The Anatomy of a Sliming: Bigtrial.net’s Reporting on The Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted: December 13, 2013 in Contemporary Commentary
Tags: , , , , ,

Hardly had the dust cleared from editor Bill Marimow’s triumphant return to the newsroom of The Philadelphia Inquirer, than a contrarian story arose from bigtrial.net and one of its ace bloggers, Ralph Cipriano.
Cipriano, a former Inquirer reporter who was fired several years back and eventually sued and settled with the company, played out a  “Sixth Sense” or “Usual Suspects” twist in the final frame of the court room drama.
Surprise.
The bad guys were not South Jersey Pol and businessman George Norcross III and his webmaster daughter Lexie and Publisher Bob Hall – the people who collectively fired Marimow, considered one of the best and most ethical editors in America today.
Instead, it was Marimow, who was suppressing the newsroom with an iron hand in support of owner Lew Katz.
City editor, Nancy Phillips, also an award-winning journalist whose work is highlighted positively in journalistic ethics textbooks, was Marimow’s right hand and hench woman on the job.
Together, the two editors had created a state of utter newsroom fear of Katz and his dealings in Philadelphia development projects.  He suggested:

  • Reporters cringed as Marimow and Phillips patrolled the newsroom looking for anti-Katz stories.
  • Katz even sat in on news meetings and ordered reporters to write favorable stories.
  • City Editor Phillips coerced newsroom reporters to stage a standing ovation when Marimow returned to the newsroom.
  • And at one point, Katz called up reporters on stories and even forced an obit writer to print the obit of a Katz friend.
  • Marimow meanwhile ignored clear and incriminating tips from Ralph that would have ripped the citywide open.
  • The city editor held such power over Marimow that she even recruited him back to the paper.
  • That is why Marimow strove to cover up the fact that Phillips and owner Katz had a personal relationship.
  • And while it is not completely clear quite yet, Marimow probably was the second gunman in Dallas firing from the grassy knoll as Phillips handed him a never-ending supply of high capacity magazines of poison bullets hidden in a secret garter bag.

Well, all but the last of these (to date) are the takeaways from Cipriano’s revelations.
It’s a fine story.
If you’re in a long line at the grocery store.
And you don’t mind getting slimed by the stuff of supermarket tabloid gossip journalism as it composts and just gets smellier and smellier.
The truth is that Ralph’s blog is among the worst examples I’ve seen of how one-sided “journalism” can smear the name of a good man.  And from most all accounts other than Ralph’s, an excellent city editor and one of the best newswomen working in the country.
Because there is no sense of fairness within the blog itself and because Ralph dismisses contrary views, the one alternative of one seeking responsible journalism is to ‘counter-blog’ the smear.
But first some background about the real people involved here.
Nancy Phillips is a journalist whose work is featured in college-level journalistic textbooks on ethics.  On the plus side.
This is so in part because of an incredible case involving source confidentiality and the value of the bond of her word with a source.
A suspect in a murder case had established himself as her confidential source some years ago and talked at length with her about the murder of a rabbi’s wife in New Jersey.  Eventually, to Phillips’ shock, the man admitted to her that he aided in the murder.
Phillips’ instincts no doubt were twofold:  print the story, go to the police.
She did neither because of her devotion to journalistic ethics that say your word is your bond and you do not give up sources or information given to you as confidential.  Under that code, unless you know that a crime will be committed in the future, you keep your sources confidential.
Her loyalty to that commitment did nothing for her.  She had no story,  just a constant reminder that she was dealing with a murderer who was escaping justice.
And on the far side of any outcome, she also knew she would be criticized for not turning the man in immediately.
What she did instead was work tirelessly to have the man freely confess the crime, which he did four months later.
So questions of ethics and professional responsibility are not new to her.  She held true to a journalistic code few of us could have had fun with and that I would have found damned right frightening.
And she seems to have done the same with her relationship with Lew Katz, begun several years ago before he became an owner of The Inquirer.
Her response to a potential conflict of interest has to been to disclose the relationship in the newsroom – and avoid covering Katz or his companies when they cross paths with public issues.
Love affairs with potential conflicts are not great in any business, particularly news.  But they also are inevitable and with guidelines, accepted. Potential conflicts of interest in journalism among husbands, wives, lovers, boyfriends and girlfriends are not new.  The most visible include Philadelphia’s own Andrea Mitchell, married to ex Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan.
Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said the news allowed Mitchell to cover the last presidential election, and then decided on a day-by-day basis what stories are not appropriate.
“To me it’s a pretty easy balancing act,” he said. “She knows where to draw the line.”
Sources at The Inquirer say Phillips has managed the potential conflict without controversy in a similar manner.    She recuses herself from anything where Katz might be involved.  For example, she took herself off the Temple University coverage of slashed sports programs because she knew Katz was a Temple board director and this could provide some conflict.
The American Journalism Review says the problem of conflicting couples in journalism is a pretty natural part of real world life.

