NYU Journalism School Hires Ex-New Yorker Fact Checker Who Falsely Said ICE Agent Had Nazi Tattoo

Talia Lavin’s undergraduate course “Reporting on the Far Right” will kick off in the fall semester of 2019

Talia Lavin

New York University has hired Talia Lavin as an adjunct journalism professor less than a year after the former New Yorker fact checker resigned after falsely accusing an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent of having a Nazi tattoo.

Lavin’s undergraduate course “Reporting on the Far Right” will kick off in the fall semester of 2019 at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. In its official faculty bio, the university billed Lavin as an expert in “far-right extremism and social justice.”

At least one current NYU journalism student questioned the decision to hire Lavin. “I sympathize with Lavin’s politics, but I don’t know why someone who had to quit their journalism job for falsely implying someone is a Nazi should be teaching at NYU,” said the student, who requested anonymity for fear of academic reprisal. “I know there are plenty of reporters out there in need of work who haven’t made a mistake like that.”

Lavin declined to comment for this story. Reps for NYU, the school’s journalism department and university president Andrew Hamilton did not respond to requests for comment.

After leaving the New Yorker last June, Lavin was hired by the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America less than a month later to focus on “far right extremism.” Though her LinkedIn profile lists that she currently works there, a spokesperson for the organization confirmed that she was no longer employed there. An additional person with knowledge of the matter said she left several months ago.

Neither Lavin’s three-year tenure at the New Yorker nor her stint at Media Matters are mentioned on her official NYU faculty bio.

Lavin’s career promptly blew up last June after she accused Justin Gaertner, a wheelchair-bound ICE agent, of having a Nazi Iron Cross tattoo over his left elbow. Lavin made the charge in a tweet after viewing a photo of Gaertner online. She later deleted her tweet after she said a number of people responded and informed her that the tattoo in question appeared to be a Maltese Cross — a symbol commonly used by members of the U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars.

That, however, was not enough for the critics. The story blew up on social media and Lavin even earned a lengthy rebuke from ICE itself as well as The New Yorker. “The personal social-media accounts of staff members do not represent the magazine, and we in no way share the viewpoint expressed in this tweet,” a magazine spokesperson told National Review. “The tweet has been deleted, and we deeply regret any harm that this may have caused Mr. Gaertner.”

In a Twitter thread, Lavin soon announced her resignation from the magazine and apologized to Gaertner over the error. She also criticized ICE, saying it was not “acceptable” for the agency to attack her personally over her mistake.

“This has been a wild and difficult week. I owe ICE agent Justin Gaertner a sincere apology for spreading an rumor about his tattoo,” she said. “However, I do not think it is acceptable for a federal agency to target a private citizen for a good faith, hastily rectified error.”