The Los Angeles Times royally screwed up a big story about Tupac’s 1994 robbery and shooting. What else did it get wrong?

The Los Angeles Times royally screwed up a big story about Tupac’s 1994 robbery and shooting. What else did it get wrong?

By Eric K. Arnold

http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/PrintFriendly?oid=678909
April 9, 2008

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The unsolved murders of Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur were the subject of the documentary Biggie & Tupac.

It may have been the biggest f-up in the history of mainstream media hip-hop coverage.

In case you haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Times was caught red-faced when website TheSmokingGun.com out-reported – and more importantly, out-fact-checked – the daily newspaper a couple weeks ago on what seemed to be an important story detailing new evidence in the 1994 shooting and robbery of the late Tupac Shakur. Times reporter Chuck Philips, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, revealed that an incarcerated and unnamed informant had confirmed the involvement of Sean “Diddy” Combs, Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, hip-hop manager Jimmy “Henchman” Rosemond, and Mafia wanna-be James Sabatino in the incident. Philips did not name the shooter(s) but presented alleged FBI case files and court transcripts. One of the robbers, Philips wrote, still had Shakur’s purloined medallion, fourteen long years after the fact.

The Times article drew more than one million viewers to the paper’s web site, making it the newspaper’s most heavily trafficked article this year.

Blogs followed suit. “Sometimes a reporter comes to a story, and sometimes the story comes to him,” wrote blogger/author Jeff Chang in a post. Other outlets, however, were skeptical. As MTV News noted, Philips has sparked controversy before with his reporting methods. “His allegations are at times hard to believe, and he has drawn criticism for largely citing unnamed sources,” wrote reporter Jayson Rodriguez. “And many question why an older white man is the one pursuing the case of two murdered black hip-hip icons.”

Philips initially defended his reportage. “I’m not gonna write it just because someone says it,” he told MTV News. People have tried to set him up in the past, he added, “But in this case, I [didn’t] write anything until I feel it’s confident, it’s true.”

The only problem was the story was apparently completely fabricated by Sabatino, a chubby, boyish-faced scam artist with a long rap sheet who has boasted of his alleged ties to both La Cosa Nostra and the hip-hop elite. After the Smoking Gun meticulously dissected Philips’ account, pointing out several glaring inconsistencies – among them evidence that the FBI documents were typed on a typewriter, not a computer (the bureau hasn’t used typewriters for approximately thirty years) and, most tellingly, that Sabatino wasn’t in New York when Shakur was shot – the Times admitted its error. “I got duped,” Philips told the Associated Press, which is basically the journo-speak equivalent of “Oh shit. My Bad.”

There’s also the matter of potential litigation both from Diddy and Rosemond. In a statement, Rosemond’s attorney said the Times and Philips should “Print an apology and take out their checkbooks or brace themselves for an epic lawsuit.” Since the Times issued a formal apology within 21 days as required by law, any potential lawsuit would face an uphill batle, considering the strength of California’s media protections.

Perhaps most interesting is speculation on how this doozy of a boo-boo will impact the future of entertainment reporting and, specifically, coverage of rap and hip-hop. “Mainstream publications have been letting a lot of people who aren’t connected to hip-hop do major stories,” says author Adisa Banjoko. “Stories on Tupac, B.I.G., or any other dead rapper [are] seen as easy filler and hype for a boost in sales.”

From a mainstream media perspective, rap music is often associated with crime just like famine is associated with Ethiopia. High-profile incidents of violence involving rappers have long been fodder for newspapers, Internet sites, and TV news; sensationalistic, tabloid-style reporting has become par for the course. After with this latest blunder, the Times look like opportunists willing to print anything, as long as it draws traffic.

Meanwhile, Philips is starting to seem like a G-Funk version of the morally twisted paparazzo Danny DeVito played in L.A. Confidential. His past stories on the B.I.G. and Tupac killings were questioned by African-American journalists and hip-hop-identified outlets, yet his methodology largely remained sacrosanct despite these complaints. His 1999 Pulitzer for exposing corruption in the entertainment industry gave Philips a lot of credibility, but that now seems as dubious as the purported FBI case files Sabatino apparently wrote from behind bars.