The dilemma of whether a politically connected spouse or Saturday night date has a bearing on a Washington journalist’s job comes up again and again…. Matt Cooper, now Time magazine deputy Washington bureau chief and then Newsweek deputy bureau chief, wed former Clinton media adviser Mandy Grunwald. And in what appears to be the year of love–1997–the dating life of CNN senior international correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Jamie Rubin, then assistant secretary of state for public affairs, appeared in the pages of the press, along with some journalistic grumbling that Rubin might be passing along tips to his girlfriend. The two were married the next year, and with time (and Rubin’s departure from the State Department) conflict questions faded.It’s not unusual that a person’s love interest will have something to do with his or her work. What should a couple do about such situations?It depends. Deni Elliott, of the Practical Ethics Center, says if a longtime relationship is known and predates a reporting conflict, there’s not necessarily a problem. …Such couples begin the relationship knowing that some topics are off-limits. In the case of journalists, it’s then “up to the reporter and his editor to help that person steer clear of situations where he might end up covering his life partner,” Elliott says.

In other words, pretty much what Phillips did.  Her relationship was widely known in the newsroom, as was her habit of recusing herself.
One of course can be doubtful about this.  But if someone were ethical enough to hold off a sensational story about a murder confession, I’d have to give that someone the benefit of the doubt.

