Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fact Checking Mark Bowden's Curious Vanity Fair Article on Stephanie Lazarus, Part V

Continued from Part IV.....

Complete Series on Fact Checking Mark Bowden's Article HERE
UPDATE: 10/17: spelling of Murrow

Vanity Fair quietly added numerous corrections to the online version of Mark Bowden's article.

Stay tuned for more on this series...

UPDATE 10/2/2012 Correct VF November 2007, to September 2007

UPDATE 10/1/2012
A few developments to tell T&T readers.  Last Friday,  Craig Silverman of, a journalism watchdog site published a story about this five part series.  Today, someone at Advance Publications, the parent company of Vanity Fair, visited T&T again from a link on Silverman's story.  They also hit the Stephanie Lazarus Quick Links page and searched T&T for the words "Vanity Fair."

T&T's StatCounter® Page

Here's a little known fact that my long-time readers might remember.  If you search Vanity Fair's website for the words "Betsy Ross," you will find that the late writer Dominck Dunne mentioned me in his story Cheating on Phil With Paris that appeared in Vanity Fair's September 2007 issue.

UPDATE 9/26/2012
Today, Advance Publications, the parent company of Vanity Fair revisited T&T several times via a link on Mark Bowden's Wikipedia page.

Screen shot of T&T Stat Counter Page

Originally Published September 20th, 2012
Back in June, when I first wrote about Mark Bowden’s article on the Stephanie Lazarus case in the July issue of Vanity Fair, I never thought I’d still be writing about it. But three months and many posts later, here we are.  As legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow once said: "The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer."

Late last week, I noticed that Vanity Fair quietly posted some corrections to the online version of Bowden’s article. To find the corrections, you must click through to the seventh page and scroll down to the very bottom.  Here is what they corrected:
An earlier version of this story misidentified Sherri Rasmussen's alma mater. It is Loma Linda University, not U.C.L.A. The date on which Stephanie Lazarus was mentioned in the case file is November 19, 1987, not November 19, 1986. A cup and straw introduced into evidence were used outside Costco, and not inside, and the DNA from the sample was identified two days later, not three days later.
I applaud Vanity Fair for correcting a few of the factual errors that I pointed out back in June. But what about the other ones?

Oddly, Vanity Fair did not to correct what might be Bowden’s most egregious misstatement of fact, that John Ruetten and Stephanie’s relationship ended in Hawaii in 1989. (Page 146: “Their relationship did not outlast the vacation.”)

Actually, as John testified over two days in February 2012, he and Stephanie reconnected in Los Angeles in the early 1990s and were sexually intimate at least twice.  It’s hard to imagine how Bowden and Vanity Fair’s fact checkers missed this.  John’s testimony was extensively covered by the media.  The Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times, The Criminal Report Daily, and other news outlets reported it.  It was heart wrenching to watch John admit, in front of Sherri Rasmussen’s family and dozens of strangers, that he had sex with Stephanie during his engagement and after the Hawaii trip.  Given that Bowden's article was published in the July issue of Vanity Fair, more than three months after Ruetten testified, how did Bowden get this wrong?  How can his editors defend not correcting it?

There are at least four other significant errors that Vanity Fair has not corrected:

Page 124: "Before they entered the holding area, as a matter of routine, they checked their weapons." Stephanie Lazarus left her weapon at her desk and was unarmed when she entered the jail (which by the way was on the second floor of Parker Center, and not in the "building's basement jail facility," as Bowden described it).

Page 126:  "The saliva swab showed that whoever had bitten Sherri's left forearm had a different blood type from hers." The bite mark swab, which was the crucial evidence in the case, was never tested for blood type in 1986.  It wasn’t tested at all until 2004, when it was tested for DNA, not blood type.

Page 148: "What did 'PO' mean? When they guessed 'police officer,' they ran the name through the department directory and came up with their esteemed colleague in the art-theft division." Van Nuys Homicide detectives never "guessed" Stephanie Lazarus was an LAPD officer. They were told that fact by John Ruetten.

Page 148: Mark Bowden asserts in his article:
Whoever had come looking for Sherri had come to kill her. Sherri had apparently run downstairs, trying to reach the panic button on the security panel. The killer pursued, and stopped her before she got there. They fought savagely. Sherri apparently managed to briefly wrest her assailant’s gun away and place her in a headlock. The killer then bit Sherri’s forearm to break free, and picked up the heavy gray ceramic vase from the living-room shelf and crashed it hard into her forehead. The blow was enough to daze Sherri, if not knock her to the floor. The killer then retrieved the gun and fired the first shot that hit Sherri. It went clean through Sherri’s chest. She began bleeding internally and would have had only minutes to live. She was down now for good. Using the blanket to muffle the sound, the killer then fired two more rounds into her chest, finishing the job.
There was no evidence presented at trial about Stephanie Lazarus's state of mind the morning she killed Sherri Rasmussen, or that she went to Sherri's home with the specific intent to kill her. Former FBI profiler and crime scene analyst Mark Safarik testified during the trial that it is impossible to know for certain the exact sequence of events that transpired when Sherri Rasmussen was killed

How does Mark Bowden know Stephanie Lazarus's state of mind the morning of the murder?  How did he reach his conclusions? 

Continued in Part VI.........


Anonymous said...

I wonder when Bowden will have his "Come to Jesus" moment?

A journalist of Bowden's stature and experience should know better than to try to ignore you. The longer he and Vanity Fair wait before offering an explanation and apology, the worse it looks. It's been way too long already.

Anonymous said...

i don't understand why they would correct some of the errors but not all of them.

costco makes the cut, but not when the key evidence in the case was DNA tested? that makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

i love that one comment on the poynter story -- big tough mark bowden hiding out from a little out lady... LOL.

Anonymous said...

Mark Bowden writing style is what was called circa 1970, the "New Journalism." This was first popularized around that time by Tom Wolfe.

Bowden started out as a sportswriter. His best-known book is "Black Hawk Down," which was made into a major film. Another is "The Best Game Ever," about the 1958 NFL Championship game. I have this one in my library.

I don't think Bowden has a track record of covering and writing about trials.

David In TN

Maddie said...

I smell retraction(s)! :-) Great job, Betsy!

Anonymous said...

Vanity Fair seems to be doing a pretty poor job ignoring you, Betsy, based on all their visits to T&T.

Just think how far you have single-handedly pushed VF since you started your series. Simply amazing.

You are an inspiration to underdogs everywhere.

Anonymous said...

BRAVO to VF for finally putting the FACTS before the reputation of their star writer. but what took them so long?

i also notice that VF forgot to apologize... and thank you for doing their fact-checker's work for them... instead they make these corrections in the dead of night, as if they just occurred to VF out of the blue. not so classy

do you think bowden will ever man up and offer an explanation for his screw-ups?

CaliGirl9 said...

I think it is deplorable that a person who makes money on their words, e.g. a journalist or writer, doesn't hold themselves to the highest standards of truthfulness. It's what we are supposed to have learned in college.

Then again, media used to be the "watchdog" that asked the hard questions of government and who used to present the unbiased truth to readers so we could draw our own conclusions.

So these mistruths/misstatements go right along with today's media types being the ones to set an agenda and tell us what to think, damn the truth if it happens to get in the way!

Sandy said...

As a former journalist of the Old School (and by now it seems really old - LOL!) if I didn't have the facts to back up anything I said, I did not say it/ write it. It is a great pity that more and more media types simply fill in the blanks the way they want it to be instead of doing some 'work' to find out what is really going on. By the way, this is not localized to the U.S. media... I live in Colombia, S.A., for part of the year and this is likely a world-wide problem.