“Pussy and Bullshit….” How the Philadelphia Press Covers the Philadelphia Inquirer

Posted: January 21, 2014 in Contemporary Commentary, Media

The battle between the owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer is seen by the local press less as a contest of a political boss versus crusading reporters — which it most certainly is — and more through the lenses of frat boys enjoying a good airing of the private lives of some of the women working at The Inquirer

The chief target is City Editor Nancy Phillips, whose relationship with owner Lewis Katz long has been disclosed.  She recused herself from any coverage of Katz and played a major behind the scenes role in bringing top editor Bill Marimow back to the paper.

Phillips is without doubt among the cast of players whose actions deserve close scrutiny.  Has she sacrificed good journalism for her relationship with Katz?  Has she in some way betrayed the trust of the public in helping to hire, say, Bill Marimow.

But reporters at Philadelphia Magazine and BigTrial.Net have taken a salacious attitude toward Phillips.

Here is how BigTrial.net covered the story:

One veteran political handicapper who knows all the players says his money’s on Norcross, because he’s the better in-fighter. “This is not his kind of battle,” the handicapper said of Katz.

“This is over pussy and bullshit, not money.”

Thus is Phillip’s career as one of the best investigative reporters at The Inquirer dismissed.  And thus too, one assumes, is Lexie Norcross, the 26-year-old daughter of owner George Norcross III, thrown into the pussy pool.

After all, BigTrial earlier suggested that a reality television cat fight between Lexie and Nancy would be far more interesting than the continuation of The Inquirer.

cropped-Volk0152

Volk

The reductive rhetoric does not stop there by any means.  Philadelphia Magazine, as noted earlier, and Steve Volk,   fell for a leaked private email and slapped a big Scarlet A on Phillips. Here was his headline last week.
INQUIRER OWNERSHIP BATTLE:  “DARLING … ELIMINATE THE DAILY NEWS
It’s a tragedy because beneath the male snorts, chuckles and panting, there are real issues of press freedoms here.  Norcross after all sought to fire Marimow.  And the significance of that is best explained not by Philadelphia Magazine but an impassioned note to Volk — which still has not been answered — written by a pretty informed reader.

Here is the post, arguing the case better than I can.

Steve, there’s no denying you’re a good writer and reporter.
But I think, like a growing number of people out there you are succumbing to leaks and spins of the vicious New Jersey smear politics being applied to The Inquirer these days.
Talk to investigative reporter Alan Guenther about how he and his father were smeared after he did a three part series on George Norcross or activist and former state senator Alene Ammond. South Jersey political boss George Norcross 3d is known to be a past master at “destroying” opponents.
He now seems to be skillfully applying machine politics techniques to Inquirer/Daily News internal politics.

I worked with Nancy Phillips for close to 30 years. She has always been one of the toughest and smartest journalists I’ve ever met. She always had exacting standards for herself and those around her. I was never exposed to any of these airhead romance novel depictions being smeared all over her these days.

I came to learn of Katz and her relationship fairly late in the game. I scrutinized this relationship carefully and found no conflicts. Phillips was the type of reporter who fearlessly interviewed Camden’s biggest drug kingpins at his lair in Camden and then interviewed numerous lesser dealers in jail.

This was after that well-known a murderer confession to her in the case of the Cherry Hill rabbi’s wife. Her blunt reporting went after powerbrokers including George Norcross. Once again, I repeat, she is not the bon bon eating bubblehead that your headline depicts.

The closest thing to a true picture of her emerged in the 14th paragraph of your story that began: “Phillips is a highly respected reporter, logging 20 years of blue-collar effort…..”
Her recent investigative piece with Craig McCoy which helped reform Philadelphia courts verifies this.

She is blunt and plain-spoken and sometimes her bluntness can be impolitic, but she is a quick study whose clarity of vision quickly brings her down from careless offhand expressions like the Daily News comment.

I don’t know about that comment other than that those close to her said the statement may have been taken out of context. Anyone who read the Daily News Pulitzer Prize winning police probe knows how high quality the Daily News is. I doubt that Katz is planning to get rid of it, just as I don’t think he is planning to get rid of the Inquirer.

I have never heard Nancy advocate for a reductioin in any kind of journalism put out by PNI. Her goal, like Marimow’s and Katz’ has been to illuminate the community with as much excellent journalism as possible. Both she and Katz — who himself was an investigative reporter for Drew Pearson — love journalism and, I’m sure, would like the Inquirer and Daily News to continue to live up to those standards, even with austerity cuts and hi-tech updates. Katz’ stance on the Daily News was probably best expressed by the vignette quoted in your article, which he made while standing with Marimow

. I don’t expect my statement here to have much credence. But I hate to walk by a situation where someone is down and being kicked without saying something.

