The story is here.
A Los Angeles Times story about a brutal 1994 attack on rap superstar Tupac Shakur was partially based on documents that appear to have been fabricated, the reporter and editor responsible for the story said Wednesday.
Reporter Chuck Philips and his supervisor, Deputy Managing Editor Marc Duvoisin, issued statements of apology Wednesday afternoon. The statements came after The Times took withering criticism for the Shakur article, which appeared on latimes.com last week and two days later in the paper’s Calendar section.
I think the paper needs to take a broader look at Philips’s work. I’ve had concerns in the past about his failure to disclose conflicts in stories he has written — for example, see here. But a quick apology may have the effect of sweeping any such investigation under the rug.
UPDATE: Here’s a little more detail on why the L.A. Times should dig deeper into Chuck Philips. This story should not be viewed in isolation. Let’s take a look at the bigger picture.
Russell Poole, the LAPD homicide detective (now retired) who investigated Biggie Smalls’s murder, believes that Suge Knight is responsible for both Smalls’s and Tupac Shakur’s murders. Poole believes that Knight planned Smalls’s murder with LAPD officer and Bloods gang member David Mack, who is now incarcerated in federal prison for bank robbery. Poole says that LAPD blocked his investigation whenever it led to possible corruption or criminal involvement by LAPD officers. For years, Biggie Smalls’s family has pursued a civil case against the LAPD on Poole’s theory. Randall Sullivan reported the details of Poole’s theory in a Rolling Stone article and in a book called LAbyrinth.
Chuck Philips has had a long association with Suge Knight:
Chuck Philips, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his music business reporting in 1999, has covered Death Row Records since the early ‘90’s. He has long been known for obtaining scoops and exclusive interviews for The Times due to his unmatched access to Suge Knight. Some critics have characterized him as Suge’s apologist and as a reporter corrupted by access. Others speculate there may be more to it than that. One key witness at the Biggie civil trial, Death Row insider Kevin Hackie, who identified David Mack as attending Death Row functions, also stated in a pre-trial deposition that “Chuck Philips was frequently at Death Row functions and received payments from Death Row Records.” Hackie backed off of this statement at trial, but he also tried to back away from everything he had told investigators, stating, convincingly, that “I’m in fear for my life.” Asked what he feared, Hackie stated: “Retribution by the Bloods, the Los Angeles Police Department and associates of Death Row Records.”
Now, I’m willing to give Philips the benefit of the doubt and assume that the allegations that he took money from Knight are not true. But I distinctly remember reading Philips covering Hackie’s trial testimony, and portraying his recantation at trial as discrediting his previous testimony — as if there was no possibility that Hackie’s pretrial testimony could possibly be true. I wrote about this here and here.
When Philips covered Hackie’s testimony, I believe Philips was caught in a clear conflict of interest. To my recollection (I can’t find the original story), Philips did not tell readers that he had a personal reason to credit Hackie’s trial testimony and discredit his pretrial testimony. In investigating this latest story, the L.A. Times ought to revisit this issue.
There is a broader theme relating to Philips’s repeated coverage of issues involving Knight: for whatever reason, Philips tends to write stories supporting Knight.
Philips has written numerous articles such as this one, mocking the civil case brought by Biggie Smalls’s family. In his Rolling Stone article, Randall Sullivan reported that Philips had disclosed the identity of an informant who was working with the FBI to investigate evidence that could tie Mack and his friend Amir Muhammad — and by extension Knight — to Smalls’s murder:
Almost immediately after this encounter, Psycho Mike said, someone had leaked word of the FBI investigation to Chuck Philips, who promptly produced a story for the Times that “penned me out as the source of going down to San Diego with a wire.”
Revealing the informant’s identity got the informant beaten by Bloods gang members, driving him underground. This had the effect of removing a witness who would have testified to evidence tying Knight to the killing of Smalls.
And of course, Philips famously penned a blockbuster story that tied Notorious B.I.G. to the Tupac murder — a theory that, if true, would discredit Poole’s theory and take the heat off Suge Knight. The sourcing for that story was puzzlingly anonymous for a story with such a breathtaking claim — that such a famous and distinctive looking rapper as Biggie Smalls had been in Las Vegas that night and nobody had known it until Chuck Philips reported it.
Now that Philips’s most recent story has been shown to be based in part on admittedly forged documents, all of this bears re-examination. The question is whether the L.A. Times will do it.
UPDATE x2: There’s another aspect to this story that I find disturbing, but I haven’t felt comfortable writing about it, even though I have alluded to it. Perhaps WLS will discuss it in coming days. Hint: an enterprising person might look at the earlier article referred to in the later article, and see whether the connection to Suge Knight/Biggie Smalls was mentioned. And if it wasn’t . . . then why not? And that’s all I’ll say.
UPDATE x4: The paper was warned before publication.
UPDATE x5: My guest blogger WLS has much more here.