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Covering 'Tainted Justice' And Winning A Pulitzer
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
With city newspapers around the country in jeopardy, we have a story
today that illustrates the importance of a daily city paper. My guests,
Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker of the Philadelphia Daily News, just
won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism. They uncovered a
story of police corruption so sensational, you'd expect to see it on a
TV crime show.
Ruderman and Laker's story started with a drug informant coming to them
and telling them about a narcotics officer who was fabricating evidence
to get search warrants so he could arrest suspected drug dealers. The
reporters discovered that this narcotics officer was part of a squad
that raided neighborhood bodegas and smoke shops that sold small Ziploc
bags, which police consider drug paraphernalia.
During the raids, the police disabled the store surveillance cameras.
Then, according to the store owners, the police raided the stores and
took money and merchandise.
Ruderman and Laker's articles led to an FBI investigation in conjunction
with the Philadelphia Police Department's Internal Affairs Bureau. The
Philadelphia police already made major changes in the narcotics division
as a result of the Philadelphia Daily News series.
Last week, while Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker were still celebrating
their Pulitzer Prize win, their paper, along with the Philadelphia
Enquirer, was sold to the paper's largest creditor, raising many
questions about the paper's future.
Barbara Laker, Wendy Ruderman, welcome to FRESH AIR, and congratulations
on the Pulitzer. That's really great, and these are great stories that
Ms. WENDY RUDERMAN (Journalist, Philadelphia Daily News): Thank you.
Ms. BARBARA LAKER (Journalist, Philadelphia Daily News): Thank you.
Thanks so much for having us.
GROSS: Let's start with something really dramatic that you unveiled,
which is the raids of mom-and-pop mini-marts and bodegas in
Philadelphia's inner-city neighborhoods. I want to ask you to describe
one of the typical raids that you uncovered.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, the first raid that really comes to mind is the one
that takes place in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, a really
gritty neighborhood. The bodega owner, like many of the others, he's an
immigrant. He speaks very little English. He was really hard to
You can â there was actually a video of the raid, and he is - you see
him talking on his cell phone very nonchalantly in his store, and he's
wearing flip-flops, and he's kind of pacing back and forth on the
And all of the sudden, these police officers burst into the store with
their guns drawn. They're in plain clothes, although they do wear
jackets that say police, and they act like they've just busted, like,
the biggest drug kingpin in all of Philadelphia.
There's a lot of police officers that descend right away. They want to
know if he has any guns. They tell him, you know, get off the phone, get
off the phone. And then they're supposedly there because he's selling
these little glassine bags, those little, tiny bags you see drugs being
GROSS: Tiny Ziploc bags.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Tiny Ziploc bags. A lot of the bodega owners were really
confused by the law because they could buy it legally from a wholesaler,
and then it's only illegal if you know or should have known that the
person buying it from you is using it for drugs. So according to the
police department, it's illegal to sell those.
This particular squad, they're an elite narcotics squad, and they're
supposed to be going after big-time drug dealers. But at some point,
they started focusing on little mom-and-pop stores all over Philadelphia
that were selling these tiny, glassine kind of Ziploc bags.
GROSS: Okay. So the police come in looking for these little Ziploc bags,
and what do they do once they get into the store?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, the bodega owner is clearly taken by surprise. All
of these officers rush in in plain clothes, guns drawn, and they're,
like, put your hands up, put your hands up. And you see, he's like: What
is going on? He's terrified. He doesn't know what's going on. He doesn't
know what he did.
And his case, he said that he had just purchased the store. He was
Dominican. He had just purchased the store, and the prior owner already
had the bags in the store. He bought it with all the merchandise in it.
So he's trying to explain that to them. They clearly don't care what he
has to say. Plus, they can't really understand what he's trying to tell
them - not that they're listening, but there's a severe language barrier
But right away, once they established that he doesn't have any weapons
and they have him handcuffed, they begin to focus intensely on his
surveillance system. And they tell him that his surveillance system is
illegal, that they need to take it for evidence.
So the police are just - want to know where all the cameras are, how the
system works, whether he can view this system at home on his home
computer, whether his wife is watching right now at home.
And then they go about - they spend a good 10 minutes figuring out how
to disconnect the system. They go and they get bread knives out of the
deli in the back, you know, and they're very jocular during all of this.
You know, it's clear that they don't view this bodega owner as a threat.
There's this one scene where the police officer - one police officer is
behind the register, and he keeps looking at the money in the drawer and
then looking up at the video camera, and looking at the money and
looking up at the video camera.
