It's not every day in this business that you can say for certain that you caught the Los Angeles Police Department, or pretty much anyone else, in an outright lie (even though you frequently do). But today, one of the nation's most infamous law-enforcement organizations called me up and presented just such an opportunity on a silver platter.
A press officer whose name I didn't catch (because she hung up on me when I stood up for TNS) called to complain about our "coverage" of an incident in which LAPD personnel allegedly beat a handcuffed man to death in front of multiple witnesses. Gabriel Voilles put together a bulletin on the matter for our In Other News... section this morning. This officer was very upset by it, immediately accusing TNS of printing lies.
I informed her that we were, quite transparently, merely relaying what her hometown newspaper the LA Times had reported, and that we -- as a matter of journalistic policy -- made no claims as to the true narrative of the incident, since no reporter was on the scene. She then claimed that the Times story on which our bulletin was based did not say or suggest the cops had beaten a man to death while he was cuffed, as our bulletin says, and repeated her insistence that we had published "lies."
I must admit I was thrown by this. I had not edited the bulletin myself, so I immediately started reviewing the story and the source article. Of course, in the very first sentence, the Times article says that witnesses claimed the police beat Mauricio Cornejo while he was in handcuffs -- exactly what the PR person said the article did not say. Curiously, she never claimed that the Times or even the witnesses were lying -- just that TNS was lying.
I won't bore you with the details of the verbal spar that ensued, or her responses to my questions about whether her office had ever admitted officers had beaten someone in custody, even in the face of videotape showing them doing just that. The lesson here is that if the LAPD will call and lie directly to an editor about something that is demonstrably true or -- in this case -- false, how on earth are journalists and the public supposed to believe them about anything?