|Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman and Michael Days|
First it was the former owners of The Philadelphia Inquirer who couldn't get along. They wound up suing each other in court over the firing of Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow, amid charges of newsroom meddling.
Then it was the top editors of the Inquirer and Daily News who squared off over an Inky story about police corruption that supposedly cast the two reporters who wrote the tabloid's 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice," in a negative light.
According to several newsroom sources, two top editors of the Daily News -- Editor Michael Days and Assistant Managing Editor Gar Joseph -- lobbied heavily and even threatened to resign if new owner and interim Inquirer Publisher H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest ran an Inky story scheduled for last Sunday's paper written by Inky staff writers Mike Newall and Aubrey Whelan.
Lenfest settled the dispute by killing the Inky story, according to several sources. Then it was Inky Editor Bill Marimow's turn to get upset about newsroom meddling. There was talk on the rumor mill about Marimow threatening to resign, but he didn't go anywhere. Now it appears the veteran Inky editor may be digging in for a longer fight.
"It's an internal matter, and it's not open for discussion," Marimow wrote in a terse email, when asked about the killed story.
|Gerry Lenfest and Bill Marimow|
The Daily News series accused the officers of fabricating evidence, and looting bodegas during police raids. The newspaper also accused one cop, Thomas Tolstoy, of molesting three women during the raids.
After years of investigation, however, the Inky reported on April 26th that the feds had decided not to charge the cops with any crimes.
In the Inky story, Daily News editor Michael Days stood by his series, which he described as "exquisite, excellent pieces reported by amazing reporters."
Although the feds were done with the case, the local cops weren't. On May 14th, the Inky reported that Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey had suspended Officer Jeffrey Cujdik for 30 days with intention to dismiss. In addition, Ramsey told the Inky that three of Cujdik's colleagues would be suspended.
If Ramsey didn't think his cops were clean, why didn't the feds prosecute them? The Inky, in their May 14th follow up story, blamed a lack of evidence and witnesses with credibility problems who were afraid to testify against the cops. The Inky also said that Officer Tolstoy had told the feds he was going to cooperate, but then changed his mind.
In the story scheduled for Sunday, the Inquirer apparently was going to take it a step further, and blame the Daily News reporters for supposedly being part of the reason why the cops couldn't be prosecuted. Newall and Whelan had several FBI statements summarizing interviews with witnesses -- known as "302s" -- that supposedly had negative things to say about the two Daily News reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize --- Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman.
It's not surprising that cops wouldn't be fans of Laker and Ruderman, who turned their series into a book, Busted; A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love. But instead of airing whatever the dispute was about, Lenfest killed the story over the objections of Inquirer Editor Marimow.
Did Lenfest trash the story because he thought it was false and libelous, as the reporters supposedly contended?
Did the Inky story end up getting trashed because it was sour grapes from the paper that got its ass kicked by the Daily News on that Pulitzer-Prize winning cop story?
Or was it a legitimate story?
We have no answers because the Inky story is dead and Lenfest, an avid big trial reader, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
None of the top editors at either paper are talking; neither are the reporters on opposite sides of the dispute.
It's an ironic situation at the city's two daily newspapers, where people usually get paid to break the news, not bury it. The cops are angry and disappointed. Through their lawyers, relatives and defenders at the FOP, the cops say they were smeared by the two Daily News reporters they have dubbed the "Slime Sisters." They were sorry to hear that the Inky story had crashed and burned.
In a June 10th letter to police officers, John J. McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 5, complained about the media continuing to "visciously attack" police officers."
The attacks, McNesby wrote, continued, "despite the fact that NOT ONE OFFICER was convicted, charged or even arrested for any of the false allegations hurled against them by a couple of unscrupulous Pulitzer Prize hunting reporters."
