New York Times L.A. correspondent Charlie LeDuff is in the news again over a plagiarism accusation. This time it's an old one, posted on Romenesko from an upcoming San Francisco Magazine piece by Bruce Kelley.
There are two things you should know about New York Times reporter Charlie LeDuff, who is covering all things California from the Los Angeles bureau in his latest high-profile writing gig. First, he is really good, a fearless reporter and go-for-the-gut storyteller who in nine years, briefly under executive editor Howell Raines and now in the post-Raines, post-Jayson Blair era, has shot through a galaxy of assignments that most reporters don't experience in a lifetime.
In a Times career spanning more than 400 articles, he's navigated the streets of New York for five days as a blind person, detailed the emotional fallout of a Brooklyn fire station in the ash of September 11, embedded himself with Marines in Iraq, and worked for almost a month in a tacitly segregated pork slaughterhouse in North Carolina, a story in the Times series "How Race Is Lived in America," which won a Pulitzer Prize.
"Charlie has a singular voice and extraordinary ability," says Orville Schell, dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where LeDuff was trained and remains a legend. "He's one of those guys who's always on the edge." In naked contrast to his Ivy League colleagues at the illustrious paper, LeDuff, who is part Native American, has tailored a persona as bibulous scribe of the working class, hanging out in bars and exercising his lush prose. That overwhelming talent has earned him a book deal for a selection of his reports from the streets called Work and Other Sins: Life in New York City and Thereabouts, due out at the end of January.
The second thing to know is that LeDuff, who's in his mid-30s, has been harboring an increasingly loaded secret since his UC Berkeley days. Nine years ago, in a piece he'd freelanced for the Emeryville-based East Bay Monthly, he had been caught plagiarizing another journalist's work.
Though LeDuff's article appeared the same year the Times hired LeDuff in 1995, two weeks ago was apparently the first time the paper's higher-ups had ever heard anything about it. And it's unclear how much they know. Last week, Times national desk editor Jim Roberts said he wouldn't discuss the matter. Meanwhile, former professors of LeDuff's at UC Berkeley also told us they'd never heard of the events.
On the Romenesko letters page, Kit R. Roane replies that LeDuff was a great colleague on the NYT Metro desk: "LeDuff is a first-rate journalist, who can both report and write better than most of those in our field...Yes, LeDuff can let his ego get in the way at times, but from what I know of him he has always done the work to back his ego up."
Update: Keith Kelly rehashes the controversy in his New York Post column (scroll down)