BOB GARFIELD: Chauncey Bailey was something rare, an American journalist killed as a result of his reporting here in America. Bailey was investigating possible criminal activity at an open California business called Your Black Muslim Bakery when he was gunned down in broad daylight on August 2nd, 2007. His murder attracted the attention of Bay Area journalists, erstwhile competitors who joined forces to form the Chauncey Bailey Project and to continue his investigation. In the course of that work, they helped reveal shady dealings in the Oakland Police Department’s handling of Bailey’s murder case, which led, at least in part, to the resignation this weekend of Oakland’s chief of police. We spoke to Robert Rosenthal, executive editor of the project as the collaboration was getting off the ground. When we called him this week, he told us that it had become increasingly clear that Bailey’s murder wasn't the work of a lone gunman.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: The key to this story really was the sense that everybody believed that this was not simply an isolated act. One man was charged very soon after the killing, and he had been a low-level member of the bakery, and it just did not make any sense. So the reporting really started looking at the actual police investigation. And over time, the reporters developed great sourcing, and some of the key breaks were the obtaining of a secretly recorded police video of members of the bakery, including its leader, Yusuf Bey IV, where he is boasting and joking about the killing of Bailey and alludes to being protected by certain police officers.
BOB GARFIELD: You discovered, among many other things, that the detective responsible for the investigation had a relationship with Yusuf Bey IV.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: We reported that. The Chronicle also reported that at some point. And the police response to that has then been that you develop sources and relationships with people in the community who may be involved in misdeeds, and Bey has been charged with other crimes. But there’s no question that there was a relationship that certainly raised, from the very outset, I would think, from the police department’s perspective, a potential of conflict of interest at the minimum.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, one of the ironies of this story is that Chauncey Bailey, while he may be a martyr, was nobody’s idea of Bob Woodward. And one of the reasons his story really never made a big splash was that he did not necessarily do a thorough job of reporting it, to begin with. Only after his death have, you know, the big guns come in to do the story that he could never quite pull off. Am I being unfair to his memory here?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: No. Chauncey Bailey was a longtime Oakland journalist, a TV personality, worked for The Oakland Tribune. And at the time of his killing he was the editor of The Oakland Post, a African-American newspaper. What Chauncey was, was a great community journalist. In other words, he really knew the community. He wrote stories about the community. He was a personality. People came to him. And he frequently would challenge those in power, and he did annoy [LAUGHS] a lot of people sometimes by asking very difficult questions. But he does not have a body of work that would reflect a great investigative reporter. To be candid, one of the things that surprised me when Chauncey was murdered was that there wasn't more outreach from other news organizations across the United States. I think part of it would be a couple of things, one, the huge pressure on newsrooms throughout the United States during this period as they downsized, and also the fact that Chauncey was a minority journalist who worked for a minority newspaper, and he was not a high-profile guy nationally.
BOB GARFIELD: But the reporting cannot have been easy. After all, Bailey was murdered. There were security issues attached to trying to dig into this story of murder and corruption. How did you protect the people who were working on this and their sources?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: One of the first discussions we had is that this was dangerous potentially. A journalist had just been gunned down, in broad daylight, I mean, targeted and killed. We discussed that, and we basically said that if anybody was concerned about their safety they shouldn't be part of this. We did things like making sure that nobody ever did key or difficult interviews alone. We had phone networks set up where you'd come out of certain interviews and we'd make sure there was a phone check. We always knew where someone was. So we did take precautions you would not normally take. But thankfully we've done a very good job, and everybody’s in good shape.
BOB GARFIELD: So, in preparing for this conversation, Robert, I had an idea. What if journalists all around the world, where it is very dangerous to do this kind of inquiry, knew that someone would step in, that institutionally there were a SWAT team where you can file your notes and your sources and scans of documents, and so forth, to be opened only in the event of your arrest or death, whereupon the resources of [LAUGHS] organizations exactly like yours could be unleashed, so that that death would not be entirely in vain?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: I think it’s a very good idea. You know, in this country it’s a shock; I mean, there hadn't been a journalist murdered in almost 15 years. There was the famous case of Don Bolles in 1977. But globally, journalists are among the first to be targeted, either by corrupt politicians, government forces, police organizations and criminal gangs because of the work they're doing, disclosing the truth.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, apart from creating some sort of backup plan for all investigative journalists everywhere, what else has this taught us about collaboration, especially in a world where individual media organizations are shrinking by the day?
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: It was difficult. It was chaotic. You had competing news organizations, but there was a common goal which journalists are always going to aim for, which is the story they wanted to get done. And I think now in this day and age, as every newsroom in the country is getting smaller, collaboration is really going to be essential to the future. And it’s a new cultural value because journalists tend to really want to hold onto their own story. But I think the end results here have really shown that collaboration can be a very powerful tool.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, Robert. Well, all best of luck. Thanks so much.
ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD: Robert Rosenthal is the executive director for the Center for Investigative Reporting and the executive editor of the Chauncey Bailey Project.
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