Updated: National Review does something right, sues Cory Booker

Newark Police won't share records about a murder Booker says he witnessed

Published September 11, 2013 8:25PM (EDT)

Cory Booker    (AP/Seth Wenig)
Cory Booker (AP/Seth Wenig)

The National Review is suing Newark mayor and U.S. Senate candidate Cory Booker, and good for them. National Review editor Rich Lowry announced the suit today, against Booker, the City of Newark and the Newark Police Department. They are looking to obtain records pertaining to a murder Booker claims to have witnessed.

The background is T-Bone, the man Booker invoked when he wanted rich audiences to get a feel for the harsh reality of life on the streets, through "composite" characters that acted and talked like all the horribly written black gangster characters from "The Sopranos." T-Bone, Rutgers history professor Clement Price told the National Review's Eliana Johnson, was made up.

Price considers himself a mentor and friend to Booker and says Booker conceded to him in 2008 that T-Bone was a “composite” of several people he’d met while living in Newark. The professor describes a “tough conversation” in which he told Booker “that I disapproved of his inventing such a person.” “If you’re going to create a composite of a man along High Street,” he says he asked Booker, “why don’t you make it W. E. B. DuBois?” From Booker, he says, “There was no pushback. He agreed that was a mistake.” Since then, references to T-Bone have been conspicuously absent from Booker’s speeches.

This lawsuit is not about T-Bone. It is about another story that Booker frequently tells to illustrate the cheapness of life among the urban poor, one that also features some slightly dramatic flourishes. A man named Wazn Miller was shot in Newark in 2004. Here's Lowry:

Almost no one would have heard his name if Booker hadn’t repeatedly told the story of his last minutes. According to Booker, he heard shots in his neighborhood, Miller stumbled backwards and collapsed into his arms, and then died, as Booker whispered into his ear, “Stay with me, stay with me.”

The National Review has been seeking the police records related to the murder of Wazn Miller. The records should be publicly available. Newark has yet to provide them with anything. So they're suing to get them, as they should. The National Review is obviously seeking to embarrass a rising Democratic star, on the eve of his ascension to national office, but so far they've done so honestly, and carefully (the T-Bone story is pretty damn well-sourced). If Booker is a serial fabricator, instead of a guy who just made up one idiotic fake character for his little drama stories, people ought to know. And if he's not making anything up about the story of Miller, well, Newark ought to just release the documents instead of stonewalling.

Booker is beloved in part because of his storytelling ability -- there is a reason he nets those massive speaking fees that he swears he gives entirely, or mostly, to charity -- and many of his stories both titillate his audiences with these little gritty street scenes and flatter them with Booker's reassuring moral, that the problems of urban poverty are best addressed through the benevolence of the sort of rich people who pay Cory Booker a great deal of money to tell stories. What if it turns out that both the moral and the stories are false?

Really, my only problem with the National Review's persecution of Booker is that they didn't wait until the next presidential primary campaign or running mate vetting process. It's way too late to stop this guy from cruising to the Senate.

UPDATE: Ehh, maybe I should just stick with my default skepticism of everything the National Review says and does. A police record obtained by ThinkProgress says Booker was "in the area" and "rendered aid to the victim." Sorry, Cory! And way to ruin your hot streak of "one accurate article about Cory Booker," National Review. Good work, guys.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at apareene@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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2013 Elections Cory Booker National Review New Jersey Newark