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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cooper's Notes II

While the New York Times originally suggested yesterday that Time would be turning over Cooper's handwritten notes, which led me to wonder how Time managed to get ahold of them from Cooper, it appears from the latest Washington Post and New York Times coverage that most of the documents to be handed over are electronic--"primarily electronic notes and e-mails stored on Time's computers," according to the Post.

Cooper's Notes

The New York Times' Friday story on Time Inc.'s decision to sell out Matt Cooper's source has an interesting anecdote about how reporters under subpoena have protected their notes in the past, but rather frustratingly doesn't go into the question of how Time came to possess Cooper's notes. Recounting a 1978 subpoena battle that put then-New York Times reporter Myron Farber in jail for 40 days for refusing to give up a source--the case referenced by Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in his statement on Time Inc.'s decision to fold--Adam Liptak writes:
Mr. Farber, now retired, recalled the efforts he and the paper had made to protect his notes.

"The Times, at my request, I think it was, relinquished control of the notes to me," he said. "I took responsibility for protecting them, and I did protect them. I divied them up and hid them all over the region in a variety of places."

So why didn't Cooper take similar precautions? It's probably irrelevant, because Time Inc. could still turn over phone records and e-mails, over which Cooper has not control, that would help the prosecutors find out who he'd been talking to. But still, if Cooper had the notes in his possession and at some point handed them over to his bosses, it would indicate that this is either an act of extraordinary treachery on Time Inc.'s part--"Why don't you let us have those, Matt? No! We'd never hand them over, we promise"--or a case of setting up Time Inc. ahead of time as the fall guy--"We should have those notes so that we can be the ones to buckle and keep you out of jail if it comes to that, Matt."

Time's Sell-Out Pt. II

While we're at it: Time has agreed to hand over documents "concerning the confidential sources" of Matt Cooper that, according to the New York Times, include Cooper's handwritten notes.

So, how did Time come to possess those notes? Did Cooper just leave them in a drawer at his office? I would imagine--without any evidence or direct knowledge, as per usual--that in a drawn-out and high-profile case such as this one, at some point Time's attorneys and Cooper's attorney sat down with him and said, Where are your notes? And I'd further imagine that a conversation ensued about which party was best suited to continue to possess said notes.

If Time Inc. said, We'd like to hang on to those, if you don't mind, then the jig was up then. If I were in Cooper's shoes, the minute I was aware of a subpoena I would have gathered all the information related to the identity of that source that I could, and handed it either to a random and trustworthy confidant who wasn't connected with the case or to an attorney paid to represent my interests, as opposed to Time's.

Of course, there are other records that Cooper had no control over--phone, e-mail--that Time can give up, and it's conceivable that Time has some sort of regular filing process whereby reporters' notes are handed over to the company after a story is filed, but I doubt that.

Time's Sell-Out

Not to be too bombastic about it, but Time Warner's decision to sell out Matt Cooper's source renders moot any promise of anonymity given to any source by any journalist anywhere, ever.

Well, almost. Here's why:

1) The post-Glass, post-Blair, post-Kelly environment has tightened things up at every newspaper, and almost every paper has instituted sourcing guidelines that require reporters to clue at least one editor in on the identity of anonymous sources. Here's the New York Times', for example. All Tribune Co. properties--from the Chicago Tribune to the Los Angeles Times to the various local TV news operations--operate under a similar blanket TribCo policy.

2) That sounds like a good idea. It's a guard against renegade reporters who would make sources up, and it's a check on reporters who would use anonymity to make sources sound more knowledgable than they in fact are. It also makes the identity of the source corporate property.

