Chapter 3: Reflections on Career
Lisa: (01:03:54:16-01:00:29:29) Some advocates currently believe that the way things are going fiscally in the state [PA] that institutions could re-open. In fact there have been fifty dedicated beds by the state [PA] thus far. What are your feelings about the possibility of an institution re-opening?
Bill: I don't think that's a real good idea. I can't believe that today they're thinking about re-introducing places like Pennhurst. Even though best intentions and all- it doesn't work. It just doesn't work. What works is community projects, community homes with good supervision. It works. These people only want a chance. I can't tell you how many I met that have productive lives. That have a job; some of them are married they're doing well, they even have children. They are productive members of society where they would've never, ever had a chance before. And because of community living services, etc, they actually have a chance to reach whatever potential they have. That's all I'm asking. Just let them have a chance. It's just like- can you imagine your children not getting an education. Well you know you'd say, "You can't do that, that's not right." Well these children deserve the same thing your children have. That's all their asking. Just give them a chance to reach their potential. It's the law. It's the right thing to do.
Lisa: (01:00:31:17-01:00:43:28) You know people with disabilities and parents and advocates really do credit your report "Suffer the Little Children" with really of course turning public and then consequently, you know, legislative opinion or legislative process toward the closing of institutions. So in that regard I've heard you described as a hero for this community and I wonder if you can see yourself in that way?
Bill: I do not see myself as a hero in any way, shape, or form. I was just lucky enough to have the opportunity to put that problem in front of the public and the public is the hero. It is that every day person who said, "This is terrible, I want a change." They wrote a letter, made a phone call, or just supported the people who wanted change. They're the heroes. Guys like Lt. Governor Broderick are a hero. As I said before Tom Gilhool is a hero. They really stayed with it and did a great job. And the parents: how about those parents who stuck with it all those years. How about through guilt feelings- I mean they felt, a lot of them felt very, very badly about putting their children in Pennhurst. And then when they had a chance to change things, they worked at it, they stuck together. They're the heroes.
Lisa: (01:00:45:11-01:04:42:24) Do you think that news reporting can be a catalyst for social change or do you think that it has the responsibility to be a catalyst for social change?
Bill: I think that journalism- I have mixed feelings because I'm one of these guys that says- I'm very annoyed today where journalists always take a position. They're conservative or you're liberal. I really dislike that. You know I just wasn't brought up that way in journalism. It was- you had to be objective. There are times, there are times where something is so wrong. Like Pennhurst, nobody said, "Oh I see the other side, they were right in doing this." No. Where you can be an advocate for change and I think that television and the news media has a responsibility to make certain things better and when they found it. And I think that's probably the best thing about being a journalist, that you have the propensity to change something for the better. And when you do, all those stories that you hated, all those times you had to ask that mother about their child dying or something- that you hated- was worthwhile because you did something positive. We did a thing called, "On Your Side" years ago. And that's all we did was take up the cause of the little guy who couldn't fight City Hall. And it worked great, you know, and I felt that we finally gave something back to the public for supporting us, which they did. And I think there's a place in journalism for that. Absolutely. There is one thing I want to explain to you about Broderick. One of the reasons that everything started to change was because after that first week I was frustrated because I didn't see an immediate change in Harrisburg. The Governors name was Ray Schaeffer. Who hated me. Hated me. Because he thought I was embarrassing him. Instead of saying, "Oh, thanks for telling me, I'm gonna change things," he hated me for bringing it out. The Lt. Governor at the time was Ray Broderick who was frankly, my neighbor. I didn't know him but he was within walking distance from my house. So on a Friday night I got my crew. We got the film camera and we got a projector. I knocked on his door about nine o'clock on Friday night. The guy comes down in a bathrobe, answers the door himself, he says, "What can I do for you?" I told him who I was and I said did you know about- he said no and I said, "Governor I gotta show you this." He actually said," Okay." I was stunned. He says, "Oh come on in." He said, "Let me put on some clothes," he put on clothes, we went in his living room and we showed him the whole series. He sat there, and he was crying. And he said, "Bill I'll tell you this: I can't believe what I just saw. I will make sure they're aware of this in Harrisburg on Monday." And he really did start advocating for us. Now I was no longer perceived as the enemy, I was a friend. And he worked in the shadows to help out and then he became a federal judge and just by dumb luck he gets the case. I was so happy I refused, I never went to the courtroom once for fear of someone saying, "Oh, you know this guy." You know how there's something going on that I would hurt the case at all. I just stayed away. And he was instrumental in the big changes in attitude towards mental retardation. Good man.
Lisa: (01:00:00:00-01:01:10:25) One of the stories I love about Judge Broderick which he's told-, which he did tell in his life-, was the phone call he got from a Pennhurst resident. I think he said it was very late at night maybe eleven, past eleven, and from what you said if he was in his pajamas at nine o'clock then I think it was late for him [laughing]. But this was after Pennhurst had closed- several months after Pennhurst closed- he got a phone call late at night and he answered the phone and he said in a very gruff voice, "Who's calling?" because it was so late. And it was a voice saying, "This is the first time I've used a telephone, and I wanted to call you and say 'thank you'."
Bill: How nice.
Lisa: And it had been someone who resided in Pennhurst. I wonder if Pennhurst residents have ever contacted you, or parents [of Pennhurst residents]?
Bill: Oh yeah. Like I said, I run into the them all the time because I kept on doing follow-ups. So I would do them and in new community settings; you know they're out and it used to make me feel great because I saw these people at Pennhurst and now I saw them living an entirely different life and I loved it. I just loved it. I thought it was great. You know they knew what was going on and they were grateful and not that I needed it but it was nice for them to say, "Hey look, thanks a lot. I'm a lot better off than I used to be. I really appreciate it."
Lisa: (01:01:11:24-01:01:39:23) Is there anything else you would care to share with us?
Bill: No it's just that, you know, Pennhurst and places like it are closing left and right throughout the world now. It's really nice. I mean you know this is great. There's a whole new attitude towards the mentally disabled. You know one way or another or physically disabled. It's a whole new ball game and I just love it I'm glad I was a part of it.
About Bill Baldini
Born: 1943, Philadelphia, PA
Broadcast Journalist, NBC-10, Philadelphia
Currently resides in Philadelphia
Journalism, Pennhurst, Institutions