I mean - and they're whispering to each other. And they didn't realize
that there was audio. And I think one of the really interesting things
about this case is that Jose Duran, the bodega owner, yeah, he struggled
with the language, but he was actually very bright and he had studied
computer technology. So he was a bit of a techie. So I think that they
underestimated him and maybe - perhaps because he didn't speak the
language well, they took him for being stupid, when actually, his system
was very sophisticated, more sophisticated than they knew.
GROSS: His surveillance system.
Ms. RUDERMAN: His surveillance system.
GROSS: But the basics are he was â he had â he was recording this at
Ms. RUDERMAN: He was. He was downloading.
GROSS: And so this was an incredible break in your story, because he
gave you a video of the cop disabling the surveillance system. So what
do you see on the video? How much do you see of...
Ms. LAKER: You see everything. You see every single officer in the store
talking about how many eyes the surveillance system has and how they
disable it. And you see a hand go up, an officer's hand go up with a
bread knife and cut it. You see - another image is of an officer. He
can't figure out how to disable it, so he just yanks it out of the wall.
And you see the officers spread out in the store, just fixated on not
Jose Duran or the baggies, but this surveillance system and making sure
that they disband it, disable it, and so no one can ever see it.
GROSS: So were they trying to hide something by disabling the
Ms. LAKER: We believe so, and we asked other people, other experts,
including the commissioner, whether it's ever protocol for officers to
go in a raid and disable and smash cameras and slice wires, and no one
told us that there was any reason whatsoever for the officers to do
GROSS: What are the allegations of what they did?
Ms. LAKER: Well, all different types of store owners alleged that the
police would come in, focus on the cameras, smash them, in some cases
take a sledgehammer to them, and then the people in the store would be
Once they were taken to jail, when they returned to their stores, their
stores were in shambles. Cigarettes were missing. All kinds of
merchandise was missing: batteries, sandwiches, refrigerators were left
open, Snicker bar wrappers on the floor, and a lot of their money was
So the police would record that they took $1,000, but actually, the
store owners were alleging, no, I had $7,000 in my store.
A lot of these store owners dealt in cash. They paid their vendors in
cash. They didn't trust banks. One woman, I believe she was Korean, she
was an older woman, and she didn't speak any English. She kept - she had
$10,000 under a mattress in a room above the store where she slept.
That's how hard these people worked. They literally had to live above
their stores. And they kept money squirreled away in various locations.
And so in addition to just having their stores left in shambles, they
alleged that thousands of dollars were gone. And when they told their
attorney about it, their attorneys were saying, well, you know,
everybody says that. Everybody says that all the time. How are you going
to prove it? It's your word against their word.
GROSS: But what you found was a pattern.
Ms. LAKER: We found a pattern, and we also found a pattern of none of
the merchants had criminal records. They were clean merchants who were
doing a business, working really hard and dealing in cash, and they were
We talked to merchants who - one merchant told me that she wet her pants
when the officers came in because she thought she was actually being
robbed, and she didn't even know. She didn't speak enough English to
know that these officers were officers, and had never been arrested
before and then saw all their store destroyed and all their hard-earned
GROSS: When you broke the story of the store owner who actually had a
video of the cops disabling the surveillance system, that - a still from
that video of a cop reaching up to the camera was on the front page of
your paper, the Philadelphia Daily News. What impact did that front-page
Ms. LAKER: I think it was amazing, because a lot of people who may have
been skeptical at first with the first story - even though we had 16
merchants who went on the record saying this happened to them, when
people could see visually that this was a â were officers who were
disabling cameras in stores, they â I mean, it was incredible, the
response, because they could see it and they could believe it. And any
kind of criticism that we'd gotten before from the police department
GROSS: What kind of criticism had you been getting? And was it
criticism, or was it threats?
Ms. RUDERMAN: I think it was a little mixture of both, and the Fraternal
Order of Police in Philadelphia is very, very strong. A lot of people
are afraid of them. They have incredible political power, and they held
a press conference just to debunk our stories. And it was very odd to be
a part of that press conference, and then as soon as it was over, all
the television cameras turned on Barbara and I.
So the press conference was specifically about us, and it was designed
to discredit us. And for me, it was a very hard story to write, because
it was writing a story that was critical of myself and Barbara, and we
struggled with it.
We struggled with it a little, but we just kind of leaned into it and -
but, yeah. The police put my home address on a Web site that they have.
GROSS: Oh, my.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. RUDERMAN: And they would say all kinds of nasty things like, you
know, I hope that she gets, you know, robbed or raped and needs a police
officer, and nobody comes to her aid, these kinds of things.
