BRIAN LAMB, HOST: M.A. Farber, co-author of the book "Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax." Why a book?
Mr. M.A. FARBER: Why the truth? The book is--grows out of The New York Times coverage of the case, but unless you've saved all those articles and you want to--and you don't want to know any more, this is the place to find out the truth of the matter.
LAMB: Who is Tawana Brawley?
Mr. FARBER: Tawana Brawley is a--1987, a 15-year-old girl who was found with--in a garbage bag in a rural community north of New York, with excrement smeared on her body and racial slurs on her clothing and her body, whose family and family advisers later claimed had been subject to four days of rape and sodomization and other brutalities.
LAMB: What happened to her? Was she ever indicted or convicted?
Mr. FARBER: Well, she was the subject of the attack, as--as the family portrayed the incident. As the book points out, we believe it to be a hoax. It--the--there was no racial attack. There was no attack of that nature on Tawana Brawley at all. Tawana Brawley has never, I think, except in--in the place where we included in the book, told the truth of the matter. And she is today, like us all, a few years older, a student--college student now. And the turmoil that ensued as a result of what was a false allegation is beginning to be tempered, I think.
LAMB: Talk about the--the--the legalisms of what happened around this incident. Who charged whom with what?
Mr. FARBER: Well, she--her story, as filtered through the family advisers and the family, was that she had gone to see a--a boyfriend who was in jail at the time in another community. She came home in the evening to her--into her own community of Wappinger Falls, New York, got off a bus, was seized by a group of men, one of whom was wearing a badge and indicated he was the police, was taken to a wooded area and was raped and--and otherwise brutalized over a four-day period and left for dead in this garbage bag. That essentially was the story.
LAMB: But what I meant by that was what happened after that and--in the legal world?
Mr. FARBER: In the legal world, what happened after that is the family put forth this story through the--their advisers, and the state of New York embarked upon an exhaustive investigation--the state of New York and the FBI and others--an exhaustive investigation. There was a grand jury that was convened and that reviewed all the evidence. And--and some six months later, in June of '88, concluded that--that--June of '88 or '89 it was concluded that--that there was nothing inconsistent in the evidence with it having been self-inflicted.
LAMB: So it was dead then, legally, after the grand jury reached those conclusions?
Mr. FARBER: Well, one of her lawyers has been barred from practicing in New York until he cooperates with a--an official inquiry into his--his handling of this case. Another of the lawyers faces the same possibility.
LAMB: Which lawyer has been barred?
Mr. FARBER: Alton Maddox. There is a civil suit brought by an assistant district attorney in this county north of New York, Dutchess County, against the family advisers and members of the family as well, I believe, because at one point during this case they accused him of being one of the rapists.
LAMB: Let me--I've got here a--a Washington Post newspaper clipping from a couple of weeks ago--actually September 5th, Wednesday, front page of the Style section. And because it--it has something to do with all this, I thought it might be interesting to get your opinion of it. `Al Sharpton, In His Own Image,' and here is Al Sharpton--this is all about Al Sharpton and how he does this kind of thing. Why do we care who Al Sharpton is, and who is he?
Mr. FARBER: Well, Al Sharpton can be found moving around most matters that--most public matters that are controversial public matters that involve race in New York and elsewhere, indeed. Today he--he is in Atlantic City, wants to do something about what he believes is racism down there. And tomorrow--the other day--I say the other day--in that year of Tawana Brawley he was north of New York. He's the movable feast. And if you want to believe Al Sharpton, he is--he is on a crusade to rid the United States of what he sees as 400 years of racism. If you want to believe some others he's a charlatan, pure and simple. For myself, I think he's more complicated than--than he's generally portrayed. The--I know this, that--that while the polls show that he has little following, that you can't go out on the street with him--and I'm not speaking now of protests that are organized or anything--without blacks lifting up their hands and, you know, `Go, Al. Go Sh--go, Rev.'--you know, `Go get them'--that sort of thing.
But there's unquestionably, you know, some sort of--of--of--of grass-roots sentiment among poor blacks that he draws upon and reflects and--and that's the support that he can count on. And politicians in New York have to reckon with that to some degree.
LAMB: Where's Tawana Brawley today?
Mr. FARBER: Today Tawana is a sophomore, I believe, at Howard University, here in Washington.
LAMB: Has she ever talked to anyone about her situation?
Mr. FARBER: She made some statements initially that, again, were filtered through other people and that are--it's hard to--to--to draw a--a coherent account from. But later on she spoke to a boyfriend, Darryl Rodriguez--and this is to be found in the book--and there, according to Rodriguez, she relates that--that this was not the truth, that she was not attacked and, indeed, it was a--a hoax. That's--that's where you'll find that account.