Phillips has become another victim of George Norcross’ despotic propaganda steamroller. Though she and Katz are disinclined to research and leak Norcross’ personal life, don’t be misled by Norcross’ crude approach to muscle-flexing.

One of the key phrases from that note?

I don’t expect my statement here to have much credence. But I hate to walk by a situation where someone is down and being kicked without saying something.

This is a sense of fairness that does not burden the rest of the news media in Philadelphia, a fact that illustrates perhaps more than ever how important it is to reclaim the integrity of The Inquirer from Norcross.

The issues here are not “pussy and bullshit.”  Far from it.  Except in this sense. It could be fairly said at this point that the rest of the news media has fallen big time for the Norcross media campaign.
So there are in fact a bunch of pussies masquerading as newsmen out there publishing bullshit.

(Note:  A reader points out that Volk did give Phillips appropriate credit for her journalistic accomplishments.  Volk did write:
“Phillips is a highly respected reporter, logging 20 years of blue-collar effort. She obtained a confession in the infamous murder of rabbi Fred Neulander’s wife. She is also winning plaudits in her new role as city editor, working late hours and peppering her charges with emails congratulating them on their good work. In short, she’s a good boss. And while, through Katz, a billionaire, she has access to the resources to be anywhere she chooses, she chooses to be in a big-city newsroom.”
So, let me credit him with that, but also note this was in the 14th paragraph, far beneath the “Darling” headline.  Perhaps the boudoir angle is just too big a magnet.  Volk has done a more balanced job than others, for certain, but that is a fairly low standard.  I’m still waiting for someone in Philadelphia journalism land to write the obvious: Norcross and his posse have mounted a deadly and destructive public relations offensive.)

Comments
  1. Robert Frump says:

    Wanted to make sure I used the right word. I did.

    sa·la·cious
    səˈlāSHəs/Submit
    adjective
    1.
    (of writing, pictures, or talk) treating sexual matters in an indecent way and typically conveying undue interest in or enjoyment of the subject.
    “salacious stories”
    synonyms: pornographic, obscene, indecent, crude, lewd, vulgar, dirty, filthy; erotic, titillating, arousing, suggestive, sexy, risqué, ribald, smutty, bawdy; X-rated; informalporn, porno, blue, XXX; euphemisticadult
    “salacious writing”

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  2. Frump, you’re getting hysterical. First off, I covered what a great reporter Nancy Phillips is. You’re pretending I didn’t. The most damaging stuff about the Katz-Phillips-Marimow side came out in the courtroom, in their own words. You seem to think great journalists deserve a pass just because they’re great journalists. In your world, none of these leaked emails should have seen the light of day because they cast a bad light on your sacred cows. You really are a Kool-Aid drinker. Keep the hysteria coming.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      Ralph, you are too smart a reporter to be played the way you are being played. What you’ve done with the leaks is construct an alternate universe. The reality is that two good news people did the best they could to structure a good journalistic environment. You took that and turned it into them “meddling” in the newsroom. Do you honestly think that what you’ve written about Nancy Phillips portrays her intentions correctly? Do you really, truly think that mentioning somewhere in the 19th paragraph that she is a good journalist undoes a “pussy and bullshit” article? That there is any sense of balance in your stories? That it is wrong to seek out anonymous “pussy and bullshit” sources that tell one side of the story but not the other? That your reporting on Nancy has been anything but salacious for months?
      You’re right that great journalists of the past don’t deserve a pass. You’re exhibit A.
      Stay classy Ralph. Stay classy.

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  3. Robert Frump says:

    Let’s also be very clear about what was and was not “exposed” in court about Marimow and Phillips. Your reporting of it said basically that they conspired to spin the story of Marimow’s hiring by representing that the then-publisher was in favor of hiring Bill when in fact he wasn’t. This was your version of “meddling.”

    But if you examine what was done, you’ll see that the publisher did offer Bill the job in a signed letter. Your suggestion that he and Nancy somehow lied about the publisher confuses common courtesy and diplomacy with some felonious misdeed.

    Marimow, before he was formally on board, simply asked who he should say hired him. Behind the scenes, the new owners were the movers on this. But the existing publisher was the guy who made the offer. A written and signed offer. So out of courtesy and diplomacy, it was agreed that the release would state that the publisher hired him — which in fact the publisher did through a signed letter.

    What were Marimow and Phillips supposed to do? Say, “Hey, officially the publisher hired me but honestly that guy is a jerk and the owners forced him to?” The publisher was on his way out. Marimow was not yet in. Their agreement reflected what happened. There was no real doubt that the new owners had hired Bill — much was made of this. And that the old publisher would go. There was no substantive breach of journalistic integrity in this. Not even a hint of it.