The reality of it was that we couldn't have done the story without many
of our cop sources. And when we first saw the video, we had a narcotics
officer who became one of our good sources come in and watch the video
so that he can sort of tell us what we should look for in the video,
whether this was procedure or not procedure.
He helped identify the officers in the video, and he provided insights
that we never, ever would've noticed.
GROSS: So after you broke this story, there were threats against you, a
lot of nasty things said, press conferences - threats to sue you?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Oh, yeah.
Ms. LAKER: Yeah. We had that early on, threats that they â one attorney
told us he would sue us personally, and - if we ran the first story,
that he would sue us and close the paper. I mean, we had a lot of
threats like that, but we - Wendy and I really believed in this story.
We believed in the people who spoke to us. We talked to every single
person independently. They didn't know each other. And they told us the
same, exact story. And so we believed in it, and so we just continued
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Barbara Laker and Wendy
Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News. They won a Pulitzer for â and
I'll read the citation here â for their resourceful reporting that
exposed a rogue police narcotics squad, resulting in an FBI probe and
the review of hundreds of criminal cases tainted by this scandal.
Let's take a short break here, and then we'll talk some more, because
you've actually uncovered a lot more than we've described, and I want to
get to some of that. But we'll take a short break first. This is FRESH
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Barbara Laker and Wendy
Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News, and they won a Pulitzer for
their reporting that exposed a rogue police narcotics squad, resulting
in an FBI probe and the review of hundreds of criminal cases tainted by
So you've described to us one part of this incredible story that you
uncovered, and the part that you described is how rogue cops from the
narcotics squad would go into mom-and-pop bodegas and mini-marts and
bust the owners for having little Ziploc bags that could be used for
marijuana and cocaine.
While the police were there, they would disable the surveillance
cameras, and after the surveillance cameras were disabled and the owners
arrested, they'd help themselves to stuff in the store, take more money
than they reported, and other unethical and illegal things.
One of the cops that showed up in each of these busts that you mention
was a cop you were already onto. You'd already written about him. Wendy,
what did you write about him for?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, actually, we were specifically focused on this one
officer, Officer Jeffrey Cujdik, because the allegations began, the
story began with an informant of his who had a very close relationship
with him for seven years, an undercover drug informant, who their
relationship had soured, and he had come into our office.
GROSS: The informant had?
Ms. RUDERMAN: The informant had come into our office looking for
protection. He was terrified that he was going to be either killed by
somebody, a police officer, or he was going to be killed by a drug
dealer on the street. And by the time he got to us, he was a wreck.
And he alleged that him and this officer fabricated search warrants,
fabricated evidence. When they couldn't make drug buys out of a house,
the officer told him to go buy drugs elsewhere, and they were doing all
of this kind of as a money-making thing.
GROSS: To buy drugs elsewhere and pretend it came from the house that
they wanted a search warrant for.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Exactly, exactly.
GROSS: So they were fabricating evidence for search warrants for the
homes of people they suspected were drug dealers, but that didn't have
the evidence to really get a search warrant.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Right. And one of the problems is that, in Philadelphia,
it's becoming more and more difficult for narcotics officers to do their
jobs because the drug dealers are wise to them. They're not going to
sell drugs to someone they don't know and someone they don't trust
because they know how the police operate.
So as the drug dealers become more wise and more savvy, it becomes
harder for the narcotics officers to do their jobs.
GROSS: Okay, so you have an informant coming to you saying I fabricated
evidence to get search warrants to go into people's homes, people who we
suspected of being drug dealers.
So, Barbara, how did you check that out? You're not just going to take
it at face value, obviously.
Ms. LAKER: No, we didn't at all. We checked it out by listening to him
for hours upon hours, the informant. And he told us drug buys that he'd
done that were legitimate and all these other buys that had gone into
executing search warrants in which he didn't do the buy. And when he
told us â he gave us addresses or told us where to find the house, and
he'd say, like, on a certain block, you go to red house with a red door
and a green awning, and that's what we found.
And he'd say I didn't buy from that house. I bought from a bar around
the corner, or I bought from this other house. Everything he told us, we
GROSS: Did you go to the homes that they searched illegally and talk to
Ms. LAKER: Yes, we went to the homes, every single house where he said
that he didn't make the buy. Some of these people had been locked up,
but we talked to relatives, and we asked them what happened during the
GROSS: How do you do that? How do you knock on a door of someone who was
suspected of being a drug dealer, the police used a fabricated search
warrant to enter their home, and you're going to go and talk to them
about all of this? I mean, why would they â why would they want to talk
with you? Yeah.
