Philadelphia Magazine unpublished a story after discovering that its source fabricated dramatic and compelling tales about his psychological struggles with the “horrors of war.”
The source, John P. Boudreau, admitted to the magazine this week that he “embellished or flat-out fabricated” events and his military experience for the April issue’s “The War Within.” The story was about Boudreau, who had told the magazine he “killed scores of people during his tours of the Middle East and who now says he is haunted by what he did.”
Even though the magazine said its fact checker went through the article with Boudreau before publication, it turned out Philadelphia didn’t do any independent fact checking. Since their method was to ask the source if what he said was true, they were doomed if he lied or was terribly wrong. “Given that the piece was largely told from Boudreau’s point of view, the vast majority of the fact-checking was done with Boudreau himself,” editor Tom McGrath admits.
Incredibly, McGrath said that the magazine is still in the process of fact checking some of the information Boudreau gave them.
“We blew it,” he wrote.
According to McGrath, who apologized for the article in an April 5 statement on the magazine’s website, it was readers who alerted the magazine to the fabrications.
Anthony Gargano, who is a radio host and author of the now infamous article for Philadelphia, said he felt like “a fool” for being duped and letting the fabrications slip through. In his own statement about falling for the story, he accepted the blame, admitting he “sped past all of the basic reporting” and should have done better. He added:
“In hindsight, I had already committed a terrible sin. I had let my guard down and decided that everything that John Boudreau told me was gospel, when in fact it was bad fiction. I didn’t verify his stories, and I’m ashamed to say the thought never even crossed my mind that he concocted most of what he told me.”
Both Gargano and McGrath explained how the story came to be. Boudreau first ingratiated himself to Gargano by calling in and visiting his radio show over time, spinning tales about his military career. Gargano pitched writing a piece about Boudreau’s past.
“I discovered what I thought was a man struggling with the horrors of war and his own actions,” Gargano wrote, later adding that “the more he shared with me the more I was seduced by his story.”
iMediaEthics has written to McGrath asking if the magazine will provide more information about what was fabricated since the article was unpublished. We also asked if it will now independently fact check sources’ claims in the future, and if the magazine will apply any new practices or standards in light of this debacle. We’ll update with any response.
Hat Tip: Jim Romenesko