About Those Layers of Fact Checkers and Editors: Cape Cod Times Reporter Fabricated Stories for at Least 14 Years

Posted by on Dec 05, 2012 at 7:51 am
karenjeffrey

Geez, this is just pathetic. We can see a story or two slipping by the crack staff at the Cape Cod Times over the years, but this woman has been making up stories and inventing people since 1998?

WTF?

There is an implied contract between a newspaper and its readers. The paper prints the truth. Readers believe that it’s true.

It’s not always so simple, of course. There are nuances in how a story is presented, what words are used to describe the action. Papers have personalities, and no two are exactly alike, but at the end of the day, facts are facts. And a good newspaper holds nothing more sacred than its role to tell the truth. Always. As fully and as fairly as possible.

This is our guiding principle, so it is with heavy heart that we tell you the Cape Cod Times has broken that trust. An internal review has found that one of our reporters wrote dozens of stories that included
one or more sources who do not exist.

The reporter was Karen Jeffrey, 59, a writer for the Cape Cod Times since 1981. In an audit of her work, Times editors have been unable to find 69 people in 34 stories since 1998, when we began archiving stories electronically.

On Tuesday, Jeffrey admitted to fabricating people in some of these articles and giving some others false names. She no longer works for the Cape Cod Times.

We’re surprised this major talent hasn’t been snapped up by the Boston Globe or New York Times yet.

How did this happen? Or more important, how did we allow this to happen? It’s a question we cannot satisfactorily answer. Clearly we placed too much trust in a reporter and did not verify sourcing with necessary frequency.

It’s an editor’s job to scrutinize a reporter’s work and be sure what we publish is fair and accurate; at the same time, there also is a level of trust between a reporter and an editor. Reporters take this responsibility to heart and when someone treats their work with anything less than the highest ethical standards, good journalists are heartbroken. We can say with certainty that’s how we feel at the Times.

We must learn from this painful lesson and take steps to prevent this from happening again. Moving forward, we will be spot-checking reporting sources more frequently; choosing stories at random and calling sources to verify they exist.

If I’m the owners of this so-called newspaper, and it’s currently the Dow Jones Local Media Group, a subsidiary of News Corp., there would be mass dismissals, if not deciding to just shut this rag down. Who hired this woman? Who was her primary editor? Did anyone even bother to ever vet her stories?

Curiously in this message on Twitter she announced she was leaving Cape Cod, but no reason was given.

Via The H2.

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18 Responses to “About Those Layers of Fact Checkers and Editors: Cape Cod Times Reporter Fabricated Stories for at Least 14 Years”

  1. good for a birdcage lining on 5/05/12 at 9:14 am

    Wow people still read presstitue yellow whore newspapers? And here I thought people didn’t like to be lied to.

  2. Aaron on 5/05/12 at 10:27 am

    As someone who worked as a reporter at the Cape Cod Times and with Karen for 5 years, let me address your statements.

    If you know anything about journalism and working at a newspaper, you’d know you have to trust your reporters to the basics of their job. Karen was the longest-tenured reporter there (hired in 1981). Ironically, she was also the most connected and sourced reporter there (especially regarding public safety officials). But the stories she has faked are soft news, not hard news. She didn’t fake sources involved in town government or the local courts, she faked sources at parades and other puff pieces.

    I’m not excusing what she did — it’s inexcusable and despicable. But when an editor sends a reporter to something like a parade, it’s very ho-hum. It’s the basics of what we do, so when the reporter comes back with quotes from parade-goers saying how happy they are to be there, why would anyone question it? Furthermore, the Cape is a tourist community so half the time you’re quoting John Smith from Ohio who is there on vacation. In many cases there’s literally no way to verify that source unless you ask for their address (which no reporter working that kind of story would EVER do).

    Karen was wrong to do this and deserved to be fired. But the editors and reporters at the Times are good people and extraordinarily hard workers. Look at the awards they win every single year. The vast majority of the reporters I know and worked with there are incredibly dedicated to their jobs and put in an unbelievable amount of effort to report the news accurately. One bad apple shouldn’t spoil things for everyone.

    And, by the way, the paper has been 100% transparent in this. They printed a lengthy explanation, the results of its audit and put it all on the front page of the website and paper. They deserve credit for that.

  3. RNB on 5/05/12 at 11:40 am

    “But the stories she has faked are soft news, not hard news.” So it wasn’t “fake fake.”

  4. mikez on 5/05/12 at 1:57 pm

    Given Aaron’s response, the whole staff should be audited. But I think this is an industry wide problem. It’s OK since it”s soft news?? But he’s not condoning it??? Really. Everybody that advertised in that newspaper since 1981 should ask for a refund.

  5. rich b on 5/05/12 at 2:48 pm

    Aaron on 5: You just re-defined the word rationalization. “Fake but true” seems to be your point. I don’t care if she faked noodle recipes or stories about the local Boy Scouts. She’s a reporter for Christ sakes and we expect (or at least we used to) the unvarnished truth EVERY time a reporter hits a keyboard. This is not a “slippery slope” we’re discussing here. It’s a fucking cliff!

