Forget Saturday's Guantanamo correction — this is your correction o' the week, if not o' the year. It has to be especially painful for LAT staffers, coming out on the day that the best in newspaper journalism is rewarded with Pulitzer prizes. I expect that the New York Times will win at least one Pulitzer for reporting, the Washington Post will collect even more and the new L.A. Times, well, it will be shut out and make news for one of the most embarrassing mistakes in its history. (Pulitzers are announced at noon.)
One of the paper's most newsworthy retractions ever is front and center tonight at LATimes.com, for Monday's paper:
An article and related materials published on the Los Angeles Times website on March 17 have been removed from the site because they relied heavily on information that The Times no longer believes to be credible.
The article, titled "An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War" and written by Times staff writer Chuck Philips, purported to relate "new" information about a 1994 assault on rap star Tupac Shakur, including a description of events contained in FBI reports.
The Times has since concluded that the FBI reports were fabricated and that some of the other sources relied on -- including the person Philips previously believed to be the "confidential source" cited in the FBI reports -- do not support major elements of the story.
Consequently, The Times is retracting the March 17 Web publications as well as a shorter version of the article that appeared on Page E1 in the March 19 Calendar section of the newspaper. Statements that Philips made in two online chats, on March 18 and 25, and on The Times' Soundboard blog on March 21 also are being retracted.
Among other things, the March 17 article and related Times publications reported that newly discovered information supported Shakur's claims that associates of music executive Sean "Diddy" Combs orchestrated an attack in which Shakur was injured at the Quad Recording Studios in New York on Nov. 30, 1994.
The information, which came from the purported FBI reports and other sources, said that James "Jimmy Henchman" Rosemond, a talent manager; Jacques "Haitian Jack" Agnant, a figure on the New York hip-hop scene; and James Sabatino, purportedly one of Combs' associates, arranged the assault on Shakur because they were angry that he had rejected overtures to sign with Combs' Bad Boy Records.
The Times now believes that Sabatino fabricated the FBI reports and concocted his role in the assault as well as his supposed relationships with Combs, Rosemond and Agnant.
Consequently, The Times specifically retracts all statements in the article, and in its related publications, that state or suggest in any way that Rosemond, Agnant and Sabatino orchestrated or played any role in the assault on Shakur or that they lured him into an ambush at the Quad studios.
To the extent these publications could be interpreted as creating the impression that Combs was involved in arranging the attack, The Times wishes to correct that misimpression, which was neither stated in the article nor intended.
The Times also reported that Sabatino told Combs in advance that Shakur was going to be attacked. The Times now believes that Sabatino had no involvement in the attack and that he never spoke to Combs about it. Any statements or implications suggesting that Combs was given advance knowledge of the assault on Shakur, or played any role in it, are specifically retracted.
In addition, The Times was mistaken in reporting that Rosemond has served prison time for drug dealing and was convicted in 1996 of drug offenses. The Times specifically retracts those statements.
The Times began investigating the accuracy of its reporting after William Bastone, editor of The SmokingGun.com, called Philips on March 25 to say he believed the purported FBI documents posted at LATimes.com were fabricated.
A report posted on TheSmoking Gun.com the following day provided a detailed analysis of the documents, including a comparison with other papers Sabatino had filed in court, and strongly suggested that Sabatino had manufactured them with a typewriter, photocopier and other materials.
Later that day, The Times posted an article on its website saying that the authenticity of the documents and Philips' story had been challenged. The next day, March 27, The Times published a front-page story reporting that the newspaper had been the victim of a hoax and apologizing for its error. The Times reiterates that apology here.
Whether this heads off liability for damages to Combs remains to be seen.