The Witch-Hunt

I had several more interviews with Guido and the investigator in the Special Prosecutor’s Office.  I knew little or nothing about political activity, but I was smart and observant and had worked in the Onondaga County Comptroller’s Office, the Personnel Department and the District Attorney’s Office.  In the Special Prosecutor’s Office I found men and women who were what I had expected to find in the District Attorney’s Office—intelligent people of discipline, integrity and honor who were committed to truth and justice.  The Special Prosecutor’s Office did not shut down at five o’clock; it stayed open as long as there were witnesses to be interviewed and work to be done.

Days, I went to work and did my editing job; nights, I called my mom and talked to her.  She was worried—scared for me—but accepted without question that it was the right thing to do and that I should do it.  Nobody else in the county thought I should.  Syracuse had three newspapers:  the Post-Standard in the morning, the Herald-Journal in the afternoon, and the Herald American on Sunday.  The Herald American was produced by the combined staff of the Post-Standard and the Herald-Journal; all three papers were published under the same roof.  In 1944, Samuel I. Newhouse, Sr., purchased the newspapers, saying “I bought Syracuse.”  Newhouse was founder of Advance Publications, which Forbes rates as one of the fifty largest private companies in the United States. 

In 1958 Stephen Rogers was named publisher of The Syracuse Newspapers, as they called themselves, which claimed to be competitive but their readers considered that a joke.  The three newspapers had the same publisher, were housed in the same building, and reporters from the Post-Standard and Herald-Journal were published together in the Herald American.  Come on, get serious.  We had one newspaper with morning, afternoon and Sunday editions.

Rogers had been publishing this way for twenty years when Special Prosecutor Peter Andreoli arrived in town.  Andreoli was told that if he went to Stephen Rogers and got his blessing then he could do anything he wanted to do.  Andreoli was incensed at the idea that he should ask for Rogers’ approval, and outraged that justice for the citizens of Onondaga County should belong to a newspaper publisher.

The Syracuse Newspapers immediately attacked the Special Prosecutor’s investigation, calling it “a witch-hunt.”  According to Wikipedia, “A witch-hunt is a search for witches or evidence of witchcraft, often involving moral panic . . . moral panic is an intense feeling expressed in a population about an issue that appears to threaten the social order. According to Stanley Cohen, author of Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972) and credited as creator of the term, a moral panic occurs when “[a] condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests . . . Moral panics are in essence controversies that involve arguments and social tension and in which disagreement is difficult because the matter at its center is taboo.[3] The media have long operated as agents of moral indignation, even when they are not consciously engaged in crusading or muckraking. Simply reporting the facts can be enough to generate concern, anxiety or panic.”

And Stephen Rogers and The Syracuse Newspapers were not about to report the facts.  They set out to create a moral panic in the citizens so that the “social order” would not be threatened.  And what was that social order?  It was making county government employees pay the Republican Party to keep their jobs, and the subject was taboo.

There never should have been a need for a special prosecutor to be appointed.  It was the job of The Syracuse Newspapers to be the watchdog over government.  If the government was behaving in a scandalous way then the newspapers should have reported it.  That’s why we have a free press.  But when the governor appointed a special prosecutor to investigate political corruption in Onondaga County, The Syracuse Newspapers called it a witch-hunt.  The headline writers called it that in bold print; the reporters called it that in the body of the stories; the editorial writers called it that in their editorials.  The Syracuse Newspapers never called for truth and justice; they called for an end to the witch-hunt.

And there was I, a little old secretary, going one-on-one against The Syracuse Newspapers.  Everybody I talked to called it a witch-hunt.  It was the late 1970’s and news came from newspapers.  There was no Internet.  CNN wasn’t broadcasting twenty-four hours a day.  Walter Cronkite had his entire evening news show set in type and it only filled three-quarters of the front page of the New York Times.  If you wanted the headlines, you watched television; if you wanted the whole story, you read the newspaper.

And the newspapers said that the Special Prosecutor’s Office was engaged in a witch-hunt.  Governor Hugh Carey was getting even with Upstate New York for not voting for him in the election.  There was no corruption in Onondaga County government.  The Special Prosecutor was here to generate false and biased reports about good men and true.  The Onondaga County government had done nothing wrong.  There was nothing to investigate.  Peter Andreoli should go back where he came from.

Peter Andreoli came from Frank Hogan’s office.  Frank Hogan was the district attorney of New York County (Manhattan) for over thirty years.  He was called “Mr. Integrity” because he was honest and incorruptible.  He took the District Attorney’s Office out of politics.  Hogan prosecuted corruption in the police force, rigged television quiz shows, and fixed basketball games.  Actually, he didn’t hands-on prosecute the basketball rigging; Peter Andreoli did that.  A year out of law school, Andreoli had gone to work for Frank Hogan.  In Syracuse, the only photograph on Andreoli’s office wall was of Frank Hogan.  The photographs on Onondaga County District Attorney Jon Holcombe’s walls were of himself with other various others.

Political integrity had arrived in Syracuse and The Syracuse Newspapers couldn’t even recognize it.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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4 Responses to The Witch-Hunt

  1. Piracetam says:

    Since that time, Eagle Newspapers has continued its dedication to Central New York communities by launching the Oneida Press, Solvay-Geddes Express and Syracuse City Eagle publications, which are available free throughout their respective communities. The Oneida Press, Solvay-Geddes Express and a few other newspapers were discontinued in the mid-2000s.

  2. gold price says:

    Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick will not seek a special prosecutor to handle the felony criminal mischief case against the law clerk for a county court judge before whom his office appears regularly.

  3. idebenone says:

    The old Firestone Building at the corner of East Genesee and South State streets in Syracuse was purchased to house both newspapers.

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