Monday, March 28, 2022

The New Yorker Gives UPenn A Black Eye

Photo by Robbie Lawrence for The New Yorker
By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

The New Yorker has just weighed in on the Mackenzie Fierceton case, and the result is a public relations disaster for UPenn.

The headline of the story published today and written by Rachel Aviv: "How An Ivy League School Turned Against A Student."

The subhead: "Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rohdes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying."

On Dec. 21st, Big Trial was the first to break the story about an explosive lawsuit filed in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court that charged 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 claimed that Penn officials targeted the grad student for retaliation after she became a key witness in a wrongful death lawsuit filed against the university.

The New Yorker story breaks new ground by publishing excerpts from Fierceton's diary that detail  allegations of abuse against her mother, a prominent doctor in St. Louis, as well as Fierceton's accusations of sexual abuse against the mother's boyfriend, a weightlifting champ from Missouri. 

In the The New Yorker story, the Inquirer gets a pass, but the magazine piles up on Penn. According to The New Yorker, as part of its crusade against Fierceton, a foster child living in poverty, Penn sunk so low as to threaten the student with a $4,000 fine.

Here's the lead of the New Yorker story:

In the winter of her sophomore year of high school, Mackenzie Morrison sat in her bedroom closet and began a new diary. Using her phone to light the pages, she listed the “pros of telling”: “no more physical/emotional attacks,” “I get out of this dangerous house,” “the truth is finally out, I don’t have to lie or cover things up.” Under “cons of telling,” she wrote, “damaging mom’s life,” “could go into foster care,” “basically I would probably lose everything.” After she finished, she loosened the screws of a vent panel on the wall outside her closet and slipped the notebook behind it.

The magazine interviews parents of Fierceton's high school friends who wondered why Fierceton was always walking around with bruises and black eyes. The New Yorker also quotes Fierceton as testifying in court "that her mother had pushed her down the stairs and that, after she had fallen, 'my mom was on top of me and she was striking me in the face.'"

The incident resulted in the mother's arrest and her daughter being placed in foster care. When a Penn official asked Fierceton what happened during the incident, the magazine quotes Fierceton as saying, “My mom tried to kill me.”

Here's how the New Yorker describes alleged abuse by the mother's boyfriend, and Mom's reaction when her daughter told her what had happened:

[Mackenzie] had fallen asleep watching a movie in her mom’s bed and woke up to [the boyfriend] on top of her, “feeling my boobs, running his hand around my inner thighs & exploring other places.” She got out from under him, ran into her own room, and eventually called her mother, who wasn’t home, and related what had happened. “She just bursts out laughing,” Mackenzie wrote. Her mother told her that it was an accident, saying, “I’m flattered that he got me mixed up with my 15-year-old daughter.” 

The irony of the situation: In their crusade to get Fierceton to voluntarily give up her Rhodes scholarship because she had allegedly lied in her application, Penn relied on information obtained from Fierceton's mother and boyfriend to discredit her. 

The New Yorker quotes one of Fierceton's academic advisors as Penn as saying, “I cannot avoid the sense that Mackenzie is being faulted for not having suffered enough. She was a foster child, but not for long enough. She is poor, but she has not been poor for long enough. She was abused, but there is not enough blood.”

In the lawsuit filed on behalf of Fierceton by attorney Dion Rassias of The Beasley Firm, Fierceton's lawyer claimed 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 interviewed "anonymous unreliable sources" that included Fierceton's biological mother.

In response, Penn filed an 80-page answer to Rassias's complaint that was filled with denials and more attacks on Fierceton.

In the legal battle, Penn lost a bid to have the case transferred from Philadelphia Common Pleas Court to Commerce Court, where business disputes are often handled outside of the public eye, and without a jury trial. In Common Pleas Court, where the case remains Fierceton's lawyer is demanding a jury trial.

Penn's public response to the Fierceton lawsuit has been stonewalling.

