Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Lawsuit: 'Pillow Talk' Conspiracy Between Penn's News Officer & Philly Inquirer's Top Editor Targeted Grad Student For Smear Job

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

An explosive lawsuit filed this afternoon in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court charges that top officials at the University of Pennsylvania conspired with journalists at The Philadelphia Inquirer to smear a Penn grad student who had just won a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Mackenzie Fierceton claims that Penn officials targeted the grad student for retaliation after she became a key witness in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the university.

As part of the alleged conspiracy, the lawsuit claims, Penn officials conducted a "sham" investigation that forced the student to voluntarily give up her Rhodes scholarship, after Penn officials threatened to rescind the student's undergraduate degree and withhold her master's degree. On top of that, the lawsuit claims that Penn officials threatened to send the student to jail for allegedly fraudulently representing herself in her application to become a Rhodes scholar.

The lawsuits lists as defendants the university and its trustees, as well as three Penn officials: Beth Winkelstein, interim provost; Wendy White, senior vice president and general counsel; and Louisa Shepard, news officer for the Office of University Communications, none of whom could be reached for comment. 

The lawsuit, filed by attorney Dion Rassias of The Beasley Firm, claims that as part of the conspiracy to smear and retaliate against Fierceton, Louisa Shepard, Penn's news officer, leaked "false and baseless accusations" against Fierceton to her husband, Gabriel Escobar, editor and senior vice president of the Inquirer, as well as "presently unnamed co-conspirators at The Philadelphia Inquirer."

As a result of what the lawsuit describes as "orchestrated pillow talk" between Shepard and Escobar, the "conflict-laden editor" subsequently assigned Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter Wendy Ruderman to conduct a year-long investigation of Fierceton, the purpose of which was to "dig up any dirt possible." 

The lawsuit claims that during her investigation, Ruderman, who did not respond to a request for comment, interviewed "anonymous unreliable sources" that included Fierceton's biological mother, a doctor in St. Louis who lost custody of Fierceton in high school after Missouri state officials determined that the mother had physically abused her daughter, sending her to a hospital for nearly a month.

A Wrongful Death Claim 

On January 29, 2020, the lawsuit states, Fierceton, then an undergrad in the final semester of her senior year, "suffered a seizure" while attending a class on campus in the basement of the Caster Building at 3701 Locust Walk.

"Due to the inaccessibility of the Caster Building, and specifically its basement, and the Penn Defendants’ improper emergency protocol, it took more than an hour for emergency personnel to remove [Fierceton] from the building," the lawsuit states.

"This delay caused [Fierceton's] condition to further deteriorate, and as such, she was required to be admitted to the neurological intensive care unit for three days at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she spent a total of five days."

After Fierceton recovered, she began to investigate whether the death of a classmate of hers, Cameron Driver, which had occurred 16 months prior to her seizure, was caused by the same issues that delayed her own medical treatment. 

Shortly before class began at 6:45 p.m. on September 11, 2018, according to the lawsuit, Driver, a black 38-year-old graduate student, “suddenly and unexpectedly experienced what was described as ‘seizure like activity’ in connection with a cardiac arrest."

"Because there was no available landline in the classroom and cell phone service was 'inconsistent and/or non-existent' in the basement, Mr. Driver’s classmates were required to leave the classroom to call emergency responders," the lawsuit states. 

“It was not until 7:43 p.m., nearly an hour after [Driver] experienced a medical emergency, that Philadelphia EMS dispatch received a 911 call," the lawsuit states. "The students formed a human telephone chain from basement classroom A14 to the lobby, to relay information from the 911 dispatcher to [a professor] who was attempting to render aid to [Driver].”

“In the interim, [the University Medical Emergency Response Team] arrived on the scene after being significantly delayed due to logistical and systematic failures including a lack of proper training and the inability to locate the Caster building," the lawsuit states.

Emergency responders were hampered by "structural defects in the Caster Building, including stairwells and an elevator that could not accommodate an EMS stretcher or backboard," the lawsuit states. Driver was "eventually extracted by personnel from the Philadelphia Fire Department who carried him up the stairs from the basement 'using some sort of a mat or rug,' " the lawsuit states.