In a letter sent out today to his fellow officers, and posted at the top of the FOP website, McNesby cranked it up a couple notches. He accused the Daily News reporters of unethical behavior without offering any proof. But McNesby complained that the real story about the Daily News reporters "is being buried by our local print media deeper than Jimmy Hoffa -- by the very same people who constantly chirp about 'your right to know.' "
The cops' view of the Slime Sisters is probably not the story that Sarah Jessica Parker signed on for. The Sex And The City alum has announced she's coming out of retirement to star in a TV show based on the exploits of Laker and Ruderman. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Imagine you're 84-year-old Gerry Lenfest, former cable TV magnate turned philanthropist. You've just taken over as the sole owner of the parent company that owns the two newspapers and philly.com, after a court-ordered auction and the tragic death in a plane crash of your former business partner, Lewis Katz.
You've been on the job for one and a half months. Now, one of your first official headaches is to settle a family feud between the Inky and the Daily News that has reporters and editors on both sides supposedly at each other's throats.
At least you don't have to worry about that public pledge not to meddle in editorial operations that was a millstone around the necks of the last set of Inky owners. One of Lenfest's first moves when he bought the papers for the inflated price of $88 million was to announce that he was getting rid of the no-meddling pledge, a gimmick that had outlived its usefulness.
It's kind of amazing that in the recent editorial wars, Lenfest came down on the side of the Daily News.
When he bought the papers, Lenfest the history buff could only talk about the Inquirer, the paper that he kept reminding everybody had covered the Civil War. Lenfest had to be reminded that he had also bought the Daily News.
In siding with the Daily News, Lenfest overruled an editor on a police corruption story, Bill Marimow, who as a reporter, won two Pulitzers for exposing police corruption. It's kind of like buying out Tony Luke, and then telling him how to make a cheesesteak.
The Inky and News have been competitors on the story about the bodega-raiding cops for years. And it hasn't aways been a friendly competition.
"After we broke our first story, they [The Inquirer] broke out the computer-assisted reporting," Wendy Ruderman told Roy J. Harris of poytner.org in a 2010 interview. The Inky, according to Ruderman, "got very interested in this story, and wanted to take the story away from us."
"This was Bill Marimow's career," Ruderman told Poynter about reporting on police corruption. "So he [Marimow] brought in all these reporters to compete with me and Barbara."
Then somebody at the Daily News intercepted an email from an assistant Inquirer editor who wrote that it was up to Inky staffers to "mercilessly pound them," referring to Laker and Ruderman.
"That really ramped up how hard Barbara and I worked," Ruderman told Poynter. "Those two words -- mercilessly pound -- were really in our minds."
In the end, it was Laker and Ruderman who mercilessly pounded the Inquirer.
Was Marimow trying to extract his revenge in the cop story that got killed last week? Or did the gals go overboard in their pursuit of a big story? As an old police reporter at the Inky used to say, "This we do not know."
Before the Inky story was killed, the tensions in editorial boiled over, say several sources. Marimow had a hallway altercation with the feisty Ruderman. According to sources, Ruderman, at least a foot shorter, got in Marimow's face and yelled at him, Bill, you know we didn't do this. She also accused Marimow of trying to ruin her and Laker's reputations.
Marimow, according to sources, replied that the story would be fair, Ruderman and Laker would have their say and that Gerry Lenfest would make the final decision.
Marimow also reminded Ruderman that back in 2007, when she was at the Inky and in danger of being laid off in another round of company cutbacks, Marimow had engineered her hiring at the Daily News.
Ruderman then reminded Marimow that she had made a phone call to a Philly mag reporter to say that Marimow, contrary to what Inky publisher Bob Hall was saying about him, did not discriminate against women.
After her confrontation with Marimow, Ruderman was seen crying in the Daily News newsroom, where she was consoled by other staffers. But she may have regained her fighting spirit.
Late yesterday afternoon, Ruderman was seen heading out of the building, supposedly to retrieve her files, amid speculation that the Daily News might be trying to get ahead of this story.
Maybe the grudge match is on.
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at email@example.com