Ralph does not.  His instinct is toward the lurid and with a constant reminder of the boudoir.  And the assumption one makes a decision in favor of personal power versus ethics and standards.
His response to all critics is simple.  We’re either blind. Or we are liars. In most cases, we are probably both.
As he told a Philadelphia Magazine writer a few years back, he’s always had a strong feeling of what is right and wrong – ever since he was a kid.  In modern day terms, in my case, this means to him that I am “blind” because I am “of the realm” and not capable of understanding his points.
If I am, it is indeed a distant realm. I have not worked at The Inquirer since 1986 and I’ve not talked with Bill Marimow since 2007.
I do keep closely in touch with news ethics and their equivalent in the blogosphere, however, and before he slimed me, I tried to make a few simple points.
Ralph may be a great local character and those who read Big Trial are informed and forewarned that a fool is at play.
But if Ralph gets picked up by national blogs such as Romensko.com, he and BigTrial.net – or the national blogs themselves — should disclose that both Ralph and the website’s sponsor, Beasley Trial Lawyers, have frequently tangled with the Inky.
The Firm says they just put up Big Trial as a public service and do not influence their writers – some of whom are pretty distinguished, true journalists.  Good for them.  There are well done stories on Big Trial.  As to Ralph, well, Big Trial says the more voices the better.
Ralph says he long ago tucked away any thought of reprisal against the Inquirer and bears no grudge against the newspaper – which essentially said he was not a trustworthy reporter and then fired him.  (He then sued and settled for $7 million.)
Perhaps he is capable of such nobility.
In my own case, this would require a saintly sort of behavior that I would be incapable of even faking.  I’ve tried writing about past employers who have slighted me in far softer ways than Ralph’s experience.
I find I’m incapable of writing fairly about those companies.  At some level, I want to settle scores.  So I do not.  I believe journalists should be fair. I could not write about these companies fairly and to write about them unfairly because of a personal grudge would not be journalism.
But then while Ralph has been called many things, “self aware” is not among the names slung his way.   In fact, he tells me that by even mentioning his background, I am attacking him, not his facts.
Which brings us in a half-gainer back to what Ralph has written.  How do those facts hold up?
Poorly.
There is an old saying among hacks, “Let’s throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.”
Ralph’s come sliding down the wall in a fecund ooze seconds after they hit.
Let’s start from step one: Marimow’s corrupt recruitment via an Inquirer woman newsperson, Nancy Phillips, who has a personal relationship with owner Katz.  (Ralph’s headline was, The Editor Who Hired Her Own Boss.)
There is no doubt she helped bring Marimow back to the newspaper.  She reached out to Marimow, who had a good job in Arizona running a university digital journalism op, and asked if he was interested and then brokered the deal with the new owners.The thought was then – and now – that Marimow’s reputation and skills would be able to answer any critique of the new owners, who all had varying interests in the community.
But how does Ralph interpret it?
Ralph doesn’t just go for sinister – he goes for Kiss of the Spiderwoman crossed with Dame Noir.
Nancy Phillips is a manipulator and wheeler-dealer, exercising undue power bestowed on her because of the relationship with Katz.
He stops short of stiletto heals, a trench coat, blood red lipstick and a cigarette holder, but otherwise, the portrait he paints is of corruption by Dame Noir Phillips.
In the real world, Nancy Phillips is seen as one of the most talented and ethical journalists on the newspaper. She and Marimow had worked together as long ago as 1987 and the respect was mutual.
Still, Cipriano caught her red-handed “hiring her own boss.”  Whoever heard of that?
All of us.  In the real world such efforts to bring talented people on board at your company are known by another word.
Recruiting.
At most corporations, if your respect for a colleague at another company helps bring talent to the company, not only is that allowed, it’s rewarded.  Ralph does not know this, did not think to ask, or knowing, chose to print his incriminating version without the obvious explanation.Also never mind that Phillips, is pretty universally considered an excellent journalist by her peers.  The title of “companion”  is reductive to an insulting and hugely misogynistic degree.  (Editors Note:  An earlier version of this entry stated Phillips was referred to as “Friend of Lew.”  The caption appeared beneath the picture of another woman, not Phillips.)
The second sin Ralph finds in Marimow is that in a press release he helps Phillips try to “cover up” the fact that she has a relationship with Katz.
This occurred during the writing of a press release announcing Marimow’s hiring.
The editor of the paper at the time thought the reporters’ relationship should go in the press release.  It was widely known within the newspaper.  She asked if it needed to go in and Marimow wondered as well.  The editor won what seems to have been a not too hard argument and the relationship was noted in the press release and story.
So the “cover up” was a pretty normal discussion among writers and editors as to what belonged in the story.  And the acting editor won with no interference from Marimow, the owners or the alleged Spider Woman.
There’s more, of course.  Katz supposedly ordered an obituary run in the paper.
Only he did not.  The funeral director just said he did.  A fact of life on the obit desk that kid reporters encounter their first day on the job is this:  funeral directors know your owner, editor, brother, mother and the publisher, if they can get away from it.
And Katz took over an editorial meeting the other day.
Only he did not.
People in the newsroom – who can’t talk on the record – said Katz’s visit was impromptu and innocent.  He had stopped by to see Marimow and Marimow invited him in to see how the meeting was run.
Editors say he does that frequently for other visiting dignitaries – a Philadelphia Eagles exec, for example – as well as a few high school journalism classes, and also Inky owner Gerry Lenfest.
“Marimow has always invited outsiders into the newsroom and into editorial meetings to glimpse how a newspaper and website gather and create the news,” an editor said. “It’s observation only and a good educational tool.  Nothing more.  Katz does not hold court.”
Perhaps the most ridiculous charge Ralph has made is that Marimow’s return to the newsroom was somehow stage-managed with the iron hand of Nancy Phillips – that she suggested that everyone by god better give Bill a standing ovation or pay the consequences.
Says an Inquirer staffer:

I was in the newsroom 
when Marimow returned. He no longer had a pass to operate the
elevator and called an editorial assistant to get him in. Everyone 
near me was surprised he was returning so quickly after the
 judges decision. Word spread quickly and he was upstairs in just
a couple minutes from the time of the call. I did not see Nancy
 Phillips or anyone else circulating to encourage a standing 
ovation nor would there have been time to organize one. 
Besides, there was never the slightest doubt he would get one