This latest incident only renews suspicions about the veracity of Philips’ past work. In particular, Philips has been accused of deliberately misreporting key evidence in the 2005 wrongful death suit against the city of Los Angeles by B.I.G.’s mother, Violetta Wallace. He also claimed that B.I.G. paid a member of the Crips $1 million to kill Shakur in 1996 – which was denied by both Tupac and Biggie’s camps – and has drawn suspicion away from Suge Knight by discrediting ex-LAPD detective Russell Poole, whose investigation of B.I.G.’s 1997 murder led to a tangled web of corrupt cops, music industry gangstas, and city officials.

In 2005, Front Page magazine speculated that Philips was an apologist for Knight and Death Row Records: “By fingering two dead men … as Tupac’s killers, Philips’ story took the focus off Suge Knight, whom many believe had Tupac killed because Tupac planned to leave Death Row. Philips’ story also claimed that Biggie was later killed by the Crips for stiffing them – again taking the heat off prime suspect Suge Knight.”

Webmaster/journalist Davey D says he dismissed Chuck Philips a long time ago. “Now it’s beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s wrong and he was wrong in the past,” he says.

Perhaps, but to many hip-hop insiders, digging up Tupac’s 1994 shooting seemed like a red herring in the first place. At the end of the day, Davey D says, Philips’ stories “don’t really connect the dots in any kind of meaningful way.”

Still, he adds, “A lot of this stuff has run its course. … If you look at the top news that’s going on in hip-hop, it’s all arrests. … People are talking about Remy Ma crying in court. That’s what I’m hearing.”

The bottom line in the assassinations of Tupac and Biggie remains that both murders are still unsolved. If and when the truth is ever uncovered, it’s probably safe to say it won’t be the Times or Chuck Philips who’re responsible.

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

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Rap COINTELPRO XIII: MTV’s “Hip-Hop Cops: Is The NYPD At War With Hip-Hop?”

Cedric Muhammad

Cedric Muhammad

MTV should be commended for its recent look at something that we have been writing about for a couple of years – the surveillance of Hip-Hop artists by law enforcement. But the series doesn’t go far enough.

It has been a peculiarity, at least in our view, that the subject of law enforcement and Hip-Hop artists has been primarily reviewed from the prism of two major police departments – the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the New York Police Department (NYPD). Certainly there are logical and natural reasons for this. And for sure, any investigation of this subject should include those law enforcement officers and departments who have the most contact with artists at the local level. But the fact that the Notorious B.I.G.’s car was being followed by the FBI and ATF agents at the moment he was shot; the fact that the DEA was on the point of a major investigation of Rap-A-Lot Records and Hip-Hop legend Scarface (Read Our “Hip-Hop Fridays: Rap COINTELPRO Part IV: Congress Holds Hearings On DEA Rap-A-Lot Investigation”); the fact that the FBI and IRS were investigating Death Row Records at the height of the record label’s popularity and when Tupac Shakur was murdered; the fact that the FBI and IRS have been watching Puffy (P.Diddy) and Bad Boy Records’ business activities for at least 8 years; the fact that a government informant infiltrated the Wu-Tang Clan over two years ago and the ATF was offering convicts less time if they would implicate the group in gun-running (Read Our “Hip-Hop Fridays: Rap COINTELPRO Part II”); and the fact that federal law enforcement agencies are investigating the Murder Inc. record label right now and raided its offices recently should make it clear as to why we are not satisfied with any investigative report that makes the NYPD and/or the LAPD the end-all or be-all.

The problem isn’t MTV. They actually did a service and credible job exploring the context for how all of this mischief-making is possible and how the need for Hip-Hop-centered investigations is “plausible”, due to the cultural and socio-economic conditions and deleterious aspects of the Hip-Hop industry.

Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons

The problem is that for a variety of reasons activists, journalists, artists and executives can’t seem to accept the premise that what is happening is a continuation of COINTELPRO and not profiling or harassment. Many know that what is happening goes way above the power and influence of any local police department. But they are afraid to follow the trail all the way up. This was an important part of my recent conversation with Russell Simmons. Russell’s reticence in tackling the issue is understandable but until the Hip-Hop community learns the lessons of history and shakes its fear and state of denial, it is doomed to repeat the mistakes that others made before them in ignorance. Once the reality of RapCOINTELPRO is accepted for what it is then the appropriate political leaders can be pressured to hold hearings, write letters and obtain the files that would show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the United States Government, partly through the NYPD and LAPD is absolutely at war with Hip-Hop. And the rest of the members of civil society can confer on what actions should be taken. We have a lot of work to do in only a little bit of time.

