Patterico's Pontifications

4/7/2008

Humiliation for the L.A. Times: Paper Formally Retracts Chuck Philips Story

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 5:30 am

In a remarkable display of institutional humiliation, the L.A. Times today formally retracts Chuck Philips’s article about the 1994 shooting of Tupac Shakur at Quad Studios — and makes it clear that the problems with Philips’s article go beyond a reliance on forged documents:

An article and related materials published on the Los Angeles Times website on March 17 have been removed from the site because they relied heavily on information that The Times no longer believes to be credible.

The article, titled “An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War” and written by Times staff writer Chuck Philips, purported to relate “new” information about a 1994 assault on rap star Tupac Shakur, including a description of events contained in FBI reports.

The Times has since concluded that the FBI reports were fabricated and that some of the other sources relied on — including the person Philips previously believed to be the “confidential source” cited in the FBI reports — do not support major elements of the story.

Consequently, The Times is retracting the March 17 Web publications as well as a shorter version of the article that appeared on Page E1 in the March 19 Calendar section of the newspaper. Statements that Philips made in two online chats, on March 18 and 25, and on The Times’ Soundboard blog on March 21 also are being retracted.

In the embarrassing retraction, The Times admits that Chuck Philips was duped by James Sabatino:

The Times now believes that Sabatino fabricated the FBI reports and concocted his role in the assault as well as his supposed relationships with Combs, Rosemond and Agnant.

Amazingly, the paper also says that the factual inaccuracies extended to the description of Rosemond’s alleged criminal record:

In addition, The Times was mistaken in reporting that [James] Rosemond has served prison time for drug dealing and was convicted in 1996 of drug offenses. The Times specifically retracts those statements.

Wow.

I repeat my past prediction: Chuck Philips may not be long for the L.A. Times.

I will also remind you that patterico.com has posts in development that will raise other questions about Philips’s past reporting. Those posts will be published regardless of what the L.A. Times decides to do with Chuck Philips.

UPDATE: Kevin Roderick is calling Philips’s story “one of the most embarrassing mistakes in its history” and today’s retraction “[o]ne of the paper’s most newsworthy retractions ever.” That should give you some idea of how significant this is.

26 Responses to “Humiliation for the L.A. Times: Paper Formally Retracts Chuck Philips Story”

  1. I am greatly surprised that the LATimes is finally acting honestly and responsibly in this matter. Too bad this honesty and responsibility is not across the board and the bad actors within the editoral staff and reporting staff are shown the door post haste.

    PCD (5ebd0e)

  2. Quite possibly a more general purge of the incompetents, liars and deniers will occur. And some of the aforementioned may leave of their own accord.

    This is truly a critical moment for the LAT in its fight for survival. It just might come out of this stronger than it went in, depending on how committed Russ Stanton is to making the Times do rigorous, reality-based journalism.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  3. Kudos to The Times for stepping up on this; this was not CBS’ reaction to a similar error. The thorough retraction was appropriate.

    It’s still a disaster, of course, and I’m eagerly awaiting the series on Phillips at this site.

    –JRM

    JRM (355c21)

  4. It’s kinda funny how you call this correction “embarassing” and “humiliating” and then link to a writer for a competitor of the LA times, simply to re-affirm that this is the “most embarassing” correction in quite a while.

    The L.A. Times is a corporation. It doesn’t get “embarassed” or “humiliated,” no matter how many times you say it does. These adjectives say a lot more about the people using them then the do about the L.A. Times.

    Phil (6d9f2f)

  5. You’re splitting semantic hairs, Phil. This incident certainly was an embarassment to the editors, owners, and staff of the L.A. Times. Would it make you happy if Pat rephrased it that way?

    Steverino (e00589)

  6. Looks like Chuck should start clearing out his desk and finding a new job – too bad Pup N Taco still isn’t around, they might hire him…

    fmfnavydoc (affdec)

  7. Phil,

    Why do liberals like you so defend liars and propagandists? Is is because you agree with them?

    PCD (5ebd0e)

  8. Quite possibly a more general purge of the incompetents, liars and deniers will occur. And some of the aforementioned may leave of their own accord

    Bradley, you are too brilliant to believe this. The LA Times has is diseased to the same extent that the rest of the MetaStasisMedia is diseased, maybe more.

    The reason that they feel free to publicly flail themselves here, is because it does nothing
    to their political construct to do so.

    It actually brings more attention to them inside the construct and will do them absolutely no long term harm.

    While we real news junkies pay attention to this as a news story and as yet another blot on the blemish ridden body of work at that diseased dead tree…to most folks, this is an entertainment industry story, the write got duped by someone seedy…in a seedy business, in its seediest segment.

    There is no traction here, because nobody will care…inside or out …in their regular circle.

    The MetaStasisMedia won’t cover it as an angle of being diseased…lest they hold a mirror up to themselves.

    The real shame here…is that Pat and others in the blogosphere have brought the Geiger Counter to a radioactive issue…what has come to the fore (the Keystone Kop comical duping aspect)…misses the point. Philips is and has been a shill, or worse. THAT’S the story. Unless the blogosphere digs it out of the dirt…it won’t ever see the light of day.

    cfbleachers (4040c7)

  9. cfbleachers,

    I’m counting on Sam Zell to ensure that the Aegean Stables on Spring Street are cleaned. The folks inside the Times who are resisting Zell are largely also the ones who defend the pseudo-journalism of the likes of Philips. And the dire financial situation of the Tribune Co. tends to concentrate the mind.

    And there is no “unless” about the reeking story about Philips — Patterico and others in the blogosphere will dig it out for all to see.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  10. I’m sure Chuck can get a job with Truthout or RawStory, neither organization has cared too much for facts. I’m still waiting for that indictment of Karl Rove to pop up.

    gabriel (6d7447)

  11. Anybody’s who been on the receiving end of a sneering email from Jamie Gold (which would be anyone who’s ever pointed out an error to Gold) knows how much the LA Times is concerned about accuracy. Nil.

