Daisey Chain

Mike Daisey, James Frey, and More Famous Fabulists (PHOTOS)

In the aftermath of the Mike Daisey scandal, see other writers from James Frey to Janet Cooke who have been caught stretching the truth.

Mike Daisey’s rising fame in the theater world recently took a hit after the monologist’s popular The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs show was revealed to be partly a work of fiction. Daisey’s show, which detailed grueling working conditions at Apple’s Foxconn factory in China, was adapted and then retracted by the radio show This American Life, when its producers announced last Friday that Daisey’s story was largely fabricated. Daisey has since admitted to fabricating details and expressed regret over broadcasting his theater piece as journalism. From James Frey to Janet Cooke, see other writers who have been caught exaggerating.

Stan Barouh, The Public Theater / AP Photo

Mike Daisey

In this undated image released by the Public Theater, Mike Daisey is shown in a scene from The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, in New York. Daisey, whose latest show has been being credited with sparking probes into how Apple’s high-tech devices are made, is finding himself under fire for distorting the truth. The public radio show This American Life retracted a story Friday, March 16, 2012, that it broadcast in January about what Daisey said he saw while visiting a factory in China where iPads and iPhones are made. (AP Photo/The Public Theater, Stan Barouh)

The New York Times / Getty Images

Jayson Blair

Jayson Blair was on his way to being a star at The New York Times when accusations surfaced that he had made up much of his work. An inquiry by his colleagues, led by Dan Barry, revealed in May 2003 that Blair had fabricated quotes and stories in at least 36 of his articles. Blair had been at the paper almost four years, writing more than 600 stories, a prolific amount that prompted Times staffers to ask readers to help them uncover more inconsistencies. Blair misled his editors into believing he had reported from Maryland, Texas, and other states when he had never left New York. A year later, he published a memoirBurning Down My Masters’ House—a sort of mea culpa detailing his four-year tenure at the Times. “Ultimately I have to live with those bad decisions and those bad choices and they didn’t happen because of anything other than me and who I am,” he said in an interview with Newsweek.

Neville Elder / Corbis Sygma

Stephen Glass

Another rising star, another scandal. Stephen Glass reported for The New Republic, George magazine, Harpers, and Rolling Stone, among others. But eventually, it came out that Glass had been making up entire stories and then fabricating sources to help his pieces get through the arduous magazine fact-checking process. “My life was one very long process of lying and lying again, to figure out how to cover those other lies,” Glass told CBS News. “I knew how the system worked. And I made it so that my stories could get through. I invented fake notes. I later would invent a series of voice mailboxes and business cards. I invented newsletters. I invented a website.” Glass’s transgressions eventually were revealed when Forbes wanted to follow up on his story about a convention of hackers where he supposedly talked to a 15-year-old computer whiz who extorted money from a tech company.

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James Frey

Never lie to Oprah. James Frey learned this lesson the hard way, when Oprah lambasted him for representing his 2003 “memoir,” A Million Little Pieces, as nonfiction, even though some parts were exaggerated or outright made up. The queen of daytime TV had promoted the book and even defended it when people began pointing out inconsistencies. When it came out that parts of the book were false, Oprah felt personally betrayed. She said at the time, “That's a lie. It's not an idea, James. That's a lie.” The two have since mended their relations. Oprah apologized, after a period of reflection and meditating, for publicly slamming the author.

Johan Ordonez, AFP / Getty Images

Rigoberta Menchu

In 1983, Rigoberta Menchu testified about the harrowing conditions in Guatemala during the country’s civil war through the groundbreaking biography I, Rigoberta Menchu. The book became an international sensation and was translated into English and French. Menchu went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize for her work as a human-rights activist in 1992. But 16 years after her biography was first published, anthropologist David Stoll called it into question. Menchu admitted to the fabrications, saying she knitted together her experiences with the accounts of others. Many of Stoll’s claims, however, were rebutted.

Alan Diaz / AP Photo

Gerald Posner

Seven sentences lifted from The Miami Herald came back to haunt Daily Beast reporter Gerald Posner in February 2010. Posner, The Beast's lead investigative reporter, was reporting on a murder and estate battle and wound up writing several passages that were very similar to those in a Herald story. The Daily Beast and Posner admitted to the plagiarism, but said it was inadvertent. Posner was repentant, telling Slate’s Jack Shafer that he was “horrified.” “I must have had the Miami Herald there and copied,” he told Shafer.


Ruth Shalit

Ruth Shalit was a 25-year-old journalism phenom, writing stories for The New Republic, New York Times Magazine, and GQ, until her acclaimed reputation was felled by accusations of plagiarism. Shalit was accused of lifting passages for a story she wrote about Bob Dole, in addition to several pieces that covered the Justice Department. The Princeton graduate also came under fire for an article she penned about affirmative action at The Washington Post, after which she was heavily criticized for a series of factual errors and misquotes. A contrite Shalit apologized for her errors.

