Is “Tainted Justice” Now Tainted?

Long-delayed Inky exposé questions ethics behind Daily News Pulitzer-winner.

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.

Ruderman and Laker said federal officials were attempting to shed blame for their inability to make a case against Tolstoy. “The feds are looking for a reason why they can’t do their job,” Ruderman said.

Commissioner Charles Ramsey, though, said that the allegations meant it would be hard to sustain any charges against Tolstoy. “The odds are, I’m stuck with a guy who shouldn’t be a cop,” Ramsey told the Inquirer. last month reported that Gerry Lenfest, owner and publisher of both the Inquirer and Daily News, had killed an Inky story challenging the DN’s reporting of the “Tainted Justice” series. Earlier this week, Columbia Journalism Review carried a lengthy story by Philadelphia reporter Dan Denvir examining the dustup — and in which Ruderman and Laker made a pre-emptive defense of the Inquirer’s allegations. It’s unknown if that caused Lenfest to unkill the story.

CJR reported:

Amid calls by the Fraternal Order of Police for a media investigation, Days says in an email that recently “the company did review the allegations” and that after an “internal review of the reporters’ conduct, and given that neither the FOP nor anyone else has provided evidence of unethical reporting, both our publisher, Gerry Lenfest, and myself remain confident that the reporters’ work was thorough, accurate, fair, and ethical.”

In an e-mail, Lenfest echoed Days’ statement, writing that they “did conduct an internal investigation on the FOP’s claims against Ruderman and Laker and were satisfied that the claims were not substantiated.”

What seems certain: Bad blood between the Inky and Daily News is at a high point. The Daily News people say the Inquirer has been motivated by professional jealousy: “They got their ass kicked on that story,” editor Michael Days told CJR, adding, “They just can’t believe it could happen.” Inquirer editor Bill Marimow did not comment to CJR.