Talking Points Memo unpublished a freelance first-person essay by Juan Thompson, The Intercept reporter who was fired for fabrication.
Talking Points Memo said it didn’t believe Thompson’s story of criminal violence in his family was fabricated and noted it was “aggressively fact checked.” That said, Talking Points Memo decided to unpublish the essay because there was still a possibility it was faked.
“We have decided to remove the article from the site – not because we are saying that it contains falsehoods or errors but because we can no longer say to you as readers that we are confident to a reasonable certainty that it does not, which I take to be the implicit promise behind everything we publish,” editor Josh Marshall wrote.
He added, “While we do not and are in no position to make accusations of our own, the revelations of today leave that trust irrevocably broken.”
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Thompson’s article was a first person essay about his life. Talking Points Memo went back and reviewed how it fact checked and edited his essay and said it didn’t find any problems. But, given the questions surrounding Thompson, the site decided it couldn’t say his story was 100% true or trust his work.
“This was at heart a personal essay,” Marshall explained, which means editors have to trust the writer. Talking Points Memo was able to fact check certain details but “the great bulk of the story rests on the author’s immediate personal experiences – incidents, conversations, memories, etc. which simply cannot be independently verified.”
Marshall said “one of the dirty little secrets of fact-checking” is that it’s hard to find intentional fraud. “The process is most effective at uncovering sloppiness, missed questions or short-cuts done in good faith by a reporter with the right intentions,” he said. “To uncover fraud, you go on reputation, personal interactions and looking for that detail or claim that just doesn’t fit.”
iMediaEthics is reaching out to Thompson for comment.