Shifting from serial to book also means that the reporters are revisiting material that they’ve steeped in for years—but with the perspective that comes from time and distance. Ruderman called the experience “a bit cathartic” because for a long time, she did not see “how manipulative [Benny Martinez, the informant] was and the extent of his drug use” until after they had interviewed his friends and family. The after-the-fact revelation is detailed in Busted:
Of course Barbara and I didn’t realize that Benny was still a drug addict, who often told lies to feed his habit, until long after he first came to the Daily News. He told us that he had given up drugs years ago and wanted to be an informant to make things right and clean up the hood.
He was convincing. He was good, real good.
“I had felt tremendous guilt—or Benny made me feel tremendous guilt—and responsibility for his well-being and safety and he felt we owed him something,” Ruderman said. “But in reporting out the book, I finally saw things more clearly and in a sense, it was freeing. I realized that he wasn’t a victim—far from it.”
There is a letdown at the end of the Busted narrative, but one that was out of the reporters’ hands: at the crucial last act of the investigation—accountability—there is, unfortunately, little to report. The City of Philadelphia has paid $2 million to settle 33 lawsuits filed by bodega owners and two of the victimized women. The FBI hasn’t closed the case, but it’s not clear if they have finished the investigation and found it unwinnable, or if they are still seeking information. [Update: The police won’t face charges.] None of the assaulted women have been interviewed by the FBI. José Duran, one of the bodega owners raided by the police, had a video of five cops cutting the surveillance camera wires at his shop. He has since lost his business and had to sell his home—a circumstance the reporters suggest is particularly unfair when the cops he caught on video remain working with the police department. Duran now rents a smaller space and works in the meat department of Costco.
“It’s frustrating,” Ruderman said. “Especially with the women [who were assaulted by the police officers] … we just can’t understand why charges haven’t been brought and we can’t help but think that if these women were white and from the suburbs, they would be taken seriously.”
Just as the police story remains open-ended, so does the future of the Daily News. Two years after a group of owners bought Philadelphia’s biggest papers, they are now battling each other for control while accusing one another of back-handed dealing. The question of whether or not to close the Daily News keeps coming up. One small sign of the dysfunction: Links to the “Tainted Justice” series on Philly.com are broken. (A side benefit of winning that Pulitzer is that 10 of the stories are collected on the prize site.)
“Because we have a shrinking newsroom,” said Laker, “we have decisions to make. We let go of some stories so we can focus on investigative pieces. We have to pick and choose the stories we chase. Also, some reporters end up doing three, four stories a day, so investigative reporters like Wendy and me can have the time to do what we do.”
As for her own future? All that Laker wants is to do investigative reporting with job stability. But the Daily News can’t afford to make promises.
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