Paul Pringle’s Bad City: Peril and Power in the City of Angels (Macmillian 2022) is a hard-hitting account of a scandal involving USC’s Dean of Medicine Dr. Carmen Puliafito. Puliafito was caught in a Los Angeles hotel surrounded by illegal drugs and most alarmingly, in the company of a young woman who had clearly overdosed and was non-responsive. A horrific situation became even more horrific when hotel staff insisted on calling paramedics and Puliafito—a medical doctor—attempted to convince them not to. Staff called the police and paramedics anyway, setting in motion a series of events that would implicate the City of Los Angeles, USC, and The Los Angeles Times.
When a tip about this event was passed on to Pringle, a veteran Times reporter, he was skeptical but soon learned of the information’s veracity. What made the story even more scandalous was that Puliafito “resigned” from his position at USC shortly after the overdose. Pringle was convinced that these two events were connected and went about digging for any information he could find. What he found was disturbing to say the least. The Pasadena Police Department and USC went out of their way to deny him the information he needed, and in some cases deliberately misguided and misinformed him. All of this was not overly surprising to me: my dissertation work involves Los Angeles literature and I have had to learn about the politics and governing intuitions of Los Angeles as a result. Los Angeles is a city where, as Pringle puts it, “people didn’t look too hard at things—if they looked at all.” L.A.’s major institutions protect themselves and each other. This is something that is explored thoroughly in Pringle’s book, because he had to fight The Times tooth and nail to get his Puliafito piece published.
The paper’s masthead editors had personal relationships with both USC and its president, and they did everything humanly possible to sanitize the article to alleviate the responsibility of both USC’s president and the institution generally for their part in the Puliafito scandal. The problem was not just that Puliafito had been at the site of an overdose. The problem, as Pringle discovered, was that Puliafito was found to be at the center of a circle of drug users who depended on him for drugs. He provided drugs to minors, and to his girlfriend while she was in rehab. Complaints had been made to the school previously about Puliafito and his behaviour, but these concerns were shushed and kept out of sight. What I found most compelling about this book was not even the Puliafito scandal but the way The Times dealt with Pringle and his story internally. Pringle’s editors actively attempted to kill the story, so much so that Pringle had to compile a secret team of reporters at The Times to make sure that the story made it to print. The egregious ethical concerns that were raised by Pringle’s editor’s behaviour come to head at what appears to be the book’s exciting climax. But as one situation is resolved, another scandal pops up at USC. The reporting that Pringle and his team eventually publish on this secondary scandal wins them a Pulitzer Prize.
This is a fast-paced, maliciously researched, and beautifully written account of two major L.A. scandals. However, Bad City goes beyond these scandals to survey a city, its institutions, and the deep and unavoidable corruption that is a part of the city’s DNA. Rarely in a text like this do we get a happy ending, but here, the nice guys finish first.
A copy of Bad City was provided to True Crime Index by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
About the Writer:
Jesyka Traynor is an academic living in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. When she’s not writing or researching her dissertation, she’s consuming all the true crime and non-fiction she can find time for. Jesyka holds two degrees in English literature and is currently pursuing a doctorate in contemporary Californian literature. Her work on women in twenty-first century true crime has been published in Crime Fiction Studies.