Patterico's Pontifications

11/25/2008

The Chuck Philips Interview, Part One: Philips’s Letters to Proctor

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 11:48 pm

On Monday night I spoke with Chuck Philips for about an hour and a half. As far as I am aware, this was Philips’s first detailed interview since he was laid off from the Los Angeles Times back in July.

We discussed James Sabatino, the man who according to The Smoking Gun provided forged documents to Philips (although Sabatino has written me to deny the allegation). We discussed Waymond Anderson, the convicted murderer whose innocence Philips championed, only to see Anderson turn on him and accuse Philips of helping Suge Knight threaten Anderson. We talked about Philips’s relationships with Anthony Pellicano and Suge Knight. We discussed what Philips is doing nowadays.

All of this will be revealed in future posts.

Because the interview was long, I will split it up into several parts, starting in this post with Philips’s reaction to my post from Sunday night. In that post, I published letters that Philips had written to Alexander Proctor, the man Anthony Pellicano allegedly hired to terrorize Anita Busch and blow up her car. I wrote on Sunday that those letters appeared to reveal an agenda on Philips’s part.

Philips confirmed that he wrote all of the letters that I mentioned in my Sunday night post, including the letters to Alexander Proctor, James Sabatino, Roland Campbell, and Spencer Bowens.

Philips defended the language he used in the letters, including the letter he wrote in which he said to Proctor, a potential witness in the Pellicano case:

They deceived Pellicano and his lawyers for six months, knowing it was a violation of his constitutional rights. Not only did they illegally spy on the guy they are prosecuting for spying, they failed to file required federal 302s describing what they learned.

I asked him whether he regretted taking such a firm position on the propriety of the government’s conduct in the Pellicano case, given that he was writing news stories about the topic that were supposed to be objective. Philips said he did not regret it, because he believed what he had written to Proctor. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything in a letter that I’m ashamed of,” he said.

Philips brought up Nikki Finke’s claim that Philips’s coverage was one-sided. He said there was nothing wrong with writing stories that question the government. He said that a reporter’s job is not to take copy from the government, or to believe defendants, but to seek the truth.

I asked Philips again about his statement to Proctor that the government had done illegal things, such as illegally spying on Pellicano. Weren’t you definitively taking sides on a disputed issue? I asked. Philips declared that the federal government had sent in a person, Sandra Carradine, to get information from Pellicano while he had a lawyer. “The government isn’t allowed to do that,” Philips said. “That person becomes a government agent.”

But didn’t federal law enforcement officials dispute whether they had done that? I asked. Philips acknowledged that they had. “The government said she was doing it on her own.” So, I said, it was a disputed issue, but you’re saying it’s true. Philips argued that the court had ruled that the defense was entitled to a hearing regarding that issue. But did the court make a factual finding to resolve the dispute? I asked. No, Philips said; because Pellicano represented himself, the hearing never happened.

I repeatedly asked Philips whether he saw a problem in taking sides on a disputed point that he was covering for the paper, and he repeatedly asserted that what he had said in the letter was true, citing the judge’s ruling that there should be a hearing regarding the issue.

Philips said that the whole premise of the search warrant on Pellicano’s office was that Steven Seagal had hired Anthony Pellicano to get back at Anita Busch — yet, Philips asserted, Seagal had nothing to do with the fish and the rose left on Busch’s windshield. John Rottger wasn’t involved either, he said. If you look at the basis of why they went into Pellicano’s office, Philips said, it wasn’t true.

“I believe they monitored the phone calls of Proctor and Pellicano but not Seagal,” Philips said to me. “I think they wanted to get into Pellicano’s office for other reasons.” I asked him what reasons, and he said he didn’t know, but he knew that the reason they were going in there was not because of Steven Seagal. “They used him to get through that door,” Philips told me — meaning they used Seagal to get through the door of Pellicano’s office.

Philips claimed that the FBI had told him off the record that they didn’t believe Seagal was involved in the threat on Busch. I asked whether the FBI agents might have initially thought Seagal might be involved (based on taped conversations between Proctor and a government informant), but later changed their mind. Philips said he believed that the federal government knew from the beginning that Seagal was not involved — otherwise, he asked, why didn’t they get a search warrant for Seagal’s premises, like they did for Pellicano’s? Instead, Philips said, they held Seagal in a conference room while the warrant on Pellicano’s office was being executed, and they didn’t say a word about the search to Seagal.

I asked Philips if he had ever asked anyone at the FBI why they didn’t raid Seagal as well. He said they wouldn’t talk to him. I asked whether that was standard operating procedure for the FBI, and he said something that he repeated throughout the conversation, across the range of topics we discussed: that his job as a reporter is to find the truth and not just report what the government says.

I asked Philips why, in his letters to Proctor, he repeatedly presented Proctor with a specific factual scenario that would benefit Pellicano if Proctor agreed to it. And why repeatedly mention that Proctor’s initial conversations with Patterson, the government informant, had not been recorded?

