Friends of Bill, Friends of Rich

Posted: August 26, 2014 in Contemporary Commentary
Tags: ,

“I was surprised to see you siding with Rich Aregood in condemning Bill Marimow,” said a recent email concerning my comments on the recent Inquirer/Daily News controversy. (Groping for Stories at The Philadelphia Inquirer.)
That would make two of us because I hold both journalists in high regard, and both are quite capable of fighting their own sides.
Bill is currently editor of The Inquirer and I know no better, more ethical editor in this world. Rich, the former editorial page editor of The Daily News, is a jewel of clear and concise outspoken opinions. They are two titans of Philadelphia journalism and a debate, directly or indirectly, between them, is a show not to be missed. In stature and journalistic importance, I am but a flee on either’s arse.
But to be clear, it’s their debate, not mine. My intent never was to question The Inquirer’s ethics or motives in printing the Daily News “expose” — just to point out that it was (and remains) a steaming mess of a story.
This happens. It’s not the day the music died. It’s a mistake. It’s not, in my opinion, some deep-seated Pulitzer envy on the part of Marimow or the Inquirer staff.
The Daily News was and is a fabulous foil to The Inquirer, but I cannot imagine a world where Bill Marimow or most Inky staffers walk the floors at night wondering how to avenge themselves against the tab because it won a Pulitzer two years ago.
And it’s well for The Daily News to remember and reflect upon a proud heritage of pokes and prods against The Inquirer, particularly, as I recall during the Mayor Goode years, when every day The Daily News suggested that every Inky reporter (including me, one would think) was supposedly in the tank for Wilson or on his payroll.  Or when Pete Dexter hung Inquirer management out to dry in a national magazine article.
But the point of my critique of The Inquirer has nothing to do with that legacy and rivalry.   It has to do with one story I thought (and think) was poorly done and ought not to have been published as it was.
There are simple reasons for my opinion:
1) The story does not deliver on its headline and lede of explaining why a bad cop is still on the street.
2.) Instead, at its best, it explains why prosecutors and police felt they could not bring a case. At its worst, it buys in wholesale to a punch list of task force and police excuses for not effectively managing a culture of police abuse.
3.) The task force report deals mostly with the changing “testimony” of one of the victims of a groping — who is so shaken by the events over the past six years that she now thinks it is her fault that she was groped by a policeman. (So not a great witness.) This is the proximate cause of no prosecution.  It is a victim first featured by The Daily News, whose reporters’ responsibility is clear, clean and accurate reporting initially — not the legal presentability of an emotionally fraught witness six years later. 
4.) The police version is pretty much taken as justifiable fact without much probing into initial efforts, police culture, “rape team” procedure, all the myriad subtleties of investigating such crimes, or– perhaps most importantly — consideration that the task force report might just be hugely self serving in explicating the police and prosecutors in failing to manage a police culture of abuse that is clearly out of control. In nearly 5,000 words, there is little to suggest that the investigation might have been handled differently, the witnesses treated more sympathetically, the administrative measures surrounding police discipline reviewed, or that the prosecutors could have grown a pair and bluffed the bad cop into a plea bargain.  All issues worthy of discussion.
5. ) Then, at around word 372, the issue abruptly pivots and dumps the blown prosecution at the feet of the very Daily News reporters who first brought the issues to the attention of the public. Supposedly they gave gifts to the woman and told her she should not talk to the police.
6.) In the most ironic of moments, the Daily News reporters who reported the problem then are accused in The Inquirer article of “complicating a federal investigation” into the very criminal behavior the reporters discovered. (There is no known offense of “complicating a federal investigation; if there were, most journalists would be in prison.)
7.) The accusations of small gifts have no substantiation aside from the troubled woman, while the reporters strongly reject that notion and have notes to substantiate their version of her interview.

It’s a reach. Boy is it a reach. In fact.  And in tone.
No reader could have come out of this story without suspecting that the Daily News reporters some how “put in the fix” in some way. The task force sources were given every benefit of the doubt, and all high ground, the findings carved in stone and unquestioned. The reporters’ version was questioned, and reported in very skeptical tones with no clear context of facts arguing for their version of the affair.
Was there news that the task force blamed the reporters? You bet. But in my opinion, that was a he-said/she said piece worth 500 words on page 43.  The issues already had been staked out on page one with the FOP president leveling charges against The Daily News.
The “take out” piece, with its superheated headline and rhetoric, was a mistake and poor judgment in my opinion.  It was badly reasoned and badly written, one-sided and misleading.
It happens. The best people make mistakes. Move on.  Do real news. Rinse. Repeat.

  1. Jim Panyard says:

    “Flea”…and are you publicly denying you were on Wisson Goode’s payroll?


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