Is it believable that most of the 14 missing sources duped Deutsch by giving him fake names and the remainder live so far below society’s radar that no paper trail exists for them, the two excuses that Deutsch repeats? Or is Deutsch just another fabulist who tricked readers and whose editors apparently failed to insist that Deutch take five minutes on LexisNexis and other public records to verify names and information to find out if his sources told him the truth?
Such editorial care — namely, asking journalists in their charge for details and documentation behind submitted news reporting — is essential to maintaining the integrity of the journalism field. Damage caused by infamous fabulists like the New York Times’ Jayson Blair, New Republic’s Stephen Glass and USA Today‘s Jack Kelly is immeasurable as the distrust spreads over the entire news industry and remains in the public’s collective memory.
Like Blair, Glass and Kelly, Deutsch seemed to have the magic touch in his journalism career, at least until the scrutiny started. No one knew, or at least they did not tell, that Deutsch would be unable to produce his sources when questioned or that the sources he names would be untraceable upon any inspection.
He was earning status as a staff crime reporter at two major newspapers, Newsday and New York Daily News from 2009 to 2016, and pounding out freelance stories for Newsweek [2014 and 2015] and the New York Times . He has also taught journalism at Queens College and Hofstra University and published two books based on his reporting, most recently Pill City: How Two Honor Roll Students Foiled the Feds and Built a Drug Empire, a book with “too good to be true” reporting that started the skepticism.
It was the Baltimore Sun that first investigated the Pill City book and by Feb. 25, the New York Times posted an editor’s note on Deutsch’s freelance story that stated editors could not verify the existence of two of Deutsch’s sources. iMediaEthics began investigating Deutsch’s work after reading the Times’ mysterious editor’s note.
14 Deutsch sources in 10 stories out of 40
examined cannot be verified as real people.
In the past few weeks, iMediaEthics reviewed approximately 40 of Deutsch’s stories to check the existence of named sources in his Newsday, New York Daily News, Newsweek and New York Times reports. Deutsch’s other sources as a crime reporter were the actual hearings or court sessions. iMediaEthics also faced untraceable anonymous sources in his reporting. In total, out of 40 stories, 10 stories had named sources that we could not verify.
The named sources that we examined included people Deutsch describes as friends, co-workers, neighbors or addicts, all who are peripheral to a known central news source, such as Omar Mateen, the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter.
Using towns, workplaces, schools, a gym and a police central booking that Deutsch attached to these sources, none could be unearthed by iMediaEthics as real people. No public records searches revealed any proof of their existences, just as the New York Times discovered while trying to find two of Deutsch’s sources in the story it published.
Meet 6 New Unverifiable Sources
3 sources (a neighbor, friend and an addict) from 3 different Newsday stories on crime/drugs on Long Island
1. Maryanne Barth, neighbor
Who: Deutsch described Barth as a 57-year-old living in Woodmere, N.Y., residing just “a block from” a high-profile incident where a man named Craig Myczkowski was accused of following a babysitter and baby into the baby’s Woodmere home and stealing the baby’s stroller. Barth is quoted as saying, “Having a stranger come into your house and ask you for your baby is … really scary.”
Where: Newsday, Jan 13, 2016
Problem: No Maryanne Barth is listed in Woodmere, let alone a block away as Deutsch claimed, according to iMediaEthics’ search of public records through LexisNexis. iMediaEthics took the extra step of locating the only Barths listed as living in Woodmere, Barbra Barth Feldman, who told iMediaEthics by phone that she has lived in the area her entire life and besides herself and her sister, “I’ve never heard of anybody else” with the last name Barth in Woodmere.
Deutsch’s explanation? iMediaEthics asked Deutsch where he met her, how he verified her claims of name and town of residence and for evidence she exists. Deutsch did not respond.
2. Richard Leiter, recovering drug addict
Who: Deutsch reported a story about how Long Island drug users could easily have drugs delivered to their homes. He quoted a Richard Leiter, identified as “35, of Rockville Centre, a recovering heroin addict,” commenting on the ease with which he was able to get heroin delivered to his home.
Where: Newsday Aug. 31, 2015
Problem: No LexisNexis public records results for a Richard Leiter on Long Island. See below. iMediaEthics also contacted the only Leiters listed in LexisNexis public records searches in Rockville Centre, to ask if they knew of a Richard Leiter. Ann Leiter emailed, “We do not know of him.” Bottom line: No records or trace appears to exist for Deutsch’s source, Leiter.
Deutsch’s explanation? iMediaEthics asked Deutsch where he met Leiter, how he verified his name and town of residence and if he has any evidence he exists. Deutsch did not respond.
3. LaTroy Washington, friend
Who: Deutsch reported on a Long Island woman named LaQuasia Calloway, who was arraigned in the shooting of two men, which killed one of them, Damien Pinckney. Deutsch described 22-year-old LaTroy Washington as a friend of both Calloway and Pinckney. Washington told Deutsch he was such a good friend that he rushed to the hospital to be by Pinkney’s bedside. “One shot killed him because of where it hit,” Deutsch quoted Washington as saying, “He was gone before I even got to the hospital.”
Where: Newsday June 11, 2016
Problem: No LaTroy Washington lives in New York, according to LexisNexis and White Pages records. iMediaEthics contacted Pinckney’s mother to ask if she knew of any LTroy Washington, since a mother may know her son’s friends and especially since Deutsch reported Washington felt free to be with her son at the hospital and thus, would most likely express his grief to his mother. Her response by email: “I am sorry, but I don’t know anyone by the name of LaTroy Washington. Not familiar with that name at all.”
Deutsch’s explanation? iMediaEthics asked Deutsch how he verified Washington’s story and if he has any evidence Washington exists. Deutsch did not respond.
1 civil rights activist from a Newsday and a Newsweek drug crime stories
4. Delia Bell-Powell, civil rights activist
Who: Deutsch interviewed Bell-Powell for two articles — one for Newsweek about gang violence after the Ferguson shooting and one for Newsday about 9 mm guns. He identified her, respectively, as a “St. Louis resident and civil rights activist” and a “civil rights and anti-violence activist in St. Louis, who also works with community activists in the tristate area including on Long Island, to help curb gun violence.”
Problem: Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton was first to note on Twitter that no Delia Bell, Delia Powell, or Delia Bell-Powell pops up in records searches for the St. Louis area.
Any activist’s stock and trade is to be high profile in the media and among activist groups since furthering their cause or getting paid work is linked to be being known, heard and quoted in social and news media. We also checked LexisNexis for any Delia Bell, Delia Powell, or Delia Bell-Powell near Missouri. The only results — three for Delia Bell — were dead.
After reading Fenton’s tweets, iMediaEthics searched LexisNexis and found no “Delia Bell-Powell,” No Twitter or Facebook accounts or posts name a Delia Bell-Powell either. In fact, no other news stories or blogposts exists about or by a Delia Bell-Powell outside of Deutsch’s stories. We also reached out to activist groups in St. Louis to ask if they had heard of her.
Deutsch’s explanation? We asked Deutsch why Bell-Powell is nowhere to be found, except for in his reporting. Given that Deutsch interviewed her twice over three months in two states, he must have her contact information. We asked for her contact information as well as what groups she works with and if he has any evidence from fact checking her existence. Deutsch did not respond.