Leading Journalist Killed over Investigative Report

Chauncey Bailey, editor of the Oakland Post, was recently killed in broad daylight on his way to work. A man with ties to a subject of Bailey's reporting has allegedly confessed to the murder. Oakland Post Publisher Paul Cobb and Martin Reynolds of the Oakland Tribune discuss the incident and remember Bailey.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program, we'll remember pioneering civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill who died this weekend, and Jamaica's independence day with music we Heard on the Street.

But first, we want to tell you about an American journalist who was killed on the streets of his own hometown for doing his job.

Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey was gunned down in broad daylight on his way to work in Oakland, California, last Thursday. A day later, authorities arrested 19-year-old Devaughdre Broussard, a some-time worker at Your Black Muslim Bakery, an eatery with a controversial history.

Broussard, who according to several news accounts has confessed to the crime, was apparently angry about Bailey's coverage of the bakery and his plans to investigate the bakery's finances. Bailey has the tragic distinction of being the first U.S. journalist killed in this country because of his or her reporting since 1993.

Joining us to remember Chauncey Bailey is Oakland Post publisher Paul Cobb. Also with us is Martin Reynolds, managing editor of the Oakland Tribune, where Bailey formerly worked.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us.

Mr. MARTIN REYNOLDS (Managing Editor, Oakland Tribune): Thank you.

MARTIN: And I should say our condolences to both of you on the loss of this valued colleague. Mr. Reynolds, if I could start with you, you knew Chauncey Bailey for several years. What were his strengths as a journalist?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Yes, that's true. And Chauncey was - I was his editor and also colleague at the Oakland Tribune. And he was, you know, a really good guy, a dogged journalist, someone who care very deeply about covering the community of Oakland. And it's really a tragedy that someone like Chauncey would be killed for the great work that they do. And it's quite upsetting.

MARTIN: Paul Cobb, he had just recently been named editor of the Oakland Post, correct?

Mr. PAUL COBB (Publisher, Oakland Post): Yes, that is correct.

MARTIN: And why did you select him for this job?

Mr. COBB: Well, Chauncey, in a sense, has always been the editor of the Oakland Post since he left the Tribune. He was the travel editor, and he was also - and provided editorial content for several other African-American news outlets. And so eventually, he decided that he would accept. I had been trying to get him to be the editor for the two and a half years he worked with us at the Post.

MARTIN: And when you first heard that he had been killed, what went through your mind? Did it ever occur to you that it was because of his reporting?

Mr. COBB: No. I could not believe it. I thought it was a cruel joke that someone was playing on me. I was supposed to have him 15 minutes later at the office or 30 minutes later, something like that. And the police called to ask for his next-of-kin information about a Post employee. And they asked me, did I know Chauncey Bailey. And I said, yes. He's probably there covering the accident for us. They said no. He would not be covering it because he was the victim. And I couldn't believe it. I thought it was a joke. And I - and after the police officer insisted, I was speechless. And I am - all kind of things went through my mind, like, I couldn't understand why such a sincere journalist…

MARTIN: That would have been a very sick joke, I think, if someone would have played on - had he expressed any concern to you while he was gathering information for this story on Your Black Muslim Bakery that he - had he…

Mr. COBB: Yes.

MARTIN: …expressed any fear, yeah? Mr. Cobb?

Mr. COBB: Yeah.

MARTIN: Had he expressed any concern for his safety? Or just any concern in general while he was reporting this story?

Mr. COBB: Well, we always express concern. He and I had received threats on several stories, several things that we were working on, and that's par for the course. All journalists receive hate mail and threatening phone calls, and sometimes office visits like we experienced.

But we did not talk anymore about that specific situation, so it was in the back of my mind. There was no story run. So that's why when he was killed, the thought of connecting the Muslim bakery to his death was farthest from my mind, because no story had run in our paper.

MARTIN: Could you talk to me a little bit about this establishment? It's my understanding that it - despite that title, it's not believe to be tied to the Nation of Islam, sort of a national organization, though, as I understand it that the founder, Yusuf Bey, shared some of the beliefs of the group from awhile ago, from, say, a generation ago - some sort of interesting, you know, ideas about, you know, theology and so forth. But that it was founded by somebody named Yusuf Bey in 1968, but it has sort of a checkered history in the community. Is that about right?

Mr. COBB: Mart, do you want to take that?

MARTIN: I think, mister - I think, Paul, I need you to stick with us for a couple of minutes. I think we're having a little trouble with Mr. Reynolds' line. So, but tell me about the nature of inquiry. Is it that - mm-hmm.

Mr. COBB: I'm glad you asked that question, because I think that's an important question that we as journalists should help make - to help educate the entire world, because this story has attracted global attention. And that is to confuse - we don't want to confuse the organization of the black Muslims of America with Farrakhan or Wallace, Muhammad's group with this group.