3) Do the math. If you want to grant anonymity as a reporter, you must grant to your employer the right to make the final call on whether to protect your source when the chips are down. We know how Time Warner decided to play it--which should give pause to anyone who wants to talk to Time, People, Fortune, Entertainment Weekly, or Progressive Farmer under cover of night in the future. (Or CNN, for that matter--though this decision appears to have been made at the Time Inc. level of Time Warner.) We also know how Tribune Co. will play it, because the corporate policy on sourcing the company promulgated internally about a year ago explicitly required reporters to inform anonymous sources that their identities will be revealed to an editor and may be revealed to a court of law. When I asked my bosses--first the public editor and later the editor in chief--what that meant, both repeatedly declined to assure me that Tribune Co. would honor any promises of anonymity that I make in the Chicago Tribune's name. I got a lot of, "You don't know what you would do if you were facing jail for a contempt charge," and "We spend millions of dollars defending our reporters in court," but nothing even close to, "This newspaper will never divulge the identity of an anonymous source."

Arthur Sulzberger Jr.'s disappointment notwithstanding--from what I can tell, the New York Times wasn't ordered to turn over responsive documents like Time was, so it's easy for him to profess outrage when he didn't face the same tough decision that Time Inc. editor in chief Norman Pearlstine did--Time's choice to buckle cuts a wide swath of breathing room for the next media conglomerate faced with an anonymity problem.

Which means that from here on out, the sacred reporter-source relationship we hear so much about has been amended slightly. The next time a reporter for any publicly held conglomerate says, "Don't worry, I'll protect you," what he really means is, I'll protect you for such a time as it is convenient for my corporate employer to cooperate with me in doing so. After that, you're fucked.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

My Sell-Out


Portastatic: Matthew McCaughan, Mac McCaughan, and Jim Wilbur

After a 10-year (so far) career in journalism predicated in part on the notion that PR operatives are the enemy and that press releases are to be scrutinized only for laughably inarticulate turns of phrase and delusional thinking, rather than useful information, I have descended into flackery.

But it's the good kind. I was thrilled--like a 13-year-old getting a new bike thrilled, embarrassingly so--last month to get a call from the good people at Merge Records, asking if I was available to write the press bio for Portastatic, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan's other band, which has a deeply rocking and hummable new record coming out. Portastatic had never had an official bio as such, and I guess Mac liked a piece I wrote for the Chicago Tribune--since lost to the web--two years ago on the last Portastatic full-length, Summer of the Shark, which I called "the most effective and moving musical answer yet" to what happened on September 11, 2001. Which it is. (If you are wary of a concept record about September 11, you are right to feel that way, and you should know that Summer of the Shark is the best record of the last three years.)

I have been fanatical about McCaughan and Superchunk and Portastatic ever since I saw Superchunk at the University of Wisconsin student union in 1994, touring for Foolish. I won't gush here (you can read the bio for that), but Superchunk is the best rock band since the Replacements, Mac is a hero of mine, and I'm very proud to be involved in some small way with helping promote the new Portastatic record, Bright Ideas. It comes out in August on Merge, the North Carolina label founded in 1989 by Mac and Superchunk's bass player, Laura Ballance. Aside from Superchunk and Portastatic, Merge has found and nurtured a downright astonishing roster of artists over the past 15 years, from The Magnetic Fields to Spoon to The Arcade Fire to Neutral Milk Hotel to ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead &c.

The bio is here. Every word is true.

Poker Face

Ouch. Found on Romenesko.
From PAUL BRIBBON: A poker column ... yeah, that's what the Chicago Tribune needs more than an editorial page cartoonist, a daily features columnist, a coherent editorial policy on the presidency and FCC, a deeper news hole, a larger and more experienced staff, an employee pension plan, and fewer entries in the clarifications box. If it weren't for that poker column, the Tribune probably would have lost only 6.5 percent of its readers in the last six-month reporting period, instead of 6.6 percent. And, Tribune Company shares would have closed Tuesday at $36, instead of $35.65, down a mere $17 from its pre-poker-column high of nearly $53.

