mission for the paper. Because the paper was read by anyone who picked it up, I wanted to stress the commonalties between Jews and non-Jews. Second, I wanted Jews who read it to feel better about being Jewish. Third, I wanted non-Jews who read it to feel better about Jews. Fourth, I wanted to use the paper to introduce the Jewish community to itself. You would rarely see payos or fur hats in my paper.
"I wanted to give a personality to the paper. I felt that the best way to do that was through a "Message from the Publisher" column. It invariably appeared on page three. It had my picture. It ran the gamut from the profound to the ridiculous. I was acting as a talkshow host, giving a monologue at the beginning of the show.
"I wrote editorials. Alberto called me into his office one day and said, you can't write editorials. That was one of my 20 things on my initial laundry list. Alberto said, you are The Jewish Herald. People might think you are making editorial policy for the Miami Herald. But you can change the name of the paper.
"Without a moment's hesitation, I changed the name of the paper to The Jewish Star Times."
"What's been your level of Jewish observance?"
"It did bring me much closer to my Jewishness. I'm Reform. I was bar mitzvahed. I was confirmed. It was a remarkable introduction to my Jewishness coming down here. I was invited to Israel twice. I was invited to Taiwan to cover the Einstein exhibition. I was invited to see the former Jewish heritage in Spain. Spain was the least anti-Semitic country I've ever been to. Everyone wonders whether they are Jewish or not.
"A lot of people felt the Miami Herald was an anti-Semitic paper and that anything that was beneficial to Israel was shunted into this Jewish insert. I think the reason they decided to close The Jewish Star Times was that Alberto was jealous. He was running into me all over town. For somebody who didn't know anybody in the Jewish community in South Florida, my profile in a short time became large.
"Alberto told a story at a staff meeting that he in Hartford practiced law next door to me. While he was eating day-old bread, he'd walk out of our office building and see my Rolls Royce parked out front of the building. I asked myself why he would tell this story to the executives of the Miami Herald. Then it dawned on me much later that he told this story because I now worked for him. Then he began to realize that I wasn't working for him. The Jewish Star Times had a separate identity and was becoming a force in Jewish journalism. We scooped every newspaper in the country in finding out Sarah Hughes (figure skating gold medalist) was Jewish. It wound up on the front page of the Forward. We scooped every paper, Jewish or non-Jewish.
"As the paper got better, my relationship with Alberto Ibarguen got worse. When he made the statement that I quoted in that press release, that when I walked into that meeting and he said, 'I thought we hired a publisher and we wound up with a columnist,' I was dumbfounded. I would've thought that was a plus."
"When did the incidents occur that you are suing over?"
"In November, 2002, the month before the paper closed. As soon as it happened, I reported it to Willard. Not only did I tell him the story, I got an email from him a week later: 'Don't discuss this with anybody. You are on a paid leave of absence.' I had practiced law for 32 years. I told him that they had no basis to arrest me. And the case was going to be thrown out. The stories were fabrications of police reports that were fabrications. The police reports were fabricated because they were trying to protect a paid police informant [Cristine M. Brooks]. I knew her as a police informant.
"She had been brought to my house for an open house thing. We got to talking. She indicated she was an informant for the police department. At the party, some things got stolen. She called me the next day. She said she had contacts with the police. She could help me find [the stolen things] and get them back. What she was really doing was setting me up to use my apartment to bust a guy who was a dealer. That's what she did. That's what led to the incident. The whole story [that Dwight kicked her] was to protect her from retribution.
"When I walked in the door and found these strangers in my house, the police arrived within seconds. It was clearly a setup. I got caught in the middle."
"Did you know she was a prostitute?"
"No. It wasn't in my police report either. It was in her's. I think frankly it was just her cover. The story said she was staying at my house. She never stayed at my house. The police report didn't say that she stayed at my house."
"I remember when this story came out, I found it hysterically funny."
"I never got passed hysterical.
"Even if every word was true, why would my own paper [Miami Herald] publish it? My paper [The Jewish Star Times] is closing. The decision to close was made in October. One former executive at the Herald told me, after readint the story, that somebody must've been really pissed off at me. Otherwise, it wasn't news. It wasn't accurate. The police came after everything was over. There were no witnesses other than me and Christine."
