paul sann journalism, letters, writing



DOLLY: The Italians here staged their huge block party in

Columbus Circle June 29. On July 23, the Attorney General

and the President suddenly discovered that terms like Mafia

and Cosa Nostra offend "decent Italian Americans." We did

the best story on it (attached). You want to bear in mind

that terms like Mafia and Cosa Nostra originated with of-

ficial government sources (like J. Edgar Hoover), not the

press. In Sicily when they want to be kind to the Mafioso

they identify the Mafia as "The Benevolent Society" or "The

Band of Brothers"; this would not be helpful for us.



The Mafia, in general usage, goes back to the Twenties,

when it was known as the Unione Siciliana (and the Black

Hand before that). It was Joe Valachi, under Robert Kennedy's

wing, who moved the name another stage along to Cosa Nostra

(Our Thing). There are government documents by the ton so ident-

ifying the Italian crime cartel. There is no doubt of its exist-

ence: the Columbus Day party was preceded by the endless picket-

ing of the FBI staged by the (certified) Joe Colombo Cosa Nostra

family here.

      What would the government have us call it now?

Make it "organized crime syndicate," Mr. Mitchell

says. Well--



      Once there was a Garment Center Mob (Lepke & Gurrah)

and this was synonymous with Jews.

      Once there were gangs known as the Gophers and the

Hudson Dusters and this meant Irish.

      Once there was a Bug & Meyer Mob--and this was Jews.

      Once there were Tongs--and that was Chinese.

      All absolutely correct.

      I submit that the Attorney General and his leader

should really be directing their efforts and their energies

to wiping out the Mafia, or Cosa Nostra if you will, instead

of making the name disappear. The Mafia represents

a much greater peril to this nation than the occasional

Charles Manson.


*       *       *


                         5 March 1971

DOLLY, I brood about the Mafia-Cosa Nostra matter.

      By your leave, I would like to talk, in person, to

the following people: John Malone (FBI), Frank Hogan,

Judge Kaufman and Arthur Liman/Morris Abram.

     Then we ought to make a decision.

     Can't start it before next Wednesday. Until then,

it's all Ali-Frazier. Long hours.


*       *       *

               Use of the Terms Mafia and Cosa Nostra I:

      This is an interim memo on the Italian matter.

      Frank Hogan told me yesterday that he regards the terms Mafia and Cosa Nostra as the worst of ethnic slur, never permitted their use in his office and never will. He said he regretted the current controversy because it puts the issue in the wrong context. He said he understands the evil pressures on us but his advice would be to stop saying Mafia or Cosa Nostra because it's wrong to say it, not because the Colombo mob wants us to stop. He gave the same advice to a meeting of The Times' editors a couple of weeks ago (they didn't take it all the way, obviously, so there must be a division on the issue).

      Frank said that if he indicted a hoodlum tomorrow who had been named by Joe Valachi (or any Senate hearing or other privileged forum) as a member of the Costa Nostra he would not use the term. He said he would not use the word "family," either; he would say "mob" or "underworld." If he was saying anything at all, that is. Frank was years ahead of Fair Trial Free Press and never cared much for airing past criminal activities -- but that's another issue.

      In any case, his position on the Mafia and Costa Nostra will be among those described in Judy's Saturday piece, which may need a double truck, by the way.

      I talked to Irving Kaufman of the Federal Appeals bench here earlier in the day. The Judge presided over the Appalachin trial and unlike Frank Hogan, who won't so much as admit that there is a Costa Nostra, isn't beset by too many doubts about the less wholesome Italian families in our midst.

      But his position on the use of the terms Mafia and Costa Nostra is the same as Frank's. He says it's a slur and should be avoided by us, although he feels just as strongly as Frank about the Italian-American Civil Rights League and the Columbos.

      I will get to the others I want to talk to before the week is out -- and do a memo on the whole thing over the weekend. Call it a position paper. I think you should have JAW's view too before there is a hard policy here.


*       *       *

               Use of the Terms Mafia and Cosa Nostra II:

      I have now done all my homework on the Mafia and the Cosa Nostra. I will bring you up to date on my own inquiries into the matter -- and then tell you why I think we should continue to use the terms 1n the instances which call for their use.

      First, the situation on the other newspapers --

      + Abe Rosenthal told me today that The Times' policy is to continue to say Mafia or Cosa Nostra in any cases where law enforcement records justify it. He said he arrived at this some months back after a visit from a menacing delegation from the Italian-American Civil Rights League, led by young Anthony Colombo. (You recall that after that some Times trucks were stopped one Saturday morning but police arrived in droves and it did not happen again). Abe conceded that The Times is using Mafia and Cosa Nostra less frequently now; he said that's because the reporters are not being permitted to write it as casually as they used to. He said that after the visit from the League he had a wide array of sociolog1sts canvassed and couldn't get any hard consensus on whether the disputed words constituted ethnic slurs. He said the sociologists were about evenly split on it.

