This week a dozen-and-a-half news organizations formed the Chauncey Bailey Project – to continue the work of the Bay Area journalist killed in August. Editorial coordinator Robert Rosenthal says reporters will not be cowed into silence.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone. BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Early this summer, journalist Chauncey Bailey was murdered. The editor of the African-American weekly Oakland Post had been investigating the finances of Your Black Muslim Bakery, a local business with alleged criminal dealings, including violence.
A handyman at the bakery has since been charged with the murder, but Bailey's investigation remains unfinished. That, however, may soon change. This week, a dozen-and-a-half news outlets and organizations from around the Bay Area, from KQED Public Radio to the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, have formed the Chauncey Bailey Project, to continue reporting this story.
Robert Rosenthal, formerly of The San Francisco Chronicle, is editorial coordinator of the project, and he joins me now. Robert, welcome back to the show. ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Thank you very much. Nice to be here. BOB GARFIELD: This collaboration is reminiscent of the Arizona Project, in which a number of journalists carried on the work of Don Bolles, who was assassinated 30 years ago investigating organizing crime. Are you using that as, you know, the kind of model in forming the Bailey Project? ROBERT ROSENTHAL: The genesis of this really came a few days after Mr. Bailey was assassinated, when Sandy Close of New American Media and Dori Maynard from the Maynard Institute got a group of Bay Area news organizations together to try and figure out how to continue not only Chauncey's work but also figure out and look into why he may have been targeted.
And I think the Bolles investigation in 1977 was certainly on everyone's minds who came to that meeting. I was not actually at that meeting, but I know that that's how this started. BOB GARFIELD: Now, in that case, the reporters essentially were finishing the story that Bolles had long since begun, and it was an extremely elaborate web of corruption and organized crime. Is that your goal here, to finally untangle exactly what Your Black Muslim Bakery is up to? ROBERT ROSENTHAL: That's part of it. I think it's going beyond Bailey's work, I have to say. I think that when you look at the Bey organization over more than 20 years, they're really intertwined with so much of what's happened in Oakland. BOB GARFIELD: Let me interrupt by saying you mentioned the Bey organization. You're referring to the founder of Your Black Muslim Bakery, Yusuf Bey. ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Yes. BOB GARFIELD: Tell me about him and his history. ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Well, Yusuf Bey broke off from national Muslim organizations in the '70s and really began an economic enterprise. The bakery was one element of that. And he was a controversial and, in some quarters, revered figure in Oakland and in the Bay area.
He passed away a few years ago, and at the end of his life there were all kinds of allegations about abuse, pedophilia, and the fallout from his death is sort of what's fermenting right now.
I just want to say also that when Chauncey was killed, he was also looking into some other things, including police corruption in Oakland. And we're really, you know, looking at everything, and in some cases the people working on the story, the journalists, are also doing their other jobs.
So it's almost really a volunteer effort that's sort of morphing into a much more sophisticated model, and this really only began, you know, about a month ago. BOB GARFIELD: A lot of the groundwork has already been laid by a newspaper, an alt weekly called The East Bay Express, three or four years back in a two-part series on Your Muslim Bakery. And by the editor's own admission, the paper at that time was actually scared off the story. In fact, here's what Steven Buel told us about a month ago. STEVEN BUEL: We did consciously decide to abandon the story about a year after the publication of our original project. I was torn about that then and I'm torn about that now because there was more to write, and we were basically intimidated into silence. I'll always regret that in some way. BOB GARFIELD: In the event that the principals in this story, whether of Your Muslim Bakery or local Oakland officials or others, do attempt to intimidate your volunteers in the way that they apparently scared off The East Bay Express, you know, what are your plans? ROBERT ROSENTHAL: We raised that issue very early on, that this was potentially a journalistic endeavor that might involve risk. And we all agreed that this would not deter us. You know, it's been on everyone's mind. In fact, you mentioned earlier that there are students working on this from not only the University of California Berkeley journalism school but also San Francisco State. And we're being very careful about how we use them and not put them in situations that might put them at risk. BOB GARFIELD: Have there been any efforts so far to push you away, to scare you off, to do anything untoward? ROBERT ROSENTHAL: No, not that I'm aware of. Paul Cobb, the publisher of The Oakland Post, Chauncey's boss, has been threatened, but none of us in this group have yet, as far as I know. BOB GARFIELD: I want to come back to the murder of Don Bolles, which led to the Arizona Project and many reporters getting together to carry on the late reporter's work. At that time, some news organizations signed on but many pointedly declined on the grounds that the whole thing smacked of a crusade and that good journalism and crusading -- they believed at the time -- don't necessarily go hand in hand.
Were there any such reservations in taking on the Chauncey Bailey Project? ROBERT ROSENTHAL: No. I don't think we saw this as a crusade. I think that we saw this as an extremely unusual occurrence in this country, where a journalist is clearly targeted and killed for their work. And, we believe that when that happens, that his peers or her peers will rally to bring light and a lot of heat to the people responsible. And I think in part that's what we're looking to do here, to try and make clear to everybody that when a journalist is targeted and assassinated that it's not only a criminal act but it's one that really affects sort of the foundation, potentially, of how our democracy functions and the role of the press. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Robert. Well, good luck on the project. Thank you very much. ROBERT ROSENTHAL: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Robert Rosenthal, former managing editor of The San Francisco Chronicle and former editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, is the editorial coordinator of the Chauncey Bailey Project.