Tua Culpa Tuesday: pre-obituary edition

May. 12, 2008
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Usually death is, at best, a metaphor for media error. Like last week’s functional death of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty after famed photo retoucher Pascal Dangin refered to his work on the “lumpier-than-usual” models a “great to do, a challenge, to keep everyone's skin and faces showing the mileage but not looking unattractive.”

And when death does force a mea culpa, it’s usually for a factual error. Like when advisor to every Clinton Terry McAuliffe posited that Tim Russert’s dad was in heaven, drinking a scotch and enjoying the Democratic primary. Russert, whose dad is not dead, was forced to wonder what inside information the DC insider must have had.

Dove has yet to acknowledge being superficial in the name of anti-superficiality, and Russert cut to commercial before McAuliffe had a chance. So credit Jake Adelstein for requiring the biggest yet-unheard apology of the week. It isn’t just the functional death in business, or the implicit death of his family. He’s faced both of those, and more. One never-to-be-printed story he almost wrote has forced the American-born reporter to abandon his career, seek protection from the Tokyo police department, and send the FBI to guard his stateside family. Adelstein’s coverage of the Yakuza for a Japanese newspaper angered that Japanese mob – and Japanese officials refuse to take simple steps to protect the American collateral damage.

“Three years ago,[Yakuza boss Tadamasa] Goto got word that I was reporting an article about his liver transplant. A few days later, his underlings obliquely threatened me. Then came a formal meeting. The offer was straightforward. "Erase the story or be erased," one of them said. 'Your family too.'

“I knew enough to take the threat seriously. So I took some advice from a senior Japanese detective, abandoned the scoop and resigned from the Yomiuri Shimbun two months later. But I never forgot the story. I planned to write about it in a book, figuring that, with Goto's poor health, he'd be dead by the time it came out. Otherwise, I planned to clip out the business of his operation at the last minute.

“I didn't bargain on the contents leaking out before my book was released, which is what happened last November. Now the FBI and local law enforcement are watching over my family in the States, while the Tokyo police and the NPA look out for me in Japan. I would like to go home, but Goto has a reputation for taking out his target and anyone else in the vicinity.”

But don’t let the oceanic gap fool you. In many ways, Jake Adelstein is safer in the lion’s den than his loved ones thousands of miles away.

“In early March, in my presence, an FBI agent asked the NPA to provide a list of all the members of Goto's organization so that they could stop them from coming into the country and killing my family. The NPA was reluctant at first, citing "privacy concerns," but after much soul-searching handed over about 50 names. But the Tokyo police file lists more than 900 members. I know this because someone posted the file online in the summer of 2007; a Japanese detective was fired because of the leak.”

Japan, he notes, doesn’t have a RICO statute, doesn’t offer plea bargains and doesn’t have a witness protection program. If it’s any consolation to Adelstein, there appears to be a long, proud tradition of the country not caring that the Yakuza is killing anyone – and not just his parents. Still, it might be nice for them to admit the undersized list of potential threats. Perhaps we could trade them a baseball player for it.

Adelstein’s book “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan,” will be coming out soon. And if anyone asks, you heard about the transplant there. I live in America.



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