“Finally and at about 8:48 p.m., [emergency medical workers] departed the Caster building with [Driver] and arrived at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center at 8:50 p.m. . .  Driver was pronounced dead at the hospital at 9:00 p.m. on September 11, 2018."

"After suffering her own medical emergency in the basement of the Caster Building, and experiencing first-hand the delays in medical care due to the inaccessibility of the building," the lawsuit states, Fierceton met with Penn officials to discuss the "safety concerns uncovered by these two incidents."

On February 24, 2020, Fierceton sent emails to Penn President Amy Gutmann and other senior administrators "with details of the failures displayed in both medical emergencies." Fierceton's activism resulted in student protests that ended when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

As part of her investigation, Fierceton "took measurements and photographs of the entrances and exit doors, stairwells, hallways and elevator in the Castor Building," the lawsuit states. Fierceton presented all of this information to Driver's widow, whom, the lawsuit states, "was unaware of the true facts and circumstances surrounding her husband’s death, which had been concealed by the Penn Defendants."

On Aug. 18, 2020, a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Driver's family was subsequently filed against Penn. 

A Rhodes Scholarship

Approximately three months after the filing of the wrongful death lawsuit, on Nov. 22, 2020, Fierceton was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship to study at the University of Oxford.

Inquirer reporter Ruderman interviewed Fierceton for a story that ran that same day in the Inquirer under the headline, "Penn student who aged out of foster care wins prestigious Rhodes Scholarship."

The feature story, essentially a puff piece, highlighted the 23 year-old Fierceton's journey from foster child to Rhodes scholar, where she beat out more than 2,300 applicants from across the country. 

"Mackenzie Fierceton grew up poor, cycling through the rocky child welfare system," Ruderman wrote. "She bounced from one foster home to the next. One home, during her junior year of high school, was so 'toxic' and crammed with other foster kids that she left for weeks at a time, sleeping each night on a carousel of couches at the homes of various friends, she said."

In the story, Ruderman wrote that Fierceton "identified as queer and hopes to adopt children."

"As a product of the foster care system, Fierceton said she carries a degree of grief and pain that will always be a part of her, no matter her academic accomplishments," Ruderman wrote.

“I would trade all of this to have been adopted and have a family and have had that experience and that never happened, and that’s really sad,” Fierceton told Ruderman. “But I also feel like I’ve healed from that to the extent that I can, and I carry it with me now in a way that feels very empowering.”

“We are extremely proud of Penn’s newest Rhodes Scholar,” Penn President Amy Gutmann was quoted as saying in the story. “As a first-generation low-income student and a former foster youth, Mackenzie is passionate about championing young people in those communities through her academic, professional, and personal endeavors, dedicating herself to a life of public service.”

Those same quotes from Gutmann appeared in similar story about Fierceton winning the Rhodes scholarship that was published days earlier in PennToday. 

'Mackenzie Fierceton Had To Be Discredited And Buried'

After the Inquirer story ran, the lawsuit claims, Ruderman called Fierceton and informed her that she had received an anonymous email complaint that accused Fierceton "of lying about her abuse and misrepresenting herself to gain sympathy."

Fierceton called Shepard, who informed her that she had received the same anonymous email. The anonymous tips apparently came from the same source -- Fierceton's biological mother, who was a doctor in St. Louis.

In promoting Fierceton for a Rhodes scholarship, Penn had highlighted Fierceton's status as a member of Penn's FGLI [first-generation, low-income] program, which Penn defines as “students who are the first in their families to go to college and/or come from low-income households." 

Penn's FGLI students are enrolled in an Ivy League university where the annual tuition is some $60,000, without any financial support from their biological or adopted parents.

That feel-good storyline appeared to collapse, however, when Fierceton's biological mother told Ruderman and Penn officials that her daughter's up-from-poverty story wasn't true. 

But Fierceton's defenders on the Penn faculty insisted that she hadn't misstated the facts of her upbringing. Fierceton was indeed removed from her mother's home after being physically abused and she entered foster care at the beginning of her junior year in high school. She had also bounced from one foster family to another while working a series of jobs to pay her own way.