Now, if Tribune Media Services can only convince ESPN or the Travel Channel to cover competitive Jumble, the paper really would be back among the elite of American journalism.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Up For Air

Deadlines abound, but I thought I'd take a quick break to point out how exceedingly classy this is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Charity Television

My second column for Radar, on the moral turpitude of "nice" reality TV, is online.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Hathead at the Hideout This Friday

My big brother turns 40 this week, and we're celebrating by letting him out from behind the drum kit to sing at the Hideout on Friday night. Hathead, the infrequently convened band fronted by Matt Cook, will play at 9 p.m. I'll be sitting in on lap steel and keys. I have no idea how to play piano, a problem compounded by the fact that the previous owner of the (really cool) Acetone organ we've borrowed for the show didn't have any idea how to play it either and wrote the notes on the keys in indelible magic marker as a guide--but got them wrong. So the "A" key, for instance, has a "G" written on it. Ideally, I'll be able to correct for this by calibrating my pre-show drinking for just the right amount of double-vision to send my fingers to the correct keys, the way a sniper corrects for wind.

The rest of the band will be ably rounded out by Jason Monroe, Marc Haussman, and Derek Crawford of Bleary. Western Standard Time, a honky-tonk cover band in which Matt plays drums, headlines.

If the beautiful poster by my sister-in-law Jen doesn't send you running to the Hideout on Friday night, then this Hathead tune, four-tracked entirely by Matt, ought to: Moviemaking in the '70s. And if it doesn't, you should come anyway. It will be loud and fun.

In other Hideout-related news, Bob Mehr reports (last item) in the Chicago Reader that the club has finally navigated its way through Chicago's arcane liquor laws to get a Public Place of Amusement license, which allows it to actually charge covers instead of passing a hat for tips to the band. Which means they'll finally start booking in earnest again.

He'll Be Sharing a Cubicle With Colmes

Formerly distinguished media oracle Marvin Kalb has signed on as a contributor to Fox News Channel. The very same Fox News Channel he has called "proudly conservative"; the same Fox News Channel of which he has complained, "The reporting sits in a box that screams out patriotic, conservative values"; the same Fox News Channel that prompted Kalb to tell the Columbia Journalism Review that he is "'leery of' and 'uncomfortable' with any news operation that makes a point of political allegiance of any sort."

I guess "leery" and "uncomfortable" are synonyms for "willing to be paid by." Hack.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

This Woman Is In Desperate Need of a Higher Web Profile

We've been meaning to congratulate the Antic Muse on her return to bloggery--where's she been, anyway?

Can't say I like the new design--it's by the folks who brought you the Radar site, so... I'll just leave it at that, seeing as how Radar keeps me in Miller High Life. I definitely miss Terry Colon's illustration, which sadly appears lost to the web. The new Antic Muse illo has a weird, L.A., David-Hockney-does-a-comic-book-with-blogging-heroine vibe to it. And what's with the greenery theme?

But I digress. It's nice to see TAM revived. Here's hoping it's used for more than posting book tour dates. Stuff like this. That was damn funny.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Thursdays With Mike

If it's Thursday, you've learned absolutely nothing from Mike Miner, the Chicago Reader's most outspoken piece of furniture. Today finds Miner getting to the bottom--the very, absolute, granular bottom--of a series of memos, e-mails, and meetings that resulted in two Chicago Reporter staffers getting canned. "News!" you say. "See, Mike Miner can report news, contrary to your over-the-top and mean-spirited indictment of last month. For shame!"

Well, of a sort. Clever cat that he is, Miner--who surely knows that the best place to keep a secret is in the last sentence of his column--waits til the end to let us know that he didn't learn that Chicago Reporter contributing editor Mick Dumke and associate editor Brian Rogal had been let go until two months after the fact. (Keep that ear to the ground, Mike!)

No matter. As long as no one else knows it, it's still news. But instead of explaining why Dumke and Rogan were fired, and what if anything it has to do with the future of a heritage-rich and cash-poor nonprofit magazine, Miner treats us to a bewildering and debilitating blow-by-blow of staff meetings and memos--"Between the first and second rounds of one-on-ones, the staff received the e-mail in which [editor Alysia] Tate conceded that the working environment had become intolerable." Wait, which round of one-on-ones? I'm on the edge of my seat, here!