Philips said: “This is a private conversation. I’m trying to have a conversation with this guy through a letter in jail. I think it’s perfectly legitimate to mention that there is no recording of the initial conversations.”

Philips said he wanted to know if Patterson, the government informant, had a reason to do what he was doing. “‘Are you being set up?’ was my idea,” he said, referring to the possibility that Proctor was being set up by Patterson. Philips said he thought this was a “worthy” idea, and he wanted to explore that possibility with Proctor. But, he said, he wasn’t trying to tamper with a witness or feed a specific story to Proctor.

I pressed him on why he hadn’t simply asked open-ended questions of Proctor. Philips started talking about how the whole idea that he was trying to feed Proctor answers was wrong. But why was it necessary to tell him that the conversations hadn’t been recorded? I again asked.

Philips said he thought it was odd that the initial conversations between Patterson and Proctor had not been recorded. He repeated that he wasn’t trying to feed a story to Proctor.

Philips repeatedly and strongly took issue with the idea that he wrote stories benefiting Anthony Pellicano because he was friendly with him.

He sounded especially peeved at Nikki Finke, saying he didn’t understand what Nikki Finke had against him, as he had never done anything to Nikki Finke. Philips denied Finke’s allegation that Philips and Pellicano had smiled at one another, and saluted each other, at Pellicano’s wedding. Philips asserted that his presence at Pellicano’s wedding was not unusual; there were probably eight reporters there, he said. He said that Pellicano was happy, which was unusual because Pellicano had had a rocky relationship with his bride. Pellicano was probably waving at everybody, Philips said.

Philips also addressed Anita Busch’s allegation, reported on this blog back in May, that Philips showed up at the reading of Pellicano’s verdict, seemingly without a pad of paper or a pen. He conceded that he was there, not because he was reporting the story, but because he wanted to find out what would happen. Philips said he had his notebook, but it was in his back pocket. He also had a pen, but didn’t have it out. When he started seeing that everything was going the government’s way, he said, he got up and left.

Philips volunteered that the idea that he has done stories about Suge Knight or Anthony Pellicano because he’s on the take is “just so simplistic.” “Where’s the money?” he asked. If he took money, where is it?

I asked if he had ever socialized with Pellicano. He said he had used Pellicano as a source on many stories, and that Pellicano had fought him on a lot of stories in the past. He thinks Pellicano admired him because he stood up to Pellicano. When it comes to guys like Pellicano, Philips said, “I just have a fascination with them.”

Philips said that the U.S. Attorney had tried to portray the Pellicano deal as a wide-ranging operation. “I found that to be completely bogus.” It was just a handful of people, he said. It wasn’t what the government claimed it was.

I asked Philips what he was doing nowadays. Had he sought any other newspaper job? He said he hadn’t. Was he working on a book? Not currently, he said. He said he was kicking around a couple of story ideas. But mainly, he said, “I am at the beach enjoying myself.”

As I mentioned earlier, we also spent a lot of time talking about James Sabatino and Waymond Anderson and Suge Knight and others. But all of that is a story for another day.

DNA and Familial Searching

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 8:24 pm

Once again, the L.A. Times is writing about DNA . . . and once again, I’m getting angry.

Today’s article is about familial searching. The concept is as simple as it is ingenious: when authorities have a DNA sample from a violent crime scene, they can search databases for an exact match. But if they don’t get one, they might broaden their search for “profiles similar enough to belong to a parent or sibling.” If they get a hit, they can look at that person’s relatives as potential suspects.

The technique has solved murders and set innocent people free. But instead of focusing on the successes, the paper emphasizes handwringing over phantom privacy concerns. The deck headline says: “California’s familial searching policy, the most extensive in the nation, looks for genetic ties between culprits and kin. Privacy advocates and legal experts are nervous.” This theme is echoed high in the story, beginning with the seventh paragraph, which appears on the front page:

But the idea of scrutinizing families based exclusively on their possible genetic relationship to an unknown suspect makes privacy advocates and legal experts nervous. They argue that it effectively expands criminal databases to include every offender’s relatives, a potentially unconstitutional intrusion.

“There is kind of a queasiness about having the sins of your father come back to haunt you,” said Stanford University law professor Hank Greely, who supports familial searching despite those concerns. “It feels like we’re holding people responsible for the crimes of their family.”

Because the technology isn’t perfect, families with no connection to the perpetrator inevitably will be investigated, some scientists and legal experts say.

I have news for you, L.A. Times: as with any other human endeavor, criminal investigation in general isn’t perfect. People with no connection to the perpetrator will inevitably be investigated at times.

Does that mean we should stop investigating crime? Since when do we not investigate leads just because they could initially point investigators in the wrong direction?

Understand clearly what is going on here. We’re talking about searching people who are already in the database, to see if they might be a sibling of the person who did the murder.

If there is a close enough match, then — as with any other lead based on evidence — the lead may pan out or it may not.