So if Phillips rigged the show, she did one of the greatest jobs of choreography ever.  Because pictures of the return show people hugging Marimow and cheering him.  Truly she is a master manipulator.
Or Ralph is just full of crap.
It’s hard to say what motivates someone once a journalist to report in such a manner.  The other side of the story is obvious, but ignored.  Why did Norcross and Hall fire Marimow?  Was it because Norcross had moved to give the Pennsylvania governor a free column?  Had Lexie Norcross, the COO of Philly.com, made an editorial power grab, tweeting approval of Norcross backed candidates? Ralph’s response to that question is that he’s open to anyone presenting that “other side.”  Here’s my email, Jack.  Send me a tip.
But of course, reporting is not about aggressively pursuing one side of the story — and waiting for tips on the other.
I can’t speak for his motivation though others suggest that he is “flacking for Norcross” – even that he is shooting for the editor’s job by carrying Norcross’s water. I don’t know Ralph.
I do know Marimow.
I worked with him in close quarters for several years many years ago. He is a journalist who as a younger man out-reported just about anyone I know in the business – including and particularly Ralph.  I watched him as a young man earn two Pulitzer Prizes through the most meticulous and fairest reporting I’ve witnessed.  Matters I investigated, Marimow took to a second and third level of detail.  Incriminating evidence I found against a pol, Marimow would actively work to look at any chance of the pol’s innocence as a routine part of his research.
He walks the talk on the most important issues of journalism.  He is an independent journalist, a member of the Fourth Estate, someone who will most certainly stand up to a pol like George Norcross and his daughter, Lexie.
And if you value the concept of a Fourth Estate, you’ll value Bill Marimow and Nancy Phillips (who I do not know, alas.)
Journalists like these are not popular today.  They should be.  Other reports state Marimow was offered well over $1 Million to walk away from the editorship; he stayed, not for the concept of more money but for the concept of a free and fair press upon which he has based his life.
A journalist is someone who seeks the truth and gives you a version of the world upon which you can act with affect.
Ralph is someone who writes what he believes because he has strong feelings, facts and half-facts be damned.  Or, because, despite what he believes, he maintains a deep and lingering hurt and grudge against the newspaper that rejected him so long ago.
So you can choose to believe what you’d like.
Journalists.  Or Ralph.

Comments
  1. Lois Wark says:

    One quibble: It was City Editor Bob Rosenthal, not “The Inquirer,” who said that Ralph was not a trustworthy reporter, thus bringing on Ralph’s libel suit against Rosey and the newspaper. And it was the newspaper that settled, rather than go to trial defending a case it was likely to lose. Whether Ralph carries a grudge against The Inquirer, I cannot say. But the public squabbles among the new owners, and the questions about editorial integrity that they raise, certainly warrant some of the jaundiced jibes that Ralph is so good at delivering as a blogger.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      If I did not make it clear that Ralph settled favorably, I ought to have. This was my intent. In no way am I questioning what Ralph did “back then.” I just did not and don’t have a dog in that fight. Thanks for you comment Lois.

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  2. Ralph C says:

    Lost in your novella is the fact that I wasn’t making these accusations against Marimow and Phillips, the head of the Newspaper Guild was making those accusations in an email to the vice president of human resources. I was reporting what was written. It’s the old Brian Tierney Jay Devine tactic of attacking the messenger.

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  3. Bob, I’d like to point out a couple of things.

    A. Most of what I’ve written about on the big trial blog has been drawn from court testimony, legal transcripts, leaked emails, etc. It comes largely from a printed record. I was also in the courtroom watching the whole spectacle of the Inky trial. I don’t recall seeing you there. So what are you drawing on to make your points? Your fond memories of a newspaper that no longer exists? You say you haven’t even spoken to Marimow since 2007. Well, for goodness sakes Bob, why don’t you do us all a favor, give him a call and tell us what he says? It’s called reporting. It sure beats you telling us what’s going on in your head.

    Bob, I was actually there in the courtroom and what happened was not what I expected. The proponents of “ethical journalism” had some ethical lapses of their own that were exposed on the witness stand. The other side wasn’t even called, another disappointment.

    B. I’d also like to point out that most of the material I wrote about never appeared in the Inquirer. If I hadn’t been there, nobody would have known what really went on. Some people at the Inky have actually thanked me for writing these stories. What came out in that courtroom has indeed been damaging. So you, as Inky flag waiver, and founder of the alumni association, have taken it upon yourself to repair the damage. And how are you doing it? By reciting the resumes of the principals, as if to say great journalists are flawless human beings, incapable of making mistakes. Your preferred method of restoring the Inky’s lost credibility, however, is to make me the issue, cast doubt on my motives, paint me as unethical, uncaring, etc.