    This quantification and parsing is the same kind of shit we conservatives have been bitching about for fifty years when it comes to the lame stream media AKA American Pravda. Nothing you can or will say will ever justify her behavior.

  6. lyle on 5/05/12 at 2:55 pm

    The paper prints the truth. Readers believe that it’s true.

    Uh huh. Pull the other leg, now.

    But the stories she has faked are soft news, not hard news.

    Well okay, then. NO problems whatsoever here.

  7. kyle on 5/05/12 at 6:21 pm

    Aaron on 5: You “worked” there. When? Your use of the past tense implies you’re not still working there. How would you know what the audit revealed? The paper provided the “results” of the audit–did that include identifying EVERY faked story, and ALL the faked people named in the articles–so that we could confirm it was all “soft news”. No it didn’t. In fact, the paper’s mea culpa doesn’t even go so far as to say all were soft news fabrications. The words “typically lighter fare” were used. Not “exclusively” or “solely”. C’mon, Aaron—the editors chose “typically” because as seasoned grizzled truth tellers they couldn’t say it was only soft news. That means hard news was faked too.

  8. kyle on 5/05/12 at 6:24 pm

    Aaron: Spare us the “but they won awards” defense. Walter Duranty won the Pulitzer. As a news guy, you know who Duranty is and why I used him as an example.

  9. Aaron on 5/05/12 at 10:24 pm

    I’m not excusing anything. What she did was wrong. Period. I talked about “soft news” to show how it’s easier to get away with compared to hard news. When you’re consistently quoting judges, lawyers, selectmen and people speaking at public meetings that are videotaped, it’s damn near impossible to fake sources. The distinction was solely to show how she could get away with it for all these years without red flags being raised.

    And please spare me the “comrade” and liberal cracks. Perhaps you’re unaware that this is the same paper that endorsed George W. Bush — twice. Not to mention Scott Brown and most recently Mitt Romney. Doesn’t exactly sound liberal to me.

    I can’t imagine doing what Karen did. It makes me physically ill. I worked there for five years and other papers before that, and never once did I consider faking a source. It’s utterly deplorable. But the Times is still a quality newspaper and the people who work there are extraordinarily good at their jobs. One terrible reporter shouldn’t ruin that for all the others who bust their ass on a daily basis.

  10. JAWilson on 6/06/12 at 3:38 am

    Aaron has to ask himself when to trust a liar? And he should look for new work.

  11. g sonnier on 6/06/12 at 10:55 am

    Hey, it’s Cape Cod, Mass. Poor Karen can just call herself an Indian and run for U.S. Senate next time ’round. Seems to work there for all the other drunks, idiots, liars and manslaughterers (or all of the above).

  12. creeper on 6/06/12 at 8:40 pm

    I’ve done a little radio reporting, so I’m at least partially qualified to respond to your quibble, Aaron.

    You write: “She didn’t fake sources involved in town government or the local courts, she faked sources at parades and other puff pieces.”

    Just how do you know this? Have you personally vetted all her sources? The truth is there is no hard-and-fast line between hard news and soft. Much of what we read falls in the middle. If Jeffrey found it convenient to fabricate coverage in one area why (and where) would she draw the line? I do not believe she would. The leopard doesn’t change her spots.

    I know from experience that “soft news” stories are so simple to do that it would be easier to cover them legitimately than to phony up names and quotes. We’re looking at simple laziness here and there is no reason to believe it is confined to only one facet of her Jeffrey’s job.

    Sorry, Aaron. No sale.

  13. David Pittelli on 8/08/12 at 7:00 am

    I think we should give Aaron a break. (We should not, of course, give Ms. Jeffrey a break, and neither does Aaron.) In hindsight, it’s clear that the paper, all papers, should have a consistent and announced policy of auditing all stories, and tracking down some randomly chosen portion (perhaps 10%) of all sources, even the most minor ones. This would prevent such problems from ever happening, and would certainly catch them sooner. I’d be willing to bet that the Cape Cod Times is moving to such a policy. That they did not do so prior to about 15 years ago, when such research would have been difficult and expensive, or more recently, for a reporter with already more than a decade-long record, is neither surprising nor particularly damning. The reason we can be reasonably certain that “She didn’t fake sources involved in town government or the local courts” is that for that sort of story, fake quotes would have led to complaints from people aware of the real names involved, or from the real people with fake quotes attributed to them. It is true that proper management means responsibility for the actions of one’s subordinates, but I think everyone who’s managed more than a few people has had to put enough trust in their employees that they could potentially be screwed by a bad apple.

  14. Doc on 9/09/12 at 3:34 pm

    Reporter Roger Twigg of the Baltimore Sun newspaper had under oath testimony in Circuit Court in Maryland described as the “rankest heresay” he’d (the judge) ever heard. Lying and fabricating newspaper stories is nothing unique to this paper, it’s been practiced by less than honorable, lazy, wantabe reporters forever.