None of the members of her foster family had ever been to college and neither her foster parents nor her biological parents were helping to pay her way at Penn.

"Mackenzie had in fact never denied that she came from a well-off, educated background prior to entering foster care, and her student records at Penn had always made that abundantly clear," wrote Penn professors Anne Norton and Rogers M. Smith in an yet unpublished article that they have submitted to The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled, "The Mendacity of the Meritocrats, A Tale of Student Abuse."

"Still, in selecting Rhodes candidates, Penn officials had heard what they wanted to hear, and told Mackenzie’s story in the way that they wanted to tell it," the professors wrote. "The Philadelphia Inquirer had done the same when reporting on her Rhodes award. As the media buzz grew, Mackenzie’s high school time in foster care was made to sound like a lifetime in foster care, despite the precision of Mackenzie’s own statements and her subsequent efforts at correction."

"When Penn officials realized self-congratulatory celebration of their Rhodes could lead to false impressions, they had a choice of clarifying — or castigating Mackenzie," the two professors wrote. "It probably did not help that she uncovered, exposed, and is now a witness in a wrongful death lawsuit against the University. The decision was made quickly, if not instantly, without time for adequate investigation. Penn could not admit error. Mackenzie Fierceton had to be discredited and buried."

In their article for the Chronicle, the two professors blasted Penn for the way it handled the Fierceton case, saying "this is a story of shocking misconduct by widely respected officials at our own University."

"Who are we to write about all this?" the professors wrote. "Anne Norton, Stacey and Henry Jackson President’s Distinguished Professor of Political Science, is one of Mackenzie’s former Penn professors whose letter of recommendation was mischaracterized by Winkelstein’s letter. She has served as an informal advisor to Mackenzie throughout this process."

"Rogers Smith, Christopher H. Browne Distinguished Professor of Political Science, who has prior pertinent administrative experience, agreed to become Mackenzie’s designated advisor in the OSC process before discovering that it was not anything like the adjudication of formal charges with which he is familiar, and that it was providing a rationale for withholding Mackenzie’s Master’s degree. We have joined in filing a formal grievance against Winkelstein and White."

A 'Sham Investigation'

According to the lawsuit, "Thereafter, Defendants launched a sham investigation of Plaintiff, exploiting a phony and contrived administrative claims process against one of its own students – and at the time unrepresented – and accused [Fierceton] of lying about the child abuse she suffered and her time in foster care, all of which is true and contemporaneously well documented in court files in St. Louis, Missouri."

"As part of this bogus 'investigation' of one of its students," the lawsuit states, on Nov. 30, 2020, "Defendant Winkelstein demanded that the unrepresented [Fierceton] submit to her inquisition whereby Winkelstein aggressively, improperly and against Penn’s written policies, interrogated [Fierceton] over Zoom about her past physical, emotional and mental abuse."

According to the lawsuit, Winkelstein's inquisition went so far as to ask, "If we review your medical records from September 2014, are we going to see you had severe facial injuries and broken ribs?"

"Defendant Winkelstein’s relentless line of questioning regarding numerous painful and specific instances of abuse continued unabated until the battered [Fierceton] was sobbing so uncontrollably that she could not physically speak to answer any additional questions," the lawsuit states.

On December 7, 2020, the lawsuit states, "as part of the plan, Defendant Winkelstein authored a secret letter to The Rhodes Trust, the entity that awards the Rhodes Scholarships, expressing 'serious concerns' ” about the credibility of Fierceton.

 But Fierceton didn't learn about the letter until a month later, when she received a letter from the Rhodes Trust advising her that the trust was launching its own investigation of Fierceton. As part of the plot, the lawsuit states, "Defendant Winklestein had cowardly hidden the letter from [Fierceton] again one of her own students, to advance the Defendants’ plan to discredit" Fierceton.

The lawsuit claims that the defendants, "through their agent Ms. Shepard, then leaked the false and baseless accusations against [Fierceton] to the Editor of The Inquirer, who coincidentally is Ms. Shepard’s husband."

