Serial fabricator Paresh Jha: ‘Yeah I made it up’

The Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists concluded its independent investigation into serial fabricator Paresh Jha’s work and on Monday announced it has revoked his first place prize.

The board also said Jha will keep his third place prize because the “investigation found no evidence of deception.” The decision to let the third place prize stand is contrary to the recommendation made to the CTSPJ board by media lawyer and Syracuse professor Roy Gutterman, the independent investigator retained to look into two Jha articles that won the prizes in May.

Jha’s former employer, Hearst’s New Canaan News, previously stated that he had admitted to fabricating sources in his first place entry but that the other winning story was clear of infractions. The CTSPJ board decided to launch an independent investigation before making any determination about Jha’s awards. It brought on Gutterman in late June to investigate.

In his lengthy and detailed report for the board, made public Monday including the first public statements of regret from Jha, Gutterman confirmed that the first place winner included fabricated sources. He also found that the third place entry included two misspelled names, quotations that sources subsequently expressed concerns about, a reference to an article from Time magazine that could not be located, two sentences that “bear a similarity” to a previously published story, and inaccurate references to source material.

“Given the problems with this story, the findings of Mr. Jha’s admitted fabrications, and his own offer to forfeit his two awards, this award should also be retracted,” Gutterman wrote.

In an interview Monday, Gutterman said, “I knew that [third place] piece was questionable about five minutes after reading it … I mean, mistakes happen, but repeatedly over and over in the same story? That’s questionable stuff.”

I asked CTSPJ president Jodie Mozdzer if the board considered revoking the third place prize, and if so why they decided against it. She said the “board discussed all possible actions, but no motion was made to revoke the third-place award.” Mozdzer explained that the story did not meet the test the CTSPJ board set in order to revoke an award:

The Connecticut SPJ board used the Pulitzer board’s 1932 standard — clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception — to assess the legitimacy of Paresh Jha’s entries. … Although some sources felt their quotes were taken out of context in Jha’s third-place entry, and Mr. Gutterman questioned the writing and reporting techniques, the Connecticut SPJ Board did not feel it met the standard of “clear and convincing evidence of deliberate deception” as the first place award entry did.

Gutterman said his job was to investigate and make recommendations; it was up to the board to determine a course of action.

“It was a recommendation, and they did what they felt was appropriate,” he said. I read him Mozdzer’s statement about the board’s decision and he said, “That’s totally acceptable.”

Jha speaks

I spoke to Gutterman when he was first appointed, and at that time he’d had no luck tracking down Jha. That luck recently changed, and the result is the only public statement from Jha about his fabrications and why they occurred:

In the interview for this investigation, Mr. Jha admitted that he created the two people to flesh out the [first place] story. “(In the) alcohol package the two fabricated sources were Riley and Peg Allaway and their quotes are not real,” he said. Of the Allaway names, he said, “It was just something I came up with. I really don’t know how I came up with it, it was just something that just came about.”

Jha also called what he did “wrong,” “regrettable” and “misguided.”

“He was very matter of fact [about his transgressions],” Gutterman told me. “He was pretty candid, he said ‘Yeah I made it up.’ ”

Jha claimed his fabrications began with a story he found difficult to complete.

“He said he went out to do one story and had trouble getting people to talk to him, so he went back and made people up,” Gutterman said. “He said he never made up quotes for anybody who existed. He just made up people to fit into the story.”

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