LAMB: OK. By the way, the picture we just showed was from the Washington Post article, because there are no pictures in your book. Before we go any further, I want to hold this up and--and see if--Jay, if we can get a close-up of these co-authors of yours. First of all, who are they?
Mr. FARBER: Robert D. McFadden, Ralph Blumenthal, M.A. Farber, E.R. Shipp, Charles Strum and Craig Wolff, all of The New York Times.
LAMB: All work for The New York Times. J--just as a--a--a question I'd like to ask you about their--their background: Any of these men black?
Mr. FARBER: E.R. Shipp is a woman, and she is black.
LAMB: And becau--the reason I ask that is that this book is full of a lot of discussions about the race issue. And did that worry you at any time when you wrote this piece, that most of the people involved in this are white?
Mr. FARBER: Well, no, I wouldn't say it worried me at all. The--but I'll say, too, that E.R. Shipp is a tough lady, proud of her blackness. And she read and re-read every word in that book, I think, from her particular perspective, not only as a reporter but as a--as a young black woman. And she signed off on it as well.
LAMB: OK. One of the other things I want to ask you about is--one of the early chapters you talk about the diner.
Mr. FARBER: Yes.
LAMB: The Smith Diner, I believe.
Mr. FARBER: Smith, yes.
LAMB: Who did the work on that...
Mr. FARBER: Largely Shipp.
LAMB: She did the work on it?
Mr. FARBER: Yes. Largely Shipp.
LAMB: Would you explain what that's all about and how it fits in this book?
Mr. FARBER: Well, there's a--running through the book is a chorus of voices, so to speak, of people who happen to frequent a diner in Brooklyn and who also, some of them, had some association with the case. And we used this diner as a sort of Greek chorus, if you will, of--of local black people reflecting upon the events as they're developing. And we intersperse that through the chapter to give the reader some sense of how what is happening at any given time is being seen by at least some element of the black population.
LAMB: How did Ms. Shipp do it?
Mr. FARBER: Well, she--she is--she knows those people and--and I think she has their confidence. She has their confidence perhaps more, if I may, you know, be frank about it, probably than I would be able to gain it.
LAMB: Did she just go into the diner and...
Mr. FARBER: From time to time, yes.
LAMB: ...and talk to the people there?
Mr. FARBER: That's right.
LAMB: At the end of the book The Squire, if I'm remembering the right name...
Mr. FARBER: That's right.
LAMB: ...the Squire--one of the men that sat around the table and talked about this...
Mr. FARBER: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: Oh, by the way, th--everything they talked about wa--was--was black. Everything--all their discussions revolved around things black.
Mr. FARBER: OK.
Mr. FARBER: Well, because, I think, we say in the beginning that this is the kind of place in Brooklyn where--where--where what counts is what has an impact upon black people, that, you know, it's a--the discussion is--is more apt to focus upon a situation like Tawana Brawley than it is upon the passage of--of some farm bill on the Hill.
LAMB: You know, go back to the--the--the final--the epilogue here, and The Squire Walks Out. What's this about?
Mr. FARBER: It's--I think it's about conscience and about the question that the book is all about, in a way, and that is facing the truth and the Squire having reservations now, you see, about whether Tawana Brawley, you know, was, indeed, raped. And--and that's what we're--that's what we're getting at here, that--I mean, I think that if there is--I think it's principal to this whole story to say that--that if you're going to serve the cause of promoting racial harmony you can't take something that isn't so, something that is essentially not true, and hold it out as the truth simply because it serves an immediate end.
The immediate end of Tawana Brawley's advisers, though not of Tawana Brawley and her family, initially, was to put this in the stream of anti-black incidents that--that--you know, that, you know--that are pockmarks in American history--I mean, that are worse than that. And--and they shouldn't have done it. And they should have, in my opinion, known when to get out and when to say, `This isn't so.'
You--I mean, one has to remember that--that when this case came along, when this hoax was developed, it was in the aftermath of the terrible incident in New York where a young black man named Michael Griffith was driven onto--was--was--was chased onto a highway in the Howard Beach section of Queens in New York, where a car struck him and killed him, by a group of white youths in what was clearly a racial incident.
And, you know, the--Al Sharpton and--and Tawana Brawley's lawyers, Alton Maddox and Vernon Mason, were--certainly Maddox and Sharpton were involved in that case as well. And there, it was the real thing. And they came away from that case with--with enhanced credibility for having, you know, argued that that case had to be seriously and--and thoroughly prosecuted. They soon found themselves mired in this. And while they would argue today, if they were here, that this girl was, indeed, a victim of rape and that it's all true, I think that they made a serious mistake and that it's long past time that they were to acknowledge that.
