Without Compromise

The Brave Journalism that First Exposed Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and the American Epidemic of Corruption


By Wayne Barrett

Edited by Eileen Markey

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A collection of groundbreaking investigations by Wayne Barrett, the intrepid, muckraking Village Voice journalist who exposed corruption in New York City and beyond.

With piercing moral clarity and exacting rigor, Wayne Barrett tracked political corruption in the pages of the Village Voice fact by fact, document by document for 40 years. The first to report on the scams and crooked deals that fueled the rise of Donald Trump in 1979, Barrett went on to expose the shady dealings of small-time slum lords and powerful New York City politicians alike, from Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani to Michael Bloomberg.

Without Compromise is the first anthology of Barrett’s investigative work, accompanied by essays from colleagues and those he trained. In an age of lies, fog, and propaganda, when the profession of journalism is degraded by the White House and the industry is under financial threat, Barrett reminds us that facts, when clearly accumulated, are our best defense of democracy.

Featuring essays by:
Joe Conason
Kim Phillips-Fein
Errol Louis
Gerson Borrero
Tom Robbins
Tracie McMillan
Peter Noel
Adam Fifield
Jarrett Murphy
Andrea Bernstein
Jennifer Gonnerman
Mac Barrett


Barrett copied by hand an excerpt from Containment and Change, by Carl Oglesby, and saved the quote among his papers for 40 years. (Courtesy of the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin)


We Deserve Better

Eileen Markey

WAYNE BARRETT didn’t report a word on the Trump administration. He died the night before the 45th president took office. But as the many scandals of the Trump presidency began to unfold, Barrett’s foundational reporting on the New York City real estate developer was cited almost ritually, Barrett inevitably identified as “legendary investigative reporter Wayne Barrett.” His family, friends, and colleagues thought readers should have access to some of that reporting. This book is the result.

Barrett wrote in the Village Voice nearly every week for the better part of four decades, a steady accretion of knowledge silting up into hundreds of thousands of column inches. Collected here are just a few of those articles, accompanied by reflections from journalists who shared and continue his work. I’ve tried to select pieces that in their totality illustrate something of his craft and tell stories worth remembering at this long distance. The articles republished here have, in a few cases, been very lightly edited to facilitate publication in book format. Some pieces have been edited for space. Portions that have been elided are marked with ***. Where an insertion has been made to enhance clarity, the added words are in {}. Inevitably, most of what Barrett wrote, indeed entire mayoral administrations, are left out. The pieces included reveal the antecedents that shaped our present and the methods of a dogged reporter whose stock in trade was never conjecture or polemic but a relentless deluge of fact. Wayne Barrett believed in facts.

He did not, I’m fairly certain, believe in ghosts. His mind was clear and rational. But pulling together this volume plunged me into a New York crowded with ghosts of a different city, of a country we sold, of a robust journalism stacked now in microfilm drawers. I took on this project at the request of Fran Barrett, Wayne’s wife, because I wanted to make sure we didn’t forget. I wanted to save something, the way you grab a photo from a burning building so you can remember what you had. It’s not only about the past; memory is about the future, too, and what might yet be possible.

My research began with a visit to the vestigial offices of the Village Voice. The Voice, like so many American newspapers, died a few years ago. But a remnant remains, two men in an office that once housed a crowd of unruly journalists, working like medieval monks to preserve the knowledge the Voice created. I walked up the wooden staircase (the elevator was out) to the seventh floor. Jazz was blasting. On the fire door was taped a page from the paper, circa 1985: a Jules Feiffer cartoon about a distracted media and Donald Trump, and a letter to the editor by a crooked Bronx pol complaining about Wayne Barrett.

To prepare this book, I was consumed with digging, first in the card catalogue that stands in a glass-doored alcove of the nearly empty Voice office and holds more cryptic secrets than the Sphinx, then in bound volumes of the paper, and finally in the special collections at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, where the pages that once filled the narrow office on the second floor of Barrett’s Brooklyn rowhouse and sprawled into his basement now reside, neatly sorted. I amused myself with thoughts of Barrett, in his terrible tank top and dad jeans, blinking in the shadowless Texas sun, folder under his arm, loping walk, taller than you thought, laser-focused and eager. It would be more fitting for the records to be in some corner of Brooklyn where people still talk out of the corner of their mouths or in a ratty municipal archive. But no. In Texas there are 294 boxes of New York’s history. They are what Wayne Barrett knew (at least what he wrote down. A library died with him).

