CNBC reporter Darren Rovell has apologized after discovering that a story he wrote back in November included hoax material given to him by a source.
Cautionary lesson: Rovell only spoke to the source by email and never made any other attempts to confirm his story.
In the end, he quoted a collection of made-up facts and figures provided to him by what Deadspin describes as a “bored” 18-year-old high school senior.
After Deadspin broke the story, CNBC removed the offending section from Rovell’s report, and added a correction which links to an apology from Rovell.
The story started with an attempt by Rovell to use social media to gather stories from people who had been affected by the NBA lockout:
If you are losing a paycheck/business because of the NBA, I want to tell your story. Email me at email@example.com.
— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) November 17, 2011
One response came from a person who went by the name Henry James and used the email address “firstname.lastname@example.org.” He told Rovell he ran an escort service that was feeling the pinch due to a dropoff in patronage from NBA players.
Rovell and “Henry” went back and forth by email and then this section appeared in Rovell’s article:
A 30 percent decline seems to be the magic number, even for Henry, who runs an escort service in New York that he says charges between $400 and $4,000 an hour, depending on the woman.
Henry says he takes between 65 and 80 percent of the total cut to match the players and other high-profile fans, who are with the client an average of four hours.
“There are replacements but they aren’t as consistent and not nearly as high paying,” Henry said.
Deadspin has published part of the email exchange they say was provided to them by the 18-year-old who claims to be behind the fake email account. Tim told Deadspin he just made up the numbers quoted by Rovell. And, apparently, Rovell made little attempt to verify any of the claims, or Henry’s identity, before publishing the information.
Tim told Deadspin he decided to reveal the hoax now because a friend encouraged him to do it. It seems he and his friend aren’t fans of Rovell’s Twitter presence, and they wanted to reveal the hoax to burn him.
Tim’s friend said Rovell is “just such a douche on twitter all the time,” so off the emails went to Deadspin.
By 3 p.m. today, CNBC had corrected the story and Rovell apologized. From his apology:
The escort story made the cut because I thought it was different. As you can see in the published exchange I went back and forth with “Tim” in an attempt to ascertain whether his story was genuine. Feeling satisfied that the answers seemed real, we included it in the story.
He duped me. Shame on me. I apologize to my readers.
As a result I will do fewer stories on the real life impact of big events which I do think the public enjoys.
There will always be people out there who want their 15 minutes of fame and not really care how they get there.
It’s good he’s willing to be up front about being fooled, and to apologize. But his decision to do fewer stories on this related topic seems strange, and his comment that the public will suffer as a result is even more puzzling.
The problem wasn’t the subject matter, and Rovell hopefully realizes that — even if he doesn’t say so to readers.
The problem was Rovell neglected to check any of the material he was given — material that came from an amusingly named gmail account, unaccompanied by anything resembling proof or verifiable fact, about NBA players sleeping with prostitutes and paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to do it. Information worth verifying.
Hat tip to Anthony De Rosa.