The Atlantic was forced to retract an entire article Sunday evening after posting a 12 paragraph editor’s note on Friday.
The story, written by Ruth Shalit Barrett and titled “The Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League–Obsessed Parents,” dove into wealthy and sports-obsessed parents in the suburbs of Connecticut. First published in October, a nearly 800-word editor’s note was added on Friday indicating that Barrett duped The Atlantic regarding the contents of the article.
And it contains an admirable mea culpa from the Atlantic about the way it identified the author, “Ruth S. Barrett,” in the original piece: pic.twitter.com/s851y0VPUf
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) October 31, 2020
The Atlantic took things a step further on Sunday by completely retracting the story and adding a scathing editor’s note regarding Barrett.
“We cannot attest to the trustworthiness and credibility of the author, and therefore we cannot attest to the veracity of the article,” the editor’s note now reads before adding that it determined “Barrett deceived The Atlantic and its readers.”
Barrett began her career as “a rising young political reporter in the 1990s,” according to The New York Times. She worked at The New Republic in 1999 as an associate editor and left “after plagiarism and inaccurate reporting were discovered in her work,” according to The Atlantic’s editor’s note, which explained why the byline had her married name instead of the name she used in the 1990s.
“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,” according to the editor’s note. “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.”
According to the editor’s note, Barrett fabricated details surrounding a woman in the article named Sloane. The stay-at-home mother, according to the original article, had three daughters and a son – the publication’s fact-checking department said this information was verified by the mother before the article was printed, the NYT noted.
Sloane does not have a son, according to the editor’s note, which added that the mother later accused Barrett of proposing “the invention of a son.”
Barrett “encouraged Sloane to deceive The Atlantic as a way to protect her anonymity,” the editor’s note reads.
UPDATE: @TheAtlantic has decided to retract this piece (tho apparently it still appears in the magazine’s print version), and so the “Editor’s Note” has grown to heretofore unforeseen lengths.https://t.co/NcwIBy3tLA pic.twitter.com/TGZp0wrH6y
— JERRY DUNLEAVY (@JerryDunleavy) November 2, 2020
Barrett denied this allegation but told The Atlantic that “on some level I did know it was BS” and that she takes responsibility, according to the lengthy note. She appeared to place the blame on Sloane in a statement to the NYT and defended her decision to “allow” the false son to be put into the article. (RELATED: WaPo Reporter Yet To Retract Trump Coronavirus ‘Hoax’ Accusation That Her Own Employer Already Debunked)
“It was a serious error and misjudgment on my part to allow Sloane to claim this son, but my intentions were honorable — to allow an agitated source who was fearful of being identified to protect her anonymity,” Barrett said. “Every other fact about Sloane is correct and verifiable through public records and competitive squash and fencing tournament websites.”
“I will let readers draw their own conclusions about whether these minor changes to a 7,000-word article are grounds to declare the entire article is fatally flawed and worthy of retraction,” she added.
In addition to the fictitious son, The Atlantic found other errors in the article. The publication clarified “a detail about a neck injury sustained by Sloane’s middle daughter, to be more precise about its severity.” It “also identified the need to correct the characterization of a thigh injury, originally described as a deep gash but more accurately described as a skin rupture that bled through a fencing uniform.”
“And we identified the need to correct the location of a lacrosse family mentioned in the article: They do not live in Greenwich, Connecticut, but in another town in Fairfield County,” the editor’s note reads. “Before this retraction, we noted and corrected these errors in the online version of the article on October 30.”
“Before that, on October 22, we noted and corrected another error in the story: The article originally referenced Olympic-size backyard hockey rinks, but although the private rinks are large and equipped with floodlights and generators, they are not Olympic-size.”
A PDF of the article “as it appears in” The Atlantic’s November 2020 issue is still available, although the online version has been retracted.