Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Philadelphia Organized Crime Associate Sentenced To Five Years In Prison For Racketeering And Drug Dealing

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia released the below information:

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Daniel Castelli, 68, of Philadelphia, PA, was sentenced to five years in prison and four years of supervised release by United States District Court Senior Judge R. Barclay Surrick for racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

In January 2022, the defendant pleaded guilty to a superseding indictment stemming from his involvement in criminal activity with and for the Philadelphia La Cosa Nostra, also known as the LCN, the mafia, and the mob. The Philadelphia LCN is one of a number of LCN organized crime families based in various cities throughout the United States. The goal of the LCN in Philadelphia and elsewhere is to make money through the commission of various crimes, including illegal gambling, loansharking, drug trafficking, and extortion.

According to court documents, and the defendant’s guilty plea, Castelli was an associate of the LCN who worked with LCN members and other associates to commit crimes such as drug trafficking, extortion, and loansharking. The defendant pled guilty to his involvement with the LCN for that conduct as well as for an effort in 2016 to obtain a kilogram of cocaine, intended for later resale, on behalf of other LCN members and associates.

“Even though the Philadelphia mob has been weakened over the decades due in large part to persistent law enforcement, the organization and its criminal activities are still very much a problem and are damaging the communities in which it operates,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to prosecuting anyone who is committing serious federal crimes like these, and we will not rest until the mob is nothing but a bad memory.”  

“The Philadelphia LCN is committed to criminality, it seems, with Daniel Castelli admitting he took part,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “He helped the organization make money through all manner of illegal activity, including drug dealing, posing a clear danger to the community. The FBI will continue to target those engaged in organized crime, as we work every day to make Philadelphia safer.”

The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including its Philadelphia Field Division and Atlantic City Resident Agency, as part of a long-running investigation, with the assistance of the Philadelphia Police Department, the Pennsylvania State Police and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan Ortiz and Justin Ashenfelter, and Trial Attorneys Alexander Gottfried and Brendan Woods of the Department of Justice Criminal Division, Organized Crime and Gang Section.

Babylon Bee: ‘Guns Should Not Be In The Hands Of The Mentally Unstable,’ Says Senile Man With Nukes

 The Babylon Bee offers a satirical piece on Biden and gun control (code name "gun safety," as gun control sounds too harsh).

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A senile old man in Washington who has a deadly nuclear arsenal at his fingertips is calling for dangerous weapons to be taken out of the hands of the mentally unstable.

"Listen, folks, this shouldn't be difficult," said the yammering old geriatric to a duck in the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. "The mentally unstable shouldn't have guns! It's dangerous! Think of what could happen, Jack! They could fire it blindly through their front door because they heard a noise, or leave it right out in the open where a Taliban terrorist could pick it up, or accidentally kill innocent people they thought were bad guys but turned out to be foreign aid workers!" The man then dove face-first into the pool because he thought he saw an ice cream cone there. 

You can read the rest of the humor piece via the below link:

‘Guns Should Not Be In The Hands Of The Mentally Unstable,’ Says Senile Man With Nukes | The Babylon Bee 

Monday, May 30, 2022

President Ronald Reagan's 1981 Memorial Day Proclamation

President Reagan’s Proclamation for Memorial Day, May 25, 1981:

Over 100 years ago, Memorial Day was established to commemorate those who died in the defense of our national ideals. Our ideals of freedom, justice, and equal rights for all have been challenged many times since then, and thousands of Americans have given their lives in many parts of the world to secure those same ideals and insure for their children a lasting peace.

Their sacrifice demands that we, the living, continue to promote the cause of peace and the ideals for which they so valiantly gave of themselves.

Today, the United States stands as a beacon of liberty and democratic strength before the community of nations. We are resolved to stand firm against those who would destroy the freedoms we cherish.

We are determined to achieve an enduring peace — a peace with liberty and with honor. This determination, this resolve, is the highest tribute we can pay to the many who have fallen in the service of our nation. 

Memorial Day 2022: Honor And Remember Those Who Gave Their Lives In Defense Of Our Country

In the above Defense Department photo, a service member salutes while helping to place U.S. flags at every gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia during Flags In, on May 26, 2022. 

The pre-Memorial Day tradition honors the nations fallen heroes began in 1948. 