Here’s an analogy. Let’s say that a young woman is kidnapped, held in a home, sexually abused, and eventually released. During her ordeal, she sneaks into a room and overhears the suspect saying to someone on the phone: “Take the money to my brother James. He just got out of prison and he’s living over on Cedar St.”

An investigator could search property records databases, to see if anyone named James lives on Cedar St. If he finds one or more such people, he could attempt to learn whether any of those Jameses has a brother. He could search criminal databases to see whether any such brothers were recently released from prison.

Or, he could just do nothing, out of deference to some insane phantom privacy concern on the part of innocent people with brothers on Cedar Street named James.

Searching the database for one’s relatives seems less intrusive than, say, knocking on doors in a neighborhood where a murder has occurred. Can you believe the incredible privacy violation involved when authorities with badges and guns come knocking on the door of your home — your sanctuary! your castle! — merely because you happen to live near the murder?!?!

Oh, the intrusion! Oh, the invasion of privacy! Privacy advocates are nervous! It feels like we’re holding people responsible for living near the scene of a crime!!!!

Yet homicide detectives routinely do door-knocks to look for witnesses, and no rational person objects. What’s the difference here?

The paper emphasizes the privacy concerns, placing them in a headline and on the front page. Mentioned as almost an afterthought are the successes, including a case that was solved, after which “[a] person who had spent 18 years behind bars for the crime was freed.”

Gee, being incarcerated for 18 years for a crime you didn’t commit seems like a rather major invasion of privacy, doesn’t it? Why, it almost seems as extreme as having authorities ask you a few questions, even though you’re innocent!

Yet that tidbit is not on the front page, or mentioned in any headline.

As ridiculous as the concerns of the privacy advocates assuredly are, my beef isn’t that the paper is reporting those concerns. It’s that the newspaper assigns such great weight to such piddling worries. Why not put in the deck headline that innocent people have been freed from prison using this technique? Why not make sure that appears on Page One?

I think I know why not.

Many journalists see their role as being a watchdog — a kind of check on government. That can be a laudable goal, if it’s kept in perspective. But when this philosophy causes journalists to approach every story about a governmental initiative with a skeptical attitude, the ensuing coverage can subtly influence the public’s attitude against policies whose good effects far outweigh the ill.

The idea that the newspaper gives such prominence to the phantom concerns of privacy zealots, while mentioning an 18-year prison sentence served by an innocent person as almost an afterthought, shows how skewed the newspaper’s perspective truly is.

I’m beginning to think Jason Felch and Maura Dolan simply don’t like using DNA to solve crimes. Maybe if it had been the newspaper’s idea, rather than the government’s, they would feel differently.

Outlawing Thanksgiving at Claremont Schools

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:07 pm

The L.A. Times:

For decades, Claremont kindergartners have celebrated Thanksgiving by dressing up as pilgrims and Native Americans and sharing a feast. But on Tuesday, when the youngsters meet for their turkey and songs, they won’t be wearing their hand-made bonnets, headdresses and fringed vests.

Parents in this quiet university town are sharply divided over what these construction-paper symbols represent: A simple child’s depiction of the traditional (if not wholly accurate) tale of two factions setting aside their differences to give thanks over a shared meal? Or a cartoonish stereotype that would never be allowed of other racial, ethnic or religious groups?

“It’s demeaning,” Michelle Raheja, the mother of a kindergartner at Condit Elementary School, wrote to her daughter’s teacher. “I’m sure you can appreciate the inappropriateness of asking children to dress up like slaves (and kind slave masters), or Jews (and friendly Nazis), or members of any other racial minority group who has struggled in our nation’s history.”

The article says: “Among the costume supporters, there is a vein of suspicion that casts Raheja and others opposed to the costumes as agenda-driven elitists.”

You don’t say.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates

Filed under: Obama,Politics — DRJ @ 7:05 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

The AP reports Barack Obama will keep Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense for at least a year. That’s good news for Iraq and the US military because it should provide stability during the transition and the early days of an Obama Administration.

Watching Obama act like a Bush Republican is surreal, although I know it won’t last. It must seem like the Twilight Zone to his supporters.

– DRJ

More Bailouts on the Horizon

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:56 am

The New York Times reports:

One bailout was not enough for Citigroup. And it may not be enough for other big banks.

. . . .

With the red ink deepening, other banks may eventually turn to the government to soak up some of their losses. Taxpayers could end up guaranteeing hundreds of billions of dollars of banks’ toxic assets. Indeed, Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is expected to announce a new plan on Tuesday to bolster the consumer-finance market.

I thought that’s what the old plan was supposed to do. But I guess one bailout package is not enough for the financial industry.

Over at The Jury Talks Back, Scott Jacobs bemoans all this:

Seriously, double-yew tee eff, mate?

. . . .

I wonder what it would take get get myself classified as “too big to fail”?

I’ve wondered the same about myself. I’m thinking of changing the tag line for this blog from “Harangues That Just Make Sense” to “Patterico: Too Big to Fail.”


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