The Inquirer is doing the same thing as Escobar, the newspaper's top editor, and Ruderman, who has since left the paper, have not responded to requests for comment. 

36 comments

  1. Perhaps Amy Wax can represent Penn at trial!
    Screwing over poor minorities and LGBTQAI+ is in Penn's wheelhouse.
    Their founder stole native lands, owned slaves, and was a womanizer.
    Wax most closely represent Penn's true nature.
    Convicted felons Michael Miliken and Michael Avanati, as well as Donald Trump went there.
    What more evidence do we need?

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  2. Abuse , gaslighting are the common traits seen here. They themselves are a big red alert. Instead of just believing the anonymous sources, they should have done investigation into named sources too. It's like how people believe Trump, even though it's proven that he's a liar. Could not stop from saying this, but this is how the privileged treat their kids and take revenge when they hit back

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    1. Trump is Penn's most famous graduate. Biden made millions from Penn. Pen has a huge Chinese presence and preference. Penn is the flagship for
      Oligarchs!

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  3. I'm curious why almost all of the commenters who are sympathetic to her are missing the main point about this case: The girl clearly lied about being a first-generation college student in order to gain admissions' advantage to both Penn and the Rhodes. She also exaggerated her financial and foster child status to gain advantage there.

    That's what these institutions are going after, not the abuse question. She would have been better off telling the truth as she saw it rather than hiding her history.

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    1. I'm told that the applicants are encouraged to swing for the fences, and that the resulting prose has much in common with fiction writing. Also, Mackenzie's two academic advisors, with nothing to gain, continue to insist that she didn't lie about anything, and they say the university is at fault.

      Frankly, the reactions of both Penn and the Inquirer to whatever was going on with this student are so insane and over the top that I won't be surprised if a jury clobbers them. They, after all, were allegedly the adults in the room.

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    2. Also, as I recall, there was a provision for students from broken homes, estranged parents, who may not have been the first to college.
      The point is all of this information was available prior to selecting this individual for the program.
      Only now, for obvious reasons, is this an issue.

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    3. Guess only poor people can abuse their children? She " divorced" herself from her family.She did not to use them to advantage.

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    4. She asked her counselors how to respond to those questions, and they were the ones who advised her to say she was first-generation. She didn't exaggerate anything and she deserved the help she got.

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    5. read the newyorker article, She contacted the university and asked how she should classify herself, they told her to classify herself as first gen, the university is/was on a kick to up their first gen numbers and laid out their classification criteria publically on a website. if she is emancipated she no longer has a family and therefore would be the first in her family to go to college, she also was not getting any support from her family and was by definition impoverished unless there is some trust fund that no one is talking about.

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    6. To quote the article itself: "During her sophomore year, Mackenzie decided to apply for a master’s at Penn’s school of social work—she could begin the program while completing her undergraduate degree—because she wanted to help young people who had aged out of foster care. One question on the application asked, “Are you the first generation in your family to attend college?” The Web site of Penn First Plus, a university program founded in 2018 to support F.G.L.I. students, defines “first generation” broadly, including students who have a “strained or limited” relationship with a parent who has graduated from college. This definition resembles the one used in the federal Higher Education Act, which says that first-generation status depends on the education level of a parent whom a student “regularly resided with and received support from.” (A spokesperson for the university said that Penn First Plus’s definition is designed to be inclusive and is not the institution’s official definition.)"

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    7. From the New Yorker article itself: "During her sophomore year, Mackenzie decided to apply for a master’s at Penn’s school of social work—she could begin the program while completing her undergraduate degree—because she wanted to help young people who had aged out of foster care. One question on the application asked, “Are you the first generation in your family to attend college?” The Web site of Penn First Plus, a university program founded in 2018 to support F.G.L.I. students, defines “first generation” broadly, including students who have a “strained or limited” relationship with a parent who has graduated from college. This definition resembles the one used in the federal Higher Education Act, which says that first-generation status depends on the education level of a parent whom a student “regularly resided with and received support from.” (A spokesperson for the university said that Penn First Plus’s definition is designed to be inclusive and is not the institution’s official definition.)"

