In the face of a threatened lawsuit, the Wall Street Journal yesterday stood behind its story suggesting that the possibility of Reggie Lewis' fatal heart attack being caused by cocaine use was covered up.
"We remain confident that the article was fair and accurate," managing editor Paul Steiger said after Boston Celtics chairman Paul Gaston announced the team plans to sue the newspaper for $100 million because of the story, written by Ron Suskind.
Gaston said Suskind would be included in the suit. The reporter refused to comment at the Journal's office in Washington, where he was assigned in November.
He had worked in the newspaper's Boston office for the previousthree years and before that was editor of the Boston Business Journal.
Suskind, 35, has bachelor's and graduate degrees from the University of Virginia. Last May, he wrote an award-winning article on the effort of inner-city youths to gain entrance into college. He followed it up in September with a sympathetic article on the experience of Cedric Jennings, who had enrolled at MIT.
An official in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal cited those articles in rebutting Gaston's contention that the story was racially motivated.
He also dismissed the suggestion by a few commentators that the story was timed to coincide with the plan to raise Lewis' jersey to the Garden rafters March 22. "We ran it when it was ready," he said.
The Journal placed the story at the top of Page 1. In a rarity for the Journal, the inside package, which spanned two pages, included five photos of Lewis plus a copy of his death certificate. The newspaper's daily circulation of 1.8 million includes 74,000 in Massachusetts.
When Craig Mustard began discussing the case yesterday on radio station WEEI, few of his callers had read the story. Many were indignant. Later during his four-hour show, the consensus changed, with several season ticket-holders saying they now will not attend the game at the Garden when Lewis' memory is honored.
Eddie Andelman, who took over at 2 p.m. for four hours, said he would not attend the ceremony unless evidence turns up favorable to Lewis.
Boston's television newscasts led with the story at noon and in the early evening, and the new twist on the Lewis tragedy was the only topic all day on WEEI.
The TV outlets also covered Gaston's afternoon press conference live, but only Channel 25 and New England Cable News stayed to the end, when Gaston strode away as reporters shouted questions.