LAMB: Go back to the diner and the Squire and--and the group sitting around the table every day drinking coffee, talking about things black. At the ep--at the epilogue, when you talk about the Squire walking out and having doubts, the suggestion is made that he better not say that publicly or somebody might kill him.
Mr. FARBER: A--a lot of people today--that's--that's right--not might kill him, but--but spurn him. I think there are a lot of people today, black or white, perhaps--some, who--who still believe that a 15-year-old girl would not have put excrement on herself, written racial slurs on herself, done these things, that there must be some truth to it. And there are some other people who feel that it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter whether it really happened because--because these kinds of things happen, you see. Because black women have been raped very often and because--because a black man was chased onto a highway. And--and in the Bensonhurst case in New York last summer was--or the summer of '89, a young black man who ventured into a white area of Brooklyn was shot to death by a group of whites. Well, he wasn't shot by a group of whites, but he was shot to death by one white in a group of whites who were--who were questioning him about their presence in that neighborhood.
So--so it's easy--you know, blacks rightfully see that these kinds of things happen. And to some of them, I daresay, it no longer matters whether it's true or not. But it matters to me, and it matters to the others with whom I worked and who wanted to put in one place what we believed to be the best single record of this whole episode. It matters to us because what we essentially do--and I--and is--i--is try to--to tell the reader in the newspaper and try to tell the reader a much fuller version here what is so. And we--it counts what is so. It not only counts historically, but it helps to keep things on an even keel. And--and I think that--that--that, you know, what began as a case of a situation where a young girl and her mother wanted to avoid the wrath of her stepfather, who was angry at her staying out late and might possibly punish her, perpetuated something like this.
That it would have been far better--and--and never meant to go anywhere beyond the family, you see. It would be far better, once it had--the ball had started rolling, to stop the ball. The--you know, the interests of--of--of racial harmony, but the interest of--of whites and blacks alike would have been served better.
LAMB: How long have you been with The New York Times?
Mr. FARBER: Twe--twenty-four years.
LAMB: What does M.A. stand for?
Mr. FARBER: M.A. stands for Myron Abba.
LAMB: Where were you born?
Mr. FARBER: I was born in Baltimore.
LAMB: Where'd you go to school?
Mr. FARBER: I went to school at Baltimore City College, the University of Maryland, Northwestern University.
LAMB: What was your first job?
Mr. FARBER: I was getting a Ph.D. in history at Northwestern, which I abandoned, and--and I wanted--I wanted to mix up the real world with academe, the scholarship. And--and I had gone to high school with the sons of the editor in chief of the Baltimore Sun, and--and I went to see him and told him I didn't know how to type and probably didn't know how to think well or in an organized fashion, but would like to try my hand at journalism. And he directed me north, and I had my first job at the Hartford Courant. And I was there for about two years when I was hired by The Times, and I have been there since.
LAMB: How do you describe your responsibilities as a New York Times reporter? What area are you concerned with?
Mr. FARBER: I move from, generally, one sensitive subject to another. Unlike many reporters, far and away most of what I do involves situations or cases where people don't want to talk to me. And much of my effort is spent persuading people to talk about things that they may not see in their own self-interest to do. So it's--it's that kind of work.
I was recently involved with my colleague, Ralph Blumenthal, in stories involving a--a priest--a Roman-Catholic priest in New York, Father Bruce Ritter, who run--ran Covenant House until recently. And that was another investigation that took some months. And I was involved recently in Donald Trump's affairs. I--not--his financial affairs. And--and--and it--it goes on, things like that.
LAMB: Over the 23 years you've been with The New York Times, which are--what are some of the bigger stories, besides the ones you've mentioned--you know, maybe going back a few years--that you've worked on?
Mr. FARBER: Well, I suppose the--the--I mean, I have done all sorts of things. You know, the--I did one of the first series of stories on illegal immigration in the United States, outside the--the Mexican border. You know, the--the kind of immigration that comes out of the--Sou--South America and Central America and the islands up into the Northeast and the cities and the areas. I mean, I've done--I--I did principal coverage on the child killings in Atlanta that were recurring. But I suppose the--I mean, I've done--wandered from one--one subject to another. I was marginally involved in the HUD investigation last year.
But the--the story for which I'm principally known, I suppose, involved a surgeon in New Jersey who was ultimately charged with murdering patients in a hospital. And we called him for a time Dr. X. And during his trial The New York Times and myself were subpoenaed for our entire file, in--including confidential materials. And--and in the end, while he was acquitted, although he subsequently lost his license on other cases in the United States and--and moved back to Argentina and died--although he was acquitted of the murder charges, I went to jail for refusing to disclose confidential sources.
LAMB: How long were you in jail?
Mr. FARBER: I faced about a year and a half in jail, but I got--I was released after 40 days, I think it was--40 days.
LAMB: What jail?
