February 2, 2016

Juan Thompson, who until November was a reporter for The Intercept, has been fired from the national security site after editors unspooled “a pattern of deception” that revealed he fabricated quotes and misled colleagues in order to cover his tracks, Editor-in-Chief Betsy Reed said in a note to readers.

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. Thompson went to great lengths to deceive his editors, creating an email account to impersonate a source and lying about his reporting methods.

Five separate articles appear beneath the editor’s note; one is retracted, four are corrected. The retracted article purports to contain an interview with “Scott Roof,” who is identified in the piece as the cousin of Charleston shooter Dylann Roof. It carries the following 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.

The problems with this story reflect a pattern of misattributed quotes that The Intercept uncovered in stories written by Juan Thompson, a former staff reporter. We apologize to our readers.

In an email to Poynter, Reed confirmed that Thompson has been fired and added that she didn’t have additional comment beyond the editor’s note.

In her note, Reed explains how Thompson took editors down a trail of deceit that bears some resemblance to the career-ending fabrication spree of Stephen Glass, who also prevaricated to cover his tracks. Reed says Thompson made up a bogus email account to impersonate a source and lied about his reporting methods. Although he did not cooperate in an editorial review of his stories, Thompson “stood by his published work.”

The Intercept deeply regrets this situation. Ultimately, I am accountable for everything we publish. The best way we can see to maintain the trust of readers is to acknowledge and correct these mistakes, and to focus on producing journalism we are proud of.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism…
Benjamin Mullin

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