Tuesday, December 1, 2020

The Intellectual Dishonesty Of The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

On Nov. 23rd, Big Trial ran a story about how Philabundance, the local food bank, got scammed out of $923,553.

On July 30th, according to the cops, Loree Jones, the nonprofit's newly-appointed CEO, came into the 1st Police District "visibly upset," because "her email was hacked." She told the cops that somehow, she had been convinced to wire $923,553 from Philabundance's Citizens Bank account to a JPMorgan account, which she subsequently learned was bogus.

Jones, according to the cops, was "very upset, agitated and rude. Clearly she knew she messed up big time." The case was transferred to the fraud division of the Philadelphia Police Department's Major Crimes Unit and the FBI is also investigating.

This morning, the Inquirer ran their version of the story, which you can read if you have a subscription; I cancelled mine last month. Not only did the paper of record fail to credit Big Trial for breaking the story, which is standard journalistic practice, but they also ran what amounts to a sanitized press release for Philabundance that totally absolves Jones and her nonprofit of any blame for the missing cash. 

The Inky story, unlike the Big Trial account, didn't include any critical commentary from cops. It was also totally devoid of any skepticism of Jones' account of what happened, an omission immediately flagged by readers. 

So not only does the Inquirer flack full-time for Mayor Jim Kenney, District Attorney Larry Krasner, and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw, but now they're covering for Philabundance. 

In the Inquirer's version of the story, Jones, who declined to speak to Big Trial, gave this version of events:

Philabundance was nearing completion of its new $12 million community kitchen when the nonprofit wired the $923,553 to pay a construction bill.

Weeks later, the folks at Philabundance realized that they had sent the money to a fraudulent account. That's the story that Jones, who was appointed CEO in June, a month before the scam, told the Inquirer. According to the Inquirer, the nonprofit, which was seeing a "greater need for its services than ever before, was the victim of an elaborate and large cyber theft."

Sometime in the spring, thieves infiltrated the group's computer systems through a "phishing" scam and then put in controls that blocked legitimate emails from getting through, Jones told the newspaper. The final step was a 'spoofing' email that mimicked an invoice from the construction company, the newspaper reported.

"While I am aware of cybercrime and crime in general, I was disturbed to know that a beloved, respected organization literally feeding people in the midst of a pandemic was preyed on in this way," Jones told the newspaper.

The newspaper then quoted a couple of "experts" who said what allegedly happened to Philabundance was a common type of cyberattack, and that it was such a shame because of all the wonderful work the nonprofit does for humanity. But there's a silver lining, one expert assured the Inquirer: since the theft, Philabundance is now training its employees to be more aware of common cybercrime and scams. 

That's what we call damage control. 

While Harold Brubaker, the Inquirer staff writer who wrote the story, was credulous about what Philabundance was peddling, readers were skeptical.

"Oh, I smell a rat in this little story," a reader wrote. "I hope the FBI beats the bushes on this one," the reader wrote, saying the story might end with a "'surprise" ending that would make M. Knight Shyamalon blush.

"12 million for a kitchen?" another reader wrote. "That sounds fishy. How about investigating that one."

In the original Big Trial story, a spokesperson for Philabundance took issue with the police report, saying that Jones's email "was not hacked," she "did not wire the money" and she was not "visibly upset" when she showed up at the 1st Police District. 

But Big Trial quoted a police report as saying: "The complainant states that a wire transfer of $923,533 USC [U.S. currency] was made by the complainant from their Citizens Bank account to a JPMorgan Chase Bank account for construction. The complainant later realized that her email was hacked and the JPMorgan bank account was fraudulent. Citizens is aware of the situation and are currently investigating the incident."

Philadabundance, which has been around for 35 years, distributed 26 million pounds of food last year, according to its annual report. The nonprofit has more than 40,000 individual donors that helped feed 90,000 neighbors a week, through the work of 15,000 volunteers. 

I sent an email to Brubaker and his boss, editor Gabriel Escobar, asking why they didn't give Big Trial credit for breaking the story, and why they were spin-doctoring for a new client.

