Book explores California journalist's 2007 murder over story about Black Muslim cult

Associated Press/March 6, 2012

"Killing the Messenger: A Story of Radical Faith, Racism's Backlash, and the Assassination of a Journalist" (Crown), by Thomas Peele: On Aug. 2, 2007, the editor of a small weekly newspaper in Oakland, Calif., was assassinated on his way to work. Within hours it was clear: Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey had been killed over a story.

It had been three decades since a journalist was murdered in the United States because of his work, and reporters were shocked into action. Over the next four years, a group of journalists came together to finish Bailey's work. Through stories they exposed the violent cult behind Bailey's murder, a group that ran Oakland's Your Black Muslim Bakery. Now one of those reporters, Thomas Peele, has turned what they learned into a book.

Peele deserves particular credit for resisting any temptation to make Bailey a martyr or to gloss over his failings. Instead, readers are told bluntly that Bailey had a reputation for "hasty reporting, poor writing, and questionable ethics." The story that cost him his life was sloppily written.

Peele's book is the exact opposite, a story told with the authority and nuance that comes with exhaustive research.

At times, however, it can seem that Peele feels duty-bound to record every detail he knows, a habit that can get in the way of advancing the story. Readers won't care that police used "interview room two" to talk to a man involved in Bailey's killing, or that from a certain hill in East Oakland planes taking off from the airport appear eye level after about 10 seconds. Sections of the book that chronicle the history of the Black Muslim movement are necessary but can also feel academic.

Without a doubt "Killing the Messenger" will stand as the definitive work on Bailey's murder and Oakland's Your Black Muslim Bakery. But readers may find themselves wondering if the book could have been both complete and more concise.

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