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Where's Spike Lee's Money?


I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES. Diddy didn't do it, but that's not what the L.A. Times was saying earlier this week. The newspaper has apologized for falsely implicating Sean Puffy Combs in a violent attack on the late rap star Tupac Shakur. But can saying sorry save the paper's hide? And why does filmmaker Spike Lee still have to hustle so hard to get cash for his projects?

That's just some of the entertainment buzz Allison Samuels is here to help me take on. She's a national correspondent for Newsweek magazine, and she's here with me now. Hey, Allison.

Ms. ALLISON SAMUELS (Newsweek): Hi, how are you doing?

CHIDEYA: So let's talk about this L.A. Times story. It was about the '94 attack on Tupac, and the piece was online, it appeared in print, but the Times got a big part of the story wrong. What happened?

Ms. SAMUELS: Chuck Philips, who was the writer of the story, actually got a lot of the information from reports from a guy who's definitely a con artist, and they were FBI reports supposedly, but this guy more than likely forged them because he's in jail for fraud, which is the part that's really confusing to me, is that how the reporter didn't actually realize that and realize that this guy had a long record of being a con artist.

I think that what happens a lot of times with this case, there's been so much speculation about the Tupac shooting and the murder and Biggie's murder that a lot of people have just been desperate to find out anything, and there's so many stories out there.

But I think what's unfortunate is when you have a mainstream newspaper like that not to have various sources that you have to go to, which is sort of what we have to do, what I have to do as a reporter. I have to check it three or four times with three or four different people.

CHIDEYA: And you have been following the Tupac, Biggie, all of that...

Ms. SAMUELS: From the very beginning, and I - one reason it's been very hard to write about it is that it is so convoluted, complicated. There are so many players in it that it's really hard to get a straight story, and that's why I think a lot of people haven't really done this big expose, because I don't know if the truth - if the truth is out there, it's been hard to find.

CHIDEYA: Somebody's not talking.

Ms. SAMUELS: Somebody's not talking.

CHIDEYA: A lot of people aren't talking.

Ms. SAMUELS: Right.

CHIDEYA: So what was Sean Combs's reaction to this whole situation, and do you think he's going to sue?

Ms. SAMUELS: He was furious, and obviously, why wouldn't he be? I mean, it was definitely, you know, with malice. That's the defamation of character. It certainly is suggesting that he knew that Tupac was going to get beaten up, that he was sort of a part of it, that he didn't know he was going to get shot, he and Biggie, but he was aware that Tupac was going to get beaten up that day.

So he and his lawyers are furious, and they're talking about suing, which they probably will do, because I mean that's the kind of thing, even though there are a lot of retractions, the retractions are running, a lot of people who read the initial story, they don't always see the retractions. So the damage is already done.

So I think with Puffy, because Puffy has lawsuits all the time, so I think he has no problem filing a lawsuit against the L.A. Times, and like I said, they did a front-page apology yesterday, which was really good, but I still think the damage was already done.

CHIDEYA: Let's move on to Spike Lee. You went to an event in L.A. honoring him, and he got an award, gave an acceptance speech. We'll talk about a movie he has coming up. But who were some of the people there to sing his praises?

Ms. SAMUELS: Lawrence Fishburne, John Singleton, Savion Glover, just - you know, Rosie Perez. a lot of people from his movies over the past - Halle Berry and people like that didn't attend, even though, you know, he made a lot of those people stars, which is really interesting in watching his career over the years, just seeing how many people you'd never heard or seen before until they were in a Spike Lee movie.

But a lot of the people - obviously, some of the people were not there. Halle just had a baby, so I think that's why she didn't attend. But you know, overall it was a pretty nice showing of people.

CHIDEYA: Now, he talked about his new movie, "Miracle at St. Anna," based on the James McBride novel - we just had McBride on not too long ago - about black soldiers in World War II, and he talked a little bit about what it was like to try to produce that. Tell us what he was talking about.

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, it's funny because when he got up to accept his award, in true Spike fashion he had to, you know, sort of have a little rant, and he talked about having a hard time raising the money to get this movie made and how surprised he was about that because "Inside Man," his last film, with Denzel, made 300 million - I mean $300 million worldwide.

So you know, with that kind of track record, you figure, okay, my next film, I'm going to get it made no problem; I won't have any, you know, issues at all. But he actually had to go overseas for funding. And so he was just sort of saying that it's always a double standard for African-Americans, even when you have international box-office success, which is something they say African-Americans don't have, it's still another obstacle for you. There's never enough. So I think that was the part that was sort of interesting to hear him talk about. And he's talked about that over the years, obviously, but I am surprised that 20 years later in his career, it is that - still that same obstacle that he's fighting.

And like he wants to make James Brown into a movie. He's having a hard time with that, Joe Louis. It's a lot of things.

CHIDEYA: Let's touch quickly on Michael Baisden, this incredibly popular black radio host. He was a driving force behind the Jena 6 marches. Here he is on the line with scholar and activist Cornell West.

(Soundbite of radio show)

Mr. MICHAEL BAISDEN (Radio Host): Old-school hip-hop on the Michael Baisden show. What is the next level, families? It's not about being negative, not about blaming hip-hop. Welcome to the show a man I have much admiration and respect for, Cornell West.

Mr. CORNELL WEST (Scholar): (Unintelligible) brother, a force for good in terms of sustaining dialogue in the community though, man.

Mr. BAISDEN: Cornell West is on "The Michael Baisden Show," family, and so we can shut the show down now. We can shut it down.

CHIDEYA: Extra lively, lots of deep topics, but he's in a bit of hot water with some of his fans. What's going on?

Ms. SAMUELS: Well, it's more sort of the affiliates, the stations that he's sort of on, because he's been very vocal about the Obama situation, running the entire sermon of Reverend Wright, trying to make it very clear that, you know, that people have misjudged this pastor and that you need to listen to the entire sermon to get a really full understanding.

And I think he's made people nervous because he does bring up this sort of intense dialogue. He did get people sort of together for Jena 6, and I think that when you have that kind of power, it can be a little unsettling to some people, and I think that's a struggle that he's fighting now with his affiliates, just how political he can actually be.

CHIDEYA: So is this really about white station-owners not buying into something that his audience embraces?

Ms. SAMUELS: I think that probably is the nice way of putting it, yes. I think that they are a little afraid of, you know, how political he's actually gotten and the power, because people do listen, and they sort of respond to him.

CHIDEYA: So Allison, thank you so much.

Ms. SAMUELS: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Allison Samuels is a national correspondent for Newsweek magazine, and she joined me here at our studios at NPR West. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.