Mr. FARBER: The Bergen County Jail. Bergen County is a county in New Jersey--northern New Jersey.
LAMB: Was it worth it?
Mr. FARBER: Yes, it was worth it. It was worth it not only because it allowed me to hold my head up high, having--having adhered to the promises that I had made as a journalist; it was worth it to take a stand because--because the statutes in New Jersey and a number of other states were changed subsequently. And--and the very--in the New Jersey Supreme Court, where we lost 5:2, as result of my efforts, I believe, the next case came along, the--the reporter won 6:1 after a change in the law fo--so I think it was worth it.
LAMB: Those of you who have just joined us, our guest is M.A. Farber. He is with The New York Times, a reporter--an investigative reporter, as he has just told us. And this is what the book looks like. It's called "Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax."
Could we just take a moment and go through the rest of the folks that--that co-authored this book with you and tell us something about them? Ralph Blumenthal?
Mr. FARBER: Ralph Blumenthal does essentially the same kind of work that I do, generally complex, confu--you know, confused situations. And the--the first author, Robert McFadden, is the--probably the premier--what's known in the business as rewrite man in the United States, certainly the dean of rewrite at The New York Times for the last quarter century. And I like to say that when the--when the world explodes, should it ever explode, it would be McFadden writing the story for The Times. And Charles Strum is an editor at The Times, who was the principal editor on the stories that The Times wrote. And Craig Wolff is a younger reporter, covers now federal court in Manhattan. E.R. Shipp is a--is--a legal background, and she's covered law for The Times, and is now an assistant metropolitan editor. And I hope I'm not leaving anyone out there.
LAMB: You got them all.
Mr. FARBER: OK.
LAMB: How did you divide up responsibilities for writing this book?
Mr. FARBER: Not easily. The--you know, we--we all wrote drafts, rewrote drafts. Everyone's material was shown to everyone else. Everyone had the opportunity to at--what seems like countless meetings to, you know, suggest revisions. And, finally, McFadden brought it together to give its--you know, the fluidity that a--that a book needs. And--and he's very deft at that--at least I think--I--I believe he's very deft at that.
LAMB: At what time period--and--and recently did you--was this actually written?
Mr. FARBER: Oh, it was written throughout--throughout 1989, the early part of '90.
LAMB: In the--in the acknowledgements, does it feel strange for you to--to--to see these words, `We wish to express our gratitude, in particular, to Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, Attorney General Robert Abrams'? I go down through the list, and then you--you eventually get to the Reverend Al Sharpton. In other words, you're thanking people in--who were your sources.
Mr. FARBER: Well, you know, with--with--I believe people ought to be thanked for--for the time they spend with you for what is essentially your project, going out of their way. That is not mea--meant to say that, as the book will reflect, that I endorse everything Mario Cuomo did in this case or everything Al Sharpton did in this case. Har--it's not the case and--but--but they--they gave us of their time and thought in the preparation of this book, and I think they--for that they deserve to be thanked.
LAMB: How many hours did--did you spend with Governor Cuomo, talking about this thing? And did you do it or did somebody else do it?
Mr. FARBER: I was involved in part of that, a dozen hours, perhaps. I--I wish not to be held to that exact figure because I hadn't thou--I mean, I--I haven't tried to parcel that out, but it's some considerable amount of time.
LAMB: What role did he play in this?
Mr. FARBER: Well...
LAMB: Not the book, but the whole situation.
Mr. FARBER: No, I understand. I think--I think, like many people, at the beginning, when--when the story was put out that she had been raped by a group of white law enforcement officers, that Governor Cuomo was very concerned about that and rightfully so. And--and he threw his weight behind an investigation of it and threw the state police weight behind it and--and--and his own criminal justice coordinator. And then he appointed the attorney general of the state as a special prosecutor. And--and he liked to point out that he had children--daughters of his own and that he sympathized with this. But he was one of the--he was one of these people at the beginning who said, `Surely something had happened to her, you see.' Bill Cosby, you know, put up a reward of $25,000 for information leading to the arrest of those people who had--who had attacked her. But--but it was only gradually that people came to understand, I think--well, some people came to understand the gra--that this wasn't so.
I mean, did something happen to her? Look, for a 15-year-old to put herself in that position, that's something happening to her, even if it's largely self-inflicted. I mean, even if she's put the excrement on herself, even if she has written the KKK herself, the circumstances that lead a veritable child--certainly an adolescent--to do that, then something has happened to you, you know. But not the `something' that the adviser said, not rape at the hands of white racists in that county.
LAMB: In--in one of the last chapters you do tell the story of what you think actually happened.
Mr. FARBER: Yes.
LAMB: How'd you do that?
Mr. FARBER: Well, we drew on--on our knowledge of what we believed to be the situation. And...
