The Los Angeles Times has responded to former reporter Chuck Philips' demand that the paper take back its retraction of his controversial story about who shot Tupac Shakur in a 1994 New York studio attack widely believed to have been the opening volley in the East Coast-West Coast rap war of the 1990s.
Although Philips claimed in an earlier Weekly report about his situation that his story was based on multiple sources, FBI documents used to bolster the 2008 piece turned out to be fake. After one of those sources came forward last month and confessed to involvement in the Tupac attack, bolstering Philips' story, Philips demanded a retraction of the paper's retraction.
In a statement obtained by the Weekly, the Times says that's not going to happen:
We retracted Chuck Philips' March 17, 2008, article concerning an attack on rap star Tupac Shakur because we learned that documents and sources we relied on didn't support the article. Specifically, supposed FBI documents regarding the 1994 attack on Shakur turned out to be forgeries. The man who supplied the documents, James Sabatino, also provided significant additional information that was included in the article, attributed to an anonymous source. As Chuck and his editors later discovered, what Sabatino had told him was fabricated. Under these circumstances, we had no alternative but to acknowledge the mistake, apologize to our readers and retract the article. Nothing has happened since then to warrant withdrawing or revising the retraction. No new information has emerged that bears on the mistakes for which we apologized and which we retracted.
The statement was intended for Columbia Journalism Review, where executive editor Mike Hoyt says he's been working on a short story about Philips that he hopes to run soon. (Hoyt was not the source of the Times' statement).
[Added: Shortly after we published a Times rep sent us the statement intended for CJR and said that it would be the paper's only response to the situation].
The Times did not return our requests for comment regarding Philips retraction demand last month.
Philips has said his story about Tupac's shooting outside the recording studio was the work of three suspects who did the deed at the alleged behest of a manager named James "Jimmy Henchman" Rosemond, who was said to have been angered because the rapper wouldn't sign with him.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist says he had five sources confirming the story but that when purported FBI documents from a court case confirming the tale were brought to his attention the Times editors had the piece restructured around the papers and the source who brought them forward -- a con man named James Sabatino -- because they would bolster the validity of the story more.
But the documents turned out to be fakes, Philips admitted he was snookered (his editors also took a look at the docs and didn't realize they were fakes), the paper retracted the entire story, and the reporter was soon pushed out the door, never to work in journalism again, he says.
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Journalism experts were surprised that Philips alone would take the fall for the story since investigative journalism is a collaborative process.
Philips responded today to the Times statement, writing to the Weekly, in part:
What LA Times readers don't realize is that the wildly distorted retraction did not reflect in the least how my story was truly reported. Nor did it identify who at the newspaper was responsible for inflating the importance of the privileged documents (which turned out to fake) and citing and quoting from them so much. It wasn't me. I never viewed the FBI-302s as anything other than official documentation that supported what my sources told me ...
My story was based on my own interviews with two of the assailants and three other New York gangsters familiar with the crime, plus statements in Tupac's interviews and songs.
Rather than defend my story or myself in court (as I requested), the LA Times turned its back on me ...
The LA Times did not write the April 7, 2008 retraction to explain the truth to its readers, but to duck a lawsuit ...
Sabatino did not provide "significant" additional information to my reporting, as the statement contends ...
I never heard of Sabatino until months after I finished my reporting ...
Last month, the lead source for my story went public, confessing that he was paid $2,500 to rob and beat Tupac ... He also identified me by name as a reporter who got it right ...