WORCESTER, MASS. - Paul DeMain, publisher and managing editor of News From
Indian Country, doesn't make retractions easily.
After settling a libel suit filed by Leonard Peltier with a letter stating
he did not believe the American Indian Movement veteran and long-term
prisoner was involved in the murder of AIM activist Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash,
DeMain enraged the negotiators of the settlement by denying that he had
made a retraction. Instead he trumped his previous statement with sweeping
charges against a long list of AIM figures.
In an interview with Indian Country Today, the controversial editor said he
thought Peltier was not a suspect in the execution-style killing because he
did not rank high enough in AIM to have the authority to order it. Instead
DeMain reeled off a list of AIM leaders that he said had a motive for the
The motive, DeMain said, was that Pictou-Aquash, along with several other
AIM insiders, had heard Peltier brag about pulling the trigger on two FBI
agents who had been wounded in a shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Reservation in
1975. DeMain based his statement on unnamed "multiple sources," as well as
testimony at the recent trial of Arlo Looking Cloud for the murder of
Pictou-Aquash. Looking Cloud was convicted, and the investigation is
Peltier is currently serving two consecutive life sentences for "aiding and
abetting" the killing of the two FBI agents at the Jumping Bull compound in
Oglala, S.D., but he has continually denied that he pulled the trigger. He
filed a libel suit against DeMain on May 1, 2003, less than two months
after DeMain printed his charge as a note to another writer's lengthy
interview with Peltier.
It's not the first time DeMain has back-pedaled on a lurid story. In May
2002, he charged that a "top Oneida Nation official" was a suspect in a
21-year-old murder investigation. Although the statement circulated briefly
on the Internet and was picked up by the editor of another newspaper, it
was categorically denied by all of the investigating authorities. DeMain
never produced substantiation. He said he had settled the issue by writing
a letter of "clarification" to Oneida Indian Nation lawyers and publishing
a "We Stand Corrected" item in his July 25, 2002 issue. (The Oneida Nation
is owner of Four Directions Media, Inc., parent company to this newspaper.)
Nevertheless, DeMain, has received awards from the Native American
Journalists Association and the University of Oregon School of Journalism.
In spite of earlier protests about the Oregon award, Journalism School Dean
Tim Gleason told ICT, "We have no intent at this point to review the
This recognition focused on DeMain's coverage of the murder in late 1975 or
early 1976 of Anna Mae Pictou-Aquash, a now legendary figure in the AIM
standoff at Wounded Knee and ironically the center of the Peltier libel
suit. The editor and main writer of the twice-monthly Wisconsin newspaper
made waves in a March 3, 2003 article with the double charge that "the
motive" for the murder of the AIM heroine, "allegedly was her knowledge
that Leonard Peltier had shot the two agents, as he was convicted."
On May 26, after postponing several attempts to take his deposition, DeMain
negotiated a settlement of the suit. He wrote a letter to Peltier's lawyer
Barry Bachrach of Worcester, Mass., stating, "I do not believe that Leonard
Peltier received a fair trial in connection with the murders of which he
was convicted. Certainly he is entitled to one. Nor do I believe, according
to the evidence and testimony I now have, that Mr. Peltier had any
involvement in the death of Anna Mae Aquash."
DeMain said he agreed to the letter after the conviction of Arlo Looking
Cloud. "The negotiations were opened by Bob Robideau, who asked me if there
was something I would still say about Leonard Peltier that would be helpful
to him," DeMain said. (Robideau an AIM veteran, was tried for the murder of
the FBI agents in 1975 and acquitted.) DeMain said he felt the trial had
damaged the campaign for Peltier's pardon. He published the letter on his
Web site under a link saying, "Peltier finally gets a break" and the
headline "News from Indian Country allows Peltier to withdraw lawsuit."
He said that although he felt he had a strong defense in media law, he
didn't want to go through the expense of depositions and a trial.
Bachrach gave a very different picture of the negotiations, however.
According to Peltier's lawyer, DeMain had agreed to the wording of the
letter several months earlier, using Robideau as a go-between. But then
"After about three or four weeks of hearing nothing, I was starting to get
perturbed," said Bachrach. "So I woke up and said, 'I've got to do
something here,' so I filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement.
He had agreed to a certain statement, and Leonard had agreed to dismiss the
Bachrach said his concern was to end "what I call 'smear-say', around the
Anna Mae trial and the investigation where Leonard was getting smeared by
"We wanted a clear statement from DeMain that he had no evidence nor did he
believe that Leonard had any involvement nor did Leonard order the shooting
nor could he have."
Although DeMain's letter didn't exactly follow the original agreement, said
Bachrach, "Leonard felt it was close enough. He doesn't really want to be
in the business of suing an Indian newspaper, but this guy has run his
mouth way too much."
After signing the letter, however, DeMain introduced it on his Web site by
repeating his original offending footnote. He added, "Those statements have
not been retracted by Paul DeMain, or News From Indian Country as part of
the agreement by News From Indian Country to allow Mr. Peltier to withdraw
Bachrach told ICT he is trying to cool off the controversy, but that he
found this retraction of the retraction "ridiculous."
"I thought he frankly looked foolish," he said. Venting in an e-mail to
Robideau, he called DeMain "a classless snake and hack journalist."
This is not the first controversy to surround DeMain's coverage of a
high-profile murder. In May 2002, his paper ran an Associated Press item
saying that federal prosecutors were reviewing the 20-year-old
disappearance of Tammy Mahoney, a college student last seen hitch-hiking
May 8, 1981 on Route 46 near the Oneida territory. Police believe she was
taken to a party at a house-trailer on Territory Road, gang-raped and
murdered. DeMain inserted his own statement that the list of suspects
"allegedly include [d] the name of a top Oneida Nation official."
He repeated the charge a month later in a speech at the Native American
Journalists Association convention, while accepting its Wassaja award for
The trouble was that officials of every department in the
multi-jurisdictional investigation categorically denied DeMain's statement
and said he had never talked to them. He later said that he had received
his information from three unnamed New York residents "close to the
investigation" but refused to name them.
After correspondence with Oneida Indian Nation attorneys, he printed a
"clarification" in his July 25, 2002 issue acknowledging that the lead
investigator, Madison County Undersheriff Douglas Bailey, had denied that
any Oneida Nation officials were on the suspect list. He said he had
repeated the "clarification" in a September letter to the Oneida Nation
sent from his attorney's office.