The Intercept disclosed today that a former reporter for the national-security focused website fabricated quotes and invented sources for a number of stories published last year. According to a post published on Tuesday afternoon by editor-in-chief Betsy Reed, that reporter, Juan Thompson, went so far as to register fake email addresses, including one in Reed’s own name, to deceive his editors about the extent of his fabrications:

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.

Shortly before Reed’s post, The Intercept prepended lengthy editor’s notes to five of Thompson’s prior articles. Four of the notes amount to severe corrections; the fifth, attached to an article containing quotes attributed to a cousin of the white supremacist Dylann Roof, indicates a total retraction: “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.”

In the now-retracted article, Thompson had claimed that “Scott Roof” had speculated during a phone conversation that Dylann Roof may been driven to murder nine black churchgoers at a Charleston, South Carolina church because “he kind of went over the edge when a girl he liked starting dating a black guy two years back.” Thompson’s report was picked up by dozens of other news outlets.

Thompson was hired by The Intercept’s founding editor-in-chief, John Cook, in November 2014. Reed replaced Cook, a former editor of and the current executive editor of Gawker Media, in December 2014. Prior to The Intercept, Thompson had reported in Chicago for DNAInfo and interned at the local NPR affiliate, WBEZ.*

Based on his Twitter account, Thompson appears to be invested in the outcomes of other journalism controversies. In several tweets from last year, for example, he argued that former BuzzFeed editor Benny Johnson, who was fired for committing widespread plagiarism in the summer of 2014, would not have been been able to bounce back so quickly (to editor positions at National Review and the Independent Journal Review) if he were not white:

Shortly after The Intercept’s note was published on Tuesday, a former colleague of Thompson’s suggested on Twitter that his past behavior had sent up some red flags. That colleague, a social media editor at DNAInfo Chicago named Jen Sabella, tweeted:

When asked for clarification, Sabella referred us to DNAInfo Chicago’s managing editor, Shamus Toomey, who provided the following statement about Thompson’s tenure there: “He briefly served as a summer intern in 2013, covering mainly event stories.”

When asked for comment by Gawker, Thompson sent us a copy of an undated letter he apparently sent to editor-in-chief Betsy Reed:

Ms. Reed:

I’ve been undergoing radiation treatment for testicular cancer and, since I no longer have health insurance, I’ve been feverishly struggling and figuring out how to pay for my treatment. All of this, of course, has taken up my time and energy; except for the few moments I’ve spent searching for some relief.

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.)

But, I digress; back to the situation before us.

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. These weren’t articles in Harpers or The Nation. Instead, these are the lives of people forgotten by society and their being in public and talking to white, NY people, no less, could harm and turn them off. They’ve lost loved ones to violence you and others couldn’t possibly imagine.

Ultimately, the journalism that covers the experiences of poor black folk and the journalism others, such as you and First Look, are used to differs drastically. This dilemma is the Great Problem with the white media organizations that dominate our media landscape. As Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote: “The standard [white] progressive approach of the moment is to mix color-conscious moral invective with color-blind public policy.” Such an approach ignores the differences in the way we must navigate these various fields: including journalism.

The comments from editors calling me a stray dog; the lower pay; the being told on a trip to DC that I “shouldn’t spend like it’s the first of the month”. I shrugged it all off.

I hope you and your company can understand all this and give me time to recover so that I may eventually look over my notes. I must say, though, it’s a very nefarious and ill liberal and anti humanist position to take if you do otherwise: kicking a cancer patient when he’s down. I’ve been through a lot tougher situations than this and will weather anything thrown my way.

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. But if your company wishes to withhold my separation pay, which I was banking on for my treatment, go right ahead. I’m also owed reimbursement from the trip to DC which I haven’t received. But I’m not angry because, naturally, I didn’t bring this up because my focus is on much more important things.

Juan Thompson

According to Reed’s note, Thompson “did not cooperate in the review” of his past reporting.

Update — 3:40 p.m.

Reed has responded:

From: Betsy Reed
Subject: Re: quick question
Date: February 2, 2016 at 3:38:46 PM EST
To: Keenan Trotter


I did receive an email from Juan today but it was not identical to the letter he sent to you, which you posted.

In particular, this paragraph was not in the email he sent me:

The comments from editors calling me a stray dog; the lower pay; the being told on a trip to DC that I “shouldn’t spend like it’s the first of the month”. I shrugged it all off.


Update — 4:40 p.m.

A reader points out that Thompson provided a third and slightly different version of the letter he purportedly sent to Reed to CNN media reporter Tom Kludt. In the version he sent to Gawker, the 7th paragraph reads:

The comments from editors calling me a stray dog; the lower pay; the being told on a trip to DC that I “shouldn’t spend like it’s the first of the month”. I shrugged it all off.

In the version he sent to CNN, the same paragraph contains two extra clauses (bolding ours):

The comments from editors calling me a stray dog; the lower pay; the being told on a trip to DC that I “shouldn’t spend like it’s the first of the month”. I shrugged it all off. And did this force to exaggerate and work to prove my worth? Yes.

Update — 4:52 p.m.

Thompson attempted to explain the differing versions of his letter to Reed in an email to Gawker:

From: Juan Thompson
Subject: Re: Press inquiry from Gawker
Date: February 2, 2016 at 4:49:08 PM EST
To: Keenan Trotter

It’s the same I’m editing as I think of more things.


* Update — 6:15 p.m.

Ben Calhoun, who serves as vice president of content and programming at Chicago Public Media, which operates WBEZ, tells Gawker that Thompson’s staff biography at The Intercept, which we paraphrased above, erroneously described him as a reporter for the NPR affiliate:

I wanted to reach out to you about Juan Thompson.

Among the things that Juan apparently misled people about was his role at WBEZ. In his bio for The Intercept Juan stated that he was a reporter at WBEZ. That claim is not true. Juan was never a reporter at WBEZ.

Juan was an intern for a local talk show for 4 months (May – August of 2014). The extent of his duties was minimal, and he certainly was never responsible for any piece of journalism – nor does he have any bylines with us.

We’d obviously appreciate very much if Gawker didn’t propagate this particular piece of bad information.

Up until an hour or so ago, Thompson’s biography at The Intercept read as follows:

Juan Thompson is a journalist with a focus on crime, punishment, the police state, and race. Prior to joining The Intercept, he worked as a production assistant and reporter at Chicago’s NPR member station WBEZ and as a reporter for DNAinfo Chicago.

He lives in Brooklyn.

It now reads:

Juan Thompson is a former staff reporter for The Intercept.

Update — 6:45 p.m.

Thompson apparently provided a fourth version of the letter he purportedly sent to Reed, this time to Recode’s Noah Kulwin. The seventh paragraph of Recode’s copy includes an additional passage referring to a different reporter who used to work at The Intercept:

The comments from editors calling me a stray dog; the lower pay; the being told on a trip to DC that I “shouldn’t spend like it’s the first of the month”. I shrugged it all off. Even after the only black reporter there was fired and the editor said to him “You seem too angry”, invoking the angry black male stereotype. Did all this force to exaggerate my personal shit in order to prove my worth? Yes.

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