My hometown paper took a bit of a credibility hit in March, what with reporting that the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy was behind the 1994 shooting of Tupac Shakur. That would be the non-fatal shooting, by the way:
NEW YORK — Cameras flashed as paramedics carried the victim into the glare of Times Square on a stretcher. Blood seeped through bandages from five gunshot wounds.
Tupac Shakur had been beaten, shot and left for dead at the Quad Recording Studios on New York's 7th Avenue. As he was borne to a waiting ambulance through a swarm of paparazzi on Nov. 30, 1994, the rap star thrust his middle finger into the air.
The L.A. Times story making this claim was eviscerated by the reporting of The Smoking Gun, which prepared an impressive and eminently readable article convincingly establishing that the FBI reports ("302s", for those in the know) were fabricated and that the probable source and inspiration for the story, James Sabatino, is a convicted fraudster and career fabulist. The Smoking Gun story shows that the Times was taken in despite the fact that the 302s were riddled with grammar and spelling errors and signs of anachronistic typing and misplaced terminology, despite the fact that these errors matched ones found in Sabatino's publicly accessible pro se filings, despite the fact that the 302s told tales that seemed inherently contradictory and unbelievable, and despite the fact that Sabatino has a long history of convictions for dishonesty.
The Times has apologized and admitted to being defrauded (it could hardly do otherwise), but will have a difficult time justifying the poor judgment that led it to such credulity. Part of the Times' dilemma is that it has refused to reveal the identity of its confidential source, even though it seems fairly clear that its confidential source defrauded the Times and, by extension, its readers. As I've argued before, I think that journalists should not protect lying sources, and that any lies — particularly lies that rise to the level of deliberate fraud on the journalist — should vitiate any guarantee of confidentiality.
The Times will have to work to repair credibility. I happen to know their new editor — he goes to my church — and I wish them well in the effort. A few things they may want to consider:
- Next time you want to accuse someone of participation in a notorious assault, consider that person's character. Given Sean Combs' record, I submit that (1) if he knew in advance of an upcoming hail of gunfire, it seems inconceivable that he would not have arranged to be present, with an entourage, and possibly some lawyers, and at least two woman who could be characterized as being in possession of ba donk donk; and (2) it seems inconceivable that he would have been able to resist capitalizing post-shooting on the notoriety of the incident, possibly with a name change, such as P. Shooty or Puff the Magic Tupacwhacker.
- Also, a word about 302s from someone who has read entirely too many of them. A 302 with multiple spelling and grammar errors is not credible. On the other hand, a 302 that tells a story in a compelling way is not credible. FBI agents are trained, or possibly attached to some sort of device, to teach them how to write these things. The result seems to have been written by aliens — aliens with excellent spelling and grammar, to be sure, but aliens with no sense of human narrative structure or style, aliens who have learned human idiom through reruns of Dragnet, aliens who lurch relentlessly but awkwardly through sentences and paragraphs rather like that big worm in Men in Black who stole Vincent D'Onofrio's skin and stalked around uncomfortably in it through the rest of the movie until Will Smith aired him out.
Better luck next time, guys.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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