LAMB: Are you the only people that feel it happened this way?
Mr. FARBER: No, I don't think we're the only people.
LAMB: I mean, is this account--is this account in this book fresh as far as you're concerned? Are there elements of it that have never been published before?
Mr. FARBER: Well, there are certain particulars in that book that have never been published before.
LAMB: I'm talking about...
Mr. FARBER: I mean, I'll give you an example of that where--that--there comes a time when--when Alton Maddox, one of her lawyers--who, as I said earlier, had now been debarred from practicing in New York pending his cooperation with investigation, his handling of the case--where he publicly names a prosecutor in Dutchess County as one of the rapists. Now Alton Maddox would--would tell you that--that he believes that.
LAMB: Dutchess County, New York.
Mr. FARBER: That's right--that he believes that. But there isn't a shred of evidence to support that, in my view. But when he names Burgones at a press conference--when he names this assistant prosecutor, who is now suing for $800 million or something, Al Sharpton turns his head, never--he doesn't know what m--Alton Maddox is talking about. Now this is the extent of their real knowledge, you see. It's--it's--it's a sort of--you know, `As--as we go along, we'll--we'll sort of tell this thing to the public, you see.'
But--but Sharpton is mystified himself. I mean, Sharpton was representing her as a real victim before he--before--long before he had met her. I--I believe that--that the people who have essentially maintained the case that she was raped have never really gotten a clear story from her. But you will see that kind--you know, you will--what the book gives you--actually, what the book gives you is not only those things that are fresh, but it gives you a--a picture of how it is all going--where--where--where things are happening, both in the Brawley family and the Brawley camp and the governor's mind and the attorney general's office. It gives you that picture. And in--and in Mrs. Smith's little coffee shop. It gives you that picture as it's happening.
It was o--of course, one couldn't do that when one was writing n--writing news stories because you only knew as much as you knew at a given date at that time. I mean, you really--really required some stepping back afterward to be able to produce this book.
LAMB: In the middle of your book there's a fairly dramatic account of your personal investigative work in--in--in finding the--the summaries of the--you're shaking your head.
Mr. FARBER: Well, I've done harder work, but anyway--no, I understand what you're saying.
LAMB: Well, I'm not suggesting that you haven't done harder work, but, I mean, there--this is a dramatic part of this book where you talk about--I don't know what it was--at 2--2:00 in the morning you called some source of yours and--I mean, tell the story about the--why are the summaries--what were they and why are they important to your--your story here?
Mr. FARBER: The--I don't think anyone outside of us have ever seen the summaries. It developed that during the state's investigation, that Mario Cuomo had set in motion, that summaries of the state's evidence and--and--and interviews and what they knew, from a vast amount of work, were being done, were being summari--all this--all they were doing was being summarized, so to speak, some of which went to the grand jury that was he--that was trying to decide whether a crime had been committed here.
And--and fairly late in the Times' coverage Ralph Blumenthal and I discovered, in conversation with a source who had contacts with the government, that there were such summaries. We didn't know that ourselves. And, you know, in a parochial kind of way we were concerned that--that, `My God, some of the news media's liable to get these summaries and--and--and--before we ever got them.' I mean, there's still that pride in the work of newspapering, and--but we also want to know what they said.
And Ralph and I walked out of the meeting having f--just heard about the existence of these summaries, and somewhat dumbfounded and wondering what we could do about it, when on the way home I had an idea and placed a telephone call--as you say, was two, three in the morning or something?
LAMB: Two-forty AM, I believe.
Mr. FARBER: And by sunup I had the summaries.
LAMB: And then you had the front-page article in The New York Times...
Mr. FARBER: Yes.
LAMB: ...as a result of the summaries, which said what?
Mr. FARBER: Which said that--that in fuller fashion than he--than--that we had been able to say before, that--that there was no evidence to support a rape of Tawana Brawley, that there was much evidence to the contrary.
LAMB: This is the first time this had ever been published?
Mr. FARBER: There--there certainly had been suggestions of that before, but this--what--what appeared was a--essentially a preview of what, indeed, the grand jury ultimately found as well, that there wasn't any evidence of that kind. But I don't want to make more of it than it was. It was a journalistic scoop, if you will. It certainly--it certainly helped to solidify our own thinking, gather from our own work that we had been doing as to what the evidence in this case pointed to.
LAMB: How long after this story was published...
Mr. FARBER: It was also much more particular than--in many areas than we were ever able to know without that.
LAMB: How much longer after your story was published did the grand jury actually publish--or announced the...
Mr. FARBER: I think they released the report in October. I think that story was in September.
LAMB: What about the issue of--grand jury's supposed to be private.
Mr. FARBER: Is private.
LAMB: Supposed to be private and you made them non-private?