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    8. She didn't lie. She qualified under Penn's own standard for first-generation students: having "a strained or limited relationship with the person(s) in your family who hold(s) a bachelors degree.” She was hospitalized for abuse. She was removed from her home and put into foster care.

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  4. Mackenzie's mother is a piece of work - an abusive POS and a conniving liar still apparently attempting to destroy her own daughter. God help children who have monsters like that for parents, and God bless those who survive them, can get away and somehow make a way for themselves. Mackenzie deserves every chance at happiness and all the support and love she can get. Thanks to Rachel Aviv for shedding light on her story, and thanks to all of those who have helped Mackenzie along her way.

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    1. I wonder if the mother sent to Penn?
      She appears to have all of the attributes we associate with Penn and their crime syndicate of graduates.

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    2. Yes. Thanks to the new Yorker which has consistently exposed the abuses of the wealthy.

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  5. It’s curious, every panel that has reviewed the record, as well as the DA, ended up disbelieving her. But it isn’t clear why, to me. I suspect there may be damming stuff in the evidentiary record that hasn’t appeared in the news or the lawsuit pleadings yet. Otherwise, I’m not sure how several independent panels have concluded that she isn’t credible.

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    1. Penn, given its long, shameful history, is the one not credible.

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    2. Reading the New Yorker article explains that very clearly. Those "independent" panels were being given false and misleading info from "anonymous" sources assumed and in many cases found to be from the 2 people accused of abusing her.

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    3. The reason is MONEY-- the mother is wealthy and used her money to fight the charges against her. The justice system is heavily skewed toward those who can afford to fight.

      Then the university found this was an easy way to retaliate against her for her part in the lawsuit filed by the widow of the man who died in the basement of the university building.

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    4. the chronical of higher ed does a better job than the new yorker with this, primarily what they found was she claimed that her face was swollen to the point were she described it as not being able to identify herself. photos at the time show minor facial trauma but not to the extent of what you would think based on her description, she also states that her body was in braces so she couldn't move, there are pictures of her in the hospital with a neck-brace but again by her writing you would imagine more of a full body cast, also she stated she had blood in her hair, the chronical of ed found a nurse that remembered washing blood out of her hair it sounded like the univeristy reports were unable to substantiate. she also mentions machines to monitor incase she stops breathing again, there doesnt seem to be any evidence of her ever not breathing, she was on a feeding tube because she acording to records chose not to eat, it is also reported that she has seizure like symptoms as well as concussion like symptoms, she was in the hospital for weeks including being in the pediatric care unit, now could she have had doctors chasing their tails with claims of problems they couldn't empirically evaulate, possibly. also it was brought up that there were no injuries on her back i guess this was meant to imply that she did this to her self, they also seem to think the fact that she drove herself to school the next day before collapsing is evidence she is making it all up. so the reports find that she exaggerated some aspects of otherwise truthful claims of injury, the reports also state that there is no way of knowing what caused those injuries because the only witnesses were her and her mother. many cases of rape and abuse are dismissed because of this reason it is the intended feature of our justice system.

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  6. The mother was arrested, the student was hospitalized and subsequently placed in a foster home.

    The student was a witness in a negligence lawsuit against Penn that involved the death of another student. The student should have been radioactive to Penn as far as attacks on her integrity. She also should have ben radioactive to the Inquirer.

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    1. Penn=Inquirer.
      They work in tandem to advance the desires of oligarchs.

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    2. i hope she kicks Penn's ass. While the majority of the "journalism" outlets regurgitate the same drivel, I applaud the New Yorker and your entity for taking the time, and making the effort, to get it right. Mackenzie's story is compelling and, once the Ivy league defense team churns motions from their ivory towers, a jury will hear her story and, hopefully, do the right thing. Until then, keep reporting the news fairly and responsibly.