Note: The above photo was taken by Elizabeth Fraser, U.S. Army.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Former Navy SEALS Want You To Never Forget True Meaning Of Memorial Day

 NBC News offers a piece on former Navy SEALs reminding us about the true meaning of Memorial Day.

ST. LOUIS — For many people, Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer and a three-day weekend of barbecues, beach trips and other outdoor activities. But for those who’ve lost loved ones to war, it can mean visits to the cemetery and the re-emergence of grief and pain.

Two former Navy SEALs who didn’t want people to lose sight of the true meaning of the holiday co-founded Carry The Load, a nonprofit group dedicated to the mindful awareness of those who died in service to the U.S. military.

Every year, Carry The Load organizes a monthlong national relay consisting of five routes covering 20,000 miles across all 48 states in the continental U.S. People march in remembrance of their loved ones’ service and to make sure their memories are never forgotten.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Former Navy SEALS want you to never forget true meaning of Memorial Day (aol.com)

Honor And Remember: Memorial Day 2022


Saturday, May 28, 2022

On This Day In History Ian Fleming, The Creator Of James Bond, Was Born

On this day in 1908 the late, great thriller writer Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, the world’s most famous fictional spy, was born. Fleming died of a heart attack at age 56 in 1964.

As History.com notes, Ian Lancaster Fleming was born into a well-to-do family in London on May 28, 1908. "As an adult, he worked as a foreign correspondent, a stockbroker and a personal assistant to Britain’s director of naval intelligence during World War II–experiences that would all provide fodder for his Bond novels. The series of novels about the debonair Agent 007, based in part on their dashing author’s real-life experiences, spawned one of the most lucrative film franchises in history.  

"The first Bond book, Casino Royale, was published in 1953. In all, Fleming wrote 12 novels and two short story collections about Agent 007, which together sold more than 18 million copies. According to The New York Times: “Bond himself, Fleming said, was ‘a compound of all the secret agents and commandos I met during the war,’ but his tastes– in blondes, martinis ‘shaken, not stirred,’ expensively tailored suits, scrambled eggs, short-sleeved shirts and Rolex watches–were Fleming’s own. But not all the comparisons were ones the author liked to encourage. Bond, he said, had ‘more guts than I have’ as well as being ‘more handsome. 

"The first Bond film, Dr. No, was released in 1962; it starred the Scottish actor Sean Connery in the title role. Connery played Bond in six films altogether; From Russia With Love (1963) and Goldfinger (1964) were the only ones made during Fleming’s lifetime. Since that time, five other actors—George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig—have played the superspy in some two dozen films from EON Productions."

You can read three of my Crime Beat columns on Ian Fleming via the below links: 

Paul Davis On Crime: WWII's Great Deception Plan: My Crime Beat Column On Ian Fleming And 'Operation Mincemeat'

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Beat Column: The Ian Fleming and James Bond Phenomenon

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Beat Column: A Look Back At Ian Fleming's Iconic James Bond Character

You can also read my Counterterrorism magazine piece on Ian Fleming in WWII via the below link: 

Paul Davis On Crime: My Piece On The 30 Assault Unit, The British WWII Commando Group Created By Ian Fleming, The Creator Of James Bond

Friday, May 27, 2022

The Aftereffects Of Crime On A Family: My Washington Times On Crime Column On Lisa Scottoline’s 'What Happened to the Bennetts'

The Washington Times published my On Crime column on Lisa Scottoline and her crime novel What Happened to the Bennetts. 

Lisa Scottoline is a bestselling and award-winning author of 34 legal thrillers and historical novels. She also writes a weekly humor column with her daughter Francesca Serritella for the Philadelphiauirer called “Chick Wit,” a witty take on life from a woman’s perspective.


Lisa Scottoline’s latest novel is “What Happened to the Bennetts.”


I reached out to her to ask about the novel and discovered that we are originally from the same Italian American neighborhood in South Philadelphia, and we lived around the corner from each other when we were young.     


I asked her how she would describe her current novel?


“I would describe it as a family story and a crime story rolled into one,” Ms. Scottoline replied. “It’s about a family that is driving home from a kid’s hockey game one night, and they are carjacked, and it goes terribly wrong. They later find themselves in witness protection. Violence can happen in a minute, and you can’t pretend that it doesn’t.


I asked her why she chose the husband and father as the narrator of the novel, and was it difficult to write in the first person as a man? (I write short stories and I would never be so bold as to write in the first person of a woman).