"Indeed, as part of the scheme to hurt, punish and discredit [Fierceton], acting through its conflict-laden editor, The Inquirer then assigned Ms. Ruderman to investigate and write a follow-up story for which she traveled to St. Louis for two weeks to dig up any dirt possible on the Plaintiff, and to speak with anonymous, unreliable sources regarding [Fierceton's] alleged 'lies, including a number of her former abusers."

"Obviously, this was orchestrated pillow talk between Defendant Shepard and the editor of The Inquirer," the lawsuit states. "Indeed, the conflict-laden editor and The Inquirer are significantly involved in implementing Penn’s outrageous behavior, and case discovery will reveal even more."

A Mother's Loss Of Custody

To prove that Fierceton misrepresented her past, the lawsuit claims, the defendants cite "a June 7, 2019 Court Order from the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis, State of Missouri, which finds that the Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board, the Department of Social Services and the Children’s Division of the State of Missouri did not meet their burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that Plaintiff’s biological mother abused [Fierceton] and so, [Fierceton's] biological mother was removed from the Central Registry of persons that committed abuse and/or neglect."

"However, that proceeding only demonstrates that the St. Louis Circuit Court was able to change its findings years later, so that [Fierceton's] biological mother, a prominent local physician, could have an ostensibly unsullied record going forward, despite the fact that her teenage daughter was removed from her household and placed in foster care during high school," the lawsuit states.

"The medical records and witness statements speak for themselves and confirm that [Fierceton] suffered horrific abuse which created the foster care necessity," the lawsuit states. "Indeed, no one, not even the Court in St. Louis, can erase or rewrite the fact that [Fierceton] was removed from her home and placed in foster care during high school and prior to her application to Penn."

Fierceton was removed from her mother's home in 2014 after she spent nearly a month in the hospital recovering from multiple injuries that the state determined were caused by Fierceton's mother. 

"These contrived investigations' by both The Inquirer and Defendants, working in concert, are clear retaliation, and reached what was the pre-ordained conclusion: to drudge up painful and debilitating memories of [Fierceton's] background and youth as a child abuse survivor and a foster care child, all to discredit [Fierceton] for Penn’s institutional protection."

After Winkelstein interrogated Fierceton, the student hired a lawyer to represent her. The lawyer contacted White "to determine if an amicable resolution to the situation was possible. In response, Defendant White outrageously threatened that if [Fierceton] does not decline her prestigious and valuable Rhodes Scholarship, Defendants will 'come after' her University of Pennsylvania undergraduate and graduate degrees.

According to the lawsuit, Fierceton subsequently discovered that White had spoken with Fierceton's "biological mother/abuser at length, who attempted to further discredit [Fierceton] and mitigate all of the circumstances surrounding [Fierceton's] placement in foster care – an event which again occurred before [Fierceton] applied for admission to Penn."

A Rhodes Scholarship Goes Up In Smoke

In discussions with Fierceton's lawyer, White "outrageously, extortionately and in an ultimatum stated that Penn would not further pursue any action against [Fierceton's] if: (1) she declined the Rhodes Scholarship; (2) withdrew or took a leave of absence from her Master of Social Work degree and then reapplied or returned to complete her MSW degree in one year; and (3) signed a release which included a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), confirmation that she would not sue the Defendants, and language stating that she did not sign under coercion or duress."

At the time, Fierceton had begun her last semester at Penn and only had to complete two classes to get her master's degree. 

Fierceton said no to Penn's deal. On Jan. 19, 2021, she submitted a letter to The Rhodes Trust, along with 44 supporting documents, including her medical records and the records of her foster care residency, records that were shared with Penn. 

On March 3, 2021, Fierceton was deposed in the Driver case.

A few weeks later, according to the lawsuit, White "threatened to revoke [Fierceton's] undergraduate degree, ensure that her [master's degree] is never conferred and send [Fierceton] to 'federal prison' for fraud."

On April 16, 2021, "having no alternative and clearly coerced by Defendant White’s threats, [Fierceton] submitted her formal withdrawal from the Rhodes Scholarship," the lawsuit states.

