Mar 27, 2008

Did you hear the one about Tupac and P. Diddy? *(updated)

By now you've already heard about the big apology that ran on the front page of the Los Angeles Times today. I'd have posted something about it earlier but I was busy working on this.

Rather than rehash what has already been done here, here and here, I'll just point out that we did a segment on the fraudulent story as part of tonight's Which Way, LA?

The guests are Joseph Jesselli, the Smoking Gun reporter who debunked the story, NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, and USC professor of critical studies Todd Boyd.

*Plenty seems to have gone wrong before the Tupac/Combs story hit on March 17, but a breakdown in editorial oversight seems to be at the heart of it. Consider these few grafs from James Rainey's initial investigation into the investigation:

Other investigative stories published by The Times in recent years have in some cases received the scrutiny of at least one more editor and often of the managing editor or editor of the newspaper. The Shakur piece did not receive that many layers of review.

Bob Steele, a journalism values scholar at the Poynter Institute, said he would not pass judgment on The Times' editing process.

"But any time you have a substantive investigative project you need multiple levels of quality control," Steele said. "You need contrarians within the organization who are going to be very skeptical."

Now consider what cost-cutting newspapers have done with their contrarians in recent years.

The Times story also has a "Love and Consequences" vibe that should have raised alarm bells, and triggered a more thorough review. Slate's Jack Shafer helps make the point at the end of his post-mortem piece:

Seeing as the Smoking Gun broke the story, we should pay extra attention to the wisdom of its editor, William Bastone. The story simply violated his investigative instincts. "The whole thing did not pass the smell test," he told the
New York Times. "Here you have this white teenager from Boynton Beach, Fla., who was in the middle of all these events and no one has ever heard of him."

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