Ralph Blumenthal, a Distinguished Lecturer at Baruch College of the City University of New York, and summer journalism instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy, was an award-winning reporter for The New York Times from 1964 to 2009, and has written seven books on organized crime and cultural history. He led the Times metro team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of the 1993 truck-bombing of the World Trade Center. In 2001, Blumenthal was named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation to research the progressive career and penal reforms of Warden Lewis E. Lawes, “the man who made Sing Sing sing.” The book on Warden Lawes, Miracle at Sing Sing, was published by St. Martin’s in June, 2004.
During the coronavirus pandemic he has contributed articles to The Times and other publications, worked from home on his Baruch Archives blog, “An Adventure in Democracy”, and given virtual talks on his new book, “The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack.”
For more than 45 years, Blumenthal led an extensive and illustrious career at The Times as Texas correspondent and Southwest Bureau Chief (2003-8); arts and culture news reporter (1994-2003); investigative and crime reporter (1971-1994); foreign correspondent (West Germany, South Vietnam, Cambodia, 1968-1971); and metro and Westchester correspondent (1964-1968). He began his journalism career as reporter/columnist for The Grand Prairie Daily News Texan in 1963.
Blumenthal earned a Guggenheim Fellowship (2001), a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism Alumni Award (2001), and the Nieman Foundation’s Worth Bingham Prize for distinguished investigative reporting on USAir crashes. (1994.) He was named a Townsend Harris medalist of the City College Alumni Association in 2012 and inducted into the C.C.N.Y. Communications Alumni Hall of Fame in May 2010. Since 2010 he has taught journalism in the high school international summer program of Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., and in 2010 was named a Distinguished Lecturer at Baruch College where he taught journalism and currently oversees historic collections in the Newman Library Archives.
Having edited my City College newspaper, The Campus, and gone on to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I joined The New York Times as a news clerk in June 1964 and within months was promoted to the metro staff. In 1968, at 26, I was assigned as a foreign correspondent to the Bonn Bureau where I covered the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the rise of neo-Nazism and the West German economic miracle.
The following year The Times sent me to Saigon to cover the war and what became the spread of fighting to Cambodia.
Assigned back to New York in 1971, I became an investigative reporter specializing in stories about foreign and American corruption and organized crime. My series on Nazi war criminals hiding in America helped pass a Congressional bill to bar persecutors from entering the country, the Holtzman Amendment. I was the American reporter who first got the tip on Kurt Waldheim’s secret Nazi past.
Another series, on corrupt dealings and cocaine use by Brooklyn Representative Fred Richmond, led to the Congressman’s guilty plea and resignation from the House. My articles on questionable financial dealings by the 1984 Democratic Vice Presidential nominee, Geraldine Ferraro, and her husband, John Zaccaro, became a factor in the election. In 1987 I led the Times team that exposed the Tawana Brawley racial hoax and produced the series nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. In 1988, my first book, Last Days of the Sicilians, on the FBI’s Pizza Connection drug case was published, and I was invited to the annual retreat of the judges of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to speak on electronic eavesdropping. In 1990, I collaborated with five other Times reporters on the book, Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax, based on our investigative articles.
In 1993, I led the team covering the World Trade Center truck-bombing, which won the paper a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage. The following year, I co-authored another series on the fatal crashes of USAir. It prompted new safety procedures, was nominated for a Pulitzer and won the Worth Bingham prize for investigative reporting, presented by President Bill Clinton at the White House Correspondents dinner. It was also a finalist for Harvard University’s Goldsmith’s Prize.
In 1994, I joined the culture news department as an arts reporter, where I shared, with co-writers, a Times Publisher’s Award for a series on the Sotheby’s and Christie’s antitrust scandal — one of some two dozen Times awards to me over the years. After Sept. 11, 2001, I briefly rejoined the investigative team covering terrorism. In 2003, I went to Texas to cover the Southwest where I reported on death penalty cases, President George W. Bush’s military record, and a polygamist cult. Upon my return to the Metro staff in 2008, I wrote news features and blogged on city issues. As a Times contributor after retiring as a staffer in 2009, I reported on the secret Pentagon unit investigating UFOs.
Meanwhile, I wrote two other non-fiction books: Once Through the Heart (1992), on a police narcotics detective’s struggle to rescue his own daughter from drugs; and Stork Club (2000), a history of the fabled nightspot, its renegade owner Sherman Billingsley, and the gangster era in Gotham. The book became the focus of an exhibit, “Stork Club,” at the New York Historical Society, which I curated and which ran from May-Oct., 2000. My next book, Miracle at Sing Sing (2004), was supported by a Guggenheim grant. I also compiled The Gotti Tapes (1992). My seventh book, The Believer: Alien Encounters, Hard Science, and the Passion of John Mack, was published by High Road Books of the University of New Mexico Press on March 15, 2021.
My proudest achievements, however, are none of these. They are our daughters Anna and Sophie, alumnae of the University of Delaware and, respectively, a musician and a nutritionist, for whom I gratefully share credit with my wife, Deborah, also a nutritionist, journalist, and author of children’s books and young-adult fiction.