“I started writing about women as I wanted to see women in the lead, but I said to myself, you have to give it a try. You can’t write the same book over and over. I thought about the role of fathers. I’ve written a lot about mothers, being a mother myself, but this time I wanted to put the spotlight on a father. I was very close with my dad. This book is a lot like my dad.


“In our culture we are very interested in heroes. There is a reason that Spider-Man movies make 500 million dollars. I’m not putting them down. But you’re trying to look at a larger scene when you’re writing a book.  So, the question in “What Happens to the Bennetts” is what is a hero?


You can read the rest of the column via the below link:

BOOK REVIEW: 'What Happened to the Bennetts' - Washington Times 

Thursday, May 26, 2022

A Little Humor: Groucho Marx


Former Philadelphia VA Hospital Employee Pleads Guilty To Stealing Almost $500,000 In Government Funds

 PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Bruce Minor, 46, of Philadelphia, PA, entered a plea of guilty today before United States District Court Judge Chad F. Kenney in connection with his scheme to embezzle money from his former employer, the Philadelphia Veterans’ Affairs Medical Center (VAMC).

In April 2022, the defendant was charged in a one-count Criminal Information with theft of government funds stemming from his theft of $487,000 in Veterans Affairs travel reimbursement funds, which he helped administer as part of his official duties as an travel clerk. In order to perpetrate the theft, Minor created fraudulent travel reimbursement claims in the names of at least three other VAMC employees and then diverted the fraudulently obtained funds into bank accounts he controlled. According to court documents, in an email to VAMC management, the defendant admitted to stealing approximately $13,000 in travel funds, though subsequent investigation showed that he stole upwards of $487,000 between December 2015 and September 2019.

“Injured veterans – and all Americans – deserve public employees who do their jobs honestly, without gaming the system to line their own pockets,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “While the VA was focused on providing high-quality care and programs to the men and women who served our country, the defendant selfishly took advantage of his position to perpetrate this fraud scheme and cheat the taxpayers who fund these services.”

“Today’s guilty plea should send a message to those who would use their position to steal taxpayer dollars,” said Special Agent in Charge Christopher F. Algieri of the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General’s Northeast Field Office. “This greed wastes precious funds that could otherwise be used to provide care and benefits to our nation’s veterans. The VA OIG appreciates the commitment of the U.S. Attorney’s Office throughout this investigation and will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to hold wrongdoers accountable.”

The case was investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Diviny. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Texas School Shooting: What We Know About The Victims

The New York Post offers a piece on what we know so far about the victims of the horrific mass shooting at a Texas school.

A veteran teacher who was “just a sweetheart” and an 8-year-old boy were among those killed in the mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, according to devastated loved ones.

At least 19 children and two teachers were killed when the alleged gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, opened fire Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, a small, working-class town near the Mexico border.

All victims were killed inside a single classroom, the Texas Department of Public Safety said Wednesday.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Texas school shooting: What we know about the victims (nypost.com) 

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Michael Caine Reads Kipling's Poem 'If'

Michael Caine is one of my favorite actors and Rudyard Kipling (seen in the below photo) is one of my favorite writers (I read Kipling's Kim as a pre-teen, The Man Who Would Be King as a young man, and more recently I read his short stories about his time as a young journalist in India), so I pleased to see to Michael Caine read Kipling's poem If in a video. 

You can watch the video via the below link: 

IF, Rudyard Kipling's poem, recited by Sir Michael Caine - YouTube

Sunday, May 22, 2022

WWII's Great Deception Plan: My Crime Beat Column On Ian Fleming And 'Operation Mincemeat'

I watched and enjoyed the Netflix film Operation Mincemeat, the true story of how British intelligence fooled the Nazis into believing the allies were going to invade Greece rather Sicily in World War II.

As an Ian Fleming aficionado, I was pleased to see the late Ian Fleming portrayed fairly accurately in the film, as well as seeing his role in the grand deception plan acknowledged.  

The deception plot involved the Germans reading and believing the fake secret letters on the corpse of a drowned British Royal Marine who washed up ashore in Spain. The corpse was in fact that of a derelict man who killed himself. British intelligence created a fake background for the corpse, proving him with love letters, a photo of his girlfriend and other personal items, in addition to the fake secret letters from British senior officers.