Mr. FARBER: Well--well, Al--Alton Maddox and Al Sharpton liked to run around saying, `Why don't we prosecute those felonious New York Times reporters who stole the grand jury minutes?' That's the way I think they generalized the phrase. We never had any grand jury minutes. As I understand grand jury minutes, they are Q and A. I mean, I've seen some that have been legally obtained, and it's like a court transcript. But we didn't have the grand jury minutes. We've never had the grand jury minutes. What we had were summaries of evidence that were in the hands of--of many people--I mean, many people within the government--or some people within the government who wouldn't have been entitled to grand jury minutes, either.
LAMB: Did you identify all of the members of the grand jury in any of your stories?
Mr. FARBER: No--no, we didn't, but I think that...
LAMB: You do have some in this book.
Mr. FARBER: Yes, we do have some in the book. Some of the grand jurors spoke to us afterward about their experience, about the kinds of evidence that meant something to them. They gave us a feel for what it was like to be a grand juror in a par--this predominantly white county, about a racially explosive case. And they were considerable help, and I think that that is, by and large, all fresh, as you say--fresh in the book. And--but I think that--that expanding beyond those particular grand jurors, I think it meant a lot to the grand jury, as I understand this, that--that--that--that--that forensic psychiatrists who testified before the grand jury did not think that this case
fit anything like the pattern of--what would have been a rape of this sort. First of all, there was no physical evidence--physical signs of rape. Her account of having been in the woods--beyond professional scientists, there were other forensic experts.
I mean, there was no--she--there was no plant material, for example, on her body, whatever. I mean, they--if she had been in the woods for any length of time, FBI experts testified, it's inconceivable that she wouldn't have had--picked up, as the body picks up, this kind of--of material. To the contrary, she had under her fi--fingernail clippings, which had been taken when she was taken to the hospital, certain fibers that were associated with fibers from a--a washcloth--a piece of burned washcloth underneath--found under the bag that she--that she put herself into, and they were also found on the floor of her old apartment, that tended to support the idea that she had--had--had wet these fibers--had wet this washcloth and had written these things on herself. I mean, you know, rapists generally don't put--go out of the way to put fibers--what they're doing onto--under the fingernails of the victim. I mean, it's--there--there--so--so the book offers, perhaps, the clearest explanation of what the--what the refined evidence in the case points to. And it does not support the notion of a rape; to the contrary.
LAMB: How much is the media and New York City to blame for either making Al Sharpton what he is today, if you think he's not what he portrays himself to be, and how much are they to blame for making this story what it is?
Mr. FARBER: Well, look back on it. I mean, the--the--it's after Howard Beach. People are say--she--her family is saying that she was raped by a group of white men, law enforcement officers. These things can happen. The media seized upon it. But--but--but they--it wasn't really--it wasn't really ntil--it really wasn't until the advisers started to whip it up, so to speak, that it got to be the story that it became, a national story with international attention and that sort of thing. I don't--I don't think the media is to blame here. I think the--the media, it's--you know, in the aftermath of the Mayor Barry's trial people have--some people have blamed the media for promoting an--an anti-black sentiment and--and I--I don't subscribe to it, and I don--I don't subscribe to it in this case.
I--anyone who knows the tabloids of New York knows that it's a story that--that inherently had sensational elements of this case--was going to be widely reported and it--and--and--and--and I'm not here to--you know, I--I
really just don't want to--I'm not here to try to censor the tabloids. I--I don't--do I think all newspapers ought to do a more thorough job than they do on any important story? Yes, I do. Do I think that you--you--that newspapers
are always going to do the most thorough story that could be done? No, they're not, through time constraints and other constraints.
But I don't think--I--as far as Al Sharpton goes, I--he has gotten a lot of publicity. He knows how to manipulate that publicity. He knows how to create that publicity. And--and I think for the foreseeable future he has ready access to it, for good or bad. I don't think the media has created him, though. I think the media may have--may have fostered him, may have promoted him along the way. But, you know, there are a lot of politicians in New York who--and other public figures--who wish they had the--you know, they may rant and rave at Sharpton, too, but if they could gather together the press as quickly as Al Sharpton can, they'd probably be pretty happy about it.
LAMB: Back to your story about the summaries, you share with us in the book some of the problems you had with getting that story in the paper, I mean, suggesting that you--you kept going back to your editors, and they said, `No, no, not yet.' Is that--I mean, is that a normal part of the process, that it's--i--is it tough for you to get some of your stories in?