"Was she dressed like a hooker?"
"Was she attractive?"
"Yes. I liked her. I make no apologies for it. She was smart, funny, and fun to be around. That was the extent of our relationship."
"Did you sleep with her?"
"I was pretty depressed about the paper closing and what my so-called friends had done to me and the way they had treated me... She had asked me to run down and get some cigarettes. In the ten minutes I was gone, she picked up my car and house key rings, and took off with my car. When I came back and saw she was gone, I didn't think much of it until I realized my car keys were gone too. I looked for my car. I found my car. I brought it back here with my spare key. I disabled my car. I came back to my apartment. She's already here with three people I've never seen before. I'm yelling, who are you people? What are you doing here? Get out of my house. They do."
"How did these articles affect your life?"
"You can't imagine. In every single conceivable way. When I've published 200 pieces that have appeared in newspapers from here to Taiwan, the only ones that appear on Google are the ones that other Web sites have put on Google. But you never see anything from the Miami Herald about anything that I wrote. Yet those two pieces are on every search engine that anybody could imagine. Any time someone Googles me, those two stories come up. Jewish men who are accused of kicking women are not popular.
"I came down here with a new wife who divorced me. I was in an automobile accident. I ruptured a disc in my back and tore a ligament in my knee. I'm trying to publish a newspaper where my staff is shrinking. Then this happens. I'm trying to put my life back together. The Sun Sentinel and I were in discussion about whether they would like to hire me. As soon as those things hit the press, I became a non-person.
"People who saw me who were great, dear, close friends would turn and look the other way. It was horrible. The jobs that were interested in me on Tuesday did not call me back on Thursday. I remember going to a Jewish Federation meeting and I saw a couple I adored and they adored me. I would have dinner at their house. When she saw me, she turned away. It was like I had betrayed a friendship. It just tore my heart out. It happened over and over again. Fifty, a hundred times, in one form or another.
"I wrote Ibarguen more than once and asked him to take those things off the Internet. He didn't reply. But he was able to make my press release about him disappear from his name's Google results within two days.
"Invitations that would be routine just stopped coming.
"My wife and I were in the midst of a divorce. My wife was bipolar. Being down here was not a good environment for her. She was Irish Catholic and she was not particularly embraced by the Jewish community. I was married to a beautiful young smart woman. I'm 61 and she's 34. We married in May 1999 after having gone together for seven years, since she was 22.
"We met in a restaurant. She was waiting for her ex-boyfriend. He was late. I'm chatting her up. She's drop dead gorgeous. I'm saying to myself, if I were only 20 years younger, I'd just love to take her out. When her ex-boyfriend finally showed up, I looked at him and he was my age. I thought, there is a God. The next day I sent her John Gotti's funeral bouquet.
"She went on to Wellesley on a full scholarship and graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She got a job with Smith Barney. When she was good, she was very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid. Down here, going to all these events in my capacity as publisher. Most of the people would be older. The wives would be looking at their husbands looking at my wife and wondering if Dwight can do it, maybe he can do it too.
"She had a drinking problem. She was on a lot of pills. The divorce just came through this year even though we've been separated for years.
"Since the paper folded, I've been writing but I haven't been paid for it. I've been working on two books. One is a novel about growing up in the '60s and the other is a more factual account of my life in the 1990s in Hartford. At the time of the crash in 1991, I was developing real estate. I was forced to go back to being a lawyer again after giving my practice away. For five or ten minutes, I was probably the largest developer of entry-level single-family housing in Connecticut.
"If the Herald is found guilty of defamation, and I think they're dead in the water, it raises the question of liability of the search engines."
"I can only imagine what this did to your dating life."
"I've been on the phone with someone and really liked them and they seem to like me and all of a sudden they're going back to their old boyfriend or they're not returning my calls."
"Would you say that about half of potential dates were affected by this?"
"More. Several people who dated me mentioned that they saw it and just couldn't believe it. 'It just seemed so incongruous that I had to meet you and talk to you about it.' But that is rare.