    You also claim I wrote things I never wrote. I never said Katz ordered any reporters to write favorable stories. I never called Nancy a “friend of Lew’s;” that was Kim Delaney. I could go on, but what’s the point of debating you over your opinions about how what I write can’t possibly be true because you knew all these people back in the 1970s and wow, they were terrific then, and Bill can out-report Ralph any day. Frankly, who cares?

    It’s transparent what you’re up to. If this was 1978, you might be able to get away with it. But reality has caught up to you and your cause. Next time you go about your mission of casting doubt on what I’ve been writing, do us all a favor and do some reporting. Then what you have to say might actually matter.

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  4. Robert Frump says:

    My hope is that The Inquirer finds its way as best it can. Even in 1978, reporters were nostalgic for the “old Inkie.” My belief is that Bill Marimow is an ethical force for good journalism as is Nancy Phillips, based on reporting and personal knowledge. In my opinion, your reporting was disingenuous in not placing your facts in context and you are far too experienced a reporter to not understand the point that facts do not equal truths. I do not know Brian and Jay, never talked to them, probably would not like them. My point is that there must be some ethical compass at a newspaper and right now Marimow is the best bet.

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  5. Dan Z. says:

    Bob, The Inquirer was a long time ago for you, and a lot of other folks. Perhaps it’s time to move on.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      Dan Z. I moved on a long time ago and for better or worse never suffered from Inquirer nostalgia. I think I was there for its best years and am thankful for that. This is not nostalgia for The Inquirer or playing the theme song from Gone with the Wind. It is supporting a vigorous and independent editorial freedom. If journalists defended the first amendment with one-tenth the energy that second amenders show, we would be in a far better situation as a nation and democracy. There is nothing dated about editorial independence and integrity. Fortunately, the courts agree. Thanks for you comments.

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  6. Robert Frump says:

    I should note that there is a strong undercurrent of off the record response to this item among people who work for the Inquirer

    Many good people are in Ralph’s corner here but don’t want to or cannot start a pie fight . I respect that and acknowledge the positions. Lois Wark above represents the POV, for the most part. I have told them that I will acknowledge their point of view through this post.

    Many other good people have contacted me to support my take on it, but cannot speak out because of their present positions at the Inky or other companies where a public comment would not be favorably viewed.

    I think we can all agree that we hope for better days for The Inquirer.

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  7. Amy R. says:

    Ok, i’m not taking sides here, or passing judgment on things I have no first hand knowledge of, and i am indebted to and quite fond of both Bill and Ralph (and Rosey and Nancy Philips for that matter), all driven and talented colleagues/former colleagues filled with passion for journalism and for Philly. And I truly hope this is resolved soon in a positive way for the paper. But it’s inaccurate to write about Ralph in a way that dismisses his reporting at the paper as merely in the shadows of others – Ralph was an excellent reporter and very talented writer who has many fine Inquirer stories to his credit and whose fire for the story at hand set the bar high. He worked hard to redefine a beat at the paper that had grown moribund and to a large extent, he succeeded. Just saying!

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    • Robert Frump says:

      Thanks for your post and civility in making it.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      Amy — in re-reading my post, I want to make it clear I am not attacking Ralph’s work at The Inquirer. On the other hand, neither do I think he is Bill’s equivalent. An assessment I also apply to myself. Which in my book leaves a lot of room for excellence. I simply do not have a dog in Ralph’s fight with the Inky way back when.

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  8. Bob Fowler says:

