This morning’s New York Times is reporting that key details of an article published June 7 in Slate, “Monkeyfishing,” were fabricated by the author, Jay Forman. Slate, which stood by the story and the author against earlier charges, now acknowledges that it published falsehoods and we apologize to our readers.
The Slate article described a “monkeyfishing” excursion in the Florida Keys. This involved taking a boat to an island occupied by monkeys and casting for them like fish, using fruit for bait. Despite suggestions by others that the entire episode was fiction, this excursion did take place. In fact the Times story, by Alex Kuczynski, quotes the fisherman who took Forman and his friend on the trip.
Contrary to allegations that no such practice ever existed, Kuczynski also confirms that monkeyfishing occurred on other occasions before the one Forman describes. She quotes the fisherman saying he had gone on similar excursions once or “maybe twice.” The friend who accompanied Forman–whose statements to Slate and as cited by Kuczynski have been consistent and unchallenged–told Slate another fisherman also had taken such an excursion. Is it therefore inaccurate to call monkeyfishing “a sport [that] evolved among the local fishermen”? Most of the Times article is devoted to questioning this description, and we’re not disposed to argue. It was, at the very least, a purposely misleading exaggeration.
What Kuczynski establishes beyond all reasonable challenge is that no monkeys were actually hooked, none “came flying from the trees, a juicy apple stapled to its palm,” lines were not cut to free them, and so on. Any inaccuracy is bad, and a willful inaccuracy is worse yet, but these fabrications go to the heart of the article and therefore, unfortunately, discredit the whole thing.
(The friend maintains that lines were cast and that the monkeys did tug on the fruit. Kuczynski quotes a local boat captain saying it is “logistically impossible to cast a rod with an apple attached to it. Writing late Sunday night and knowing nothing about fishing, I cannot say who’s right. But we’ll get to the bottom of it, possibly with help from our readers.)
Obviously, we now have to wonder about two other articles by Forman published in Slate, although key details of those articles have survived questioning and re-examination during the past couple of weeks. Forman now concedes that a rat-infested house he placed in Baton Rouge, La., was actually in Jackson, Miss. He says this was an innocent lapse of memory (and it is hard to think of an ulterior motive). More seriously, he concedes that a prank he described as occurring when he worked for a pornographic Web site actually was told to him as having occurred before he worked there.
Once again, Slate apologizes for having published these falsehoods. Over five years, we believe, we had built a record of accuracy–and of concern for accuracy–equal to any publication on or off the Web. That remains our goal. Now we have to work a bit harder to achieve it.