Like a hundred other people between the early 1980s and 2016, I was a Wayne Barrett intern. He taught us all to dig. He taught us that the facts were knowable, could be acquired. That they were written down and filed somewhere. That facts steadfastly accumulated could reveal what was hidden and be agents of justice. That to be a journalist was to be an honorable person, a detective for the people (not their enemy).

He was a notoriously tough boss, but also generous, sweet to his charges: buying us dinner, listening to our worries, coaching us, taking delight in our successes, offering visits to his beach house, checking in, connecting us to jobs, opening doors forever.

So, I went to Texas not knowing what I was looking for, just that I wanted to understand why this old print reporter mattered so very much to so many of us and how that was connected to what’s become of our country and our profession.

I sifted through the boxes, chasing his ghost, hoping to find the right clue. I wanted to understand what drove him, what made him so maniacal. Somewhere in here would be the answer to why he worked the way he did.

Mostly what I found were printouts of Nexis searches. Lawsuits and depositions and grand jury reports no one was supposed to see. Audits and voter registration cards, presentencing reports and Donald Trump’s real estate license. The vulnerability study for Rudy Giuliani’s 1993 mayoral campaign. Manila folders and yellow legal pads with lists scribbled on them.

This is how Barrett worked: a task list that begat like a Hebrew Testament genealogy, and findings. The findings would eventually coalesce into a fact pattern. And then you had a story.

The files revealed that while his method was famously document-driven, it relied significantly on the physical touch. He didn’t get what he learned from email queries to publicists; he got it from relationships built over years, source and confessor, a gruff voice on the phone and the man on your doorstep. He was willing to dig and notate payrolls and knock on doors of strangers and treat financial disclosure reports as beach reading to ferret out the truth. Almost none of it was online. He got it because he asked. And asked. And asked.

What I found in those boxes in the stony silence of the Briscoe Center library was the story of New York’s looting, a prelude to the nation’s. To read Barrett’s long ribbon of work is to realize that year by year he documented the post-fiscal-crisis takeover of the city, our transformation from citizens to distracted serfs. In folder after folder was written the grubby story of NYC at the end of the century, in the years New York went from a working city and a creative powerhouse to a time-share for billionaires. The crooks, the hacks, the pols that fill the early years of Barrett’s copy, they are picaresque nearly. You realize the guys who talked out of the side of their mouths at county dinners were just the front men. The ones who walked away with the bag money were the men in fine suits, gone home to abodes far above the city. Now they run for office and convince some of us they can save us.

Barrett began working as a reporter in 1970s New York. It’s an era emblazoned in public consciousness by images of gutted, burnt-out buildings, piles of refuse and disastrous-looking subway cars—shorthand for crime and ruin. But when the image of crime in 1970s New York is daguerreotyped into our memory, it should be this one: a group of white men in suits gathered around a fine conference table, divvying up the spoils and congratulating themselves on their good work. They laid the groundwork for the impossible city we now live in, determining that the gravest threat NYC faced was that too few millionaires felt comfortable in its environs. They repurposed the mechanisms built to relieve poverty and direct aid into neighborhoods starved by segregation instead into stimulus for the already rich. It was an organized looting.

With New York again facing acute financial uncertainty in the COVID-induced recession, and profiteers circling, ready to smash and grab, the lessons of Barrett’s work are urgently relevant.

In the restructured city, Donald Trump slimed up from the Queens sewer. The terrible truth held in those boxes in Texas is this: Donald Trump has 1,000 fathers, most of them respectable people. Most of them, it being New York, Democrats. Hugh Carey and Richard Ravitch. Mario Cuomo and Andrew. Ed Koch. The City Planning Commission and the Department of Taxation. Of course, Roy Cohn and Roger Stone. John Zuccotti (yes, fittingly, the Occupy Wall Street park is named for him). They were aware by 1979 of Donald Trump’s court-documented racism and corruption. It didn’t dissuade them from cutting him deals. There is nothing unusual or unique about Donald Trump. He’s the logical outgrowth of our abandonment of the public good, a monster of our own making. The old clubhouse machine transmogrified into the global money set. Barrett didn’t rant about this. But he did rage about it, painstakingly acquiring facts and marshaling them into column inches.