Of course, all those HR details can get a little heavy, so Miner rounds out the column with a deliciously witty little "news bite," which I reproduce here in its entirety to avoid stepping on the joke:

News Bite The way a magazine* shops for new blood says a lot about how it idealizes itself. Crain's Chicago Business just promoted managing editor Joseph Cahill to editor, and now it's looking to fill his old job. It wants applicants to know its stories "are known for sophisticated analysis, strong point of view, sharp writing and a forward spin that tells readers what to expect, not just what happened yesterday." The next managing editor should "know how to balance hard-hitting news coverage with the occasional offspeed pitch. . . . A competitive nature wrapped in a congenial personality seals the deal."
Ha! You're right, Mike. The way a magazine shops for new blood does say a lot about how it idealizes itself. You should quote help-wanted ads more often--they're a gold mine!

*Crain's Chicgao Business was a weekly newspaper last I checked. Which was a long, long time ago.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Memo to Wilco

I'm really sorry to have to be the one to tell you this--I know you guys really have limited control over who likes your records and who doesn't, and over what sort of fans you attract. And you probably don't care anyway. If a slightly annoying scene takes hold around Wilco, hell, why not ride it to the bank and keep doing what you're doing, right? Everybody wins.

But according to Defamer, Pat O'Brien went to see your show at the Greek Theater last night in Los Angeles. Which means you have to break up right now. Sorry.

Warmest Regards,

Reference Tone

I Once Could See, But Now I'm Blind...

"When her mom first introduced her to me, she stared at me intently. She focused her eyes. She would focus her eyes on whoever was talking to her.... I told Terri she has many people around the country and around the world who lover her and are praying for her. She looked at me attentively. I said, 'Terri now we are going to pray together, I want to give you a blessing, let's say some prayers.'"--Frank Pavone, professional ghoul and friar--whatever the hell that is--to Terri Schiavo's parents, in an account of her death.

"Her vision centers of her brain were dead."--Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin, who conducted an autopsy of Schiavo's body, at a June 15 2005 press conference.

UPDATE: Even better, Wonkette takes note of this choice diagnosis of Schiavo from the good Dr. Frist back in March: "I question it based on a review of the video footage which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office.... She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli."

Monday, June 13, 2005

Roger Ailes, Please Put This Man in Primetime Immediately

"The defense saying that the mother in this case, the mother of the accuser, has a pattern of a litigious life, a pattern of lying to judges and juries, a pattern of teaching her children to lie on the witness stand.... Today the jury seemed to believe that the mother was a liar, that it was all a hoax, that it was all about sucking blood from the turnip that is Michael Jackson." --Shepard Smith, Fox News Channel, approx. 5:38 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, June 13, 2005. Amen.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

No Posts Today or Friday

Pigeons are fine. I am busy.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Didion on Schiavo

I've been meaning to point out Joan Didion's take on the Terri Schiavo debacle in last week's New York Review of Books. It's not really a take so much as a pitiless vivesection of every facile talking-head "argument" that bounced around the airwaves during the Passion of Terri, and an artful disaggregation of what Didion calls "the spectral presence called 'Terri'" from the woman named Theresa (Didion's insistence on using her full name, which at first seems odd, like referring to "Daniel Rather," serves to remind us how thoroughly the cable news establishment had processed Schiavo into a political and cultural shorthand).

Didion comes down against the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, and I frankly don't know anymore whether or not I agree with her. But her astringent and merciless gaze is the ideal antidote to the shitstorm of sophistry that accompanied that woman's death.

Pigeon Update


A pair of justifiably annoyed pigeon babies, back in the nest where they belong.

Well, I guess there's a fine line between rescuer and kidnapper. Early Monday morning, as I lay in bed contemplating our new arrivals and congratulating myself for being such a caring steward of the natural world, my wife pointed out to me that the "missing" mama pigeon who had "abandoned" her kids and left me to "rescue" them was back at the nest, apparently wondering where the hell her babies went.