    Congradulations Bob – you’ve done well for yourself since leaving the Inquirer four decades ago. Look at you, Living in Summit, NJ, a bedroom community for New York City tycoons.Too bad you left the Inky years before Ralph Cipriano was hired. Like most people who worked with him you’d probably have liked him a lot. < What about Ralph's "acrimonious departure" from the Inquirer over a decade ago?Does Ralph not like Bill Marimow and City Editor Nancy Philips?Full disclosure: I'm Ralph's friend. I never heard Ralph say a bad word about Bill or Nancy and that is right up to now. We both admire Bill and his record of excellence. We were astounded at Nancy's brilliant work in solving the Neulander murder, more recently the Bill Conlin pedophilia revelations. Neither Nancy nor Bill had anything do with the Inquirer led pogrom Ralph suffered. Then Editor Bob Rosenthal and his minions, Philip Dixon, Matt Golas, Marc Douvisin and Lou Ureneck teamed to ride rough shod over Ralph.The late great attorney Jim Beasely saved Ralph and the truth.The truth had offended then Cardinal Bevilacqua, who didn't like Ralph reporting he had spent a half a million dollars on a state of the art media center so he could video conference the Pope in Rome at a time when he was shuttering parishes for lack of money in 1997. There was also the matter of several hundred thousands spent on a new roof on the Cardinals ocean front summer villa in Ventnor, NJ.There were several meetings at the time between Inquirer editors and the archdiocese discussing what was to be done with Ralph. Ralph attended oneo f the meetings and was ordered by Rosenthal not to speak!There was a worry at the Inquirer that Ralph's continued employment would spur the Cardinal to ask Catholics not to buy the paper.I sat close enough to Ralph in the news room to have been collateral damage if Archdiocese spokesman Brian Tierney had called in a drone attack.On land, Ralph took shrapnel from city editor Marc Douvisin, who promised Ralph, if he would be a good boy and forget about the truth, he might be able to save his career. All the while another editor, Lou Ureneck, monitored Ralph's every movement. Ralph needed Ureneck's permission to leave the news room. On assignment a week before he was fired, while working a front page story about an ineligible player, that eventually cost forfeiture of Penn football games, Ralph had to phone in his whereabouts to Ureneck every 30 minutes.The denouement: A hit squad of editors, Matt Golas and Philip Dixon showed up unannounced on the stoop of Ralph's home, in the shadow of the old Eastern State Penitentiary in Fairmount, not far from where Willie Sutton had tunneled an escape. Their mission was to humiliate Ralph by firing him in front of his wife and sons.Ralph's wrongful firing, which was more a case of slander and libel, never got to court. After attorney Jim Beasely finished depositions in the lawsuit the Inquirer begged to settle. Ralph had won his good name back and the Inquirer lost one of the best reporters it ever had.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      In no way am I questioning what Ralph did “back then.” A number of good people have told me he acted honorably.
      This is the point: I’ve been fired from jobs where I acted honorably. I could not write about that company today with any degree of objectivity and fairness because of the acrimony. I’ve tried. I do not think it is humanly possible.
      Could you?
      Clearly, the event more than a decade ago still resonates strongly with Inquirer reporters then and now. And that is one of my points.
      In my opinion, the reporting by Ralph on this case has been very one-sided.
      Good for him for raising such points. (See What Ralph Got Right.) But no, he has not followed up on the outcome of the points he has raised. He could and should. If you were an editor with this story in front of you, you would require that, Bob. You are too good of a newsman not to require it. What happened with all the issues he raised? Do you really just let them twist in the wind? They are quite capable of being answered. Even if the flacks are not dealing with him, he has multiple entrance points into the newsroom for background sourced assessments. And those would be: No, there was no pressured obit. No, Katz does not regularly sit in news meetings. No, there was no one forced to stand up? And yes, his stories DO imply all those things.
      Because Ralph went through a tortuous experience more than a decade ago does he get a free pass on reporting in this manner? Does anyone questioning him become part of some vast conspiracy of the realm of a 1990’s era Inquirer.
      Look, my heart goes out to any journalist who went through what Ralph went through.
      But when his blog appears nationally on Romenensko.com questioning the integrity of editors and reporters at The Inquirer, his history needs to be noted. You also would require that if you printed this as an op ed piece in any paper you edited.
      So please make the distinction between the issues Ralph had back then, and the issues I have with Ralph now. They are not one in the same. And because Ralph was unfairly treated way back then, does not mean he is beyond criticism today.
      (And yep. I live in New Jersey. You got me copper. Unbelievable splendor. Stop by. I’m shoveling snow.)

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  9. Robert Frump says:

    By the way, just so you know Romenensko.com has 1.8 million page views per day.
    I have about 300.

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  10. doug campbell says:

