Chuck Philips: I was right, LA Times was wrong

chuck-philips-laweekly.jpgChuck Philips has talked about this a little before, most notably last year when he wrote that the Los Angeles Times should not have fully retracted his 2008 story naming names in the murder of rapper Tupac Shakur. But a piece that went up over the weekend on the village Voice website is his most elaborate rendition of the episode that led to his exit from the Times, where he co-won a Pulitzer Prize in 1999, as well as an update in the story that Philips has been pushing for a long time: that he knows who killed Shakur in Las Vegas in 1996 and why. Philips reiterates that his story tracing the Shakur killing back to a 1994 beating in Manhattan, which he says was ordered by rap figure Jimmy Henchman, was not based on the hoax documents that led the Times to retract, and points out that his conclusions on the case have since been confirmed by principals. We also learn that the Times paid Henchman $250,000 to settle, and that Philips was laid off the same day,

His weekend post is called Tupac Shakur, the Los Angeles Times, and Why I'm Still Unemployed: A Personal History by Chuck Philips. Excerpt:

My name is Chuck Philips. I spent the last ten years of my professional life at the Los Angeles Times investigating the murders of the world's most important rap artists: Tupac Shakur, and his nemesis, Biggie Smalls. My reporting kept bringing me back to a brutal 1994 ambush at Manhattan's Quad Recording Studios -- a pivotal moment in hip-hop history, a portent of violence to come: a bloody, bicoastal battle that would culminate in the killings of both Pac and Biggie....


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.

No reporter can publish anything that hasn't been scrutinized by his newspaper's editors and lawyers. The newspaper, not the reporter, decides what to publish and what not to publish. 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.

Following the retraction, scathing reports lit up the Internet, for weeks -- lies and rumors that dog me to this day. I was attacked so many times in so many articles that Google actually contacted me and offered me an opportunity to respond. But the paper wouldn't have it. I was ordered not to communicate with Google. I was also forbidden to return calls from reporters seeking comment. I was barred from addressing the avalanche of affronts online as well. Meanwhile, I waited for the Times to step up and defend me. The same people who praised me when I brought awards to the newspaper failed to offer any defense for a conscientious reporter who, at worst, had made an honest mistake -- my first in 18 years.

Despite their failure to defend my story, top editors at the newspaper privately assured me my job was safe. Beyond those promises, on the Wednesday before the next wave of layoffs was to be announced, I asked the newly appointed editor of the section in which I worked if I had anything to worry about. She said no. Two days later she called me back into her office, and told me she had misspoken. The paper, she said, had just decided to let me go.

I was laid off the same afternoon that Henchman agreed to sign a secret out-of-court settlement with the Times. I was allowed to apply for a buyout and informed that I could tell people it was my own decision to leave. My termination was widely viewed as a nod to Henchman.

The Times provided a statement to the Village Voice saying that "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."

Previously on LA Observed:
Chuck Philips wants his retraction back
Chuck Philips leaving the Times
Anita Busch links Pellicano and Times
Stanton: Philips' future still in flux
L.A. Times fully 'retracts' Tupac Shakur story
Philips and editor apologize for Shakur story *

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