The Intercept announced a series of fabrications by one of its staff writers, Juan Thompson, in a note posted on the site Tuesday from editor-in-chief Betsy Reed. Thompson was a staff reporter at the Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and Jeremy Scahill-founded investigative site with a national security bent for a little over a year before being fired in December. An internal investigation, Reed writes, showed that Thompson blatantly fabricated quotes in at least five stories.
An investigation into Thompson’s reporting turned up three instances in which quotes were attributed to people who said they had not been interviewed. In other instances, quotes were attributed to individuals we could not reach, who could not remember speaking with him, or whose identities could not be confirmed. In his reporting Thompson also used quotes that we cannot verify from unnamed people whom he claimed to have encountered at public events.
The most glaring of Thompson’s deceptions is a story about Charleston mass murderer, Dylann Roof. The story, published in June, claimed Roof’s cousin told the Intercept reporter “[Roof] kind of went over the edge when a girl he liked starting dating a black guy two years back.” The story continued:
“Dylann liked her,” Scott Roof said. “The black guy got her. He changed. I don’t know if we would be here if not …” Roof then abruptly hung up the phone.
The story, which was widely cited by other media outlets, has since been retracted with this editor’s note:
After speaking with two members of Dylann Roof’s family, The Intercept can no longer stand by the premise of this story. Both individuals said that they do not know of a cousin named Scott Roof.
Beyond faulty reporting, Thompson, who Reed says refused to participate in a review of his work, worked hard to cover his tracks. “Thompson fabricated several quotes in his stories and created fake email accounts that he used to impersonate people, one of which was a Gmail account in my name,” Reed wrote Tuesday. “Thompson went to great lengths to deceive his editors, creating an email account to impersonate a source and lying about his reporting methods.”
J.K. Trotter over at Gawker has been piecing together more on Thompson, including this sprawling letter addressed to Betsy Reed in response to the Intercept’s accusations. In the letter Thompson says he is bed-ridden from undergoing radiation for testicular cancer.
With regards to verifying the comments, I’m in STL undergoing treatment, again, and not in NY, thus I lack access to my notebooks (which I took for most stories) to address these matters. Moreover, after finally looking over the notes sent to me, I must say this: I had a habit of writing drafts of stories, placing the names of ppl I wanted to get quotes from in there, and then going to fetch the quotes. (Was it sloppy? Yes? But I’m a cub reporter and expected a sustained and competent editor to guide me, something which I never had at your company and something with which The Intercept continues to struggle as everyone in this business knows.) …
If I couldn’t obtain a quote from the person I wanted, I went somewhere else, and must’ve forgot to change the names—clearly. Also, yes I encouraged some of my interviewees to use another name; they’re poor black people who didn’t want their names in the public given the situations and that was the only was of convincing them otherwise. That also explains why some of them didn’t want to talk with your company’s research team or denied the events…
Ms. Reed, I also just read Counsel Oberlander’s letter. I’m not in NY and have been sick and bed-ridden from radiation so of course I can’t return that laptop—that I also broke by the way.