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  7. I think this is fairly telling, from the New Yorker article when they talk about the FGLI (first generation low income) definition that the student used "A spokesperson for the university said that Penn First Plus’s definition is designed to be inclusive and is not the institution’s official definition."

    So she followed YOUR definition but now it suits you to say that it's not accurate... a lot of double talk here. Penn celebrated her when it suited them and when it no longer suited them, they tore her down. And involved themselves in her Rhodes Scholarship...

    Thank you New Yorker for exposing Penn for the scum they are!

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    1. Well stated!

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    2. In Philadelphia, we have sadly just the Inquirer, which serves as a footstool for Penn, other oligarchs and their institutions.

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    3. OH! and thankfully, BigTrial!

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    4. What does Mayor Kenney have to say about all of this?
      He usually stands strong for poor, underserved, LGBTQAI+ community members.
      What if this were Las Salle? Or St Joe's??/ Then Kenney would be leading the protest! But it is Penn. So, Hide it all!

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    5. Amy Wax made The New Republic, too this week.
      The Inquirer does a great job covering up for the atrocious, immoral machinations of Penn, but only locally:

      The New Republic: Michael Bérubé, Jennifer Ruth /March 21, 2022
      When Professors’ Speech Is Disqualifying
      Should academic freedom really protect those who make false and morally repellent claims? It’s time for a rethink.

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  8. I have read a lot about this matter and fully support Mackenzie. The only aspect that is surprising and does not seem to be addressed in any articles I have read is why didn't MacKenzie reach out to her biological father? It seems like after witnessing firsthand how her mother did everything imaginable to destroy and discredit Mackenzie, Mackenzie might have started to question if her father really was the monster that her mother portrayed him to be. The only reference I saw to him was that he was a soap opera actor and that Cindy had gotten a protective order against him, but protective orders are simple to obtain and are a favorite tool of the wealthy to discredit their adversaries. I have seen it happen many times. It just seems like, if nothing else, Mackenzie's father might have been able to corroborate her story because Cindy may very well have been abusive to him too. In a best case scenario, perhaps he might have shown love for Mackenzie and turned out to be different from how Cindy portrayed him. Perhaps he was cut from the same cloth as Cindy and I hope I am not speaking out of turn, but unless there is a lot I am unaware of, it seems like he should have been given an opportunity to be a father or at least a friend to Mackenzie. If there was indeed a protective order in place for many years of Mackenzie's life, it likely would have prevented him from even having contact with Mackenzie despite the fact that the basis for the protective order may have had nothing to do with Mackenzie. We saw how Cindy discredited Mackenzie in every way imaginable so I am guessing she did that to him too. The New Yorker article did not provide enough information about him to understand why he was never an option but rather seemed to suggest that the fact that he was a lifetime soap opera actor somehow prevented him from being a loving parent. Regardless, I hope justice is served with respect to Cindy and UPenn and I hope and pray for Mackenzie and her future. Nobody deserves to go through 1/10th of what she has, and she is a hero for persevering when others might give up. And if her father is aware off all that has occurred and has not reached out to Mackenzie, then shame on him.

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  9. I hope there are some serious ramifications for Penn after this. It was clearly a case of retaliation. That poor girl did everything she was supposed to, asked all the right questions and was given the right advice, and these people turned on her once they realized she wasn't a good enough story anymore. How shameful of them. Their statement proudly reeks of victim blaming and gaslighting, and I really hope she finds someone to represent her and put those people in their place. The amount of people who failed this girl is astronomical. Just because the mother paid and influenced her way out of a trial doesn't mean she isn't guilty. It's horrible the way Mackenzie is being portrayed. There is evidence of abuse and she's still being called a liar. This is exactly why victims don't speak out and now Penn is perpetuating the cycle. I really hope future college students see this, especially the ones Penn wants to use for their media stories, and make the decision to go elsewhere. If they were really concerned about her background, they should have done more research when she originally applied. I feel it's way too late for them to backtrack and withhold her degree or interfere with her scholarship. They're trying to discredit her and giving themselves a horrible reputation in the process. Hope it comes back to bite them.