On April 21, 2021, Penn’s Office of Student Conduct notified Fierceton that anonymous “university officials” have requested an investigation" of her.  But according to the lawsuit, Penn's investigation was "a sham and a fraud" orchestrated by the defendants that amounted to a "deliberate fishing expedition." 

According to Penn's own charter, Fierceton was supposed to be represented during the internal Penn investigation by her academic advisor.

But according to the lawsuit, "the Disciplinary Hearing Officer, Dr. Hydar Ali, forbade [Fierceton's] advisor, Rogers M. Smith, from communicating directly with him and from communicating with potential witnesses on [Fierceton's] behalf, which significantly interfered with his ability" to defend Fierceton.

The lawsuit charges that Penn officials "deliberately contacted The Rhodes Trust with the express intent of ensuring that [Fierceton] did not receive the scholarship by causing The Rhodes Trust to launch an investigation into [Fierceton], thus jeopardizing her scholarship and future educational opportunities."

The lawsuit, which does not specify an amount of damages sought, claims retaliation, intentional interference with business relations and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

A Crusading Reporter And Her Editor's Conflict Of Interest

When she worked at the Inquirer, Wendy Ruderman described herself as an "investigative reporter who is committed to bringing light (and sometimes heat) to broken systems and wrongs."

But Ruderman is best known for her work at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she and Barbara Laker wrote a 2010 Pulitzer Prize for their series, "Tainted Justice," an exposé of a squad of Philadelphia narcotics officers that subsequently became mired in controversy.

In the original series, the reporters charged the narcs with fabricating evidence and looting bodegas during police raids. The reporters also accused one cop, Thomas Tolstoy, of molesting three women during the raids.

Cops, of course, hated the series, dubbing Ruderman and Laker the "Slime Sisters." John McNesby, president of the FOP, claimed that the two reporters had behaved unethically during their investigation of the cops by buying diapers and food and paying utility bills for a woman they wrote about who had accused police of misconduct. 

Then-Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey picked up the charge, saying that if the two reporters crossed an ethical line it may have tainted the criminal investigation of the cops.

It was just another pissing match between reporters and cops until the Daily News's sister paper took up the case.

In 2014, the Inquirer reported that after years of investigation, the feds would bring no charges against the narcs who had been hung out to dry in the Daily News series.

Then Inquirer Editor Bill Marimow, who himself had won two Pulitzers for his own exposés of cop misconduct, assigned reporters Mike Newall and Aubrey Whelan to do an investigative story on why the feds didn't charge the narcs. 

That assignment set off an epic newspaper feud between the Inquirer and Daily News that ended when H.F. "Gerry" Lenfest, the new owner of both papers, decided to kill the Inquirer story, at the request of the Daily News.

Big Trial broke the news that Lenfest had killed the story. Then, the Columbia Journalism Review picked up the story and the controversy went national.

The Inquirer's rich new owner was embarrassed enough to relent on censorship. On Aug. 8, 2014, the Inquirer finally published the killed story. And the reason why Lenfest had killed the story was immediately apparent. 

Because in that story, the Inquirer reporters laid the blame for what they described as a botched federal investigation squarely on the alleged overzealous behavior of the two Daily News reporters.

In the Inquirer story, a woman who was a key Daily News source and prime accuser of the cops told federal investigators that the reporters had "provided her with gifts, paid her bills, offered her money to hire a lawyer, and told her that she could collect a financial windfall if she talked to them and not to law enforcement officials."

In the Inquirer story, Ruderman and Laker vehemently denied the charges. But in a book they wrote, they admitted to wondering whether their obsessive concern about the fate of their sources had indeed crossed an ethical line.

Despite the denials by Ruderman and Laker, the Daily News was stuck in the untenable position of claiming that their key source was right about her allegations against the cops, but wrong about her allegations against the reporters.

The cops beat the rap and the Daily News took a public relations hit. Meanwhile, a proposed TV series based on Tainted Justice that was supposed to star Sarah Jessica Parker as Ruderman fell through.

