L.A. Times Responds to Biggie Story

By |

To the editor:

Randall Sullivan's claim that The Los Angeles Times tried to keep the lid on evidence implicating rogue police officers in the murder of Notorious B.I.G. lacks any foundation in fact [see The Unsolved Mystery of the Notorious B.I.G.]. The main elements of the murder-conspiracy theory Sullivan expounds were first reported in the Times — the same Times he now accuses of trying to bury the truth.

Consider just one article from the newspaper's extensive coverage of the B.I.G. case, one published Dec. 9, 1999, on Page One, under the headline: "Ex-LAPD officer is suspect in rapper's slaying." The article said police were investigating allegations that David Mack, a corrupt ex-cop, conspired with rap entrepreneur Marion "Suge" Knight to have Biggie killed, and that Mack's friend Amir Muhammad pulled the trigger.

Among the supporting details: Mack's black Impala resembled the getaway car; Muhammad looked like a composite sketch of B.I.G.'s assassin; a witness placed Mack at the scene as well; detectives found a shrine to the late Tupac Shakur in Mack's apartment; and much more. The Times was the first to report this information. When subsequent developments cast doubt on the conspiracy theory, the Times wrote about those as well. But Sullivan makes no mention of the original articles, even as he parrots their contents (without acknowledgment). In so doing, he forfeits any claim to be taken seriously.

There is no point detailing all of Sullivan's factual errors and false accusations. Two examples suffice to expose his shoddy tactics. He faults the Times for overlooking "many details about Muhammad," and cites one: Muhammad's 1998 arrest on a misdemeanor weapons charge. The Times "overlooked" this incident because it was not known at the time to police or to the newspaper — or to Sullivan, whose 2002 book LAbyrinth, makes no mention of it. Muhammad gave police an alias and a fake birth date and driver's license. Neither police nor the courts picked up on the deception till long afterward. Sullivan also tries to debunk Chuck Philips' September 2002 article in the Times that said B.I.G. had helped plot the shooting of Shakur, his bitter rival, in Las Vegas in 1996. Sullivan writes that the piece relied entirely on two named sources. In fact, as Philips' article made clear, he drew on multiple sources, including gang members who witnessed the shooting and one who helped plan it. Their identities, for obvious reasons, could not be revealed. Sullivan also claims that the Times "was forced" to publish a follow-up article acknowledging evidence that placed Biggie in New York at the time of the shooting. The "evidence" Sullivan refers to did not prove B.I.G.'s presence in New York, and the Times published the story under no compulsion whatever, other than its desire to print the reactions of B.I.G.'s associates and family members.

Philips' story has withstood all challenges to its accuracy, including Sullivan's. It remains the definitive account of the Shakur slaying.

Sincerely,
Marc Duvoisin
Assistant Managing Editor
The Los Angeles Times



Sullivan Replies:

It's irritating to have to waste time defending myself against ridiculous accusations when the real issue is the dishonest reporting of The Los Angeles Times. But, for the record, I did acknowledge the 1999 article Mr. Duvoisin cites, first in my book LAbyrinth, and again in the article I submitted to Rolling Stone. [Editors note: This citation was cut for space from the final article.] That L.A. Times article, by the way, was described by its primary source, former LAPD Detective Russell Poole, as "fucked up." Poole made it pretty clear that he thinks differently of my work.

What's actually important here, though, is the manner in which the Times undercut its single attempt to report on Poole's theory of the case: With an article (by Chuck Philips) that was one of the worst reported news stories I've ever read, riddled with factual omissions, and failing to address any of the questions raised by Det. Poole. The LAPD most definitely did know about Amir Muhammad's 1998 arrest for allegedly pulling up alongside an SUV in a black sedan and pointing a gun at the two people inside: in fact, a detective who has testified under oath that he met on numerous occasions with Chuck Philips to discuss this case was the one who investigated the incident for the LAPD. Obviously the Times "overlooked" this incident; they have never reported it.

The Times 2002 article that implicated B.I.G. in the murder of Tupac Shakur was as reckless a piece of reporting as I'm aware of by a major American newspaper. I did not write that the Times relied entirely on two named sources, but merely that only two sources were named in the article. In fact, neither of these two individuals were the source of the claim that B.I.G. paid gang members to murder Tupac; that information came entirely from an anonymous Crip whose claims are so obviously dubious that to rely on them in even a limited sense was questionable, and to make them the sole basis of such a sensational story was utterly irresponsible.

Prior to my recent article's publication, I spent hours on the telephone with Duvoisin and Philips, in what they insisted must be "off-the-record" conversations about their sourcing for the articles in question. Their demand for confidentiality had nothing to do with protecting sources, and everything to do with protecting themselves from the humiliation of having their shoddy work made public. Duvoisin's claim that B.I.G.'s estate has failed to establish his "presence in New York" at the time of Tupac's murder is especially outrageous. It isn't up to the Wallace family to prove anything — that responsibility lies entirely with the L.A. Times, which made the claims that are in dispute. In the more than three years since that article ran, the Times has not produced a single witness or a shred of evidence to suggest that B.I.G. was even in Las Vegas, let alone involved in Tupac's slaying. Marc Duvoisin's efforts to convince me this wasn't necessary were so pathetic that it embarrasses me to remember them.

I'm hardly the only or even the harshest critic of the L.A. Times' reporting on the Rampart investigation and the Notorious B.I.G. murder. The lead attorney for the Wallace estate, in its lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles, has described the newspaper as "a co-conspirator in the cover-up." In the short time since my critique of the Times appeared in Rolling Stone, those observations have been echoed by numerous Los Angeles-based bloggers and Web reporters, most of them overjoyed that a national publication has finally spoken out about this. Many of those writers have described the relentless distortion of the facts by the Times' as a "scandal." I think that's an appropriate word.

Randall Sullivan

x