Last night, Eliana posted a piece on what police records show about a story of a shooting that Cory Booker has repeatedly told in speeches. Booker has said he heard shots fired in his neighborhood, ran to the scene, and just happened to get there in time to have the shooting victim fall into his arms, or as he put it in one speech, he “lunged forward to catch him.” Then, according to Booker’s account, he held the victim as he died in his arms. But police records say nothing about the victim, Wazn Miller, falling into Booker’s arms and they cite a woman — whose account is corroborated by another witness — saying that she held the wounded Miller until paramedics arrived. Eliana points out these discrepancies and David Weigel of Slate published a piece, “Cory Booker Definitely Shouldn’t Exaggerate Any Stories of Urban Crime,” that came largely to the same conclusions (and praised Eliana for “doing some solid, dogged, unpopular journalism”).
Now, a Booker spokesman is out with a statement that is notable mostly for contradicting Booker (see the update at the end of Eliana’s piece). Apparently the claim that Miller fell into Booker’s arms is no longer operative. “When Mayor Booker arrived at the scene,” according to Booker spokesman James Allen, “there were a few individuals trying to hold Mr. Miller up on some steps. The mayor grabbed the victim from behind and with the help of others, carried him to the grass.” This is not only much more plausible than Booker somehow catching the victim after running some distance to reach him, it is quite admirable. But you could have listened to Booker tell the story over and over, and never known that this is what happened — that he and some others carried the victim from the steps to the grass. Booker is known as a talented communicator. If he wanted to convey this to audiences, it wasn’t beyond his power to do so.
The wrenching picture of Booker alone holding the victim until he dies is now not quite operative, either. “Another individual was supporting Mr. Miller’s head,” Allen says, “while Mayor Booker was positioned near the victim’s torso, applying pressure to his chest to try to stop the bleeding and working to clear blood from his mouth. When paramedics arrived, the mayor was still holding the victim and no longer felt a pulse.” This is murkier, but again, it is not what Booker conveyed to audiences, even though this version would seem to be dramatic enough not to need any embellishment.
The Booker team is also out suggesting that we didn’t need to sue to get the police records in question. But Eliana began trying to obtain them on August 15 and filed an official Open Public Records Act Request on August 22. She was passed among multiple people and at one point the police department said it couldn’t find the records. The city clerk’s office promised only “a response.” It wasn’t until we sued on Tuesday and the suit hit the press that we almost immediately got them — but not before ThinkProgress somehow got them first. The mayor’s office struck a theme of complete openness in their statement saying the city would release the records, but now Newark tells us it can’t get us the preliminary investigation report or the underlying police interviews.
I think Weigel is right that in this case Booker’s exaggerations won’t hurt him politically — at the end of the day, he acted the Good Samaritan. But he couldn’t resist making the story a little better. My guess is that, just as he has dropped T-Bone from his stories, he will never again tell an audience of catching Wazn Miller in his arms.