The letter to which Mr. Will is responding is pasted at the end of this post. Here is Howard’s response:
Dear Mr. _____:
Thanks for writing. Unfortunately you, and the writer to whom you refer, have your facts seriously wrong about the Jena story and how it came to national attention.
I am aware of the Jason Whitlock article you reference; he has written several columns attempting to knock down the Jena story and expose “truths” he says the media have overlooked or distorted. In fact, Whitlock called me last week as he was preparing his most recent column, to confirm whether it was true that Alan Bean, a civil rights activist in Texas, was the person who put me on to the story. It is indeed true; in fact, I have quoted Bean in several of the stories I have written about the Jena case and credited him with uncovering it.
But Bean is scarcely a “race opportunist.” He’s an ordained Baptist preacher who runs a small civil rights group called Friends of Justice in Dallas. He specializes in scrutinizing the justice system for evidence of discrimination, particularly in small towns where abuses are often hidden. Before the Jena case, he made his name by exposing the infamous Tulia, Texas, drug scandal several years ago, in which corrupt police and prosecutors framed a number of black citizens for drug offenses.
Bean did not “spoon-feed” me this story, and Whitlock’s aspersions about me and Bean are utterly insulting. Bean spent more than a month on the ground in Jena investigating the case and then, after having read another of my stories about a controversial civil rights case, contacted me to suggest I take a look at what was happening in Jena.
In other words, Bean was a source for this story in the same way that many other lawyers, civil rights activists and ordinary citizens are sometimes sources for my stories, bringing to my attention situations that they believe merit media attention. Sometimes those tips bear fruit and turn out to be accurate, and sometimes they do not withstand further scrutiny. The process of receiving information and checking it out is called journalism.
Everything Bean told me-and much more that he did not-I verified during three weeks of careful reporting last April and May. I interviewed more than two dozen people-black and white-and visited Jena for three days. I reviewed court records and interviewed several of the Jena 6 families, as well as other black leaders in the town. I spoke with lawyers and civil rights investigators. I interviewed every relevant Jena official who would speak with me, including the mayor, the school superintendent, the deputy sheriff, a school board member and several teachers at the high school. Unfortunately, some of the main players in this story, including District Attorney Reed Walters and the family of Justin Barker (the white student who was beaten), declined my repeated requests for an interview.
The results of that reporting appeared in my first story about Jena, published on May 20. This was the first national story about the case and set in motion much of the coverage that followed. I recommend that story to your attention — it can be found, along with all my other coverage of the case, at www.chicagotribune.com/jena <http://www.chicagotribune.com/jena>.
It is true that some Jena officials and other town residents in recent days have begun to alter their versions of what happened in the town last year, in an attempt to spin the story more in their favor. That revisionist history is what Jason Whitlock, and a lot of white supremacist websites, are relying upon to allege that the media is somehow twisting the Jena story. I can’t speak for the rest of the media coverage, but I can tell you that I stand by all of my reporting as an accurate and truthful reflection of the interviews I conducted and the facts I gathered.
FYI- your name is mentioned in this story in the Kansas publication http://www.kansascity.com/sports/columnists/jason_whitlock/story/296701.html
This reporter says you were fed the Jena 6 story by a so-called race opportunist, Alan Bean. Bean told this reporter he warned Jena officials he would bring the media to town if Walters didn’t back down. Bean was put in touch with the Jena 6 parents and then published a 5,400-word narrative titled “The Making of a Myth in Jena, Louisiana” and a 2,400-word, media-friendly narrative titled “Responding to the Crisis in Jena, Louisiana.”
Been then “spoonfed” his story to BBC and Howard Witt. This reporter also writes that the facts commonly reported in the mainstream press, which includes the Tribune, have been distorted or conveniently left out, leaving an impression that blacks in Jena were clearly discriminated against. If there is some truth here, and I have read elsewhere the points made in this column are accurate, then your stories about Jena 6 are either sloppy or biased or both.
Bean says he contacted you about Jena 6 and then you wrote a story in May. Is that true? Was the Tribune the first large daily to break this story? What kind of relationship do you have with Bean, and how much do you rely on him? Have you written stories where you used Bean as a contact or a source?
Dan Rather got in hot water for relying on an opportunist source. You do great and unimaginable public harm when you distort or leave out pertinent facts to a story, especially on the topic of race. Those poor people in Jena now have to pick up the pieces left from the media circus storm.
If any of this is true, shame on you.