By Jack Healy
- Aug. 12, 2022
ASPEN, Colo. — Summers in Aspen are usually a breezy idyll of sunny hikes and ice-cream socials, a season when rich tourists fly in to attend jazz festivals and soak up mountain views from their $1,000-a-night hotel rooms.
But, lately, a tangled saga of wealth and the free press has become Aspen’s summer obsession. It erupted after a wealthy real-estate developer sued The Aspen Times, the town’s oldest newspaper, for libel last spring, saying that the paper defamed him and falsely referred to him as a Russian oligarch in the charged days after Russia invaded Ukraine.
A lawsuit by a powerful out-of-town developer might have been big news for the 140-year-old Aspen Times. The paper is a beloved institution that has chronicled scandals and squabbles from Aspen’s silver-mining days through its transformation into a gilded skiing and cultural mecca in the Rockies.
But former staff members say the paper’s corporate owners, a West Virginia-based newspaper chain, did not allow The Aspen Times to write about the libel lawsuit and blocked other pieces about the developer, Vladislav Doronin, from running as the two sides negotiated a settlement. The lawsuit was settled in May.
The Aspen Times’s publisher and corporate leaders say they have not censored any coverage. But the episode demoralized the newsroom and brought criticism around Aspen that the paper’s owners had been cowed by a developer. One editor quit. Another editor was fired after running opinion columns about what happened.