The New York Times issued a whopper of an editor’s note to a July obituary for Aryan Brotherhood gang leader Barry Mills.
In an Aug. 15 editor’s note, the Times revealed the obituary originally quoted two lawyers for Mills, but it turned out neither man was Mills’ lawyer, and the Times admitted it can’t even confirm the two men exist. According to the editor’s note, the two men were quoted from a book by John Lee Brook called Blood In, Blood Out: The Violent Empire of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Library studies courses always warn to first look at the quality and credibility of the publisher before using it as a source. In this case, the size of the publisher may have been a red flag.
Mills’ real attorney, Dean Steward, told iMediaEthics by e-mail he complained to the Times about the errors. “I don’t believe either of those 2 individuals exist (nor does the Judge the book refers to),” he wrote. “They are from a book that is a fantasy.” Steward added that he hadn’t heard of the book before reading the obituary.
The quotes and information credited to the two non-existent lawyers has been removed, according to News Diffs, the website that tracks changes to many news articles. The article didn’t appear to credit the quotes to the book. However, the book is quoted later in the obituary. Information attributed to the two alleged lawyers that has now been deleted includes:
“Barry Mills crochets!,” his lawyer, Mark Montgomery, all but bellowed in 2006 to the jury considering charges that Mr. Mills and other gang leaders had ordered 15 executions, some of them successful. “Does that sound like the hobby of a coldblooded murderer?”
“When he was a teenager, Barry Mills made an error in judgment, as boys sometimes do,” his lawyer, Frank Sansoni, explained to the jury in his 2006 trial.
“It was not a big mistake, but it was big enough to put him on a path to prison instead of to reform. “Yet in spite of his harsh environment as a tender youth,” Mr. Sansoni added, he tried not to emulate the typical inmate — the sort “who became a snitch and testified against his friends.”
“Mr. Mills had reason to resent informers.”
The book was published by Headpress, which is a UK-based independent book publisher. According to its website, the company has a “back catalogue of 100 or so titles to date.”
“Subject matter of its books is wide-ranging, covering cult film, strange music, pulp literature, fanzines, conspiracy theories, sex and erotica, occult and folklore, true crime, and pop culture generally,” Headpress’s website states.
In the foreword to Brook’s book, which is posted on Google Books, the author notes that some of the people he spoke with wanted anonymity or their names change; however, it defies logic that a lawyer, who is publicly linked to any cases he or she may litigate would have a pseudonym. iMediaEthics has written to Brook to ask if he has any information to counter the Times’ findings that the men were not lawyers and do not appear to be real, where he got the alleged quotes, and if he will correct or notate his book given the Times‘ report.
The Times‘ obit writer, Sam Roberts, told iMediaEthics by e-mail that he got the quotes from “a colleague in good faith” and that he didn’t list the book as a source for the quotes because “they appeared to be from a court transcript.” He said the incident was a “reminder: trust no one.”
The full editor’s note reads:
“An earlier version of this obituary included quotations said to be from two lawyers, Mark Montgomery and Frank Sansoni, who were said to have represented Mr. Mills at his trial in 2006. H. Dean Steward, who with Mark Fleming represented Mr. Mills at that trial, told The Times that he had never heard of either man. Subsequent research was unable to find any evidence of either man’s existence. The quotations were taken from a book, “Blood In, Blood Out: The Violent Empire of the Aryan Brotherhood,” by John Lee Brook. Efforts to reach Mr. Brook have been unsuccessful. All references to the book and quotations from it have been removed from the obituary.”
iMediaEthics wrote to Headpress to ask if it had any information to counter the Times‘ report, if Brook interviewed the men or if he got the information from elsewhere and if Headpress was reviewing the matter. Headpress only told iMediaEthics it forwarded our questions to Brook.
We wrote to the Times to ask for more information, and to confirm the quotes and information about Montgomery and Sansoni weren’t attributed to a book or Mr. Brook. The Times declined to comment beyond its editor’s note.