When the two newspapers merged, Ruderman became an Inquirer reporter who understandably wasn't too crazy about working for a newspaper where the editors and reporters had publicly questioned her reputation and cast doubt on her Pulitzer.

When Ruderman the investigative reporter was assigned the little feature story that ran in the Sunday paper about the grad student who went from foster care to a Rhodes scholarship, it was an unlikely pairing. Maybe Ruderman was working a weekend shift rotation when she was assigned the feature, but it's definitely not the type of story she was known for doing.

When Ruderman got the call from the grad student's biological mother telling her she'd been had, it's not the kind of news any reporter would want to hear, especially somebody who bills herself as an investigative reporter. Then, Ruderman was assigned to do a follow-up story that was supposed to be hard-hitting exposé of a fraud.

When Ruderman began her year-long investigation of Fierceton, according to newsroom sources, Inquirer editor Gabriel Escobar, who did not respond to a request for comment, initially told the reporter that he had a conflict of interest because of his wife's employment at Penn. And that's why James Neff, a deputy managing editor, would function as Ruderman's editor.

But the pairing didn't go well. According to sources, Ruderman had numerous conflicts with Neff over what became an extremely lengthy story.

After a year of investigating Fierceton, but not being able to get the story published, Ruderman announced that she was resigning from the Inquirer, to take a job on Aug. 18th as a staff reporter for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit that covers the national criminal justice system. 

That's when according to newsroom sources, Escobar, despite his self-confessed conflict of interest, decided to get involved, telling Ruderman that he wanted her to finish the story.

Newsroom sources say that Escobar wanted Ruderman to finish the Fierceton story as a freelancer, which posed a conflict with the newsroom's union labor contract. During negotiations that involved the NewsGuild of Greater Philadelphia, the argument was over how Ruderman would be paid.

Ruderman, according to sources, also wanted the newspaper's editors to guarantee in writing that if the Inquirer was sued for libel over the Fierceton story, the newspaper would represent Ruderman.

When the newspaper's editors declined to put that guarantee in writing, Ruderman, at the advice of the Newspaper Guild, wrote to Escobar, stating that she would do no further work for the newspaper. Another problem for Ruderman was that as a condition for her employment with The Marshall Project, she told the Guild she wasn't supposed to write for any other publication.

In exit interviews, according to newsroom sources, Ruderman trashed her editors, particularly Neff, whom she described as the worst editor she had ever worked for. But she also panned Escobar.

"She ripped everybody," a source said. 

Ruderman's follow-up story about Fierceton was never published. The Inquirer's editors better hang on to a copy because now it's part of a lawsuit. 

'The Shame of Penn's Hypocritical Meritocrats'

In their article submitted to the Chronicle, Penn professors Norton and Smith wrote that "Penn wants to present itself as a grand meritocratic escalator on which gifted young people from less advantaged backgrounds can ascend to stardom in all fields."

"Ironically, Penn had such a student in Mackenzie: a talented woman who [by all accounts] overcame childhood trauma, aged out of foster-care, and achieved a superlative academic record while working multiple jobs," the two professors wrote. 

"But, perhaps finding her story more than they wanted to tell, they [Penn officials] chose to abandon her when the biological mother from whom the State of Missouri removed her began attacking her yet again. They have made the University of Pennsylvania administration complicit in continuing abuse."

"Though Interim Provost Winkelstein and General Counsel White are most directly culpable for the savaging of Mackenzie Fierceton, ultimate responsibility for all this must reside with Penn’s chief policymaker, its longtime president Amy Gutmann, now President Biden’s nominee to be ambassador to Germany," the two professors wrote.

"We have both known and worked with Amy Gutmann for many decades, and we credit her with many exceptional achievements," the two professors wrote. "Among them is great expertise in professional ethics. In this case, however, ethics appear to have succumbed to ego."

"Gutmann could not resist immediately issuing a press statement portraying Mackenzie’s Rhodes as a triumph for Penn’s FGLI [first-generation, low-income] program," the two professors wrote. 