      + Floyd Barger said there has been no change in policy on The News. He said The News would continue to say Mafia or Cosa Nostra in all the instances where Justice Dept. records bear it out. Floyd also conceded that the terms have been used less frequently in The News recently but gave the same reason as Abe Rosenthal: more careful checking. The attached clip from yesterday's News tips off Barger's position pretty well.

       I also talked today to Stanley Fuld, Chief Judge of the State and head of the Fair Trial-Free Press Conference, and to Morris Abram. I was surprised both times.

      + Judge Fuld said that he does not regard Mafia or Cosa Nostra as ethnic slurs because they are so clearly confined not to the whole Italian-American community but to Italian-Americans with criminal records of some substance. The Judge remains opposed to the use of the terms as prejudicial in trial or pre-trial stories, noting that mistrials have resulted from that sort of thing, but he said that there is no basis for banishing them from the language on the demand of men like the Colombos. He was very firm on that score.

      + Morris Abram goes along with Judge Fuld, but even more strongly. He not only sees no ethnic slur in the terms but submits that the issue has been raised by the very men who fit the description best. That is, he says that the pressure to banish Maria and Cosa Nostra seems to him to come from the underworld itself rather than the law-abiding Italian-American community. He likes Sen. Marchi's position and feels that it would be very dangerous for us to buckle under pressure at this time.

      (I told Morris that you might want to discuss the matter with him yourself. Judge Fuld, by the way, is trying to set a May 7 meeting or the Fair Trial-Free Press Conference where the whole matter could be aired in the broadest possible forum.)

      In my March 24 memo, I gave you the positions of Frank Hogan and Judge Irving Kaufman -- both opposed to the use of the terms. John Malone of the FBI here professes to feel the same way but I know that he is simply committed -- on the record -- to the Mitchell line despite the fact that J. Edgar Hoover used the words in testimony before the House Appropriations Committee last Nov. 19, four months after the July 23, 1970 Mitchell directive. In his heart, I have to doubt whether Malone regards the words as ethic slurs.

      More important, I strongly suspect that if we barred Mafia and Cosa Nostra we would presently have to raise another issue: Does "organized crime" always mean you're talking about Italians? You noted in Judy's piece Saturday (attached) that Papa Colombo is now hinting that the League may next turn its attention to that term. The question might be, where does it end?

      Here are my conclusions:

      + There was a Mafia, surely, and there is a Cosa Nostra (I don't buy Frank Hogan's lower case cosa nostra). There are internal references to Cosa Nostra on underworld tapes made by government investigators (and noted in our excellent Saturday piece). I attach a lengthy memo from Irving Lieberman which I think you should look at.

      + It would be a grievous mistake for The Post, alone among the major dailies here, to banish the disputed terms. I believe that we should use them (except in pre-trial stories and trial coverage) in the cases of men so characterized in government records. I believe that we should use them with great care and caution and only where the reference is necessary and appropriate. I don't think any other course is open to us. It is a situation calling for wisdom and valor -- in equal measure.

                                     PAUL SANN

*       *       *


NEW YORK POST Office Memorandum

From: Paul Sann                    Date: Oct. 3, 1969

To:  Mrs. Schiff                   Copies To:


The Bergen & Cornelia Evans Dictionary of Contemporary English Usage skips the word unpredictable. The new Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines it merely as "not predictable, not to be foreseen or foretold" ... ("the future is at best unpredictable"). Webster's New International is about the same.

I believe that any jury of our peers defining the word in its contemporary usage would hold that it is by no means automatically libelous or defamatory. Thus:

If you had said that Harry Truman, thrust into the Presidency, was "unpredictable" you would not necessarily have been saying anything bad about him (certainly not if the context was otherwise friendly, dispassionate or sympathetic). You might just have been saying that there was no way to pass any advance judgment on the man. On the other hand, if you had said that Judy Garland's next night club performance was "unpredictable" you might have been suggesting that she was apt to be too drunk: or too high on drugs to perform creditably or even show up. If you say that Cleon Jones of the Mets is "unpredictable" you might be saying that he's just as apt to hit the ball out of the park as to strike out.

"Arbitrary" is something else because it carries capriciousness among its secondary definitions, but I don't regard arbitrary as libelous per see. I don't know if the lawyers would either.

The test of the letter in question to me would be its total content. As I remember it, it is a rave notice, even with the phrase you object to. I don't think it can have any bearing on the larger issue in any event.


                       PAUL SANN

To Staff | To Dolly

*       *       *

Home | Birdye | Books | Books Online | Dolly | Galley-Proof | Hamill on Sann | Letters | Memos | Page One
Photographs | Reporting | Sann on Sann | -30- | Tribute | Acknowledgements | Links | Copyright | Contact