The War on Street Gangs has been merged with a War On Drugs which has been merged with a War On Terrorism which will intensify with the war in Iraq. In all of this Hip-Hop will be framed as a primary force of sedition in America.

This is definitely one issue that separates the men and women from the boys and girls.

Cedric Muhammad
February 21, 2003

photo credit: Panther 1619

photo credit: Panther 1619

Here is the first portion of MTV’s report followed by a link to the subsequent portion(s) of the series:

One of the most hotly debated topics in the hip-hop world is the New York Police Department’s reported clampdown on the rap industry.

In the wake of high-profile investigations into the slaying of Jam Master Jay, the joint FBI-NYPD raids on the offices of Murder Inc., and the recent arrests of 50 Cent and Fabolous on weapons charges, the hip-hop community is abuzz with talk of an elite “hip-hop squad” or “rap task force” whose duties include tailing rappers’ vehicles and even monitoring their lyrics.

During a recent stint as a guest DJ on New York’s Hot 97, 50 Cent tauntingly shouted out the “hip-hop cops” that he claims follow him everywhere. But does such a task force targeting rappers really exist?

No, insists the NYPD.

“There is no such thing,” said Detective Walter Burns, a senior NYPD spokesperson. “We have no hip-hop task force, no hip-hop unit, no hip-hop patrol.”

Police point out that when they do create task forces, like the Terrorism Task Force or the Hate Crimes Task Force, one of their purposes is to let the public know they’re making an extra effort to stop crime. “If we did have a hip-hop task force,” another NYPD spokesperson said, “we wouldn’t deny it. We’d want to tell you that it exists.”

But many artists aren’t buying it.

“It’s definitely a task force,” Fat Joe said. “You go to hip-hop spots now and they ain’t just your normal walking-the-beat cops. There’s cops out there in undercover cars like they know something we don’t know. Like bin Laden’s in the club, B.”

“It’s just a thing where it’s targeting hip-hop,” Fabolous said. “I don’t think you should target something. If it’s a problem, you go handle the problem, that’s what cops are for. They are there to protect and serve. They’re not there to make a problem.”

Hip-hop Web sites liken the current situation to the once-secret FBI surveillance of African-American leaders and civil rights activists in the 1960s. Many rappers claim to have first-hand knowledge of the elite task force’s existence, and some say they’ve even seen confidential NYPD Intelligence Division documents containing information on rappers’ places of residence and vehicles.

“It’s called the Entertainment Task Force,” Keith Murray said. “They watch you as far as on the streets, and they watch you as far as monetary operations, taxes, who’s paying who what, where you getting money from. They got they scope on rappers right now.”

Pressed on his source for the existence of this task force, Murray said, “I’ve read numerous things on it and I’m seeing it come to fruition.”

The story of a hip-hop unit within the NYPD has been widely disseminated by major news organizations, and such reports have led to accusations of “rapper profiling” and civil rights infringement. But police spokespeople as well as other sources within the force say it’s simply not true. “We don’t target rappers,” Burns said. “The NYPD investigates crimes.”

Perhaps it’s a sense of self-mythologizing – all the Italian-gangster wannabes populating the ranks of the hip-hop game – that leads some rappers to feel they’re constantly under surveillance. Just how did they think law enforcement was going to react to artists who take on the surnames of crime kingpins like Gotti and Capone and Gambino?

Lieutenant Tony Mazziotti, a retired 28-year veteran who oversaw investigations of actual gangsters – major racketeers in the Gambino and Genovese crime families – said: “With the rappers, I think it’s this sense that, ‘Hey, we’re worthy of being investigated. That means we’re for real.’ ”

But what’s actually for real, one retired NYPD detective insists, is that there is a rap-related unit within the police force. What’s more, he said, he’s the cop who created it.

“I was the one who started the whole thing,” Derrick Parker revealed to MTV News. “The unit was created in ’98. … When Biggie was buried here in New York, there was a lot of concern, there were a lot of threats made. The chief [of the department] wanted me to run this entire investigation for him and to report to him.”

