February 3, 2016

JOURNALISM: Reporter fired for fabricating quotes, impersonating sources.

Intercept reporter Juan Thompson was fired last month for fabricating quotes in his articles and creating fake email accounts to impersonate sources.

In a note to readers, Intercept Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed wrote that Thompson attributed quotes to people who say they had never been interviewed, could not remember being interviewed or couldn’t be found. He created fake email accounts purportedly from some of these sources and lied to his editors.

“We apologize to the subjects of the stories; to the people who were falsely quoted; and to you, our readers,” Reed wrote. “We are contacting news outlets that picked up the corrected stories to alert them to the problems.”

The Intercept has retracted one of Thompson’s stories completely (but has left it up on the website with a note) and made corrections to others. The retracted story involved Scott Roof, the alleged cousin of Charleston, South Carolina shooter Dylann Roof. Dylann made headlines in 2015 when he murdered nine black churchgoers in an attack motivated by racism.

Thompson claimed he spoke to Scott about the shooter. Scott allegedly told Thompson that “Dylann was normal until he started listening to that white power music stuff” and “he kind of went over the edge when a girl he liked starting dating a black guy two years back.”

During their investigation, editors for the Intercept spoke to members of the Roof family, who said they had never heard of a cousin named Scott.

In another story, about Black Lives Matter activists being blocked from a Donald Trump rally, Thompson invented quotes and people. He gave the full name of one of his sources, who told the Intercept that she was not at the rally, was not a Trump supporter and never spoke to Thompson. The Intercept also couldn’t verify the existence of a BLM activist who allegedly provided a quote to Thompson.

It’s as if he cared more about advancing a narrative than reporting accurately. Happily, this is a freakish event, unlikely to be repeated.

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