In an article about the L.A. Times‘s retraction of a Chuck Philips story based on forged documents, the New York Times reports that Philips will be staying on at the paper:
A spokeswoman for the newspaper said Mr. Philips, a Pulitzer Prize winner, would remain with the newspaper as an investigative reporter. She would not comment on whether any disciplinary measures had been taken.
Interesting. I had predicted otherwise. You, my readers, mocked me for this prediction, and you were right to do so.
Nevertheless, part of me is glad: namely, the part that still has a few Chuck Philips-related posts left to write.
As I mentioned yesterday, I have several questions to raise about Philips’s reporting. While these questions will always be relevant, they somehow seem more relevant now that we know Philips is staying.
The New York Times article quotes the man who broke the story about the forged documents, The Smoking Gun’s editor William Bastone, as saying he wants to know more about how this happened:
“In the recent history of journalism, when stories go really bad, the publication often does an explanation of how it happened,” Mr. Bastone said. “I’d like to know: How did this kid pull this off from behind bars?”
And I’d like to know how Philips’s story got published with so many deficiencies. Bill Wyman ticks off the story’s multiple failures of fact-checking:
[I]n the LAT Shakur story, the documents were faked; the main source was a loon; the paper seems not to have done anything like due diligence in investigating the character and record of the guy [mak]ing the allegations; it didn’t do due diligence to ascertain the documents it had were reliable; it used all of that evidence to smear the names of several other prominent people; and on top of that also seems to have smeared one of those folks further by reporting that he [had] done time for drug offenses.
(Emphasis in original.)
This goes way beyond merely getting duped by some fake documents. Wyman, a “former arts editor of NPR and Salon.com,” goes so far as to suggest that Philips’s story is “the worst journalistic screwup we have yet seen.”
I think that’s a touch hyperbolic as a description of this one story. But as a description of Philips’s years of rank advocacy for Suge Knight and against the lawsuit brought by the estate of Biggie Smalls? Not so much.
It is this years-long pattern of promoting Knight — while downplaying, distorting, and otherwise burying evidence of one of the most potentially explosive scandals in Los Angeles’s history — that The Times truly needs to re-examine.
And I am here to help. In coming days and weeks, WLS and I will present new evidence that should aid The Times in its investigation. Because what we really want is good journalism for the City of Los Angeles — the same thing that The Times claims to care about, and something that many of its members actually do care about. In other words, we want, quite simply, the truth.
I should add that the picture that is beginning to emerge from the evidence that we are examining does not begin and end with Chuck Philips. It is, not surprisingly, suggestive of broader, more systemic problems at this newspaper. These are the same problems that I have pointed out on this website for years: a tendency to explore and report only those facts that support a pre-ordained point of view.
So, as I say, stay tuned. Because we’re going to keep feeling our way towards the truth — whether the L.A. Times is interested or not.