Monday, April 25, 2005

Scandal under the dome

Another scandal in journalism as a well-known technology writer gets in trouble
April 25, 2005


Technology Review, the well-respected magazine associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has its own journalism scandal brewing. A freelance technology writer, Michelle Delio, a regular contributor to the magazine, has had all of her stories pulled when an outside investigation was unable to corroborate most of them.

Another of her clients, Wired Magazine, has launched similar investigations and a third is reediting a story it already ran.

Of the 10 stories by Delio published by Tech Review, Susan Rasky, a professor of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and her graduate students, were able to verify three. Rasky was unable to back up the sourcing and accuracy of the other seven and Tech Review has pulled all of them from its website with a note stating why. Jason Pontin, the magazine's editor, said it was possible Delio was just a sloppy note-taker or that some of her sources lied to her, but "I cannot verify the sources in seven of the 10 stories she's written for us, therefore do not stand by them."

Delio, 37, a New York-based writer, admitted making mistakes and said she should have kept her notes to help verify sources. But she insisted that she fabricated nothing and declined to reveal her source for the HP stories.

"I certainly didn't make up sources," she said. "Leaving aside the huge issues of ethics, you're always going to get caught. Possibly I was lax in record keeping, but it doesn't mean people don't exist.

"(Stephen) Glass and (Jayson) Blair were fabricating facts, fabricating major sources, minor sources," she continued. "You're just not going to find that in my work." Glass fabricated stories as a staff writer for the New Republic. Blair did the same at the New York Times.

The three stories Rasky was able to verify were: "Augmented Reality," published last February; "The Snow Man" published the week before, and "Encrypt This," published in the previous November. Two stories, both about the removal of Carly Florina as CEO of Hewlett-Packard, have not been verified because they relied on unnamed sources and identification was too sketchy to enable Rasky to find them. One source was identified as Hungarian with the initials G.S, who one would assume would be easy to find, but no one apparently could. It was HP that triggered the investigation about one of those stories. (They weren't aware of the other.) Delio promised to provide more information but did not do so until last week. In the case of another story, "The Future Shock," one source quoted in the story said he never talked to her. Sources in another story said they met with her but talked about something other than what she wrote about.

Over at Wired News, management hired Adam Penenberg, the former editor of the New Republic who caught Stephen Glass faking stories at that publication, to do the same investigation on Delio. (He was played by Steve Zahn in the film, Shattered Glass.) He has no results yet.

Infoworld magazine revised one of her stories, removing quotes they could not verify.

Technology Review seems an unlikely place to find journalism fraud, but someone pointed out that the stories involved were business stories, not technology, and perhaps they were just out of their league.

This is of course more bad news for journalism, but the silver lining in this dark cloud is that these scalawags have been caught, the stories retracted and apologies made. The system is, to some extent at least, self-corrrecting, which is a good thing. That it happens at all is appalling.

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