The Inquirer’s Journalism Is in Real Trouble

AP Photo | Matt Rourke

Kathleen Kane. AP Photo | Matt Rourke

A couple of weeks ago, I was interviewing an Inquirer journalist about some bit of newsroom dysfunction — there’s always some bit of newsroom dysfunction — when she expressed some concern that the company’s ownership fracas would end up undermining the paper’s journalism.

It wasn’t so much a fear of meddling by the paper’s owners; you can pretty much depend on newspaper journos to rebel at the first hint of editorial interference. The problem, she suggested, was an absence of strength: In the good old days of long-tenured, deep-pocketed owners who were in the business for the long haul, a journalist could go out and dig for muck, then print it, knowing there were plenty of resources to back him or her up if some offended party decided to get litigious.

With the Inquirer’s ownership divided against itself, she wondered, would there be enough resources to support those hard-nosed journalists? And if not, she said, what would become of the paper’s accountability journalism — the kind of investigations into public officials and their decisions that remains a hallmark of the paper even in its diminished state? She was fearful.

And now it seems we might find the answers to her questions.

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Is Kathleen Kane the Next Public Official to File Suit Involving the Inky?

NBC10 reports that PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane has hired a law firm to represent her in a possible defamation suit, following this week’s Philadelphia Inquirer report that she abandoned a sting operation in which several Philly Democrats were caught on tape taking cash payments. Attorney Tom Sprague told the station he has been hired, along with his father, Richard, to represent Kane in the matter:

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McCaffery’s Lawyer: Official Inquirer Complaint Coming Next Week

A defense lawyer’s motion to have every Philadelphia judge recused from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice’s lawsuit against the Philadelphia Inquirer has had at least one effect — the cancellation of a Wednesday afternoon hearing on motions in the case. Judge Nina Padilla said the recusal motion had forced her to kick the case up to a presiding judge in the district.

The hearing might’ve fizzled anyway. Lawyers were set to argue over motions requiring Justice Seamus McCaffery to file a specific complaint against the Inquirer. McCaffery’s lawyer, Dion Rassias, said after Wednesday’s short hearing that he had obtained needed information from the Inquirer to proceed with his filing.

“We’re moving full speed ahead on the complaint,” Rassias said, estimating it would be filed early next week.

Rassias was apparently the only representative of either party to attend Wednesday’s hearing.

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Defense Lawyer Seeks Recusal of Every Judge in Philly

A defense lawyer in Seamus McCaffery’s lawsuit against the Philadelphia Inquirer is asking that every judge in Philadelphia be recused from the case.

Richard Sprague, lawyer for Intertrust GCN, a company owned by Inky co-owner Lewis Katz, filed the motion Friday (below). In it, he notes that McCaffery — now a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — was previously a judge in the First Judicial District that Philadelphia, between 1993 and 2003, and has since participated in judicial reform efforts here. McCaffery’s brother, Daniel, is currently a judge in the district.

Sprague cited other ties between McCaffery, his wife, and the Philadelphia courts — ties, he said, that would undermine public confidence unless the case were assigned to a judge from outside the county.

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Kane Sting Controversy Isn’t Going Away

PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane tried to clear the boards Monday, holding a press conference in which she said that Philly Democratic lawmakers who had been targeted in a sting operation had probably committed crimes — but reiterating that the investigation was too flawed to proceed with prosecution. That won’t be the end of the story.

The controversy began Sunday with a Philadelphia Inquirer story detailing how Kane had abandoned the sting operation, in which those lawmakers were heard on tape accepting large cash gifts that were never officially reported on state ethics forms. On Monday, the Committee of Seventy called for a new probe in the case.

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Kane Blasts Inky Story on Abandoned Sting

AP Photo | Matt Rourke

AP Photo | Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Sunday blasted a long and detailed Philadelphia Inquirer story reporting she had abandoned a sting operation—started under her predecessor—that had caught several Democratic Philadelphia-area state legislators  on tape accepting cash gifts. No one was charged in operation. Kane, also a Democrat, responded that the case had been “botched” and even racist in scope, adding that even federal officials had refused to prosecute the cases.

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Newsroom Shaken by Norcross Campaign Solicitation

This is what inevitably comes of having a political boss as a newspaper owner, perhaps: The newsrooms of the Inquirer and Daily News are again restless after some reporters received a campaign fund-raising letter from one of the paper’s co-owners, South Jersey political boss George Norcross.

Norcross’s spokesman, Daniel Fee, said the solicitation was inadvertent and wouldn’t happen again. Nonetheless, the Inquirer reports:

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Seamus McCaffery to Inquirer: Show Your Hand

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Seamus McCaffery’s bold-faced assertion of innocence.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is demanding the Philadelphia Inquirer show its evidence for stories that prompted an FBI investigation of him — even as he steadfastly maintains his innocence of any wrongdoing.

“The investigation of Plaintiff McCaffery has not produced one shred of evidence that Plaintiff McCaffery violated any law or in any way acted unethically,” his lawyer, Dion Rassias, wrote in documents filed Wednesday with the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. “Indeed, it bears repeating: Plaintiff McCaffery has done nothing wrong, illegal, or unethical.”

McCaffery filed notice earlier this month of his intention to sue the Inquirer, following articles that claimed McCaffery’s wife and chief judicial aide, Lise Rapaport, received fees for steering cases to personal injury firms. After the articles appeared, the court adopted rules prohibiting judges from hiring relatives or sitting on corporate boards. The articles prompted an FBI investigation, McCaffery acknowledged.

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Joe McGinniss, Inky Columnist-Turned-Controversial Author, Dead at 71

The Daily News reports: “JOE McGINNISS, who went from controversial stints at the old Evening Bulletin and the Inquirer to best-sellerdom as a writer of blistering books, died yesterday in Worcester, Mass., of prostate cancer at age 71. McGinniss wrote hard-hitting books on many subjects, from Richard Nixon (The Selling of the President 1968) to Sarah Palin (The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin). The Palin book led him to move in next door to her Alaska home for several months. As a sports reporter for the Bulletin, he so angered Wilt Chamberlain with columns about his lousy foul shooting and other criticisms that Wilt shoved him into a locker at Convention Hall along with the late Daily News sportswriter Bill Conlin, who had tried to protect McGinniss.”

Inky Mess: Karen Heller Vs. George Norcross’s Spokesman

Another week, another rumpus in the Inquirer newsroom.

This time, it involves longtime Inky columnist Karen Heller and Daniel Fee, whose strategic communications firm, The Echo Group, handles public relations for George Norcross, the South Jersey political boss and part-owner of the company which owns the Inquirer. When Norcross has communicated with the newsroom, it has often been through emails that have gone out under Fee’s name.

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