Mr. FARBER: You know, I--I've worked practically my entire career at the Times. I'm--I'm familiar with that--their practices. I'm not that familiar with the practices of other newspapers. I--we--there--we have layer upon layer of editing, and what may satisfy an editor at one level only raises a question in an editor at another level. And you literally have to clear all these hurdles on a major story before it gets into the newspaper. I mean, you could liken it to--to--to--you know, it's a system of checks. And, of course, it doesn't always work, either. But I don't have any concern about meeting--I don't have any concern about meeting those checks. I mean, I do it all the time. I--I like to think that over a period of time I'd developed, myself, even a sixth sense about what--what the readers often ask that I can't answer, and I go try to find the answer even before--even before any reader ever had an opportunity to raise it, you see. This--this is what I suppose experience gives you.
LAMB: By the way, what was Tawana Brawley up to?
Mr. FARBER: What was she up to? I think she was a sc--scared young woman, a scared girl who wanted to be back in the good graces of--of her stepfather and--and the mother sympathized to that. And that she had run away before; she had stayed out late before, as many adolescents do, hardly the most serious crime in the world. And--and in a misguided--in a misguided way she concocted this terrible appearance of herself, often with the help of her mother, sympathetically--sympathetic, you understand--meaning to keep it within the family. It was a--you know, and--and--you know, ho--how could any stepfather or how could any man be angry at his child who was found in such a condition, you see? Who--who had been attacked. You know, even if she had ran--run away for a few days, how could he possibly be angry? But it was carried to extreme, and that extreme was very, very much carried to extreme.
Once other members of the family, not even knowing that it wasn't so, decided to bring in the F--to call the FBI, and to call the media and with the governor--was all of a sudden on the spot and sympathetic to it and--and the ball starts rolling and these advisers who are bro--brought in, who are no shrinking violets, if nothing else, and--and it just goes on and on and on. And I think that what the book--hopefully, what the book succeeds in doing, in part, is- is giving the reader some sense of what happens on the inside when these kinds of developments occur. Why do people draw certain conclusions?
Why do people, whether he's the governor or--or Al Sharpton or anyone--or--or just the man on the street--why do they react the way they do? Why do they then take the position that they do?
I mean, I think they--for example, Mario Cuomo--Mario Cuomo, essentially, I think, views himself as a man of reason who can reason with anybody. And--and what's necessary is to bring Al Sharpton and Alton Maddox and Vernon Mason together in a room with him, and sit down and explain the situation and let's reason together and--and we'll all come out of the room thinking alike. But--but that--but Al Sharpton and Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox, they're on a different wavelength. I mean, they--you know, their--their perspective is, this country has had a racist history that needs to be corrected, and--and we have to put the right establishment in order in a way that it's not going to allow itself to be put in order. And so their viewpoint, as well as their agenda--as well as how they react to things and what they do--is different than perhaps what Mario Cuomo might expect. And you see this happening in the book. And you see how so--you know, people are very often talking at each other, but not talking to each other.
LAMB: "Bonfire of the Vanities"?
Mr. FARBER: There's an element of that there, yeah.
LAMB: I mean, did you--did--you talk about just publishing books is "Bonfire of the Vanities" one of the big hits of the last several years, a fiction book by Tom Wolfe: The Reverend Bacon--is he Reverend Sharpton?
Mr. FARBER: That's what some say. Now...
LAMB: How does this happen? I mean, you know, you undoubtedly have thought about this. How do--how do you have this book of fiction that turns out, now you got a book that's about--about three-quarters of the size, and it--it's--it's--it--almost--it's the real thing.
Mr. FARBER: Yeah, well, "Bonfire of the Vanities," is a much different framework...
Mr. FARBER: ...a different cast of characters that you--and it's a novel, as you say, and--and it's--it's got a--the--the rich whites of the "Bonfire of the Vanities." I mean, this is a--I--you know, I think the reason it was likened--Al Sharpton was associated with it in some people's minds was because of this character, Re--Reverend Bacon, who's a sort of outsized character. And--and--and Al Sharpton is that. And--and he's been so--and he's been so vivid on he New York scene, in particular, that Tom Wolfe could--probably couldn't have failed to notice him, you see. Although, I'm sure there's a--at the beginning of Tom's Wolfe book--Tom Wolfe's book it says, `All these characters are fictional and not related to real people at all,' and that sort of thing. You know, but I've never talked to Tom Wolfe about this, and so I don't know firsthand whether he had Al Sharpton in mind or not.
But I do want to say that--that--you see, a lot of--a lot of people laughed at the character of Reverend Bacon in "Bonfire of the Vanities." Al Sharpton has to--is someone to be taken seriously, I think. So--so is Alton Maddox and Vernon Mason and others who support them. The--but it doesn't--but taking them seriously doesn't mean--and listening to them--doesn't mean that they're always right. They may have been right about Howard Beach. They may have been right about Bensonhurst, even though their tactics--some of their tactics there may have been eplorable, but they weren't right here, in my opinion--in our opinion. Try to get them to say that--I--you know, they--they--they--you know, they will tell you they sincerely believe this is what happened, and that there is still a coverup. They will say it is still a coverup and this is part of the cover-up and, you know--and let's throw Farber back in jail.
