Updated: Is City Paper’s Vanishing Article Part of a Disturbing Trend in Philly Journalism?

Illustration: Thomas Pitilli. Originally appeared in City Paper's April article, "Philly's Power Players Bombard City Newspapers With Libel Suits"

Illustration: Thomas Pitilli. Originally appeared in City Paper’s April article, “Philly’s Power Players Bombard City Newspapers With Libel Suits”

A fog of questions continue to surround a City Paper article posted on the morning of July 16th, which was then abruptly and without editorial retraction yanked hours later.

The Backstory

The mystery began days before City Paper‘s excellent journalist Ryan Briggs even posted the piece to CP’s Naked City blog. On July 12th, someone with the username “mgallagher” launched Dirty Daughter and began blogging.

The first post made clear the author’s intention: to expose what they perceive as a cover-up involving City Council President Darrell Clarke’s daughter, Nicole Bright, her boyfriend Jermal Jones, and a drug bust launched by the Philadelphia Police Department’s Southwest division in late April.

According to screencapped documents obtained and posted by the blogger, over 140 grams of cocaine were discovered tucked away inside the couple’s jet-black Camaro. Nicole Bright is listed as a co-defendant on the affidavit of probable cause accompanying the warrant used to search Jermal Jones’ car. The fact that Bright had a personal identification description, or PID (seen in the picture below) indicates she was photographed, fingerprinted, and heading towards arraignment. Unlike Jermal Jones, who is now serving a sentence at Graterford Prison, Bright – for whatever reason – never went to trial.

Affidavit listing Nicole Bright as a co-defendant.

Affidavit listing Nicole Bright as a co-defendant.

Now that you’re up to speed on the basic aspects of the case itself, you can check out other seemingly odd details here.

The Mysterious Blogger

So who is the blogger? Is this individual a member of the Philadelphia Police Department, or someone inside the District Attorney’s office? The answer, of course, remains uncertain. Digging for clues over the weekend, The Declaration found a comment on a Philly message board which initially gave the impression that “mgallagher” may be a police officer.

City Paper‘s Ryan Briggs, in an email response to me yesterday, was emphatic that “the anonymous blogger is not a former or current officer at SW,” however.

Southwest Detectives Division did not return a request for comment. Additionally, “mgallagher” did not respond to a request for comment after contacting them via message board email.

Was there interference from powerful people in city government, or did CP uncover credibility issues pertaining to the blogger? Both are possible, although if it were simply a matter of credibility, I speculate that a retraction or follow-up would have happened by now.

Entertaining the first possibility, who among us would be genuinely shocked to learn that there are two sets of rules for society, and that well-placed individuals within the system can use their power and influence to flip unpleasant situations to their advantage? These are well-known secrets.

Whatever happened in late April may not be the most important piece of this story.

City Paper’s Unceremonious Article Take-Down

When contacted late last week, Briggs would not comment on what prompted City Paper to take down their write-up on Dirty Daughter, but suggested a new post is forthcoming.

CP wasn’t the only one to scrub the story. Philly Daily News’ Will Bunch, in a column yesterday, may have been carefully alluding to five other websites removing the article, although again, he never states this explicitly.

Indeed, the only remaining online mention is a web cache from Technically Philly:

IG Photo_TechPhl

Editor’s note: Technically Philly contacted us to let us know that their article is still live.

Philadelphia: The “Libel City”

It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a powerful individual or organization threatened City Paper with a lawsuit. A 1990 article in American Journalism Review bluntly labeled Philadelphia the “Libel City”. Citing said journal in a shocking April article, Daniel Denvir uncovered an avalanche of plaintiffs dating back to the 1970’s that ranged from “three state Supreme Court justices, a Superior Court judge, nine Court of Common Pleas (trial) judges, a Municipal Court judge, a U.S. attorney, Philadelphia’s district attorney…two City Council members and three mayors…not to mention state legislators, a state lottery official, the dean of a law school, a ranking state police official, a sheriff and a local union leader.”

A successful libel suit against The Inquirer in 1990 – the largest of its kind in U.S. history up to that point – yielded a $34 million judgement for lawyer Richard Sprague on behalf of a then assistant district attorney.

And Sprague continues his litigious rampage to this day. More from Denvir’s fascinating article:

The Inquirer and Daily News’ lawyers at Pepper Hamilton LLP are now fighting a deluge of libel actions filed by electrical workers’ union leader (IBEW Local 98) John Dougherty (aka Johnny Doc), U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, former Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) executive director Carl Greene and, last but not least, Sprague himself. (Sprague is also representing Doc and Brady.)

The fact remains that whether the city’s most powerful players are using litigation to intimidate reporters and control news that threatens them, or Philadelphia newspapers just make a ton of mistakes, our city’s media landscape – an industry that with every year seems closer to crumbling, as mogul George Norcross’ terrifying threat to liquidate the bulk of Philadelphia media breathtakingly illustrated in January – will increasingly lack the resources to defend against such attacks.

Simply put, this is not a desired outcome for the free flow of information which empowers a populace to make decisions about who holds sway over our city, and our lives.

UPDATE

The District Attorney’s office, after Councilman Clarke’s daughter Nicole Bright contacted her attorney, Charles M. Gibbs, definitely appears to have made an unusual decision in deciding not to pursue charges against Bright between the time she was charged by police but before the arraignment that never ultimately happened.

Bright’s boyfriend’s lawyer, Fortunato Perry:

“[Bright’s] lawyer spoke to someone in the DA’s office at the Charging Unit…and they declined charges.”

An anonymous source at Southwest Detectives “was adamant that it was highly irregular in such a large narcotics bust.”

It was only when it came to light whose daughter it was that the case became questionable, said the source.

And then there’s this from criminal defense attorney Harold Popper:

‘Ordinarily, would the DA make those types of decisions so early on? Usually not, no. Usually they would charge both of the people … and there would be a preliminary hearing.

As for who prompted City Paper to remove the original piece (that included the “anonymous” blog, and which is no longer referenced at all in the new piece), Briggs would not say. In an email to me this morning, however, he did emphasize:

“There were never any inaccuracies in the first post, nor did we ever receive any serious legal threats. We were not contacted by any lawyers.”

We also now know that it appears the leaked documents came from within the police department. Why? The department’s Internal Affairs is investigating the leaked documents. According to Briggs, however, the source does not and never has worked in the Southwest Division.

You can read Naked City‘s updated piece from Ryan Briggs here.

The Declaration will update this story as it develops.

About these ads

There are 4 comments

  1. Philebrity.com » Blog Archive » Hyperspace Clusterfuck: The Fuzz, Darrell Clarke’s Daughter, A Whole Bunch Of Other People, And The Strangest Mayoral Endorsement Ever

    […] The post apparently ruffled feathers: So much so that City Paper quietly took it down, only to publish a more thoroughly reported version late yesterday. In the meantime, a few things happened, at least, that we know of: One is that people, among them Will Bunch, noticed. Another is that this creepy-ass anonymous blog posted a whole slew of documents related to the case, and crying foul. At the heart of the Bright story are two age-old Philadelphia themes: Corruption from within, and Philly’s general libel-lawsuit-friendliness, as far as the power structure here is concerned. (Both of them are dealt with well in this post on The Declaration.) […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s