Philadelphia reporters recount professional, personal tales for book on police corruption


Philadelphia Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman, left, and Barbara Laker appear on the set of the "Inside Media" program at the Newseum's Knight TV Studio on March 29. (Frank Mitchell/Newseum)

The new book “Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love’’ is the chick, noir version of “All the President’s Men,” with a little “Rocky,” a little “Deadline U.S.A.” and a little almost anything with Rosalind Russell or Barbara Stanwyck.

At the Newseum on Saturday, the two Pulitzer Prize-winning authors — Philadelphia Daily News reporters Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Laker — told a full house how they tracked down dirty narcotics cops who allegedly terrorized immigrants in trumped-up raids and faked drug warrants, and in the case of an officer widely known to his colleagues as “Boob Man,” made a habit of sexually assaulting big-breasted female suspects.

“You two are like Woodward and Bernstein!” a woman in the audience tells them afterward.

“They toppled a president,’’ Laker answers. “So I wouldn’t say that.”

Also unlike The Washington Post reporters who uncovered the Watergate scandal 40 years ago, they highlight the personal bond between female colleagues who keep each other emotionally afloat. And they include anecdotes from Laker’s Match.com dates and what Ruderman considers her parenting mistakes in telling how they broke their stories of Philly corruption.

“We thought we would make it human,’’ Laker says. “We did it the chick way.”

In “Busted,” which was published in March, they call themselves “the Jewish hillbillies from Philly” and the “Slime Sistas,’’ as their detractors in the Philadelphia Police Department named them. Tiny, bawdy 44-year-old Ruderman and va-voomy 56-year-old Laker, who never swears or eats any of the chocolate treats she brings into the office, see themselves as kind of an odd-
couple pairing: “When I first saw Barbara,’’ Ruderman writes in the book, “I thought, ‘Who is this bimbo?’ ”

Still, they showed up at the Washington appearance in (almost) matching high-heeled boots — and never sat in the chairs provided while they signed books, instead standing for an hour as they autographed in tandem.

They reported the newspaper series on which the book is based by poring through boxes and boxes and boxes of warrants, then knocking on hundreds of doors at the addresses where the warrants had been served. Their biggest deadline pressure was that at the teetering Daily News, they were never sure whether the tabloid would be in business long enough to run their next scoop.

One of the most dramatic turns in the book comes when a drug informant named Tiffany socks Laker in the face — twice — while screaming that she’s going to kill her. Tiffany’s mother had been telling Laker all about the cop who had given her the bail money to get her girl out of jail. When Laker tried to shield her face, her notebook went flying, but while still making a run for it, she reassured Ruderman on the phone, “Don’t worry, I got the notebook! I left my pen, though. . .

The two are afraid justice will not be served in the cases they wrote about but are not concerned for their physical safety, although they have been threatened repeatedly. “Reporters are like teenagers,’’ Ruderman says. “You think you’re immortal.”

Joking about her supposed decrepitude, Laker says she doesn’t relate to that analogy: “I can’t see and I can’t hear; maybe that’s why I’m not scared.”

In an interview after their Newseum appearance, they talk about all that has and has not happened since they won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

Since the giddy day Ruderman drank champagne out of her sneaker because there were no cups in the newsroom, the city of Philadelphia has paid $2 million to settle 33 lawsuits filed by bodega owners who were the target of bogus police raids and by two of the women who allege they were sexually assaulted. An FBI probe is ongoing, but the accused police officers are still on the payroll, although relegated to desk duty. The Daily News is still on life support, but for now, the presses are still running, which is more than some papers can say.

Ruderman moved to New York to cover cops for the New York Times. But a year ago, when her marriage abruptly ended, she quit and ran straight back to Philly — to her rickety tabloid and to the ballast known as Barbara, who had been through a painful divorce several years earlier.

“We genuinely love each other,’’ Ruderman says of her reporting partner.

Speaking of “lovey dovey stuff,’’ as Ruderman calls it, she’s been unable to read the book, which was finished a year ago, because there’s so much open adoration of her then-husband in it.

Laker, who says in the book that she still carries in her wallet two photos of the man to whom she was married for 25 years, even wrote Ruderman’s divorce agreement, at a quickie, strip-mall “divorce center” on Route 70 in Cherry Hill, N.J.

The woman who helped them there works mostly with immigrants and the very poor, and she was supportive, too, Ruderman remembers: She said that unlike most of her clients, “You can speak English and you can write; you’re gonna be all right.”

That made a sad day a little more like “Thelma and Louise” without the cliff and marked what they think of as one of their most important collaborations on a writing project. “I wrote this thing that said all Wendy’s work is Wendy’s and he signed it,’’ Laker says of Ruderman’s ex-husband, slapping the table in pure glee.

Melinda Henneberger has been writing about politics and culture for the Washington Post since 2011.

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