The Los Angeles Times has apologized for a recent story that it says was partly based on fake documents. The story quoted records obtained from the FBI as saying that associates of rap producer Sean “Diddy” Combs set up the murder of Tupac Shakur. But the paper’s editor, Russ Stanton, now says the documents appear to have been fabricated.
We published this story with the sincere belief that the documents were genuine, but our good intentions are beside the point. 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 fraud was unmasked by the Smoking Gun Web site, which said the documents seemed to be phony, in part, because they looked like they were written on a typewriter, not a computer, something that wouldn’t have happened in 2002. Does this sound familiar? It should. In 2004, CBS News relied on apparently fake documents for a 60 Minutes story about President Bush that eventually led to the departure of anchor Dan Rather.
These incidents make clear that journalists need to do to more to authenticate documents before broadcasting or airing stories based on them. And the LA Times report raises another concern. As of this morning, the original story was still online with no indication that it’s wrong or that the paper has apologized. It’s since been taken down. In today’s media world, a corrections policy that doesn’t cover the Web immediately is inadequate, to say the least. [NOTE: An earlier version of this entry appeared to suggest the murder was in 2002, when in fact it happened in 1996. The bogus records were obtained in connection with a 2002 lawsuit. We regret any confusion and have changed the entry to clarify.]
UPDATE: The Times retracted the story over the weekend [April 7, 2008]. The newspaper says it has concluded that the “FBI reports” it relied on were fabricated and other sources used did not support the story.