"Though the statement was accurate, she may have feared that the facts of Mackenzie’s life might differ from the impression that Penn’s trumpeting of its FGLI enrollments seeks to convey, despite the fact that Mackenzie’s status as a foster youth who aged out of care with no financial or emotional support indisputably makes her as low-income and FGLI student by institutional, state, and federal guidelines," the two professors wrote."

"In any case, ignoring our expressions of concern, Gutmann has done nothing while her top officials have flaunted the University’s rules and human decency, in order to defame and silence a young woman, a survivor of long-time abuse, whom we, along with many of our colleagues, have come to regard as one of the finest members of the Penn community," the two professors wrote.

"Because that is who she is, Mackenzie Fierceton will in the end rise above this unjust and abusive treatment, as she has done for years," the two professors wrote. "The shame of Penn’s hypocritical meritocrats should, in contrast, endure forever."


  1. Wow! First I'm reading of this.
    Ah, well.
    I can't say I'm surprised.
    Penn: founded by a slave-owning, Catholic-hating, womanizer, on native land stolen by a slave-owning Quaker, neither of whose statues have "context plaques" or have been boxed and/or removed. The very ground is cursed!
    Penn is home to some of the worst robber barrons, whose images are enshrined in the Wharton Walk of Shame.

    As for the Inquirer: funded by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Child Sex Abuse Cover Up to serve the oligarchs.

    Kudos to Amy Guttman! Ambassador to Germany. After reading this, Germany is a good fit for her. Amy and the Germans share much in common.

  2. Fierceton supported Penn cutting ties with the police.
    Fear NOT! The po-po!
    Penn has strengthen its stranglehold on the city. It lavished money on Joe Biden, Jim Kenney, and engorged itself with Chinese slave and concentration camp riches. Amy did good!
    From the Daily Pennsylvanian (DP for short)
    Has Penn started contributing to PILOT yet? No. No, it has not. Nor will it. Ever!. Penn needs the money to cover up negligent homicide and silence those speaking truth to power!
    “I think that we could contribute to the community, the broader Philadelphia community, and the West Philadelphia community more positively, instead of doing things that are not only undermining them but are actively policing them, and end up creating and perpetuating more violence,” 2020 College graduate and SP2 Master’s student Mackenzie Cahira Fierceton said.

    Funny. Penn is doing to fierceton what she says the police do to poor historically underserved communities of color.

  3. Gutmann has fled the country! Ironic: she fled to the land her family fled from!
    No worries. The Inquirer will Hide It All!
    "Exit! Stage Right!"

  4. Gee Albert, you needed three whole comments to make one long diatribe.

  5. When the AP picked up the story, they introduced Fierceton by writing that she "as a child bounced around foster homes." In the next paragraph is a link to the article's source, a story from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that conspicuously *lacks* the phrase "as a child." A sixteen-year-old is still a child, of course, but why couldn’t the AP call her a teenager? What associations were they trying to conjure?

    What is really at stake is how Fierceton represented her biography in the Rhodes application. It's astonishing that the mother would take it upon herself to contact Penn and the Inquirer just to derail her daughter's life. Unfortunately her calls were a legitimate basis for an investigation *if* we believe that Penn didn’t know that the Inquirer story, produced under the guidance of the comms office, contained misleading assertions. If Penn decided that Fierceton misrepresented her eligibility for the FGLI program because her mother in fact went to college and was not low-income, then that means Penn also misrepresented her to the Rhodes Trust; Fierceton thus has to prove that Penn and the Inquirer colluded to fudge her biography for extra sympathy points in the first place. As far as Penn is concerned, Fierceton turned out to be a rich white girl who ran away from home rather than a "foster kid" or struggling inner-city youth; Penn is only interested in helping abuse victims from low-income neighborhoods, preferably children of color who lived against a backdrop of drug addiction or gun violence. How else could the school pat itself on the back and demand even more city tax credits for real estate development? I don’t doubt that Penn was pissed about her role in the wrongful death suit, but I don’t think they yanked her Rhodes because of it.