Barrett could document these crimes because he was securely employed. He was union-represented at a publication that each week fell with a thump on the mayor’s doorstep. And if he didn’t nab the offending party this week, he’d be back next week. As knowledge became a delta, he could stand on it and see, pull memory to inform the next story, link one scam to its cousin. He could report this way because his focus was local, particular and specific details built stories, one after the other.

The city and country were better when there were more reporters working this way. Barrett didn’t have to attract followers or cite metrics or consider shareability or even what the reader wanted. The reader wants food photos. But also, somehow, democracy.

The relationship between real journalism and healthy democracy is fairly straightforward. As America’s and New York’s news industry atrophied, poisoned by the same caprice that looted the city, readers distracted into digital entertainments that make oxygen for manipulation and propaganda, we became the type of country that could elect Donald Trump.

There is something about living under this president and in this distracted milieu only as big as our phones that has made us feel that the country is rotten and we must be too. That we got what we deserved.

Barrett thought differently.

On my last day in the archive I was deep in Barrett’s past, transported into his 1970s life in Brownsville, Brooklyn—he wrote poetry!—when I found the photos, notes, and draft for his first Village Voice feature. It was about a venal Brooklyn pol who eventually went to prison for turning the local school district into his personal bursary. Barrett and Fran had struggled beside black radicals to maintain local control of that district, to make it one that took the education of its children seriously. Sam Wright turned it into something grubby. Barrett’s ur–task list stretched in a dozen directions, toward lease records and bills for office furniture and the arrest reports for people who broke into stores during the blackout of 1977.

Brownsville in the late 1970s was devastatingly poor, stripped bare by redlining and racism, the fiscal crisis and hopelessness. People were working together in a dozen ways to try to make it better, and here was some politician thinking he could line his own pockets. This last box held the notes of a young man whose outrage was fresh.

What he learned in Brownsville fed a fierce clarity that would keep Barrett focused for 40 years. While he eventually moved out of the neighborhood, he never really left. Or at least it didn’t leave him. Most reporters with enough knowledge of inside politics to chronicle the tawdry business come to accept it as a game. They trade their outrage for cynicism. But Barrett, who knew where the bodies were buried and was fierce and difficult and prone to roaring, never shed his outrage—or his hope. He believed we deserved better. He thought we were entitled to honest leadership beholden to the common good. In our governance, in our journalism. In our expectation that it can be better. This is the photo I wanted to save from the burning building.

There in the last box, in Barrett’s tight, surprisingly loopy script, was a task particular to the Sam Wright story, but it read like a motto: “Get the list of looters. Particularly those who’ve pled.”

The card catalogue in the office of the Village Voice tells the story of New York City, its politics, its scam artists, and its choices. (Photo courtesy of Eileen Markey)


Joe Conason

BY THE END OF HIS LIFE, on the day before President Donald Trump’s 2017 inauguration, Wayne Barrett was already a legendary figure in American journalism. His tenacious investigative reporting on New York City politics and corruption had made him the scourge of City Hall, the bane of several mayors, and an essential member of New York’s pugnacious press corps. He had published a revealing biography of Rudy Giuliani as well as an eye-opening book on that mayor’s failures and omissions leading up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Barrett had been covering Donald Trump since the real estate scion turned reality-TV personality first began lining up public subsidies for private gain in the 1970s. He had published a scathing book about the man in 1990, during one of Trump’s periodic financial collapses.

The rise of his old nemesis to the American presidency lent historical drama and even a touch of glamour to a life spent in relentless toil. The unscrupulous businessman and the conscientious journalist who chronicled his corruption had lived on opposite sides of a profound moral chasm. In the years following his death, Wayne would continue to haunt Trump, his byline invoked by a legion of reporters as they pursued the 45th president down trails Wayne had blazed.