Parker said that for more than four years he gathered intelligence on the rap community, compiled files, went to nightclubs and interviewed rappers who were jammed up in criminal cases. Pressed on the exact name for the entity he created, Parker said, “It’s not called the hip-hop unit, it’s really just under Gang Intel.”

www.mtv.com/bands/t/task_…dex2.jhtml

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, February 21, 2003
www.blackelectorate.com/a…asp?ID=810

Rap COINTELPRO PtVII: The VH1 Biggie Documentary

cedricmuhammed2

Cedric Muhammad

To those who have been following our RapCOINTELPRO series, it should not have come as any surprise the direction taken and innuendo dropped during the VH1 documentary, aired last Sunday, on the Notorious B.I.G.

Basically, the documentary was the video version of the Rolling Stone article that we wrote about in part 6 of this series, where the murder of Biggie was concerned. We won’t revisit our numerous questions regarding the Rolling Stones article, which you can review via our search feature, except to emphasize one very important point.

That point is: Why are VH 1, Rolling Stone Magazine and the primary source of information, former LAPD detective Russell Poole, not focusing their investigation at the scene of the crime? We have spoken to some of our BlackElectorate.com viewers, individuals who work in law-enforcement, who totally agree with our assessment that it makes absolutely no sense to center an investigation into Biggie’s murder around who attended the party that he was at before he was murdered. This is especially true since it is a known fact by the LAPD, Rolling Stone magazine and members of the mainstream and Hip-Hop media that at the very moment that Biggie was murdered, he and Puffy’s vehicles were being trailed by federal agents and members of the NYPD. Russell Poole knows this as well. Why didn’t VH1 spend even as a little as one second on that fact?

Members of Biggie’s entourage were shown photographs of vehicles trailing their cars by law enforcement officers and were shocked to know that at the time of Biggie’s murder they were being followed by federal agents and undercover cops. None of this was explored during the documentary.

Instead, VH 1 worked, even harder than Rolling Stone reporter Randall Sullivan to link Amir Muhammad and David Mack to the murder of Biggie. But their presentation was so weak. All they could muster was that someone saw both of the men at the party before Biggie was murdered. That is all.

And more importantly, VH 1, like Rolling Stone, did not mention the fact that an L.A. Times reporter and Brill’s Content magazine impressively argued against the Amir Muhammad theory last year. We wrote about that as well in our series.

The Hip-Hop community should really be pondering some serious questions in light of this VH1 documentary. Here are a few just for starters:

Notorious BIG orange1) Why has it taken VH 1 5 years to do a documentary on Biggie? Why now?

2) Isn’t there something peculiar about the fact that the Rolling Stone Magazine issue that centers on the murder of Biggie has the enormously popular WWF superstar, the Rock, on the cover? The Rock is incredibly popular among Black and Latino youth and the Hip-Hop generation as well as several rappers. Those who are familiar with COINTELPRO should know that all types of work went into positioning and marketing planted articles. It is obvious that the Rock on the cover, just below the bold headline about Biggie’s murder was designed to attract the attention of a slew of Hip-Hop fans.

3) Why is all of this attention into Biggie’s murder, which feverishly works to implicate Suge Knight, dropping in the public only months before the scheduled release of Suge from jail? Does the LAPD, NYPD, FBI and ATF, all of whom had Death Row and Bad Boy under surveillance over the last 6 years have something planned upon Suge Knight’s release? Are they deliberately creating an atmosphere, at least, that will result in harm being done to Suge, in the name of a rap feud?

Maybe the saddest thing about all of this is that now the grief of Biggie’s beautiful mother, is being used to provide a boost to the theories offered by Rolling Stone and VH 1.

It is obvious that the NYPD and federal government, who were following Biggie, the night he was murdered, are being “protected” by the angle offered by Russel Poole, VH 1 and Rolling Stone magazine. Their hand is being hidden. It is as if the LAPD and Death Row are being used as a buffer to keep people from following a trail that leads back to New York City and the FBI and ATF. Why?

Hopefully, we will lean the lessons of history so that we don’t have to repeat them.

http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=363

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, July 13, 2001