This group is sort of an offshoot. It is not a part of that national religious group. And when we used the phrase black Muslims, it's a sweeping term where, a lot of times, I think it's unfair and unfortunate. And we should make an effort to draw the distinction so that there is no confusion, which I think could add to even more problems if we leave it left unsaid or unclarified.

MARTIN: Mr. Reynolds, I was asking Mr. Cobb about the - Your Black Muslim Bakery, and he was making the point that it's not connected to the Nation of Islam. But it has a fairly checkered history in the community as I understand it. The founder had - was awaiting trial apparently on child abuse charges at the time of his death from cancer in 2003. And it's just - tell me about the place.

Mr. REYNOLDS: Well, yeah. It's definitely had a checkered past. And, you know, obviously, it was founded in 1968. And it was really based on, you know, some very good things at the time, and it was, I think, regarded very well in the community. But since then, Bey was charged with 27 counts - and this is Yusuf Bey, the founder was charged with 27 counts of molestation and was on trial at the time of his death for cancer for one count of those.

And since then, it's sort of deteriorated to sort of a power struggle, if you will, with some of the Bey sons, which some of which are not biological sons, but they sort of had become his son at some point when they reached some sort of status in the organization - and would connect it to them an assault on liquor stores in West Oakland, force - the owners selling alcohol, there's assaults. They were wanted (unintelligible) for kidnappings, assaults and potentially even some more serious crimes.

MARTIN: The last journalist to be murdered because of his or her ties to work was over 14 years ago in this country. This was a Miami-based journalist who was born in Haiti, who was reporting on issues connected to the Haitian community. In this country, it's very unusual for journalists to be killed because of their work. And generally, it has been journalists who are reporting - who are from countries with a history of political violence, and essentially, the violence has followed them here. Is either of you worried that this is part of - that this is not an isolated incident? That this will become, you know, viral? That people - as Mr. Cobb pointed out, that journalists are used to getting, you know, hate mail and things of that sort, But are you worried that this is not isolated? Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Cobb? Mr. Reynolds, won't you start?

We seem to be having trouble with your line. So Mr. Cobb, if you would take that question.

Mr. COBB: You said am I worried that this is not isolated?

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. COBB: Of course, we all hope that this is isolated. And I'm sure there will be a lot of speculations and a lot of recriminations and finger pointing and all kinds of things. I hope that we can learn from this that, you know, ironically, I - when I was looking at his desk, Chauncey Bailey's desk, after he was gone, right above his computer on the wall was this photograph of him and the leader of The Nation of Islam at a rally on anti-violence. And how he was, in the process, of getting a series of articles of community-based groups who had solutions or who were dedicated to fighting violence and approaching young people and other community organizations with mediation, solutions, employment opportunities and educational focus - all the things as an antidote. That's what's so tragic about it.

And that's what I think is the opportunity for us in the media to carry on his legacy, to focus on the solutioning and to be advocates for ways to turn this around. As my friend Jessie always says, we should focus on how we can turn to each other rather than on each other.

MARTIN: What's been the reaction in Oakland to this? Do people see it as a freak incident, or did they see it as endemic of some bigger problem? I noticed on some of the community message boards that the papers - that your papers have, that there was a lot of discussion about other acts of violence in the community. Mr. Reynolds?

Mr. REYNOLDS: Yes. It's - I mean, obviously there've been eight homicides in Oakland since Thursday, including Chauncey's. And it's a very upsetting situation, frankly. I mean, I think people are outraged. They're very upset. I'm hoping that his desk - because Chauncey was so synonymous with Oakland and so very much what Oakland is about, you know, dogged and…

MARTIN: We seem to be having a lot of technical problems with Mr. Reynolds' line. It's unfortunate we can't hear the rest of his thought. But Mr. Cobb, if you just briefly wrap that up. You're saying the reaction in Oakland…

Mr. COBB: Yeah. If I can carry on for Martin, he and Chauncey and I used to all sit together at the Tribune. I would like to say that we - this - we know this will not ultimately stamp Oakland's image, because I think that the silver lining in all of this, it is so outrageous, so shocking that somebody who fought so hard and who advocated so long against this was also struck down, that I think it will be a wakeup call.

MARTIN: Okay.

Mr. COBB: I think that the upsurge in violence is frightening. There are a lot of different reasons for it. Some is drugs, some of the reasons are turf problems of youthful games.

MARTIN: Okay. We'll have to take - we'll have to leave it there, Mr. Cobb, and hopefully you'll come back and talk to us about the other issues that you're covering in the community. Thank you so much for speaking with us. And I'm sorry again for your loss.

Mr. COBB: Thank you so much for your concern.

MARTIN: Paul Cobb is the publisher of the Oakland Post. We were also joined by Martin Reynolds, the managing editor of The Oakland Tribune. Both gentlemen joined me from their offices in Northern California. For more information about Chauncey Bailey, please visit our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore.

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