Wayne’s lifelong project was to muster journalistic truth on behalf of the downtrodden and against their oppressors. Pursuing that goal, he developed a method that produced some of the most rigorous, purposeful, and dogged investigative reporting ever written. It is a method worth revisiting now, when crucial facts often fail to penetrate public consciousness—even amid a deadly pandemic—and cable pundits seem to outnumber working reporters.

He didn’t deign to hide his point of view. His writing was propulsive, emphatic, even damning, and always candid. As a champion scholastic debater, he knew that rhetoric can inspire, but he also learned that facts matter more. His approach to reporting was exhaustive, requiring the assistance of literally hundreds of former interns—who eventually went on to distinguished careers after months of checking off Wayne’s impossibly long lists of interviews, document searches, archive visits, data crunches, and stakeouts. He never stopped believing in the evidence-based inquiry that spurred America’s founders and undergirds every functioning democracy.

Wayne first achieved notoriety for his investigative profiles of celebrated figures in politics and business. Among the earliest Barrett targets was Donald Trump, who contrived his initial venture into Manhattan real estate with enormous state subsidies via connections with the shadiest elements in Brooklyn and Queens clubhouse politics. Indeed, Wayne scorched nearly every important politician of either party who crossed his path, from Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani to Mario and Andrew Cuomo.

While he enjoyed dueling with politicians, however, Wayne brought equal passion to probing the faceless forces that immiserated the city’s most impoverished communities. He had a deft touch with the personal interview and, despite his ferocious reputation, could charm almost any source into talking too much. But he was just as keen to spend hours poring over public budgets, city records, and all the eye-glazing data points that reveal how brutally society treats the most vulnerable—as in his classic series documenting Koch’s “war on the poor,” or his pioneering dissection of the original “poverty pimp,” Bronx political operative Ramon Velez.

He was born on July 11, 1945, and raised in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he attended Catholic schools with his two brothers and two sisters. His father was a nuclear physicist and his mother was a librarian. He became editor of his high school’s newspaper and led its debate team to second place in a national championship, a performance that earned a full scholarship to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. (Some might observe that Wayne was very much the product of a Jesuit education.) There he met a Philly girl named Frances Marie McGettigan, whom he married in 1969. By then, he had graduated from Columbia Journalism School (where he later taught and mentored students) and moved on to teach school in Brooklyn’s Brownsville community.

Like many bright young people who grew up in the 1960s, Wayne underwent a radical transformation even before he arrived in Brownsville. Going off to college as a Goldwater conservative who despised student leftists, he emerged as a long-haired Vietnam War protester and supporter of black-liberation movements—although unlike his hippie peers, he never smoked a joint and, for that matter, scarcely ever drank alcohol. If his teaching job began as a means to escape the draft, it quickly turned into a lifelong commitment to that very poor, highly segregated, and heavily African American neighborhood.

It was in Brownsville that Wayne came to understand investigative reporting as his instrument to confront inequity, injustice, and corruption. With a group of local activists, he founded a small newspaper called the People’s Voice, aiming its mimeographed fusillades at the predatory landlords, failing schools, uncaring bureaucracies—and crooked politicians.

Within a few years, Wayne’s exposés of local corruption drew the attention of Jack Newfield, the Village Voice’s premier political columnist and investigative chief. Jack brought Wayne into the Voice, where he published hundreds of articles over the next four decades, frequently in partnership with other reporters (including me). We both joined the paper as staff writers in 1978, just after Ed Koch was sworn in for his first term as mayor.

Our mission at the countercultural Manhattan weekly was not so different from what Wayne and his fellow activists had tried to do in Brownsville, except it took place on a much broader stage, with substantial resources, top editors, and thousands of paying readers. We exposed the power relationships in a city where real estate kingpins like Trump routinely greased elected officials—and exercised an unwholesome influence over policy and budget decisions.

Although the Voice’s circulation was smaller than those of the city’s major dailies, the passionate engagement of savvy readers endowed us with clout. The dailies paid us the compliment of routinely lifting our stories, with or without credit. And in that era, before the internet and social media, newspaper stories mattered—even in an “alternative” weekly.