The bold deception plan worked, as the fake secret documents convinced Hitler that the allies were set to invade Greece, and the Nazi leader moved crack troops from Sicily to Greece. The deception plan saved the lives of countless allied troops who successfully invaded Sicily on July 10, 1943.

The germ of this brilliant plan was one of several suggested ideas in what was called the “Trout Memo” from British Admiral John Godfry, the director of Naval Intelligence. But according to Ben Macintyre, the author of Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory, the book the film is based on, the true author of the Trout Memo was Commander Ian Fleming.

Commander Fleming (seen in the above photo) was then Admiral Godfrey’s personal assistant and according to Macintyre, Fleming read a spy thriller before the war that utilized a corpse in the plot, and Fleming placed the outrageous idea in the memo. Fleming would, of course, go on to write spy thrillers of his own that featured a certain character called James Bond.

The now iconic and world-famous Bond character was based on several spies and commandos Fleming met during the war, and Fleming said he also infused Bond with many of his own quirks and characteristics. 

In the Netflix film, Ian Fleming is portrayed by Johnny Flynn (seen in the top photo), who narrates the film in Fleming’s sardonic voice. The two officers who headed the deception plot were naval intelligence officer Ewan Montagu and Royal Air Force officer Charles Cholondley, and they were portrayed in the film by Colin Firth and Matthew MacFadyen. Admiral Godfrey was portrayed by Jason Isaacs and Jean Leslie was portrayed by Kelly Macdonald. All of the actors were spot on, and the film was directed well by John Madden.  

The film takes some liberty with the facts, as films often do, but overall, I think it is a fine film that is well worth watching, not only for entertainment, but also as a vital history lesson. 

The deception plan was made into an earlier film in 1956 called The Man Who Never Was, which was based on the memoir by Ewan Montagu. But Montagu’s book and the film were unable to tell the whole story as the details were still classified at the time.

Ben Macintyre (seen in the above photo), a London Times columnist and author of several fine books on espionage history, was more fortunate, as he was given access to the declassified files of the operation.  

"This is the thrilling true story of the greatest and most successful wartime deception ever attempted. One April morning in 1943, a sardine fisherman spotted the corpse of a British soldier floating in the sea off the coast of Spain and set in train a course of events that would change the course of the Second World War,” Bloomsbury, Macintyre’s publisher, wrote when the book came out in 2010.

“Operation Mincemeat was the most successful wartime deception ever attempted, and certainly the strangest. It hoodwinked the Nazi espionage chiefs, sent German troops hurtling in the wrong direction, and saved thousands of lives by deploying a secret agent who was different, in one crucial respect, from any spy before or since: he was dead. His mission: to convince the Germans that instead of attacking Sicily, the Allied armies planned to invade Greece.

“The brainchild of an eccentric RAF officer and a brilliant Jewish barrister, the great hoax involved an extraordinary cast of characters including a famous forensic pathologist, a gold-prospector, an inventor, a beautiful secret service secretary, a submarine captain, three novelists, a transvestite English spymaster, an irascible admiral who loved fly-fishing, and a dead Welsh tramp. Using fraud, imagination and seduction, Churchill’s team of spies spun a web of deceit so elaborate and so convincing that they began to believe it themselves. The deception started in a windowless basement beneath Whitehall. It travelled from London to Scotland to Spain to Germany. And it ended up on Hitler’s desk.

“Ben Macintyre, bestselling author of Agent Zigzag, weaves together private documents, photographs, memories, letters and diaries, as well as newly released material from the intelligence files of MI5 and Naval Intelligence, to tell for the first time the full story of Operation Mincemeat. "

Ian Fleming never wrote about the operation, or his role in it, due to his oath of secrecy. Sadly, he died in 1964 before the documents were declassified. 

Back in 2012, the British were honoring Ian Fleming with Royal Mail stamps and the Imperial War Museum in London was marking the Fleming centenary with a major exhibition that explores his life and the influences that guided him in his creation of his famous character James Bond. Ben Macintyre wrote a companion book for the Imperial War Museum exhibition called For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming & James Bond.    

Fleming’s father died in combat in WWI and his younger brother died in combat in WWII. So considering his family’s sacrifices and his own military experience, Fleming, I believe, would have been proud. 