Ms. LAKER: Because I think Wendy and I really believed in looking into
this story. I don't think we're threatening people, and we were just
open. We knocked on the door and said, you know, we're Barbara and Wendy
from the Daily News, and we just wanted to know what happened during the
And almost in every single case, people let us in their home, and we sat
in their living room and talked to them about what happened during the
GROSS: How many people did you do this with?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Oh, my gosh, probably hundreds of people.
GROSS: Hundreds of people?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Hundreds of people. Because one of the things that we did
was after we met with the informant, his informant number was 103. So
the people who got arrested only knew that they had sold drugs to number
103 when they looked at the search warrant paperwork.
So what we did was we went over to the Criminal Justice Center and we
pulled every single search warrant with 103 and this officer, Officer,
Jeffrey Cujdik. And then we split up. We split up the search warrants
and went door to door.
GROSS: So what pattern did you see going door to door and getting
different people's stories? What was the pattern that emerged?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, it's funny, because a lot of the people that we did
talk to were drug dealers, and they readily admitted that they were drug
dealers. But the thing was, you know, they didn't sell that brand of
drugs. They didn't â they were busted for cocaine, but they were
marijuana sellers. And they were perplexed by the whole thing.
GROSS: Wait, wait, wait. So they told you they were marijuana sellers?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Yeah, there were lots of funny stories...
GROSS: Did they ask you not to report that part?
Ms. RUDERMAN: No, because they were already in jail, arrested, charged,
you know, through the system. And they were perplexed until we had
knocked on their door. They knew that something wasn't right. They had
told their attorney something wasn't right. But who's going to believe
The system is entirely stacked that it's the police officer's word
against your word, and you can get up there and say yeah, I sell drugs,
but I don't sell that kind of drug - and, you know, who's going to
listen to you?
GROSS: Well, what happened as a result of your stories is that a lot of
cases have to be reexamined because the people were convicted on false
evidence. So what has been kind of put into a state of turmoil as a
result of these fabricated search warrants?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, the whole justice system sort of came to a
screeching halt. There are all these cases that are â that were still
going through the system that are just getting thrown out one by one.
In addition to that, there's people who were convicted who are now
looking for what's called post-conviction relief, and there's those
cases pending, and they're pending, waiting for the outcome of the FBI
But, you know, what was hard for Barbara and I is that in one of our
stories, we let out a major drug dealer who was in federal prison, and
they had fabricated his search warrant. He was a heavy guy. His name was
Pooh Bear. He weighed like 300-and-something pounds, 400 pounds, and the
search warrant described him as a thin guy, had a completely inaccurate
description of him, and federal prosecutors had to let him out.
And that was hard. I think that was really hard for Barbara and I...
GROSS: Because you knew he really was a drug dealer, and now he was
going free as a result of your story.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: And a lot of people were really angry with you for that, too,
like look what you've done. Real drug dealers are going free because of
Ms. RUDERMAN: Right. And I think that they had a legitimate complaint
about that, because I would lay at night thinking about this drug dealer
back out on the street, thinking about the kids in that neighborhood.
I have kids. It sort of did haunt me, but I tell my â I sort of console
myself by saying, well, I didn't do that. Those officers did that,
because if they had played by the rules, he would still be in jail right
now. So I try to console myself that way.
And a lot of our readers are more conservative, and they're very pro-
police. So their thoughts were, well, any way the police officers can do
it, let them do it that way. But the problem becomes that if the system
is built on a lie, what happens when you and me and somebody else gets
stopped, and we're completely innocent, and nobody wants to hear what we
have to say? It's just such a slippery slope.
GROSS: Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker of the Philadelphia Daily News
will be back in the second half of the show to talk more about their
Pulitzer Prize-winning series, "Tainted Justice."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Wendy Ruderman and
Barbara Laker. Their Philadelphia Daily News series "Tainted Justice"
just won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. They investigated
a rogue narcotics officer who fabricated evidence to get search warrants
for the homes of alleged drug dealers. Then the reporters discovered the
cop was part of a rogue squad whose members disabled security cameras
while raiding neighborhood bodegas and smoke shops. That's just part of
what Ruderman and Laker uncovered.