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  10. Assuming the absent parent is better than the abusive one is ridiculous. We would hear his name if he had actually tried to be involved. The fact that he isn't involved means he is almost as bad as the Mother and the idea that we need a "man" to corroborate her story is really sad. There are so many adults in power in this story who failed this girl and the New Yorker article does a very good job at relaying these facts.

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  11. Just like Will Smith's abhorrent thuggery on live TV, an event celebrating infinite hark work in the industry, UPenn's "thuggery" takes the shine away from all the deserving students at Penn. I'd take this personally if I were a current student or an alumni. Big donors and names need to wield influence and coercion in the name of justice.

    The mother's guilt is on full display. Even if MacKenzie was a difficult adolescent, blaming your own child and not running to her needs is a sign of her malignant narcissism. The fact that she didn't once inquire about the well being of her daughter laying in the hospital during the investigation should have raised alarm bells. Kudos to those around MacKenzie who kept her living spirit from fading out. Her will to survive and live depends on support around her and our world will be a better place where the strongest survives in the course of future evolution.

    Shame on Penn for inflicting their own abuse onto a student that no longer fit their narrative and that interrogation is proof of this 'abuse.' Trying to discredit a fact-based physical injury like asking why she said her feeding tube tasted metallic if the tube was plastic is speechless. There are many things, including medication via intravenous that leave a metallic taste in your mouth.

    Finally, my biological father can be described as Mackenzie's biological mother. Fortunately, karma came knocking 30+ years later and he is no longer the once respected and charismatic businessman but still playing the victim card, and never once asking how I am, now on the other side of the world. Thankfully I had a mother that protected me, and sometimes got hurt. I remember several times in my high school years, and even stemming further back to elementary school where everyone flat out called me a liar if I dropped hints of my home life. My situation wasn't even 1% of the trauma inflicted upon MacKenzie, so the thought of being in her shoes is inexplicably, and unimaginably, terrifying to say the least.

    I sincerely hope justice comes knocking on Carrie Morrison's door and she too gets the black eye from the court of public opinion, and all her 'friends' and 'enablers' in high places.

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  12. this crime family of a college needs to be shut down!

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  13. Penn’s horrific treatment of Mackenize Fierceton is disgusting. Thankfully she is strong enough to fight UPenn's hypocrisy and falseness, but how many other young people, having proven of insufficient value to its sham of maintaining a "reputation", have been forever damaged by the great 'gift' of attending its ivy covered walls?

    To heap additional and inexcusable pain on a honest young woman just trying to extricate herself from the horrors of a mentally ill parent cannot be explained by the perp ( yes, clearly Penn is the perp) as a lie when she was directed by the university, and for good reason since she had long ago been abandoned by her family, to use the first gen label. That Penn discounted all the people who stepped forward to speak on her behalf is mind boggling. It will take a long, long time for UPenn to live down the calculated, mean steps that Winklestein, White, Shepard and others.

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  14. Regarding Mackensie Fierceton, though the story is long and detailed, I have a feeling that there's still a lot more to be told. As I was reading, I mostly sympathized with the daughter Mackensie. Certainly that is the viewpoint of the author. But something started really bothering me when I got to the part how Mackensie somehow just happened to have a very, very similar event happen to her in that basement of the Caster building at Penn that another student had a couple years before. The difference when it happened to Mackensie is that she survived. "She was unconscious and intermittently seizing for one hour" - per her friends who were there. I have questions about this seizure and her subsequent diagnosis of epilepsy. Has it recurred? How is a seizure verified? Is it possible to fake? If it is possible that Mackensie created the seizure scenario, then I have to look harder at all the other allegations and scenarios that came before.
    Mackensie seems to have had thorough schooling in the nuance and complexities of manipulation.

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