I had previously interviewed Ben Macintyre about his earlier excellent book on WWII crook and British spy Eddie Chapman, called Agent Zigzag, and I reached out to him again and interviewed about his book on Fleming. 

He said the book was not a full biography, but rather “a personal investigation into the intersection of two lives, one real and one fictional."

"All novelists find inspiration in reality, but Ian Fleming, more than any writer I know, anchored the imagined world of James Bond to the people, things and places he knew," Macintyre noted.

“Espionage is itself a shadow trade between truth and untruth and is a complex interweaving of imagination, deception and reality. As a former officer in naval intelligence, Fleming thought like a spy, and wrote like one. This book is an attempt to explore a remarkable double life and to establish, as nearly as possible, where the real world of Ian Fleming ended, and the fictional world of James Bond begins."

I asked Macintyre why he wrote the book.

“I have always been a fan, but I was asked by the family, partly because of Agent Zigzag and partly because of articles I have written in the past about Bond and Fleming.”

I asked him to describe how Fleming was inspired by his late father who died in WWI and his own military service in WWII?

“Val Fleming is a large part of the Bond myth. His early tragic death and gallantry provide, I think, the template for the Bond character. Fleming’s wartime service is critical: plots, characters, events, gadgets, places and politics all flow directly from that war. Bond is very much a World War II personality, fighting a Cold War.”

Many people find his novels and the films to be utterly fantastic, but Macintyre said that Fleming’s plots, as well as his characters, were in fact based largely on reality. I asked him to explain this.

“Fleming always based his books firmly in reality. "Everything I write has a basis in truth". True, Bond is able to carry out exploits that would be hard to believe in fact, yet the world of spying quite often beggars belief: Agent Zigzag being a good example,” Macintyre explained.

“As a former officer in naval intelligence, Fleming thought like a spy and wrote like one,” Ben Macintyre told me. “This book is an attempt to explore a remarkable double life and to establish, as nearly as possible, where the real world of Ian Fleming ended, and the fictional world of James Bond begins.” 

And now with Netflix’s Operation Mincemeat, we can see the role that Ian Fleming played in the real world of espionage. 

Note: You can read my Counterterrorism magazine piece about Ian Fleming’s WWII experience and his creation of a commando group via below:

A Little Humor: And Writers As Well

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Armed Forces Day 2022: Celebrating And Honoring Those Who Serve

 Today is Armed Forces Day. 

As a proud Navy veteran who served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, I honor and support the members of the U.S. armed forces. 

Armed Forces Day is a special holiday for people all over the world to come together and thank the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. First conceived by President Harry S. Truman, the holiday was established in 1949. The creation of a single day celebration for all five branches of the United States military made sense due to its recent unification under the Department of Defense. 

Today is a day to honor and support U.S. military members stationed all around the world.  

A Little Humor: Nothing Like A Good Insult

Friday, May 20, 2022

NATO Military Leaders Address Security In Wake of Russian Invasion Of Ukraine

 Jim Garamone at the DOD News offers a piece on NATO. 

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February, the North Atlantic Alliance has proven its capabilities to mobilize for collective defense and ably support the Ukrainians fighting for their country, the top NATO military leaders said today. 


Dutch Adm. Rob Bauer, the chairman of the alliance's military committee, emphasized the alliance faces a new situation. "The focus of this meeting was on collective defense," he said following a meeting of NATO military leaders. "Without a doubt, a new era for NATO has begun. In the past few months, NATO has shown that it is capable [of swiftly and effectively changing] its posture. We have implemented the largest reinforcement of collective defense in a generation." 

The 30-nation Atlantic alliance capitalized on work begun after Russia first invaded Ukraine in 2014 to speedily reinforce vulnerable frontline states. All this is part of the new NATO military strategy, which — Bauer said — is evolving even as Russia poured over Ukraine's border on February 24. Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine "has presented us with a new strategic reality," Bauer said.  

A reality the NATO nations can face down. 

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

NATO Military Leaders Address Security in Wake of Russian Invasion of Ukraine > U.S. Department of Defense > Defense Department News 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Former FBI Director Airs Warning About Elder Fraud Public Service Announcement: Reminds Seniors and Their Loved Ones to Be Vigilant

The Jamaican telephone scammer thought he had an ideal victim due to the man’s advance age.

But the con artist didn’t know that the elderly gentleman on the phone was a retired federal judge and the former director of both the CIA and the FBI.