    Similarly, you ginned up Nancy “meddling” in newsroom affairs when she helped recruit Marimow. She meddled to bring back one of the best editors in the paper’s history. Outside your world, employees are encouraged to bring in talent to a company. They even are given rewards and bonuses for landing talent. Only in your world is seeking to improve the quality of the news “meddling.” Only in your world could Bill Marimow be portrayed as villain and Nancy as The Spider Woman.

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  4. Robert Frump says:

    (Note: A reader points out that Volk did give Phillips appropriate credit for her journalistic accomplishments. Volk did write:
    “Phillips is a highly respected reporter, logging 20 years of blue-collar effort. She obtained a confession in the infamous murder of rabbi Fred Neulander’s wife. She is also winning plaudits in her new role as city editor, working late hours and peppering her charges with emails congratulating them on their good work. In short, she’s a good boss. And while, through Katz, a billionaire, she has access to the resources to be anywhere she chooses, she chooses to be in a big-city newsroom.”
    So, let me credit him with that, but also note this was in the 14th paragraph, far beneath the “Darling” headline. Perhaps the boudoir angle is just too big a magnet. Volk has done a more balanced job than others, for certain, but that is a fairly low standard. I’m still waiting for someone in Philadelphia journalism land to write the obvious: Norcross and his posse have mounted a deadly and destructive public relations offensive.)

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  5. I see you cannot out-Frump the Frumpster on his own website. He always has to get the last word.

    When I read your blog, I discover I have been played, duped, etc., and have missed the forest for the trees while trying to do the most basic reporting. What’s amazing is you, sir, don’t have to leave Frump world to make any of these discoveries. Or talk to anybody involved. You must be omniscient!

    So all is right in Inky-land as long as Bill Marimow sits in that editor’s chair. Cue Tara’s Theme. Let’s go visit that Pulitzer case one more time. Entering Frump world is like being administered a sedative in a rest home. All is well.

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  6. Tara’s Theme is the theme song from Gone With The Wind. It used to be a joke around the Inky newsroom. People would start humming it whenever the old-timers were gassing too much about the glory days of Gene Roberts. Kind of reminds me of your commentaries whenever someone upsets you by criticizing the dear old Inky. Well frankly Frumpy, I don’t give a damn.

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    • Robert Frump says:

      Well, I hear you Rhett but that’s nothing I’ve ever suffered from and at the very least we agree on the worthlessness of such nostalgia. My point is not that Bill is perfect or even needs to stay. My point is that Bill is standing up for journalistic integrity. Just do me one favor. Drawing on all your considerable talents and sources and analytical skills, write one story that assesses all that Norcross has done to hurt the integrity of The Inkie. No one I know has done it. It is a valid story. Bob Frump

      >

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  7. Ralph Cipriano says:

    You want a hit piece on Norcross. You know it’s out there, even though you haven’t done ten seconds worth of reporting on it. The worst kind of journalists make assumptions before they go out and report a story, and force the facts fit their thesis. That to me is what you’re advocating.

    I covered the courtroom proceedings regarding the Inky. It didn’t play out anywhere near what I expected. The people on the side of “journalistic integrity” made the mistakes, and were the victims of leaks. Norcross, from what I have seen, handled himself remarkably well and in many respects, beat a bunch of investigative reporters at their own game. You, however, don’t quite seem to get that. You have your own reality that you want to impose on the proceedings. And you want somebody else to write it for you. Kind of like you always having to have the last word.

    Whatever is out there about Norcross at the Inky, the people who know the stuff, friends of Bill, are sitting on it, or they don’t have anything. I’ve reached out to people, and they’re not talking. There are other sharks patrolling those waters. Jay Devine is around, and he’s not working for free. If they have any ammo and they don’t trust me, there are other friendly journalists who would run with such a story.

    You seem to be blind to the general theme of what I’ve been writing about with the Inky. Namely, in recent years, I haven’t seen much “journalistic integrity” emanating from my former newspaper. They missed the boat on big local issues such as DROP and AVI. They gave the mayor a pass, and just about everybody else in town. In order to survive, they’ve gotten into bed with one power broker after another, and made one ethical compromise after another. The carpenters union, Tierney, Rendell, Norcross, etc. If there’s an open auction, there might be some new faces at the he trough. Tell me, did Norcross break into those papers, or was he invited? From the words in those leaked emails, things were once pretty chummy between the advocates of “journalistic integrity” and Mr. Norcross, until it blew up in their faces. Somehow, in your reality, Norcross is to blame for all of it. He broke into the place and forced them to trust him, and write those dumb emails. We just need some facts to pad out our story line.

    Good luck with that, Frumpy. You’re old enough to remember the scene in Annie Hall, where Woody is dealing with Annie’s demented brother Duane, played by Christopher Walken. Sorry, Frumpy, I’ve got to go Frumpy now, I’ve got an appointment back on the planet earth.

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  8. Ralph Cipriano says:

    Why don’t you check Jay Devine’s press releases?

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