I guess I got some bad advice on the pigeon-lover message boards.

So I hopped out of bed, grabbed the little ones, climbed the ladder and deposited them back in the nest as mama watched from a nearby perch.

It turns out the story of mama birds rejecting babies that have been touched by humans is an old wives tale designed to keep children from doing exactly what I did. So mama is back taking care of the babies, and I'm trying to forget about the whole thing.

Monday, June 06, 2005

New Additions to the Cook/Benedikt Household

About three weeks ago we realized that a pigeon had built a nest in the transom that sits above the door between our bedroom and the back porch. The transom is just a little ledge, the width of the doorframe, with a window on the bedroom side and nothing on the porch side. So we could see the nest, and the mama pigeon, from inside the bedroom. One day, while mama was out, I grabbed a ladder so I could look down into the nest through the transom window, and, sure enough: eggs. Two of them.

Mama would get flustered and fly off every time we opened the door to go out to the porch--which was startling at first--but she'd always hover around, keeping an eye on us, and eventually fly back to the nest. The eggs hatched about eight days ago, and we were worried that mama would start attacking us now that she had real kids to worry about, but she's been very solicitous of our intrusion into her life.

But we haven't seen her since Friday. Flown the coop, so to speak. We can always see her through the window, and she's almost always been there, so the fact that the nest was empty--and I've been checking, just looking through the window, almost hourly since Friday--started to worry me. I called our local 24-hour vet hospital, who referred me to the University of Illinois Wildlife Clinic, who said I should start worrying. I posted a query--how long should I wait before these little guys are in trouble?--to a pigeon-rescue bulletin board (who knew?) and got some urgent responses that I needed to get them inside and under a lamp to warm them up fast.

So here they are. In my house. It was tough getting them out of the nest--you'd be surprised how terrifying eight-day-old pigeons can look when they really don't want to be picked up, and they're hissing at you and trying to peck you and your mom always told you that birds are filthy, disease-ridden creatures because she never got over "The Birds." And your wife, who's never seen "The Birds," is just realizing that she, too, has always thought birds are filthy, disease-ridden creatures that she really really doesn't want in her home. It was a hectic night.

But I snatched them, and here they are. They immediately started shitting in their shoe-box and kind of squirming around in it and getting it all over themselves, which is nice. We have no idea what the hell to do now. We haven't named them yet--Allison thinks Chloe and Mercedes Rose. But I kind of like Ashleigh, too. And I don't know if they're girls and don't really have the courage to try and find out. And don't really know how to find out.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Ken Mehlman Takes Out the TCP

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman went up against Little Russ this morning on Meet the Press, and it was an oddly, um, respectful face-off. Sounds like maybe someone remembered all that crap they used to say about changing the tone in Washington. See if you can pick out the Luntz-Approved Phraseology:


Russert: [Quoting NYT op-ed from former Republican Sen. John Danforth accusing his party of becoming "the political arm of conservative Christians.] "That's pretty strong. Republicans have become the political arm of Christian conservatives. That's John Danforth."

Mehlman: John Danforth, I thought, was a great senator and did a great job with the United Nations. I think he's a good man. I would respectfully disagree with that.

...

Russert: But, Mr. Mehlman, it's gone from $218 billion surplus when George Bush took office to a $427 billion deficit. How can you call that Republican conservative economic policy?

Mehlman: [W]e've also moved forward on modernizing Social Security, reducing class-action reform, updating our bankruptcy laws for the first time in a generation to encourage personal responsibility.... So I would respectfully disagree with Senator Danforth's characterization.

...

Russert: [Quoting Log Cabin Republican press release] "Using gays and lesbians as wedge issues in an election year is unacceptable to Log Cabin..."

Mehlman: I would respectfully disagree with their statement on that.

...

