A Los Angeles Times story about a brutal 1994 attack on rap superstar Tupac Shakur was partially based on documents that appear to have been fabricated, the reporter and editor responsible for the story said Wednesday.
Tupac Shakur: An article in Thursday's Section A on The Times' plan to investigate its March 17 report on rapper Tupac Shakur gave the wrong first name for the lawyer for rap talent manager James Rosemond. He is Jeffrey Lichtman, not Marc.
Reporter Chuck Philips and his supervisor, Deputy Managing Editor Marc Duvoisin, issued statements of apology Wednesday afternoon. The statements came after The Times took withering criticism for the Shakur article, which appeared on latimes.com last week and two days later in the paper's Calendar section.
The criticism came first from The Smoking Gun website, which said the newspaper had been the victim of a hoax, and then from subjects of the story, who said they had been defamed.
"In relying on documents that I now believe were fake, I failed to do my job," Philips said in a statement Wednesday. "I'm sorry."
In his statement, Duvoisin added: "We should not have let ourselves be fooled. That we were is as much my fault as Chuck's. I deeply regret that we let our readers down."
Times Editor Russ Stanton announced that the newspaper would launch an internal review of the documents and the reporting surrounding the story. Stanton said he took the criticisms of the March 17 report "very seriously."
"We published this story with the sincere belief that the documents were genuine, but our good intentions are beside the point," Stanton said in a statement.
"The bottom line is that the documents we relied on should not have been used. We apologize both to our readers and to those referenced in the documents and, as a result, in the story. We are continuing to investigate this matter and will fulfill our journalistic responsibility for critical self-examination."
The story first appeared March 17 on latimes.com under the headline "An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War." The article described a Nov. 30, 1994, ambush at Quad Recording Studios in New York, where the rap singer was pistol-whipped and shot several times by three men. No one has been charged in the crime, but before his death two years later, Shakur said repeatedly that he suspected allies of rap impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs.
The assault touched off a bicoastal war between Shakur and fellow adherents of West Coast rap and their East Coast rivals, most famously represented by Christopher Wallace, better known as Notorious B.I.G. Both Shakur and Wallace ultimately died violently.
The Times story said the paper had obtained "FBI records" in which a confidential informant accused two men of helping to set up the attack on Shakur -- James Rosemond, a prominent rap talent manager, and James Sabatino, identified in the story as a promoter. The story said the two allegedly wanted to curry favor with Combs and believed Shakur had disrespected them.
The purported FBI records are the documents Philips and Duvoisin now believe were faked.
The story provoked vehement denials from lawyers for Combs and Rosemond, both before and after publication.
Rosemond said in a statement Wednesday that the Times article created "a potentially violent climate in the hip-hop community." His attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, added: "I would suggest to Mr. Philips and his editors that they immediately print an apology and take out their checkbooks -- or brace themselves for an epic lawsuit."
Although The Times has not identified the source of the purported FBI reports, The Smoking Gun (www.the smokinggun.com) asserted that the documents were forged by Sabatino. The website identified him as a convicted con man with a history of elaborate fantasies designed to exaggerate his place in the rap music firmament. He is currently in federal prison on fraud charges.
"The Times appears to have been hoaxed by an imprisoned con man and accomplished document forger, an audacious swindler who has created a fantasy world in which he managed hip-hop luminaries," the Smoking Gun reported.
Combs' lawyer Howard Weitzman, in a letter to Times Publisher David Hiller, called the story inaccurate. He expanded an earlier demand for a retraction and said he believed that The Times' conduct met the legal standard for "actual malice," which would allow a public figure such as Combs to obtain damages in a libel suit.