LAMB: You--you say in the book that Al Sharpton spent 20 hours with you, talking about this--this--this episode...
Mr. FARBER: Yeah.
LAMB: ...for the book or for your...
Mr. FARBER: For the book.
LAMB: Just for the book.
Mr. FARBER: Yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: What did you learn during those 20 hours--anything?
Mr. FARBER: A lot--a lots--a lot about--a lot that makes a difference between newspaper stories and the book; a lot that--that puts flesh on bones. Now with Al Sharpton, as with oth--as with others, one tries then to verify and check and recheck, you know, what--what he says and--and--and sort of--some material was not used at all, and some material was used. I mean, it gets--ultimately, it gets to be a question of what--you know, your--your level of confidence in a particular anecdote that might be related or that sort of thing.
LAMB: Who wouldn't talk to you?
Mr. FARBER: Hmm. Tawana Brawley.
LAMB: Her mother and her stepfather?
Mr. FARBER: Tawana Brawley, her mother. Although Al Sharpton introduced me once to her mother and to her stepfather--to Tawana's mother and her stepfather. We've spoken briefly with them, but for--but that was--but for the book, Tawana Brawley nor--Tawana Brawley's immediate family did not cooperate. We did have discussions, however, with her aunt, Juanita...
Mr. FARBER: ...who--you know, I believe, you know, never knew that it was a--certainly not in the beginning that it was a hoax and--and--and was genuinely concerned about the whereabouts of this girl, who had, you know, for all appearances disappeared for four days and--and believed that something terrible had happened to her. We spoke to Juanita Brawley.
LAMB: The s--the state, in your opinion of--of race relations today--start with New York City and then go beyond that.
Mr. FARBER: Well, I--I don't want--I don't want to pretend to be an expert--you know, a grand expert on race relations. I mean, do--do I think I know what I'm talking about when I write something? I think so. Am I better positioned than you are to judge race relations? I don't think so. I think that--that--however, that New York City is a--is a--is a potential tinderbox, in terms of race relations. And that's where I think that Al Sharpton has been ore inflammatory than he--than he ought to be. And the--and I'm sure that that is--that's true.
I mean, I--I believe that to be true in my--from my own reading of many urban areas in the United States, that--that--that the state of race relations isn't good, and I think it has much to do with a--a gap in povert--between the rich and the poor, a growing gap that--as much as the actual color of anyone's skin. The--how could--you know, I mean, look, New York City alone has a tremendous population of young people who--black men who have no work. I mean, this is--I mean, there are--there are profound situations in New York, schools that have a long way to go before providing anything like an acceptable education in many areas. I mean, and y--in those kinds of situations, you can't help but have a--a--an antsy situa--a--a--you know, a--a--the potential for a real problem. And--and, fortunately, what happened in Bensonhurst did not lead to any greater kind of dilemma than it did. And it--the--but the potential is there. And that's where many people would fault an Al Sharpton, because they--they feel that he exploits those situations and one of these days it's going to come down on the head of everybody.
But it--it's--it's--it--it's important to--if you're going to make any headway, I think, in--in racial harmony, for people to separate out the truth from fiction. And--and Tawana Brawley's story--or the story, as put out by the advisers, in our opinion, is not--is not the truth, and needs--and that needs to be said, and that's what we're doing here. And we're doing it, we hope, in a way that--that readers can follow it and understand it, much--much more so than--than they would have from newspaper stories.
LAMB: Do you like what you do, and if you do, why?
Mr. FARBER: As a reporter, do I like what I do? Well, I'd have to be a damned fool to be doing it for as long as I've been doing it without liking it, I suppose. But, you know, I essentially see it as a public service job. You know, I'm mindful of all those people out there who, you know--you know, think the press, you know, is a self-appointed group of righteous people and, you know, that--who are they to pronounce judgments and all that sort of thing. I--I know they're out there and I--but I don't know any--I don't know anything better than the way it's set up now. And as a reporter for The New York Times, I've had, you know, an opportunity to--to--to--I--I think s--bri--shed--bring some light to many subjects. I think we have achieved that here and I like that. It's--it's a good way to live, and it's--it is--it's in the public interest.
LAMB: Is there anything you haven't done yet in this business that you're itching to do?
Mr. FARBER: Get more space than some editor says I can have. No, I--the--I'd have to think long and hard about that. I--it's--it's pretty interesting as it is.
LAMB: The book is "Outrage: The Story Behind the Tawana Brawley Hoax," as written by our guest, M.A. Farber, and his cohorts at The New York Times.
Thank you for your time.
Mr. FARBER: My pleasure.
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