The scamster is now in prison.

The FBI released a Public Service Announcement (PSA) with Judge Webster warning potential victims of elder fraud.

“If it can happen to me, it can happen to you,” warns former FBI and CIA Director William Webster in a video message that urges older people and their loved ones to be wary of elder fraud schemes.

The 98-year-old retired judge and his wife Lynda were prospective marks in a Jamaican lottery scam in 2014 when an unsolicited caller informed Webster he won a sweepstakes. To collect his winnings—a car and millions of dollars—Webster was told he needed to pay $50,000. When the couple declined repeatedly, the caller became abusive and threatening. The Websters called the FBI and later worked with special agents in the Washington Field Office to nab the scammer, who is now serving time in prison.

The Websters are among millions of older Americans targeted each year in elder fraud schemes like bogus lottery and romance scams. Fraudsters string along victims with promises of love or riches in exchange for cash advances or assistance moving illegal funds. Losses from these types of scams reach into the hundreds of millions each year and are increasing as the U.S. population ages.

You can read the rest of the piece and watch the PSA via the below link:

Former FBI Director Airs Warning About Elder Fraud — FBI 

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The Washington Times Celebrates Newspaper's 40 Anniversary

 “The Times was to be a different kind of newspaper, one that would go for inspiration ‘back to the future,’ to a time of national consensus on issues of ethics and morality, with an emphasis on the message and not the messenger. We would not only cover the news without slant or bias, but give voice to those who have been shut out of the national debate. The Times was to be wholly secular, to hold to no sectarian cause, to champion no denomination above any other but never to mock faith and belief, to proselytize only for the principles that liberate men from the tyranny of closed minds.”

— Wesley Pruden, former Editor-in-Chief, The Washington Times. 

Congratulations to the Washington Times on the newspaper’s 40 anniversary. The newspaper has consistently offered fair news coverage and four pages of conservative opinion. www.washingtontimes.com

I’ve been a contributor to the Washington Times since 2012 and my On Crime column has appeared in the Washington Times since 2019.   

You can read my On Crime columns via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times 'On Crime' Columns  

And you can read my op-eds and book reviews via the below link: 

Paul Davis On Crime: My Washington Times Op-Eds And Book Reviews

Sunday, May 15, 2022

My Crime Beat Column: My Q&A With Veteran Newspaper Columnist And Author Stu Bykofsky

For a time, I was proud to have my Crime Beat column appear in Philadelphia Weekly alongside the contributions of veteran newspaper columnist Stu Bykofsky.  

Previous to this, I was also a proud contributor for 19 years to the Philadelphia Inquirer, where Stu Bykofsky’s popular column ran for many years. 

So when I read that Stu Bykofsky had written a novel about newspapers, reporters, crime and politics, called Press Card, I purchased the novel online, and I read and thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Stu Bykofsky described Press Card on his website, STU BYKOFSKY - Reality determines my political positions, not vice versa : 

Did you ever have a bad boss? Sure, you have.

Did you ever do anything about him (or her)?

Probably not.

Claude Shelby does.

He’s a straight-talking, wisecracking, street-savvy reporter who doesn’t like his bosses -- and they don’t like him.

That conflict provides the framework for Press Card, which is funny, sad, poetic, obscene, sexy, and knowing.

Following his demotion for cutting corners to get a political story, Shelby struggles with his bosses, and with what his job sometimes requires him to do. 

When he’s at his lowest point and floating aimlessly, he stumbles into clues that could lead him to the biggest story of his life -- finding fugitive Black revolutionary Sister Sojourner.

He chases the leads he digs out all the way to St. Lucia in the Caribbean, where he receives help from an unexpected source in a skintight dress.

In this picaresque novel, Claude Shelby interacts with memorable characters: a rags-to-riches millionaire, a close friend who regrets quitting journalism for the big bucks of P.R., the Philadelphia artist who designs neon tube clothing accessories that double as dildos, and a predatory female reporter.

Press Card takes readers inside the Fourth Estate and reveals how some newspapers make decisions. It unmasks power plays between union and management, and reporters’ tricks.

It is fiction based on fact.

Press Card crackles like a police radio and rolls as fast as the presses that print the fictional Philadelphia Free Press.

I reached out to Stu Bykofsky and asked him about Press Card. 

Davis: Why did you write Press Card? 

