Bad news News

Jul 30, 2003 at 12:00 am

Detroit News top brass is ducking questions about two veteran journalists who have been quietly canned. One of the two admits his firing was due to an ethics breach, but won’t disclose what he did wrong. The other would neither confirm nor deny that ethical questions played a role in his firing.

Columnist George Cantor, who would have celebrated his 40th anniversary as a writer for Detroit dailies this year, was sent packing July 15. Asked straight out by News Hits whether management cited an “ethical concern” as the reason for dismissing him, Cantor replies, “I can’t go into that.”

The West Bloomfield resident started as a baseball writer for the Free Press in ’63, and switched over to the News 26 years ago. A talented writer (although too much of an elitist and conservative for our tastes), Cantor wrote 16 books and garnered lots of mail with his Saturday column, which the News canceled earlier this year when they switched him to the editorial page.

Cantor’s daughter made tragic national news in 1998 when she fell to her death from a U-M dorm room after she’d been drugged with GHB at a frat party; blood tests found she was not drunk. Since then, Cantor’s had a rough run of it: he sued the university and others linked to the death, contracted prostate cancer, and, two weeks before he was fired, his father died. “I’ve felt better,” says Cantor, who wouldn’t rule out a lawsuit and says he’s weighing his options for the future.

Meanwhile, Alan Stamm, a 27-year News vet who spent the last decade-plus as assistant city editor working crappy weekend shifts, was also pink slipped in recent weeks.

“I was discharged for an ethical reason,” admits Stamm. Sources tell News Hits he was fired for grabbing freebies such as DVDs and CDs, which are regularly mailed to publications in an attempt to garner coverage (stuff that News Hits hoards like fine silver). The News periodically sells accumulated swag to staffers and gives the funds to charity. Stamm won’t address the allegation directly, but does say, “If that’s what I was fired for, then it should serve as a warning to others.” Then he adds: “I can’t challenge the facts, but the punishment was too harsh.”

Considering the supposed infraction, and the length of time Stamm served, a cynic might think there was other motivation for letting him go, like maybe cutting loose a fat paycheck. Et tu, Mr. Cantor? We do know that other long-time Newsies are nervously looking over their shoulders.

“It reminds you why unions are good,” says Stamm, a manager who stayed loyal to his paper during the strike.

News publisher and editor Mark Silverman didn’t return calls seeking comment on the firings. Just what we love, Mark, a newspaper publisher who ducks the tough questions. Keep up the good work.

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