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Did Rudy say Safir goofed?

May 22, 1996

Daily News publisher Mortimer Zuckerman said yesterday that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Police Commissioner Howard Safir had privately assured him that Safir's barring of a Daily News reporter at a police briefing was a "mistake" and would not happen again.

Zuckerman made his remarks to a group known as the First Amendment Leaders Forum at a breakfast at the Regency Hotel. Four participants contacted by Newsday confirmed Zuckerman's remarks.

It was not initially apparent why this great defender of the First Amendment never told his staff of the mayor's remarks to him, or printed them in the Daily News.

Both the barred reporter, John Marzulli, and the Daily News' editor-in-chief, Martin Dunn, said they had never heard about the mayor's or the police commissioner's purported remarks to Zuckerman.

An indication of why this was so appeared to come late yesterday afternoon when, in response to reporters' questions, Giuliani press secretary Colleen Roche said that "in between the time of the incident surrounding a private briefing in Safir's office and today at 5:15 p.m., the mayor never had a conversation with Mort Zuckerman."

Roche added that, "The first time the mayor had any conversation with Zuckerman came at 5:15 when Zuckerman called the mayor from an airplane. During that conversation, the mayor at least three times reiterated his complete support for Howard Safir and the way he conducts private briefings in his private office."

In a telephone interview yesterday evening after he learned of the mayor's denials, Zuckerman said, "What I said was that Giuliani spoke to us, meaning the Daily News. I didn't mean me personally. He spoke to Michael Goodwin."

Printable versionGoodwin, the editor of the News' editorial pages, declined to comment.

Asked about Safir's comments to Zuckerman on the issue, Deputy Police Commissioner Marilyn Mode said she would "check it out" but did not respond further.

The incident in question occurred two weeks ago when Mode, who is Safir's spokeswoman, barred Marzulli from a news briefing in Safir's office at One Police Plaza. Police sources said Safir had been offended by Marzulli's quoting former Deputy Commissioner John Timoney, who had called Safir a "lightweight." The next day the mayor defended Safir, saying he would bar certain reporters from City Hall news conferences if he could. Safir said he didn't believe anything written in the newspapers.

Yesterday, Zuckerman told about 50 people at the First Amendment Forum, sponsored by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, of Giuliani's and Safir's purported remarks to him in which both appeared to acknowledge that they erred.

The essence of Zuckerman's remarks was confirmed to Newsday by WNBC-TV reporter Gabe Pressman and others.

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© 1996 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.