Bykofsky: Two reasons. 1- A personal challenge to myself to see if I could write something that long. “Cats Are Supermodels” was a decade earlier, nonfiction, and about 20% as long as “Press Card.” 2- Wanted revenge on some editors.  

Davis: How would you describe the novel? 

Bykofsky: I call it “faction” -- fact wrapped in fiction. It pulls back the curtains on how print really works, in a fast-paced, humorous manner.  

Davis: Is Claude Shelby in any way autobiographical? 

Bykofsky: Claude Shelby is not Stu Bykofsky, but some of Stu Bykofsky is in Claude Shelby. Claude is somewhat anti-union; Stu is very pro-union. Shelby chews gum, Stu never had, and Stu was never a political reporter. 

Davis: Is the Philadelphia Free Press based on the Daily News or the Inquirer? 

Bykofsky: The Free Press is a tabloid, like the News, and, honestly, the novel is a roman a clef, using the News as a template. You know the adage -- write what you know.

Davis: Are the other characters, especially the editors, based on real people? 

Bykofsky: Some yes, some no. Some are complete inventions; other characters are borrowed from people I know. When inventing a character, I picture someone I know. It helps with the physical descriptions and helps me keep them separate. 

Davis: Did you cover any of the stories that Shelby covered in the novel? 

Bykofsky: I was working the desk the night a tanker exploded in the Delaware. That’s the chapter called Fire on the Water. I actually had a lead on Patty Hearst, through a friend, but the trail went cold fast. As to the suicide of a TV anchor, that was loosely based on Bud Dwyer, but I did not cover that. I was a TV critic for five years and will say the TV reporter Howard Scott was based on WPVI’s Marc Howard.  

Davis: Why do newspapers cover crime stories so prominently? 

Bykofsky: They don’t anymore -- and that is intentional. The “Woke” element in newsrooms have decided coverage of crime is racist. If you give it a moment's thought, you can imagine why.  

Davis: What made you want to go into newspaper journalism?  

Bykofsky: I started by joining the college newspaper at Brooklyn College (night school), because I didn’t like fraternities and it was one club that had girls, where everyone drank and cursed and smoked. It turned out writing was a gift -- I could do it easily and I figured it would be a good career. Not a lot of money, but a lot of fun. My intuition was correct. And the editor of its college paper got me my first professional job at The World-Telegram & The Sun in NYC in 1959. I retired 60 years later. 

Davis: Was anyone in particular a major influence? 

Bykofsky: The aforementioned college editor, Gordon Lattey -- still a friend. Got me the job at the Telegram, and later got me a freelance job with a travel magazine he edited, which opened the door to world travel -- with someone else paying the bill. I have been everywhere from Antigua to Yugoslavia, something that would have been completely impossible for someone like me who grew up in the projects. 

Davis: How are newspapers today different today from the 1970s, the era portrayed in Press Card

Bykofsky: I hate to generalize, but they seem to be run by people guided more by their politics than by news values. 

Davis: What do you see for the future of newspapers? 

Bykofsky: In print -- none, and that is really sad. I see them each becoming silos, catering to the perceived biases of their readers. I can’t be specific because I signed a NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) with the Inquirer, which I am suing for defamation. 

Davis: Do you have a favorite book, novel or play about newspapers? 

Bykofsky: Citizen Hearst, although only indirectly about newspapers. And The Front Page, of course, for sheer fun. 

Davis: Do you have a favorite film or TV series about newspapers? 

Bykofsky: There was an OLD series, maybe the ‘50s, called The Big Story, something like that, that was sort of a documentary recreation. I also strongly like Absence of Malice, although it is slightly off-kilter about libel law. But Paul Newman and Sally Field -- what’s not to like? 

Davis: How would you describe your career as a newspaperman and columnist?  

Bykofsky: Pleasure. The bad days were few, and I got to travel the world, and rub elbows with celebrities and politicians. (I don’t really like celebrities, but they make good fodder for story telling). Unfortunately, I now have forgotten most of the stories. Importantly, at stages in my career I was able to help people who needed it, and kick the asses of politicians, who also needed it. 

Davis: Do you plan to write another novel? 

Bykofsky: The first one took almost 40 years. I am 80. And I write a very active blog, so there’s no time. 

Davis: Good luck with the novel.

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Stu Bykofsky | Columnist & Author | About (presscardthebook.com)

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