Former Los Angeles Times reporter Chuck Philips is calling for his former employer to apologize and retract its retraction of his 2008 article on a 1994 robbery of Tupac Shakur, the Atlantic Wire reported.
Philips’ 2008 article, described by Atlantic Wire as a “whodunit piece,” reported on the shootings of killed rapper Tupac Shakur. The story ran March 17, 2008 and was titled “An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War,” according to LA Weekly.
LA Weekly reported that Philips had produced a “series of stories” on Shakur’s and Notorious B.I.G.’s murders. They were largely attributed to anonymous sources, but according to LA Weekly, his editors OK’ed that sourcing. Philips reported that both Shakur and B.I.G. were killed by the Crips, but his “approach” was questioned years before the retraction, LA Weekly reported.
The Los Angeles Times stated it retracted the story because of its reliance on FBI documents that ended up being fake. Philips also attributed information in his article to anonymous sources, including one who has since been named, New York prison inmate Dexter Isaac.
As LA Weekly explained, Philips’ original story was based on four anonymous sources but his editors “insisted” Philips use the FBI documents “as a powerful backup to his findings.” But, according to Atlantic Wire, “about a week after” Philips’ 2008 story on Shakur’s shooting, The Smoking Gun website reported that the FBI documents were phony material. Both Philips and Los Angeles Times editors fell for the fake documents.
Tthe Smoking Gun was tipped off that the documents were fake because they were “typewritten (the FBI does not use typewriters) and contained unusual grammatical errors and acroynms,” LA Weekly reported.
Isaac admitted recently that he had been involved in a shooting of Shakur two years prior to Shakur’s death. (See here Isaac’s full statement.) Philips claims that Isaac told him about that involvement in 2007 as one of his sources.
Like Philips’ story, Isaac, who is “a convicted killer” in jail, claims Czar Entertainment CEO James Rosemond “orchestrated” the robbery. Isaac reportedly told AllHipHop.com that Rosemond “paid him $2,500 ‘plus all the jewelry’ except for one diamond ring” to rob and shoot Shakur. (Rosemond was recently arrested “on charges he ran a lucrative drug-trafficking ring,” CBS News reported.) So, Isaac’s recent claims lend support to Philips’ argument.
Since Isaac’s June 15 admission, the Los Angeles Times has “ignored Isaac’s corroboration of Philips’ reporting, covering it dismissively the next day with short wire stories,” according to LA Weekly.
According to LA Weekly, James Rosemond’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, “publicly threatened the Los Angeles Times with an ‘epic lawsuit’ for libel” after Philips’ story ran. The newspaper retracted Philips story and settled the $100 million lawsuit for $200,000 according to AllHipHop.com. LA Weekly noted that Philips never apologized for his story, just for “trusting the documents.”
“The retraction made me sound like Jayson Blair or Janet Cooke. It was worded as though I had made up the entire story and snuck it into print behind management’s back, without the knowledge, consent or guidance of senior editors and lawyers directly involved in its publication.”
In the Los Angeles Times’ lengthy April 7, 2008 retraction, the newspaper explained that it unpublished the “article and related materials” because the Times “no longer believes to be credible” much of the article’s sourcing — specifically the FBI documents and “some of the other sources relied on — including the person Philips previously believed to be the “confidential source” cited in the FBI reports.”
The Times added that it suspected former Sean “P. Diddy” Combs “associate” James Sabatino was behind the fake FBI documents. The Times noted that it doesn’t think that Sabatino had any “involvement in the attack.
“The Times specifically retracts all statements in the article, and in its related publications, that state or suggest in any way that Rosemond, Agnant and Sabatino orchestrated or played any role in the assault on Shakur or that they lured him into an ambush at the Quad studios.
“To the extent these publications could be interpreted as creating the impression that Combs was involved in arranging the attack, The Times wishes to correct that misimpression, which was neither stated in the article nor intended.”
The Times also retracted claims that Rosemond “served prison time for drug dealing and was convicted in 1996 of drug offenses.”
According to LA Weekly, Philips’ “career was ruined” as a result of the retraction. LA Weekly quoted Philips as defending his reputation: “I never had a major error in a story before. I had a couple small corrections. No serious drama.”
iMediaEthics is writing to the Los Angeles Times for comment and will update with any response.
UPDATE: 06/26/2011 11:02 AM EST: Nancy Sullivan, from the LA Times’ communications department, responded to iMediaEthics’ e-mail inquiry that the LA Times has no comment.