Well, something else that you found was that there were women in the
houses that were searched with the fabricated search warrants, women who
were sexually harassed by one cop. And that's another amazing part of
the story that you uncovered that you won the Pulitzer for. So how did
you get onto that story of sexual harassment?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, we went to one house that had been raided by this
squad, and just by chance, this woman who - the wife of the man who was
arrested, Lady Gonzalez, told us that she was home alone at the time
with her children, and that this one officer took her to a back room off
the kitchen, and none of the other officers were with her, and he
fondled her breasts. He lifted up her shirt. She feared that she was
going to be raped. He commented on her breasts and on her tattoos, asked
her to pull down her jeans a little so he could see her tattoo. She was
petrified, absolutely petrified. She could not identify the officer. We
just know that this officer was on that squad. And we had heard from
sources that this one officer had a fetish for women's breasts and had
fondled other women in other raids.
So after we found the first woman, Lady Gonzalez, we went back to all
the thousands of search warrants. We pulled every single search warrant
where this officer - who we had heard had allegedly sexually assaulted
women - was present, and there were hundreds of them. We didn't have the
names of the women. We didn't have addresses of the women, and we just
split it up and went back to the street and knocked on hundreds of
doors, asking people what happened during the raid.
GROSS: How many women did you find who were sexually harassed during the
raids on their homes?
Ms. RUDERMAN: We found three, and two of the three went on the record
with their name and did videos. The third woman we did grant anonymity
to because the allegation was that the officer shoved his hand in - up
her - into her vagina, and she was petrified and went to the hospital
that night, and they did a rape kit. And because of that - and she was
scared, and so we granted her anonymity. But the other two were very
courageous women, and gave us their names and told their story with
there faces, names, everything.
GROSS: So what happened to the officer who's alleged to have harassed
these three women?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, he's now on desk duty. His gun and his - has no
police powers, and his gun has been taken. And, you know, we're hearing
buzz that there is a grand jury hearing evidence, I guess specifically
about the allegations against him. But one of the things that was so
disturbing to me is when we first met with the confidential informant,
we tried to get as much information out of him as possible. And one of
the things he mentioned was that there was an officer on the squad who
was a quote/unquote "boob man." He had a boob fetish.
When we started writing the stories, Barbara got a call from a police
officer who was talking about this boob man. And then, you know, so
there were prior complaints against this officer. When this woman went
to the hospital and had the rape kit done, she did not know the name of
officer or who the officer was, but the people - but Internal Affairs
knew who it was and took him off the street pretty much that night. But
then they, for some reason, they hit some dead ends and they ended up
putting him back on the street a couple of months later.
So it was kind of like an open secret, and it was almost like, well,
this is just what this cop does.
Ms. RUDERMAN: And some of the - all of the women felt like the police
department wasn't really hearing them, because they couldn't identify
the officer by name. But when they went to Internal Affairs, Internal
Affairs showed them, like, an array of 80 photographs of police
officers, and a lot of the photos dated back years, when the officers
first joined the police department. And...
GROSS: So they didn't even look like they look now.
Ms. RUDERMAN: They didn't look like they looked. And generally, we
talked to former prosecutors who said usually, in these cases, the women
are given, like, an array of, like, eight photographs. And 80 was just
way too much for anyone to identify someone who had assaulted them in a
home during a raid.
GROSS: Now how did you get them to identify the officer?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, what we did is after we - we had the video taken of
this squad during that raid of the store. And so when we put it in the
paper, we had blurred out the faces of these officers to protect their
identity, because they work undercover. And so what we did is we asked
the women to come into the office, and we showed them the video with the
faces not blurred so they could see who these officers were.
We sat silent next to them. We told them we couldn't say a thing to
them, just watch the video and see if, by chance, that they could
identify this officer. Two of the three women identified him by voice
alone, even before they saw his face. And when they saw his face, all of
them broke down crying, saying that's him. And they told us they were
150 percent sure it was him.
GROSS: Could we just talk about motives for a second? One of the big
stories here is searching houses with fabricated evidence that was used
for the warrants. I presume that the motive of the police in those cases
was to get access to people who they truly believed was drug lords, but
they were trying - they didn't have the evidence to back it up, so they
fabricated the warrant. Yes? Is that fair?
Ms. RUDERMAN: Yes. That would be a motive.
GROSS: Okay. In the case of the bodegas and the mini-marts, what was the
motive for trying to bust them on these sales of these little Ziploc
bags that you could use to put marijuana and cocaine in and disabling
the surveillance cameras? What was the motivation there, do you think?
Ms. RUDERMAN: I think all of the motivation - I mean, one of the things
that Barbara and I noticed in through the search warrants was that this
particular squad did an enormous amount of these bodega raids, 10 times
more than the other squads. And we had sources on the other squads
saying, God. I think I've done maybe two of those kind of raids in my
entire history in the narcotics force.