"I said to the police officer in the car, you have my career in the palm of your hand. When you write your report, add that she admitted that I didn't kick her. He said he would and he didn't.
"I was held over night and not booked until 4 p.m. I was with people who scared the living daylights out of me.
"Finding a lawyer down here who's going to sue the police is not easy. I wanted to include the police in the lawsuit because the police reports were false but then there's a question of privilege...
"I kept hoping the whole thing would go away but instead it kept biting me everywhere I turned.
"Finding a lawyer wasn't easy. The Miami Herald is the gorilla that sleeps wherever it wants.
"For the first six months after this happened, I was agoraphobic. Here was somebody who was being wined and dined by heads of state on Tuesday and was a hooker-beater on Thursday. I'm proud of what I've done with 99% of my life and to have that be the capstone was horrible."
"Should you have been able to tell she was a hooker?"
"No. And with all the time we spent together in those three days, which wasn't much, I'm not sure I would've cared. And down here with the way women dress, give me a break. You can walk down the street and take your choice. The governor's wife is on one side and who knows who is on the other and they're wearing the same dress or no dress. This is South Beach."
"Why did you stay in Miami after all this?"
"I didn't want to be seen as leaving with my tail between my legs. It would've seemed like an admission. It took me a while to believe that I had become a pariah in a community that had adored me. They loved the stuff I wrote. I'd run into people on the street who'd recognize me by virtue of my picture being in the paper. I had more speaking requests than I could handle. I co-hosted a luncheon with the German General Counsel at his request. It was a wonderful opportunity to give something back to my heritage.
"To then have this done to me by my paper, by people I thought of as my friends. I had known Alberto for 32 years. I had been his lawyer. When he had a problem, he came to me. I know this article was run by him before it was published. I didn't return Fleischman's calls because I knew if there wasn't any corroboration for the stories, they couldn't run them. The police had no information. They arrived when it was all over. Christine Brooks had gone to parts unknown. Yet Joan Fleischman wrote that story as if they were facts from in the police reports and then threw in her own quotation marks to make it look like her lies about me were lies by me. Yikes!"
When the paper closed, the Herald gave Schweitzer a generous settlement -- a week's pay for every two-and-a-half weeks he worked. And there was no severance clause in his contract. They didn't have to give him anything."
"How come South Florida can't support a good Jewish weekly?"
"Many of the people down here are transients. You've got every stripe, from ultra-Orthodox to Reform. They don't mix and mingle. They're spread out. You can't focus a newspaper geographically. Finding common denominators was tough. They're not intellectual here. While there were people who liked the paper, they were not the people who advertised. Selling advertising was a challenge, especially as I was in pain from my accident a lot of the time and driving was difficult."
"I remember in Orlando, I met some New York people who said, 'Who put the duh in Florida?'"
I graduated from the University of Hartford with a double major, one in History & Government, and the other in Philosophy finishing my degree requirements in 3.5 years. After an extensive tour of Europe I went on to earn a Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree from Vanderbilt University Law School in the top 25% of my class in 1968. My dissertation was a model state statutory framework to establish uniform state standards for regulating all aspects of electronic surveillance.
Work & Experience:
After graduating from Law School, I joined Neighborhood Legal Services of Hartford as a senior staff attorney serving indigent persons and families in various civil matters for two years. I was nationally recognized for my work by the Legal Services Corporation, headed at the time by Donald Rumsfeld, now Secretary of Defense in the Bush Administration. I then went into private practice with my father. a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School.
Shortly thereafter I was hired by Ralph Nader to oppose the takeover of The Hartford Fire Insurance Company and its subsidiaries by the ITT Corporation, at the time the largest private anti-trust case in American history. The first deposition I took as a lawyer was of Harold Geneen, CEO & Chairman of ITT, and one aspect of the case went up for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States. I remained in private practice until late May of 2000.
In 1988 I formed and headed a real estate development company developing raw land into single family detached entry level housing and other building projects including $8 million dollars of government sponsored single and multi-family housing in the late 1980's through the early 1990's). In that capacity I ran an organization of 12 full time employees and at any given time 30 to 40 sub-contractors.