From a warren of cramped, rather nondescript offices and cubicles below 14th Street in Manhattan, we scoped the political landscape of city and state, holding elected officials accountable for their deviations from political integrity and public interest. Working at a “writer’s paper,” as the Voice was known, meant that we set our own course, pursuing stories that reflected the electoral calendar, the urgent issues of the moment, and the enduring priorities of our politics.

Every year, for instance, we shamed the city’s worst landlords with a list that named names and catalogued atrocities. We spent months as a team in 1980 to produce an exhaustive three-part series on Republican corruption and mob influence in Nassau County—our bouquet to its favorite son, US Senate candidate Alfonse D’Amato. (He won that election, but Wayne finally took him out with a devastating story on his absentee voting record almost two decades later.)

We pursued this vocation with a certain ferocity, nobody more so than Wayne. As he explained on the occasion of the Voice’s 50th anniversary, in 2005, “we thought a deadline meant we had to kill somebody.” He was only half joking. Every public figure in New York had good reason to fear and respect him.

Wayne expected the same fierce determination from everyone who worked with him, whether colleagues or interns. Scratching out scores of tasks on a yellow legal pad, he could get quite testy if someone failed to match his formidable work ethic. A caring friend with a wonderful sense of humor, he was also known to torment his editors and didn’t always tolerate disagreement well, to put it politely. When we were producing a two-page news spread together every week, he would occasionally stop speaking to me over some unforgiveable offense—and for a couple of days I could only communicate with him via messages left with Fran.

Of course he could be lighthearted and funny, too; he loved to banter and gossip, and over the years he attracted a wide circle of friends that was even larger than his impressive list of enemies. But he was tough because he took the work seriously, and he kept working until his last day. He never stopped believing that investigative reporting could reveal wrongdoing, provoke outrage, spur reform, and change people’s lives for the better. And after four years of a lying president who has done so much to damage people’s lives—the lives of the vulnerable most of all—that faith seems more essential than ever.

With his innate consciousness of mission, Wayne defied the cynicism that too often infects modern journalism. Even as he grew into a highly sophisticated analyst of elections, media, finance, and government, he nurtured an idealism about democracy and the role of the press that could sound almost naïve. The tragedy is that we lost him just when we were about to need him most.

As a devout believer in the church’s social-justice doctrine, he naturally lived in a state of perpetual indignation. The prayer card at his funeral, held in a Brownsville church where he remained a parishioner, displayed a Jeff Danziger cartoon of Wayne preparing to pepper the Almighty with tough questions. Even in the afterlife, he would surely hold the most powerful to account.

What follows in this book is a collection of that indefatigable sleuth’s most compelling and salient adventures. What stands out in every single one is his drive for justice, which he charged us all to carry on.

Joe Conason is editor at large of Type Investigations, editor in chief of The National Memo, and the author of four books, including It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth. From 1978 until 1990 he worked at the Village Voice, alongside his friend Wayne Barrett.


Trump: Moral Larceny

Deal by Deal

Kim Phillips-Fein

WAYNE BARRETT told the story of the rise of contemporary New York, and reading his work today is a remarkable experience: the world he describes is at once familiar and strange. The publication for which he wrote his most famous work, the Village Voice, has stopped its print existence—the thick, tabloid-shaped, inky pages containing Barrett’s long investigative pieces no longer there to be picked up—but despite this, his voice continues to resonate. His cast of characters peoples our media landscape even now, yet when he wrote, the future was still uncertain; it still appeared that things could go a different way.

Barrett chronicled the transformation of New York City after the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, the move toward a social policy that prioritized the needs of business and real estate development—even if this was sometimes justified in terms of raising revenues to fund programs to help poor and working-class New Yorkers. He always saw this as a bipartisan historical shift, not simply a move by economic elites and certainly not something carried out by the right alone. Perhaps his most prescient piece is his brilliant 1979 two-part exposé of Donald Trump and the Trump Organization, chronicling the emergence of Trump as a power broker in New York City. Unlike so much coverage of Trump then and now, though, Barrett cut past the glitz and the lifestyle bravado to the deals that made his emergence possible. He interviewed Trump multiple times in the writing of the series, and captured perfectly Trump’s calculated efforts to sway the story through threats and bribes alike—the extent to which, as Barrett put it, for Trump “every relationship is a transaction.” But the point, for Barrett, was never Trump’s outrageousness; it was the outrageousness of the political system that raised him up. “Donald Trump,” he concluded, “is a user of other users. The politician and his moneychanger feed on each other.”

