Chauncey Bailey Project

Commentary: The Chauncey Bailey Project

Publisher to ask for support from international community of journalists.


By Bruce B. Brugmann, San Francisco Bay Guardian

Just as the Chauncey Bailey Project makes its presence known in Oakland and in the U.S. media, I am off to Miami for an assembly of the InterAmerican Press Association (IAPA), the international free press association for the Americas.

For years, the hardy U.S. journalistic souls who are members of IAPA have helped do resolutions, go on free press missions throughout the Americas, and support impunity projects to investigate the murders of journalists and turn the evidence over to prosecutors and then push for successful prosecutions.

This year, for the first time, I will be pushing the IAPA for help on the deaths of two U.S. journalists who were killed in the line of duty. The first is Brad Will, the New York video journalist who filmed his own assassination last fall while filming violent demonstrations in Oaxaca province in Mexico. The second is Chauncey Bailey, the Oakland editor who was gunned down in August on his way to work at the Oakland Post by a man wearing a ski mask.

The good news is that an impressive array of journalists, news organizations, and journalism schools have come together to form the Chauncey Bailey Project and to take on the job of finishing his reporting on the suspicious activities of the Your Black Muslim Bakery. This coalition has already had some success. The San Francisco Chronicle was asked to join the project, but declined and said that it preferred to do its own reporting.
And so, for the last four days, anticipating the project’s investigative reports, the Chronicle has rolled out extensive and detailed front page stories on the murder.

The investigative team plans to go further and deeper and research the activities of the Bey family empire, which operates the bakery, and their thuggish operations for the past two decades and the protection they have gotten from the Oakland political establishment. “This is a unique collaboration and we hope our work goes beyond Bailey’s murder and reveals broader issues that impact the lives of Oakland’s citizens,” said Robert J. Rosenthal, editorial coordinator for the project and former managing editor of the Chronicle.

This amounts to an unprecedented collaboration among competing news organizations and promises to be the largest collective journalistic project since the Arizona Project was formed 31 years ago following the murder of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles for his reporting on the tangled Arizona underworld.

The resulting collaboration and story led to the formation of the group called Investigative Reporters and Editors. But significantly, the Arizona Republic in Phoenix didn’t run the story and a Tucson daily was the only daily in the state to run the story. The New Times, the local Phoenix alternative paper, ran the story, as did the Guardian in San Francisco. The story was widely run in other papers throughout the country.

This time around in Oakland, the hometown media stand fully and publicly behind the Bailey project. “We cannot stand for a reporter to be murdered while working on behalf of the public,” vowed Dori J. Maynard, president and CEO of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education in Oakland. “Chauncey’s death is a threat to democracy; journalists will not be intimidated. This type of crime casts a chilling effect over our community. We will not be bullied. We have to prove that there is no gain, and hell to pay, when the very structure of society is challenged.”

Moreover, Maynard said that the team would ensure that “Chauncey did not die in vain.”

Pete Wevurski, executive editor of the Oakland Tribune, said, “I’m happy that the Oakland Tribune, and our Bay Area News Group-East Bay partners the Contra Costa Times and San Jose Mercury News, are involved in this noble effort and extremely pleased that the Tribune has been able to take a lead role.” Wevurski is also managing editor of BANG-EB. “Chauncey Bailey was a colleague and friend to many of us, and we want to honor his work and our profession by picking up the standard that fell the morning he was assassinated. I’m extremely gratified by the numbers and caliber of journalists who have joined the coalition, and I’m astounded by the work they are turning in already.

“The project is essential to Oakland and essential to us as journalists who wish to emphasize the point that you can kill the messenger, but the message is still going to get through. Based on this alone, I believe this will be the most important work any of us have ever done and ever will do.” Let me add, as an occasional critic of Dean Singleton, owner of the MediaNews Group, that this project may be the most important work that he or any of his papers have ever done or will do. I congratulate him for allowing his troops to plow forward on a tough story where everyone involved knows how high the stakes are.

The coalition’s message is profound and dramatic: You can’t kill a journalist, in the Bay Area, in California, in the United States, and get away with it. Because the best reporters and editors and news organizations in the area are going to go after you and see that the story is told and justice is done.

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