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:
“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.
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.)