All throughout the 1980s and into the 2000s, Barrett’s writing told the story of the way that New York City’s government sought to pursue the rich and powerful, to woo corporations at public expense and through the slow evisceration of the city’s social-welfare traditions. He spared no one in this account. Writing about Democratic governor Hugh Carey’s budget in 1982, he denounced it as “a Democratic ratification of the Reagan war on the poor.” Carey’s “elegant” rhetoric aside, it did no more than “unflinchingly” pass along “the worst of Washington’s new poverty program,” spending hundreds of millions on new prisons while cutting funds for day care and senior services. He eviscerated the city’s lavish gifts to American Express to build a new office headquarters as part of the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan. Equally notable was his reporting on the Industrial and Commercial Incentive Board, charged with dispensing tax exemptions to “politically generous developers” all over the city. As the city’s own internal report put it in an early draft (not released to the public but obtained by Barrett), “There is little evidence that the program has mainly served applicants who needed the incentive in order to locate in NYC.” Unsentimental, careful, meticulous, and jargon-free, Barrett’s journalism reminds us that the city we live in now was carefully constructed, deal by deal and piece by piece—that it has a history, and that the future may be more open than we think.

Kim Phillips-Fein is the author of Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics


  • "As Donald Trump rose to power no journalist busted him earlier or better than the late investigative reporter Wayne Barrett, whose indispensable work is gathered in Without Compromise. Barrett's pieces provide an x-ray into Trump's soul, and into the civic corruption that fueled his rise. These stories are essential reading, alive with fresh insights and information illuminating today's politics, and remind us that rigorous journalism is still democracy's best defense."—Jane Mayer, author of Dark Money
  • "An instantly classic collection by one of the greatest reporters New York ever produced, and one of the greatest of his era. Few could combine righteous fury with dogged attention to detail like Barrett. This collection is a treasure and (somewhat maddeningly) a reminder that the fools, crooks, and wannabe strongmen that have our republic dangling over a precipice have been this way for a long, long time."—Chris Hayes, author of A Colony in a Nation
  • "These pages bring Wayne Barrett back to life in all his investigative glory, his moral clarity, his righteous rage. Barrett was prescient, not just about Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani, but also about how, time and time again, individuals and institutions would fail to rein in the greed of those who feed off the public trough and to address the racism that undergirds both public policy and private behavior. Wayne Barrett's life and work continue to inspire, especially at a time when truth and facts are under siege. He had a mantra: 'The job of our profession is discovery, not dissertation.' Journalists are paid to tell the truth, he said, and that he did, no matter who, no matter what."—Sheila Coronel, dean of academic affairs and director, Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Columbia Journalism School

On Sale
Sep 29, 2020
Page Count
384 pages
Bold Type Books

Wayne Barrett

About the Author

Wayne Barrett (1945-2017) was a celebrated investigative journalist. He spent much of his 40-year reporting career at the Village Voice, where he became, in the words of the Washington Post, "dreaded if not loathed" by public officials for his relentless exposure of such major political figures as Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, and Donald Trump. After his departure from the Village Voice, he became a fellow at Type Media Center, then known as The Nation Institute. He is the author of four books, including Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth (1992) and Rudy: An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani (2000).
Eileen Markey is an assistant professor of journalism at Lehman College of the City University of New York and a veteran NYC policy reporter who learned the power of facts and the joy of digging for them from Village Voice muckraker Wayne Barrett. She has written for, among others, The Daily Beast, The New Republic, The New York Times, City Limits, The Daily News, New York Magazine, WNYC New York Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal and The Village Voice. She's lectured widely on the role of religion in radical social movements. Markey is increasingly interested in archives and the role of public memory in shaping allegiances.

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