But I disagree that they weren't motivated by greed in the instances
with the houses, because one complicated part of the story was that the
informant was living in a house owned by Officer Jeff Cujdik and was
paying him rent money. And how he was paying the rent money is every
time the informant made a drug buy, a successful one, or found a gun in
the house, he would get paid for that from the police department, and
then that money would go to the officer for the rent on the house.
So, I do believe that the whole - the slippery slope with the search
warrants wasn't entirely altruistic on the part of the officer. I think
that there was a certain amount of power, greed, money. Police officers
on the squad were doubling their salaries in overtime and court time,
court testimony time, and commendations. You know, a lot of these
officers got commendations from the police department for great work
taking drugs off the street, a lot of prestige.
And these officers were also, you know, the golden children of the
force. They were very active. They were very tough. They had tough
reputations, and they were like the favorite children. So, in a lot of
ways, they got away with things that other units did not get a way with
because they because they were productive, very productive.
GROSS: So what do you think the motivation was for busting the mini-
marts and bodegas on the premise of looking for these little Ziploc bags
in which the person who bought the bags could put marijuana or cocaine?
Ms. LAKER: I think that was driven by money, because yeah, some of these
grocery stores did sell the little Ziploc bags. But in the video, they
didn't even seem concerned about the bags. They were more concerned
about cutting the video camera wires, smashing the cameras. And then
after they left, all this money was missing. The food was missing. The
store was looted. So we have to - we suspect that the motivation was
GROSS: So what happened to the shop owners whose places were searched
Ms. RUDERMAN: They were arrested, and they were charged with drug
paraphernalia. They had to hire lawyers, and then a lot of them got
probation in the end, but they had their stores - a lot of them lost
their stores as a result. They paid thousands of dollars in legal fees,
and a lot of them left the stores. They gave up the stores because they
couldn't afford it anymore and they were scared that it would happen
GROSS: So did your stories change their fate?
Ms. RUDERMAN: I think in the pending cases - the cases that were pending
cases, yes, it did. But then, in other cases, it was too late. Like, we
interviewed this older Korean woman who had given up here store, right?
Her store ended up on forfeiture.
Ms. LAKER: Yeah, forfeiture.
Ms. RUDERMAN: And it's still in limbo. And so a lot of these store
owners, like they lost their faith in the American dream, because they
were working 12, 14-hour days. They didn't believe they were doing
anything wrong at all, and then, all of a sudden, they're faced with
criminal charges that go on their record. And some lawyers actually
recommended that they take probation, and they did, fearing that
something worse could happen.
GROSS: My guests are Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker of the
Philadelphia Daily News. Their series "Tainted Justice" just won a
Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.
We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guests are Barbara Laker and Wendy
Ruderman, and they report for the Philadelphia Daily News. They just won
a Pulitzer Prize, and I'll read the Pulitzer citation here. They won it
for their resourceful reporting that exposed a rogue police narcotics
squad, resulting in a FBI probe and a review of hundreds of criminal
cases tainted by the scandal.
GROSS: Barbara, in doing some of the interviews that you did, you were
attacked weren't you, by one of the family members of somebody you were
Ms. LAKER: Yeah. I was attacked by a female informant. I was in her
mother's house and talking to the mom about the relationship between her
daughter, the female informant, and Officer Jeffrey Cujdig. And her mom
was telling me that Tiffany, the female informant, was arrested and that
the officer had come to the house and given bail money to the mom.
The female informant was hearing from upstairs. She heard what her mom
was telling me, and she didn't want her mom telling me any of this. She
didn't want the relationship that she had with Jeffrey Cujdig out, or in
any detail whatsoever. So she came downstairs and threatened to hurt me,
and then stormed over to me and slapped me twice in the face and threw
my notebook across the room. And I was really scared, but I knew I had
to get out of there. So I ran across the room, grabbed my notebook and
bolted out of the door.
And she came running after me, and I was on the cell phone with Wendy
saying, she just hit me. She just hit me and - but don't worry. I have
my notebook. It was one of our funnier moments, now looking back on it.
But, yeah, it was scary, but, I mean, some people don't want people in
their lives to talk to reporters and tell them what happened.
GROSS: Were you ever afraid just in the neighborhood? Just going door-
to-door in neighborhoods? They're tough, inner-city neighborhoods that
have a lot of drugs. That's why you're there, because the drugs are part
of the story, and you're alone. You'd split up. You weren't even
together. And just walking down the street would be dangerous, let alone
knocking on doors through the neighborhood. You'd look really
suspicious. You'd really stand out - and also, I should say, being white
in neighborhoods that were predominately not white.