Russert: NBC News and The Wall Street Journal has gone out and asked voters what they think of the president's plan for personal private accounts. Good idea, 36 percent; bad idea, 56 percent....

Mehlman: Well, Tim, there are a number of polls that have shown other things as well. I would respectfully disagree with those numbers.

...

Russert: As Robert Pozen, one of the president's principal advisers on Social Security said, "Because we can't afford it."

Mehlman: Well, I would respectfully disagree with Mr. Pozen, Tim.

...

Russert: Well, many people close to Pat Tillman have said [the Pentagon tried to turn him into a posterboy for Bush's war on terrorism].

Mehlman: Well, again, I would respectfully disagree, at the same time recognizing the tragedy, and how hard it must be for his mom and his whole family.
In other words, the GOP will still respect you in the morning. After you've already been fucked, that is. And Mehlman has some stern words for other, less respectful, folks, like Sen. Harry Reid, whom Russert quoted calling Bush a "liar" and a "loser": "I really think that that kind of language, the liar, the loser, doesn't really have a place in politics," Mehlman said. "We can disagree in politics without calling each other liars and losers."

For shame, Sen. Reid. As a great man once said, "Go respect yourself."

Friday, June 03, 2005

Fun With Search Strings

By going through traffic logs, I can see what sites referred visitors to Reference Tone--when you come here, I know where you've been. When those sites are search engines, like Google, I can see what people were searching for when my site popped up in the results.

So yesterday I was proud to learn that when someone entered the search terms "John Kass" and "idiot" into Google, Reference Tone ranked third in the results. Let me be clear: I have never called John Kass an idiot in this forum. And I am not doing so now. But someone was querying Google for evidence that Mr. Kass either is or is not an idiot, and I am pleased to know that this site may or may not have helped shed some light on the matter.

In related news, I'm also proud to announce that Reference Tone came up somewhere in the results--not sure where I fit in among the 678,000 pages returned--when someone searched for "why christian should be thankful." That one threw me for a loop, because so far I've declined to comment on Mr. Slater's recent problems. I would like to know why he should be thankful, though.

UPDATE: Just minutes after I posted this, as I was obsessively checking and rechecking my logs to avoid actually getting any work done, someone Googled "smut network." And guess who came up as No. 31?

Notorious L.A.T.

It must feel good to be Chuck Philips.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter has demolished once and for all the conspiracy theory that purported to link corrupt LAPD officers to the murder of the Notorious B.I.G., aka Biggie Smalls, aka Christopher Wallace, in 1997. It's a theory that's been retailed on "Frontline," MTV, VH1, in Rolling Stone, and--more on this later--on the front page of the Los Angeles Times itself. The idea was that Suge Knight put a hit out on Wallace to retaliate for the murder of Tupac Shakur, and had a part-time security guard for his record label, LAPD officer David Mack, set it up. Mack--a narcotics-officer-gone-bad who wound up robbing a bank nine months after Wallace's murder and is now in prison--supposedly turned to his college pal Amir Muhammad, an L.A. mortgage broker with no criminal history or gang affiliation, as triggerman. Since Mack was once partners with Rafael Perez, the corrupt cop at the center of the LAPD Rampart scandal, the theory held out the tantalizing possibility that a notorious ring of corrupt cops had offed one of the nation's most beloved rappers.

Of course it was all bullshit. According to Philips' story today, the sole, solitary police source for this theory was a schizophrenic professional snitch nicknamed "Psycho Mike," and he has fully recanted in pre-trial depositions for a civil suit against the city of Los Angeles brought by Wallace's family. It was all hearsay, Psycho Mike said, and when he picked Muhammad's picture out of a photo line-up in 1998, it was a random guess.

The story should be particularly gratifying for Philips because it finally and definitively puts to rest an intramural struggle at the Times that began five years ago. The L.A. Times "broke" Psycho Mike's fabrications in December 1999, splashing Amir Muhammad's name and photograph as a suspect in Wallace's murder across Page One (a truncated version is online here). The story, by Matt Lait and Scott Glover, was sourced to unnamed former law enforcement officials and confidential LAPD documents, and said "numerous attempts by The Times to locate Muhammad through public records and a former friend were unsuccessful."

