John S. Carroll, the former Los Angeles Times editor, had to give a little speech before a Q & A session at Harvard's Walter Lippmann House yesterday, so he talked about the glory days at Philadelphia Inquirer. The story -- how anonymous sources helped a team of young reporters show how police intimidated witnesses in criminal cases -- I'd heard before, a great one that began with the firebombing of a Hispanic family's rowhouse, and the arrest of the wrong man.
What was news to me was Carroll, who was once the Inky's metropolitan editor, saying that the main reason the paper got so good in the 1970s was that corruption was so deep and widespread that officials didn't even to bother to hide their scams.
When Carroll arrived in 1972, the Inquirer's lead investigative reporter - Harry Karafin - was in jail for extortion. People used to pay Harry not to write things, Carroll explained. And reporters needing a little help with in-state tuition for their children were hooked up with Sen. Henry J. "Buddy" Cianfrani, who pulled the necessary strings for scholarships -- even at Penn, which gets some state money. This, of course, before Buddy did a little state time himself for corruption.
Which brings us another fresh tale about the late senator.
This was Primary Day, 1976. She was working for the governor then. She headlines her piece, "The Day Buddy Cianfrani Kept Me Out of Jail."
He was the essence of an oldtime Philly pol. Big, bald, ham-fisted, cigar-chomping, gravel-voiced, steely-eyed. A true backroom kingpin ... and king maker.
I jumped when the phone rang. A familiar gruff voice said, "Hey, Doll, you okay?" The Senator. I said I was fine, just worried. "Lemme talk to da cop. And don't say nuttin."
Wordlessly I proffered the phone to the patrolman. "I don't want to talk to nobody," he said.
"This isn't nobody," I whispered.