    What I want to know is why the abuse charges against her mother were dropped. The initial criminal complaint in 2014 includes a statement from a detective who noted that Fierceton was treated at a hospital for bruising and swelling that Fierceton claimed her mother caused by pushing her down the stairs. She also described an incident the previous day where her mother pushed her into a wall and an incident 7 months earlier where she slammed her face on a metal table, causing black eyes. Fierceton showed the detective a photograph of her injuries. The Post-Dispatch reported that the state's attorney dropped all charges (2 felony, 1 misdemeanor) based on "new evidence" in 2015, but this lawsuit cites a 2019 court decision that references a failure to show a preponderance of evidence as a reason for removing the mother from a child abuse registry--presumably allowing her to keep or regain her medical license. So what was it, new evidence or lack of evidence? Fierceton’s lawyer claims that the St. Louis Circuit Court simply “changed its findings” in the 2019 decision, but this is inaccurate if the charges were dropped years earlier. In any case, it’s telling that custody was not subsequently restored, and the mother’s phone calls to Penn and the Inquirer clearly show what a deranged c*nt she is. That there is not even a mention of a father, father-figure or any extended family in these proceedings is unusual (as is the fact that all parties in this suit are women) given the fact that Fierceton's mother is an educated professional, and is perhaps evidence of deeper dysfunction that led to foster placement.

    It's obvious that Fierceton overcame significant adversity that most pampered Penn students could never imagine. Penn’s botched investigation and horrific response to this situation is indicative of larger shifts in the military-industrial complex of higher education.

    1. Her background only became an issue AFTER Fierceton made a ruckus.

      "One way or another Penn will getcha getcha getcah! One day may next week Penn'll find ya!"

  6. The Inquirers other bedfellows are the feds. This article highlights the importance the media’s words have on public opinion, and altering the record on facts. I have been saying for years the reason federal prosecutors have such a stranglehold on defendants is the close working relationship they have with the media.
    If the Inquirer was truly after the truth, they would not align themselves with the prosecution and deny the civil rights of a defendant trying to defend themselves against a might enemy.

    The Inquirer, like the feds, are not after the truth, they want to steer a jury or the public to think as they do, or react with fervor towards a defendant. The only “truth” a subscriber reads on the pages of the Inquirer is the feds “truth”.
    Make no mistake the media schemes with the prosecution, it is blatant misconduct equally on both the part of the journalist and the prosecutors.

    Its outright corruption, both have betrayed their oaths. The corruption fighters at the Inquirer turn a blind eye when the corruption is at the hands of the feds or their own coworkers .

    There is no better definition of the word scheme, than the Inquirer and federal prosecutors teaming up to smear a defendant. This article is amazing, there is no room for the truth when the Inquirer conspires to discredit and defame. I hope this goes national, you Ralph, deserve a Pulitzer.

    The Inquirer has been denying civil rights and free speech to Americans for too long.

    1. I hope she is successful in her lawsuit. Shame on the people who can see the trees through the forest. Get you building up to code in case of an emergency!!! I'm glad Mackenzie is brave enough to do the right thing. At such a cost��

  7. I feel Mackenzie s pain. I had not as bad as her but I was retaliated against for running for a union stewardship position at my old job. Only difference I had a union behind me. But I had a long hard fight against even fellow workers, who was in the very same union. I call it a "pack mentality". I hope she is victorious against these tyrants.

  8. Disgusting but not shockimg! I hope this story leads to justice for this young woman,the Driver family and anyone else who has experienced this type of treatment from the University.

  9. Society does not want to think that an upperclass medical doctor could abuse her daughter so. However, the glaring omission here is that her doctor-mother did not take her for medical or psychological help. If you saw your "cherished" daughter's medical condition was so severe, including head wounds that probably caused her subsequent seizures, you would rush her to a hospital for treatment. If you thought your "cherished" daughter was so clumsy or trying to hurt herself, you would get her psychiatric help. The fact that only high school staff tried to help her medically, socially and psychologically speaks volumes.


Thoughtful commentary welcome. Trolling, harassing, and defaming not welcome. Consistent with 47 U.S.C. 230, we have the right to delete without warning any comments we believe are obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable, whether or not such material is constitutionally protected.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.