Philips, who covers the music business for the Times, thought the story looked odd, and set out to find Muhammad himself. It took him three days. Muhammad had been blindsided by the story--he had no clue, he told Philips, that the authorities were looking for him, and no idea that anybody had connected him to Wallace's murder. He certainly wasn't in hiding--he had recently advertised his mortgage brokerage business in... wait for it.... the Los Angeles Times. Muhammad was terrified--without warning, the Times had published his name and driver license photo, obtained from the LAPD, and suggested that he was gunman in the murder of Biggie Smalls. Needlesss to say, Muhammad told Philips he had nothing to do with it.

Though the Page One story offered no official confirmation or denial of the Muhammad theory from the police--reason alone, in my book, not to publish the guy's name and picture--Philips managed to get the lead detective on the Wallace case to definitively state, on the record, that Muhammad was not a suspect in the case. Philips had, without a doubt, compiled enough evidence for a retraction of the Page One story--unnamed former officials had said Muhammad was a suspect; named current officials now say he is not--but he got caught up in an internal battle he described to me at the time as "the ugliest experience I've ever had." (I know so much about this because I wrote about it for Brill's Content magazine; the story is still online, for some reason, here.)

The paper's top editors--including then-executive editor Leo Wolinsky--dug in their heels, refused to issue a retraction, and wouldn't allow Philips to characterize the initial story as wrong. It took months for Philips to get a story in the paper--in the metro section--explaining that Amir Muhammad insisted on his innocence and that, contrary to the first report, the LAPD said he was not a suspect. When it did run, in May 2000, the headline was "Man No Longer Under Scrutiny in Rapper's Death," and quoted the lead detective saying that, though they once looked at the Muhammad theory, they had dropped it and hadn't considered it for "more than a year." That is, since May 1999. Lait and Glover's story ran in December 1999. The headline was accurate: Muhammad was no longer under scrutiny. What the story didn't point out explicitly-and this is no fault of Philips'--was that he wasn't under scrutiny in December 1999, when the L.A. Times said he was on the front page.

Philips treads that terrain delicately in his piece today: "In December 1999, The Times published a front-page article reporting that Knight, Mack and Muhammad were among the possible suspects in the slaying. A Times article six months later quoted an LAPD detective as saying that Muhammad was no longer a suspect."

Shortly after the May 2000 story, former LAPD detective Russell Poole came forward as Lait and Glover's source for the Page One story, and said they'd got it wrong--Poole did believe the Muhammad theory that the story promoted, but said his superiors wouldn't let him pursue it. That's why he quit and leaked to the Times. Among the "confidential documents" that Lait and Glover relied on were reports that Poole wrote supporting the theory, and that his bosses ignored. So what he'd hoped would be a story saying that the LAPD was refusing to pursue credible evidence pointing to the Muhammad theory turned out to be a story saying the LAPD was pursuing the Muhammad theory. Which they weren't.

And what credible evidence was Poole, the lone peddler of the Muhammad theory, relying on? The testimony of Psycho Mike.

Congratulations, Chuck.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Conor Oberst--The Indie Rock Bruce Willis?

Tiny Mix Tapes reports--I kid you not--that Saddle Creek Records, the precious Omaha, Neb.-based label co-founded by indie heartthrob Conor Oberst, has proposed a $10 million development project in downtown Omaha to include a concert hall, bar, pizza shop, and movie theater. It'll be called the Slowdown--apparently Planet Omaha was already trademarked.

Ryan Adams has reportedly responded with his own plans to open DenimWorld™, a competing complex in Carborro, N.C., to feature slot machines, an animatronic facsimile of a drunk Adams making late-night phone calls to hostile rock critics, and cocaine.