A remarkable essay has been published on the Village Voice website. Under the headline “Tupac Shakur, the Los Angeles Times, and Why I’m Still Unemployed: A Personal History by Chuck Philips,” the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist details for the first time his version of the events leading up to, and following, March 26, 2008.
That’s the day The Smoking Gun exposed as fake court documents referenced in a Calendar front-page story by Philips about a 1994 assault in Queens, NY on rapper Tupac Shakur. He says it was not his idea to web-publish and liberally source the FBI-302 documents, but rather that of his LAT editor and the paper’s lawyer. Philips also accuses the paper of failing to properly support one of their own by refusing to litigate against the target of his piece (and subsequent accuser) James “Jimmy Henchman” Rosemond:
Lawyers and editors rejected my recommendations, arguing it would be foolhardy to fight the case. The Times refused to defend the story in court. Instead, the paper crafted a retraction that sounded as if I had made up the entire story and sneaked it into print behind management’s back, without the knowledge, consent or guidance of senior editors and lawyers directly involved in its publication.
I was pressured for days to accept the way the paper wanted to phrase its April 7 retraction. But it was not accurate. My sources were solid. My reporting was solid. It was just that the documents turned out to be a fake. The retraction made me sound like Jayson Blair or Janet Cooke. Nothing could have been further from the truth…
The April 7 “retraction” seemed designed to blame me to protect the jobs of the individuals who authorized my story to be published. It was not true, or even remotely close to what a true correction is supposed to be.
Philips writes that despite multiple assurances by his editorial superiors, he was included in the paper’s next round of layoffs (June, 2008) – let go the same day the LAT signed a secret $250,000 out-of-court settlement with Henchman. And even last year, when Henchman’s best friend Dexter Isaac confessed to the 1994 crime as reported by Philips and exonerated the reporter, the LAT – says Philips – buried this news deep within the entertainment section.
This must-read Village Voice essay paints a very sorry picture of how the LAT dealt in a moment of crisis with an employee who faithfully served them for 18 years. At the very end of the piece, there is a two-paragraph reaction statement from the Times.