For a short time in 1986, at the request of a client, I served as the Publisher of a monthly magazine variously named Greater Hartford Business and later, Metro Hartford Business.
During my legal career I participated in various significant cases and have several precedents yet to be overruled. At various times I also served as Associate Editor of the Connecticut Bar Journal, represented the student government of C. Ct. St. Univ., and served as Legislative Counsel for the Connecticut Consumers Association.
In May of 2000, at the request of the President of the Miami Herald Publishing Company, I accepted the position of Editor and Publisher of their weekly community newspaper aimed at the Jewish community of Dade County. Shortly after my arrival I was asked by Alberto Ibarguen, Publisher of the Miami Herald and Tom Fiedler, Editorial Page editor, to serve on the Editorial Board of the Miami Herald. As Editor and Publisher I took full responsibility for all aspects of the paper including design, layout, content, format, sales, community relations and management of the business. I took circulation of The Jewish Star Times from 35,000 and one county when I began, to a high of 125,000 and three counties (Miami-Dade, Broward and South Palm Beach).
When I arrived the paper was losing $4,000.00 per week. After I took over management in June of 2000 through the last quarter of 2002 revenues over expenses turned around by almost $400,000.00 and during it's final quarter in 2002 the paper showed a profit of over $45,000.00 against a projected loss of $15,000.00.
I was asked by Knight Ridder to syndicate my work through their News Service in 2002 and hits to our web site went from about 5000 per month when I began to almost 100,000 by November 2002, the last month of tabulation. The paper closed in December of 2002 as a part of a reorganization of the Miami Herald Publishing Company.
During my tenure there I was able to recruit 14 members of the Jewish community to write features for the paper weekly and for free and when I was requested by the Knight Ridder news service to submit my work for international syndication it was estimated that at any given week my readership world wide was in excess of 2,000,000 readers.
I am a co-founder and developer of the "South Park Inn", a homeless shelter in Hartford, CT. In that capacity I took primary responsibility for raising the funds and negotiating the contracts to rehabilitate an old church into a shelter for the homeless, feeding and housing up to160 needy people of all ages, and brought it in under budget and ahead of schedule. I have served as regional coordinator of the Connecticut Bar Associations' speakers committee on Drugs and Drug Abuse. I also served at the request of the Governor on the State of Connecticut Privatization Commission of the Connecticut General Assembly, and I have been a consultant to the Community Renewal Team of Greater Hartford on Capital formation and promoting economic development within the inner city.
On several occasions over the years I have been invited to be a guest editorial writer for the Hartford Courant. I also hosted a program called "Issues and Our Times", on “WDRC“ AM & FM radio as a public affairs commentator. I have served as a member of the Greater Hartford Community Council and on numerous boards and committees of businesses and not for profit organizations during my legal career. I have served on the board of the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, and remain an internationally syndicated columnist of the Knight Ridder News Service.
Political Involvement and Activities:
Early in my career I served as legal counsel to Congressman Emilio Q. Daddario, then candidate for Governor of the State of Connecticut. Some years later I was asked to serve as an aid to the Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee at both the Mondale and Dukakis Democratic National Conventions. I was the endorsed candidate of the Democratic Party of the state of Connecticut for the state legislature once, and for State Senator twice. During the latter campaign I ran on the same ticket with Joseph Lieberman in his first bid for the United States Senate. At Ohio Senator John Glenn’s request I served as Connecticut Coordinator of his presidential campaign and on his National Policy Committee.
I was a personal invitee of then Governor William Jefferson Clinton to his first nominating convention and was his guest at his subsequent inauguration as President of the United States.
My hobbies include tennis, sailing, skiing, skeet shooting; I collect antiques, I ride horses on occasion and am a certified open water scuba diver. I am an avid reader, requested speaker and writer on politics and world affairs. I particularly enjoy reading historical fiction, writing poetry and am a published author and poet. I am also a lecturer on a wide range of topics and a motivational speaker. I have two children, Alexander 20, and Elizabeth 17.