The Atlantic said it regrets commissioning and publishing a feature story written by Ruth Shalit Barrett — who was fired from The New Republic in the 1990s over incidents of plagiarism — which has been revealed to include a fabrication and multiple inaccuracies.
In a lengthy editor’s note added to Barrett’s edited story, “The Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League-Obsessed Parents,” late Friday, The Atlantic said, “new information emerged” about the article that was published in the outlet’s November 2020 print edition and on its website Oct. 17 “that has raised serious concerns about its accuracy, and about the credibility of the author, Ruth Shalit Barrett.”
“We have established that Barrett deceived The Atlantic and its readers about a section of the story that concerns a person referred to as ‘Sloane.’ We are sharing with our readers what we have learned so far,” the note continues.
According to The Atlantic, the original version of Barrett’s story stated that Sloane has a son and that she confirmed his existence to the publication’s fact checkers before the article was published.
Following its publication, Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple inquired “about the accuracy of portions of the article,” which led to The Atlantic’s fact-checking department following up with Sloane, who said through her attorney “that she does not, in fact, have a son” and accused Barrett of suggesting the “invention of a son” and said that Barrett had “encouraged” Sloane to “deceive The Atlantic as a way to protect her anonymity.”
The Atlantic said in its editor’s note it has “independently corroborated that Sloane does not have a son” and corrected the story, and also asked for an explanation from Barrett regarding Sloane’s accusation.
“When we asked Barrett about these allegations, she initially denied them, saying that Sloane had told her she had a son, and that she had believed Sloane,” The Atlantic said. “The next day, when we questioned her again, she admitted that she was ‘complicit’ in ‘compounding the deception’ and that ‘it would not be fair to Sloane’ to blame her alone for deceiving The Atlantic. Barrett denies that the invention of a son was her idea, and denies advising Sloane to mislead The Atlantic’s fact-checkers, but told us that ‘on some level I did know that it was BS’ and ‘I do take responsibility.'”
Sloane’s attorney says there are other inaccuracies in the story, according to The Atlantic, but declined to share what they are, while “Barrett says that the fabricated son is the only detail about which she deceived our fact-checkers and editors.”
The Atlantic says its “fact-checking department is continuing to thoroughly recheck the article” and has “already corrected and clarified other details in the story.”
The publication also updated Barrett’s byline to identify her by her maiden name, after originally referring to her as Ruth S. Barrett.
“When writing recently for other magazines, Barrett was identified by her full name, Ruth Shalit Barrett. (Barrett is her married name.) In 1999, when she was known by Ruth Shalit, she left The New Republic, where she was an associate editor, after plagiarism and inaccurate reporting were discovered in her work. We typically defer to authors on how their byline appears–some authors use middle initials, for example, or shorter versions of their given name. We referred to Barrett as Ruth S. Barrett at her request, but in the interest of transparency, we should have included the name that she used as her byline in the 1990s, when the plagiarism incidents occurred. We have changed the byline on this article to Ruth Shalit Barrett.”
The Atlantic continued: “We decided to assign Barrett this freelance story in part because more than two decades separated her from her journalistic malpractice at The New Republic and because in recent years her work has appeared in reputable magazines. We took into consideration the argument that Barrett deserved a second chance to write feature stories such as this one. We were wrong to make this assignment, however. It reflects poor judgment on our part, and we regret our decision.”
TheWrap’s attempt to reach Barrett for comment was unsuccessful.
Following the publication of The Atlantic’s editor’s note, which says it is “continuing to review this article” to make corrections as needed, multiple media reporters weighed in on Twitter about the incident, with some questioning if the story should be pulled in its entirety.
“Never bet against @ErikWemple After he raised questions about a story that seemed… fantastical, the Atlantic made small correction,” NPR’s David Folkenflik wrote. “Now the magazine says former renowned plagiarist of the ’90s whom it commissioned for the article was fabulist”
“Truly. At this point, should the Atlantic just take down the story or leave it up?” Kara Swisher tweeted. “I cannot decide. One thing for sure the last line about their being wrong about hiring of Shalit to do a story is accurate.”
“wildest editors note I’ve ever seen,” The New York Times’ Astead W. Herndon wrote.