    Their reason for correcting in this case is not because they are concerned about accuracy, but because they are threatened with lawsuits. You can’t recklessly accuse people of crimes, let alone, as Phillips did, convict and imprison them in your words, and get away with it. (No doubt the rebarbative Gold considers that an unconscionable instrusion on freedom of the press).

    The LA Times runs lots of scoops predicated on anonymous stories. There’s a reason why traditional (i.e. pre-Woodward and Bernstein) journalism eschewed anonysourcing. It’s because once you start down that slippery slope you’re on your way to publishing pure BOGINT.

    They’re so far down the slope that they actually resent being corrected, and resent being expected to source explosive claims. The only reason Phillips is in trouble is that he signed on as publicist for one side of a gang war — his work seems to me to be representative of the paper these days, not exceptional.

    Fortunately, I don’t live in California any more and don’t have to rely on a newspaper for daily information at any rate… the Times is only a degree worse than some of the other large metros.

    ABC circulation, down 10% in a frantically growing metro area. Zell’s hobby is going to cost him a bunch of money if he doesn’t clean house.

    Kevin R.C. O'Brien (88bf29)

  12. I don’t think the Times should remove the article from it’s website. Instead, they should be forced to keep it up there, with an added preamble explaining what is wrong with it and their ultimate culpability in publishing it. The preamble should be in bold red-faced type so that the eye immediately gravitates to it. It should also include the paper’s apology to those who were libeled or otherwise mistreated by the article. This way, the paper can’t just try to let these events recede into memory; there will be a permanent record of exactly what was written and exactly where it went wrong.

    JVW (a32c35)

  13. This has to be the most visible example of Sam Zell’s impact on the media conglomerate he saved. Now, if only they can save themselves.

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  14. I think Phil is right, although not in the way he meant. The LA Times is incapable of being embarrassed.

    DRJ (a431ca)

  15. Perhaps the shame of un-employment will get through?

    Another Drew (f9dd2c)

  16. Its interesting re Jamie Gold. I’ve written her several times about various issues and she politely emailed me with an explanation. However, when I pushed for further understanding of the LAT’s pov, I never heard back.

    Unfortunately, even though Chuck Phillips tipped over the house of cards, no matter how many apologies they make and reassurances of verifying sources or never using anonymous ones, its too little too late.

    The LATs need to earn the reader’s eyes and respect. Unfortunately, they are the only ones that still don’t realize this.

    Dana (b4a26c)

  17. #6 – Pup n’ Taco?

    I could use a chili dog right now.

    Chuck was on his sources payroll, wasn’t he? Isn’t that like wats-her-face reporter chick sleeping with Villaregogo, and writing about him? Whatever happened to that petard?

    Miss Havisham (646668)

  18. Mayor Villasalinas has brazened it out. Dunno where his former TV boink landed.

    Bradley J. Fikes (1c6fc4)

  19. It strikes me that at this point the LA Times behavior rises to the level of “actual malice” in terms of libel. (“Wreckless disregard for the truth”)

    Steven Den Beste (99cfa1)

  20. I guess that’s “reckless”, not “wreckless”, isn’t it? This sure has been a trainwreck, so I guess it isn’t “wreckless”.

    Steven Den Beste (99cfa1)

  21. Here’s another story that the LAT had to “correct.” The correction was 30% as long as the original story, and unlike the original story, was mostly facts, not heartstring-rending adjectives.

    http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/hopeless_scribe.php

    The original story is here.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-na-gitmoday28mar28,1,2617257,full.story

    You can see it’s chockablock with Chuck Phillips style anonysources and unsourced statements. It also explains beyond-waist-length hair as having been grown to shield one’s eyes (perhaps that’s why the Times reporter, Carol Williams, is so blind… her eyes are up her …?) and is full of speculation … “they probably”… “it could”… “maybe”…. Translation: I have a story to write, so I’ll just make it up as I go along.

    Another day… another false story by another compromised hack reporter at the LA Times. And yeah, she’s one of their Pulitzer winners. Not this year, though, despite all her best efforts at fabrication. But is there a difference between the Pulitzers and the medals they give out at Special Olympics? Was there ever?

    Kevin R.C. 'Hognose' O'Brien (8acbe1)

  22. Given the constant need for Tribune to cut costs, this is a no brainer. The guy is a proven liability and adds zilch to the revenue stream.

    Fire this senior staffer who must be on the high end of salaries for the remaining staff. No buy-out or parachute of any kind. Give him any accumulated time owed and dare him to sue for more.

    Ed (215a21)

  23. They’re keeping him. That is the subject of a post for tomorrow morning.

    Patterico (4bda0b)

  24. navy doc: That was the flashback of all fast food flashbacks. Pup ‘n’ Taco, bought out by Taco Bell.

    Vermont Neighbor (e7ed47)

  25. Pstterico sez: They’re keeping him.

    Of course. He is not an exception to the LA Times’s journalistic ethics. Sure, he’s biased and dishonest, he fabricates and relies on unsourced material. What’s exceptional about that? He is the LA Times.

    Most people only see media bias and dishonesty when the media cover something close to them. The more you talk to folks in other industries the more you realize that that hack job wasn’t just one-off. It’s the norm.

    The only mystery left is, who will be in the next round of layoffs this year?

    Kevin R.C. 'Hognose' O'Brien (8acbe1)

  26. Correction: I implied that the largely-fabricated Carol Williams story was current, and it actually ran March 28th. She’s making up something else now.

    Kevin R.C. 'Hognose' O'Brien (8acbe1)


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