    Bob,
    Of all the things Mr. Cipriano has written on Bigtrial about the Inquirer, the one that has been most unsettling — and therefore most notable, I would think, to journalists — is the revelation concerning how two respected journalists collaborated to “spin” the announcement of Bill Marimow’s rehiring. Respected journalists are motivated, I’ve thought, by the desire to find truth.
    Why was their first instinct, then, not simply to tell the truth as to how Bill was chosen?
    I don’t claim to be any less fallible than Nancy and Bill, whose achievements in journalism are well recorded, and I probably can recall in crystaline clarity those times in my life when I’ve been less than truthful. The times certainly exist.
    So to answer my own question above: When people — regardless of their prior accomplishments — find themselves in the islolation of lofty position with no one looking over their shoulders, perhaps other considerations nudge truth-seeking aside.
    When journalists engage in spin for public consumption, to me they turn in their professional cards. Mr. Cipriano did us a service in revealing the court record of this situation. For me the result is a modestly amended level of respect, not for Mr. Cipriano and the (I would say minor) flaws in his reporting, as you would suggest is appropriate, but for his subjects.
    It troubles me when the conversation is about the journalistic quality of a lone blogger rather than about the powerful people whose veil that blogger has lifted.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      Thanks for your comment, Doug. Only Bill and Nancy can adress that.
      Could there be a more charitable interpretation than desperate lies?
      I think there could be. As someone who has run a KRI paper, I can say at some point, senior news execs must engage with the biz side — and business. If the biz side wanted some sort of reasoning behind it or spin, I would think Bill would have to engage. That is where you want such issues to be addressed. On the biz side, spin happens. Quotes are ginned up for publishers to issue– approved or not. If the old publisher did not consent to the narrative, I agree you have an issue.
      I’d also say it pales to the larger issues at hand. My impression never was that Bill was a sinless saint — just a great newsman with great integrity.
      If he were in the tank, would he be in this scrape with Norcross?
      Really think if you had done these stories, Doug, no one would be asking such questions because you would have reported them fully.

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      • Robert Frump says:

        Doug — I’ve gone back and read the “spin” story twice more to make sure I’ve got a firm grip on it. Gotta say that the only way to interpret this as you say you interpret it, is to accept wholesale the statements of (or leading questions of) the attorney for Norcross — who was trying to show meddling in the newsroom.

        Tell me if I have this wrong.

        The old publisher was pretty much being pushed aside by the new owners in various ways. They hired a new general counsel without telling him. They reached out to Marimow through Phillips.

        From everything I can tell, they reached out to Marimow because they were concerned they would be accused of meddling and needed a very strong editor to firewall against those fears.

        Bill asked a logical question. If asked, who should he say hired him?. Osberg hired him via letter — and Osberg signed that letter. But Bill wanted to make certain everyone was on the exact same page because behind the scenes Osberg was not that keen on it.

        Osberg may not have liked hiring Bill, but he did hire Bill. He signed the letter. I don’t care if he drafted it. He signed it. That expresses his intent — not footnotes after the fact. There’s nothing tricky about that. You can’t buy the house, sign the mortgage, and then say you didn’t really wanna.

        Are you insisting that the company statement ought to have said something like “Owners of the Inquirer jammed this on the publisher?”

        As Nancy says, including Osberg largely was done out of consideration for Osberg’s feelings and position. The editor of the paper could not professionally reply to questions form outside by saying, “You know Osberg didn’t really want to do this, but the new owners shoe horned him in.” So the statement was that Osberg — who signed a letter offering the job to Bill — hired him.

        So…how does that translate into meddling? All of this was in the job negotiation. How does that translate into lying? What was he supposed to say?

        Isn’t it the case that Osberg simply did not want Bill as editor, but did not oppose it forcefully? Isn’t it true that he agreed to the hiring? Isn’t it true that he signed a paper that he had read offering Bill the job? (And yeah, it is a contract.)

        Yeah. All that is true. Are you pegging all of this on the fact that they finessed the Osberg issue and said he wanted Bill to come back. (Which in sending the letter, he most certainly did?) Show me that Osberg did not make the offer, and yes, you have a point. But he did make the offer. And if he did, that means…he wanted Bill back. In a formal, business sense, he expressed that.

        And where was the meddling exactly? In Bill asking the senior leadership team what the official situation was?

        Or was the meddling in the newsroom by the new owners hiring an excellent, ethical editor? How in the world can that can be considered “meddling.”

        Sure as hell wish I had that sort of meddling when I was an editor.

        I’m asking all this not out of spite. I honestly do not see how you are looking at this as a journalistic felony — unless you totally ignore the Phillips-Marimow side and just go with the Norcross attorney version.

        You are embracing a closing argument — not a well done presentation of the facts. Put both sides into the story and there is no case that holds up, unless you are guided by Ralph’s jaundiced commentary.

        You know how much I respect you and your judgment. So please take this not as a personal attack, but an honest question. You report this out, considering both points of view. Give me your version.

        Like

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