"I find what you did here intellectually dishonest, dressing this story up as your breaking news," I wrote Brubaker and Escobar. "Also, there were police sources that would have provided a note of skepticism about what really happened here, as well as the behavior of the Philabundance CEO when she reported the crime, which wasn’t exactly flattering."

"Instead, you are completely credulous in accepting their version of the story as gospel, and helping them to limit the fallout by putting their best PR spin on a serious security breach at peak donation time."

Predictably, Escobar and Brubaker were hiding under their desks, and did not respond to my request for comment. 

Sadly, when you've been around as long as I have, you get to know other reporters' work. I can't say I'm a fan of Brubaker's. One particular incident stands out in my memory. 

Back in 2010, I was reporting for the Philadelphia City Paper on highly questionable investments made by the Philadelphia Carpenters union, which sank $45 million from its pension fund, and $2 million from its general fund, into an investors group headed by Brian Tierney that bought the Inquirer in 2006 for the staggering sum of $515 million. When the newspaper went bankrupt in 2009, the carpenters union lost every cent of their $47 million investment. 

The Inquirer had printed in 2006 that the carpenters pension fund was "reportedly investing more than $20 million" in the newspaper purchase. But when the paper went bankrupt in 2009, and the full losses of the carpenters' union, $47 million, were spelled out in public filings in bankruptcy court, the newspaper sat on the story. 

When I called Brubaker up and asked why he wasn't printing the carpenters' full losses, he blurted out that he wasn't as crazy as I was.

Then I watched in amazement that the newspaper subsequently didn't disclose a $300,000 severance payment made to former CEO Brian Tierney, who led the Inquirer & Daily News into bankruptcy.

That's how they play the game at the Inquirer. Spin and sanitize. And always cover for the powers that be. 


  1. Thanks, Ralph, again. Another magnificent piece of the real deal of which was once journalism. Speaking of journalism, it's my opinion that you are quite possibly the only true journalist in this once great city. And speaking of subscriptions, I, too, cancelled mine almost two years ago after over thirty years of daily and Sunday delivery. They shadow-banned me from commenting. I became totally disgusted when the sports writers deemed it necessary to include the dreaded Donald Trummp into almost every sports story. I heard from someone on the radio over the weekend that China is putting big dollars into these communist rags not unlike the Inquirer all over the United States to keep them afloat, in case anyone would wonder who's buying their garbage. IMO, Ralph, you are up there with Mike Schmidt, Bobby Clarke, Bobby Jones and Randall Cunningham. Superstar.

  2. When you have this kind of executive competence at Philabundance in which the CEO supposedly sent a check of $923K to pay a construction bill and then claims they were hacked out of $923K when their bank asked where was the money, people take quick notice and will not be so generous with this charity until the FBI determines where the money was sent and who received the money. It's more likely the CEO sent it to a black owned group than if hackers got the money. Fast action needed to resolve exactly what happened and the Board will have to call an emergency meeting to replace the CEO and appoint a temporary CEO to run the organization plus start a deep scrub of the books before donors close their books. Both the Only and Philabundance are in the same sinking ship

  3. Im glad you called them out on their obvious hack job ripping you off!

  4. Thank you Ralph for your hard work and truth telling
    It is sad to see a great institution such as the Inquirer destroyed by these woke monsters.The paper will be out of business by end of 2021.Their writers better hope Unicorn Riot is hiring.

  5. Maybe it's Time that You seek to Interview Retired Archbishop Chaput, or at least Lobby Your Allies in the Catholic Media and ask why The Church does not Excommunicate Former Vice President Biden.

    A Corrupt, Crippled and Criminal Traitor to his Faith, Church and Country should not be protected by the Curtain of Propaganda that continues to give him cover.

    1. Ill advised exercise, excommunication of a Catholic politician.....any other names on the Catholic list? Would we then move on to the list of Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian politicians who may be eligible for similar censure in their faiths?


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