Ms. LAKER: Well, I think Wendy and I are both obsessive compulsive
people, so we...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. LAKER: ...we kind of went with this no matter what and put kind of
our safety on the backburner. But I also think that people saw us as
people who just wanted to know what happened. We weren't a threat. We
weren't there to arrest people. We walked up to drug dealers, and I'm
telling you, so many people came up to us and said, look. I'll watch
And people in the neighborhood protected us when we were walking up and
down the street, because they knew why we were there, and they didn't
see us as someone who was threatening their lives or taking anything
away from them. They were honored, I think, in so many ways that someone
just cared enough to come to their block and ask what happened. And
that's the thing. We didn't have any threats from people in the
GROSS: So, finally, what's your relationship with police now in the
Philadelphia Police Force? You uncovered a really dirty story.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Well, I have plenty police officers calling me with other
tips and thinking, you know, that I can take on all the problems of the
police department. And that's a heavy burden, to get these calls from
police officers who want to tell me incredible wrongs that are happening
in the force that they don't feel are being addressed, and they want me
and Barbara to address it. And - but then on the other hand, the FOP
president doesn't talk to us. He doesn't return our calls. He badmouths
us. So we have our friends and we have our enemies, and our relationship
with the police department is gray, just like everything out in the
world of drugs and the streets, it's gray.
GROSS: So having reported on the Philadelphia police and found rogue
cops, do you also know a lot of good cops on the police? Do you leave
this Pulitzer Prize-winning series that you wrote with confidence that
there's a lot of really good cops in Philadelphia, in spite of the bad
Ms. RUDERMAN: Oh, yeah. I think there's wonderful cops on the police
force, and a lot of them helped us with the story. I think that our
critics in the police department, what they don't realize is that when
there's rogue cops out there and they have a bad interaction with
someone in the public, especially someone like a bodega owner, who
totally then becomes jaded on the police department, then that affects
their ability to do their jobs. And now people don't trust them, and you
really need that trust. To solve crimes in the community, you need the
trust of the community. So when that trust is breached, it - that is a
problem for good officers. And I just, you know, I just wish that our
critics would see it that way.
Ms. LAKER: Because it taints the department, and it taints the
reputation of good cops who are doing the right thing and do everything
by the letter of the law. And so when they go back into the community
after a story like this, people are very distrustful. They don't want to
talk them and see them as the enemy. And so, in the end, it hurts the
whole police department because without that trust, they can't so their
jobs the right way.
GROSS: As if your story - your series of stories that just won the
Pulitzer weren't amazing enough, to make the story more complicated and
paradoxical, right after you win, your newspaper is sold. It was just
sold, and it was sold at a very low price to the people who were
basically the creditors for the current owner. So, on the one hand,
like, you're celebrating the Pulitzer, on the other hand, you know your
paper's in jeopardy.
I mean, your paper's owned by the same owners as the Philadelphia
Inquirer and the Web site Philly.com. So all three things now, the two
newspapers and the Web site, everything's kind of up in the air. You
don't know what the future's going to be. There's already been an
enormous amounts of cuts at your paper. So can you give us a sense of
what it's like to be celebrating in the shadow of the sale of your
Ms. RUDERMAN: It's very difficult, because you go from such a high to
such a low. And I think the only thing that gets us through it is that
this is the kind of story that is the reason why I went into journalism
and a lot of people went into journalism.
GROSS: Actually, it's a kind of story only a local paper's going to do.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Right. And...
GROSS: No paper outside of Philadelphia is going report on the inner
workings of the Philadelphia police the way you did. No one's going to
Ms. RUDERMAN: Right. I think that the Pulitzer really validated us as
the local paper, as the voice of the people. And the Pulitzer came at a
really good time for our paper and it really lifted the spirits of the
staff, because there's this sense that we're survivors and we're in
there doing what no one else is going to do and there is a need for it.
Civically, there's a need for it. The people want it. So there's - so
without us, I don't know. A lot of people think that we're essential to
Philadelphia and to democracy, and having the Pulitzer - the whole staff
felt like it was their Pulitzer, and it was.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much, both of you, Barbara Laker,
Wendy Ruderman, thank you for being here, and congratulations on your
much-deserved Pulitzer. Thank you.
Ms. RUDERMAN: Thank you.
Ms. LAKER: Thanks so much. We're honored to be here.
