3 Reasons the Case Against “Tainted Justice” Doesn’t Add Up

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Something doesn’t add up.

The Inquirer on Friday did something pretty unusual: It printed a takedown of the reporting behind the Daily News’ Pulitzer-winning “Tainted Justice” series of reports about police corruption in 2009. The underlying question in the report: Why had Thomas Tolstoy — accused of sexually assaulting women on the job, as well as sundry other bits of corruption — been able to stay free and even keep his police job in the years since?

The Inky’s answer? Ethically questionable behavior on the part of the Daily News reporters, Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker, may have compromised the case. Specifically, the two are alleged to have offered financial assistance to “Naomi,” a key witness who said Tolstoy jammed his fingers into her vagina during a 2008 drug raid. Naomi’s real identity has never been revealed publicly.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey, at least, is making the case that the reporters’ behavior was so egregious that Tolstoy — a bad cop by the commissioner’s estimation —  won’t get the punishment he might deserve. “It’s not a question of whether misconduct occurred. I think we have an investigation that does demonstrate that,” Ramsey told KYW Newsradio, “but this could very well be exploited by defense counsel when it comes to creating some doubt in the mind of an arbitrator.”

Here are three reasons — drawn only from the public reporting on this issue — that the “bad reporting kept a bad cop on the streets” story doesn’t quite make sense.

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Is “Tainted Justice” Now Tainted?

It would appear that an Inquirer story killed last month by publisher Gerry Lenfest is back from the dead.

The Inquirer today has a lengthy front-page story examining why Thomas Tolstoy, a Philadelphia Police officer accused of sexually assaulting women in the Daily News’ Pulitzer-winning “Tainted Justice” series in 2009, is still on the force.

The Inky’s answer? A main witness gave federal officials inconsistent accounts of her encounter with Tolstoy. And her already shaky credibility was hurt when she told federal officials that Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker had helped with bills and bought her gifts.

If true, investigators said, Ruderman and Laker could be seen as “enticing” the victim’s story, harming her credibility in court. And journalistic ethics generally prohibit giving gifts to sources. Ruderman said she did buy a bag of groceries for the woman, but that was the extent of the help.

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Are Good Phillies Teams Good for Newspapers?

Our pal Randy LoBasso has an interesting cover story this week at Philadelphia Weekly, suggesting that when the Philadelphia Phillies play poorly — as they are this season — there are economic ramifications:

For many of Citizens Bank Park’s workers, it’s simple trickle-down economics: pay rises and falls with the team’s fortune. These workers, who vend beer section-by-section, aisle-by-aisle, are paid based on tips and commission. Poor teams mean fewer fans. Fewer fans means less product moved. Less product means less pay—and as the team gets worse, for lots of these workers, their wallets get emptier.

Makes sense. And you know who else seems to suffer when the Phillies play poorly? The city’s newspapers.
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McCaffery Asks Judge to Restrain Inquirer

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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery is asking a court to preemptively prohibit the Philadelphia Inquirer from publishing personal information about him and his wife, the Legal Intelligencer reports.

The request comes as part of McCaffery’s lawsuit against the paper; the courts, however, generally frown on “prior restraint” of publication — they’d rather punish a newspaper after the fact for getting something wrong rather than order a newspaper entirely not to publish.

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The Long Fall of Philly Newspapers

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Shutterstock.com

Oh, what an ugly difference a dozen years can make.

At the beginning of the 21st century, the newspaper business was a happy one, fed by fat profit margins and a lack of competition in most cities. Philadelphia was no different: Yes, it had two major daily papers, but they shared an owner, reached different audiences — and maximized revenue.

What’s happened since then has been brutal. Everybody knows about the bankruptcy, revolving door ownership, and multiple rounds of layoffs that the Inquirer and Daily News — along with their digital cousin, Philly.com — have experienced in recent years. But a new document obtained by Philadelphia magazine shows just how deep the pain went.

The document is called “Interstate General Media: EBITDA Trend – 2000-2012.” (EBITDA stands for “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization” and is one way to measure a company’s profitability.) And it reveals how the finances of Philadelphia’s leading newspapers imploded during that time — a period covering four owners: Knight Ridder, McClatchy, Brian Tierney, and finally the hedge fund owners who brought the newspapers out of bankruptcy. The last two years — that include two different sets of local ownership, one headed by George Norcross, the more recent one by Gerry Lenfest — are not included.

The document reveals:

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The Paywall Gets a Little Lower at the Inky Website

The hard and high paywall is dead. Long live the somewhat lowered paywall.

More than a year after the Inquirer and Daily News unveiled their new websites — hidden behind “hard” paywalls that required a paid subscription (or, more often, an access code) to read — the paywalls are softening a bit. Starting today, readers who go to Inquirer.com via links on Facebook or Twitter will get to read the story for free.

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