GROSS: Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker won a Pulitzer Prize for their
Philadelphia Daily News Series "Tainted Justice." You can find links to
all of the articles from their series on our Web site: freshair.npr.org,
where can also see a picture from a surveillance camera just before it
was disabled by police.
Coming up: Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews a new biographer of
publisher Henry Luce.
This is FRESH AIR.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
A Publishing Titan's 'Life' And 'Time'
TERRY GROSS, host:
Historian Alan Brinkley won a National Book Award for his book "Voices
of Protest," which chronicled the Depression-era careers of Huey Long
and Father Coughlin. In his latest book, called "The Publisher,"
Brinkley turns to another powerful figure of the 20th century: Henry
Book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review.
MAUREEN CORRIGAN: The weirdest - and maybe even the most revealing -
episode in Alan Brinkley's teeming biography of Henry Luce occurred in
1960 when Luce - a publishing potentate who reigned over an empire that
included Time magazine, Sports Illustrated, Fortune and Life -
experimented with LSD. Luce's second wife, the playwright, congresswoman
and loose cannon Clare Boothe Luce, had already dabbled with the
hallucinogen under a psychiatrist's supervision. Clare later claimed
she'd cajoled her husband into trying LSD to provide him with the same
serenity the drug had given her, and thus save their troubled marriage.
Whatever the reasons, Luce took a dose, and then, according to the
psychiatrist's diary, sat down at his desk and began calmly reading
Lionel Trilling's biography of Matthew Arnold. Even LSD couldn't whisk
Henry Luce off on a magic carpet ride. No matter how much he may have
yearned to attain freaky visions, Luce was always tethered to late
Victorian ideas about duty and ethical culture.
In "The Publisher," Alan Brinkley has written a largely sympathetic and
terrifically engrossing biography of Luce, the tycoon who - through his
magazines and newsreels - helped change the way Americans in the 20th
century got their news. Reading Luce's biography these days, when the
future of print journalism is such a big question mark, makes for both a
sentimental and unsettling experience. Sure, it's easy to be nostalgic
about an era when two young whippersnappers - Luce and his schoolmate
Brit Hadden - could dream up a newsmagazine, call it Time, and, after
its launch in 1923, watch it become a success in a few scant years.
But if you're of an age to even dimly remember copies of Time and Life
blanketing family coffee tables and school libraries across the land,
it's also disturbing to realize what dominion Luce's opinions had. Luce
loathed Roosevelt and the New Deal and prided himself on being a fierce
Cold Warrior, particularly in regard to communist China.
Brinkley concedes that Luce's conservative politics unquestionably
shaped his outlets' coverage of the news. But Brinkley also says that
Luce's most crucial influence - during what Luce himself memorably
called The American Century - was his magazines' boosterish promotion of
an upbeat, abundant American way of life. His magazines and newsreels
were charged with spreading the gospel of democracy and capitalism to
the rest of the world.
As in so many biographies of the famous and powerful, it's the first
half of Brinkley's biography - the chapters devoted to Luce's youth and
empire-building - that are the most fascinating. Luce was born in 1898
in China, to missionary parents. Dispatched at age 10 to boarding school
- which he described in letters home as a hanging torture - Luce
eventually landed at Yale as a scholarship student. There, he and his
friend Hadden cooked up the idea for a digest that would provide news
for the busy.
With critical gusto, Brinkley dissects the success of Time and Luce's
other ventures, giving special attention to the idiosyncratic writing
style of Time magazine, which was modeled on the lively and lofty
language of "The Iliad." Where Homer wrote of a wine-dark sea, Time
concocted similar compound adjectives to describe people in the news -
for instance, flabby-chinned and snaggle-toothed.
Brinkley also attempts to dissect the more firmly closed book of Luce's
personality. He was, by all accounts, an odd duck. Socially awkward, yet
frantically ambitious - in a way, I think, reminiscent of Richard Nixon
- Luce compensated for his insecurities by assertions of ego. He once
said, for instance, that he was smarter than Einstein because he, Luce,
was a generalist, while Einstein was only a specialist.
Throughout his life, Luce was burdened by a charge inherited from his
missionary parents that everything he did had to be serious, had to have
a higher purpose. Brinkley observes that after Luce's death in 1967, his
empire began to dwindle, but one enormous success was the advent of
People magazine in 1974. What would Luce - the stolid man who read about
Matthew Arnold while tripping - think about all those pages wasted on
the Gosselins and Brangelina?
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century" by Alan
You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site: freshair.npr.org.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.