AP Photo

Janet Cooke

“Jimmy is 8 years old,” the article began, “and a third-generation heroin addict, a precocious little boy with sandy hair, velvety brown eyes and needle marks freckling the baby-smooth skin of his thin brown arms.” Titled “Jimmy’s World,” cub reporter Janet Cooke’s devastating depiction of the life of an “addict since the age of 5” ran on the front page of The Washington Post in September 1980. The story, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, sparked a citywide hunt initiated by D.C. Mayor Marion Barry for the neglected youth. Police said first that they actually had found Jimmy, then that the boy had died. There was a simpler explanation—there never was a Jimmy. In a series of revelations that ended the 26-year-old Cooke’s career and dealt a whopping black eye to Ben Bradlee’s Post, Cooke’s story was exposed as the product of an earnest young reporter’s overheated imagination, and the Pulitzer was revoked.

Marty Lederhandler / AP Photo

David Brock

In 1993, then-GOPer and writer David Brock published The Real Anita Hill, in which he decries law professor Anita Hill’s claims that she was sexually harassed by Thomas Clarence, a scandal that occurred a year before Clarence became a Supreme Court justice. Brock’s characterization of Hill in his bestselling book was incendiary, to say the least. He portrayed her as a sexual predator infatuated with Thomas who invented the harassment claims because Thomas rejected her romantic advances. His compelling attack against Hill helped sway votes in support of Thomas’s nomination. Ten years later, after Brock disassociated from the right and became a registered Democrat, Talk magazine published excerpts from his book Blinded by the Right, in which he admitted to fabricating quotes and even faking interviews, saying he had printed “virtually every derogatory and often contradiction” he could to depict Hill as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” He also wrote that he “lost his soul” in doing so and had become “a witting cog in the Republican sleaze machine.” In a career move that could be seen as an attempt to repent, Brock went on to form Media Matters for America, a federal political action committee “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.”

John Amis / AP Photo

Rick Bragg

Unpaid interns still abound in the media, but Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Rick Bragg abused his to an extent that forever stained his career. In 2003, Bragg was briefly suspended from The New York Times for not crediting his intern’s substantial work on a reported story that appeared with Bragg’s byline. Bragg “hired” a young man to report on the ground for him and allegedly only paid the fill-in reporter with lunch and rent money. When the news caused a media firestorm, Bragg defended himself by saying it was common practice at the Times for senior news writers to have minions do their on-the-ground reporting. Naturally, he only dug himself further into a hole with this comment, which inspired heated criticism from Times reporter Peter Kilborn. “Bragg says he works in a poisonous atmosphere. He’s the poison,” he wrote in an email to a small group of fellow staffers. Kilborn elaborated on his sentiments in an interview with Newsweek: “I bust my ass chasing facts and I go to weird places I’ve never been and I have to root around to get the story. The whole idea [of using stringers to do the bulk of the reporting] is anathema to decent journalism.”


Patricia Smith

Boston Globe columnist Patricia Smith resigned in 1998 after admitting to fabricating people and quotes in four separate columns she had written the year before. “From time to time in my metro column, to create the desired impact or slam home a salient point, I attributed quotes to people who didn’t exist,” Smith wrote in her final column, “A Patricia Note of Apology,” admitting she had committed one of the “cardinal sins of journalism.” Smith was a Pulitzer Prize finalist that year and ended up having her 1998 ASNE Award revoked because of her journalistic transgressions, but she was given a second chance in media two years later, when she began writing for Ms. Magazine. Since leaving the Globe, Smith has published five acclaimed poetry books—a sign that she was perhaps better suited to the imaginative realm of fiction writing than to journalism.

Alex Wong / Getty Images for Meet the Press

Mike Barnicle

Just two months after Patricia Smith left The Boston Globe, another columnist resigned amid allegations that he, too, had fabricated parts of a column he wrote in 1995. In his column “Through pain, a common bond,” Mike Barnicle told the story of two families with cancer-stricken children who had formed a friendship while their children endured treatment at Boston’s Children Hospital. In his column, Barnicle wrote that the family whose child ultimately recovered gave $10,000 to the family whose child died. But it turned out Barnicle had written the entire column based on a third-party account from a nurse at a different hospital, who was never mentioned in the piece. Even worse, there was no record indicating one of the children had died. When Globe editor Michael Storin confronted Barnicle about the charges, he couldn’t even recall the alleged nurse’s name. It wasn’t the first time Barnicle’s stories had raised eyebrows for their questionable credibility, but he dismissed the incidents as overblown. “I screwed up. They vetted nearly 3,000 columns. A couple of them were sloppy,” he told The New York Times, adding that the rules at the Globe had previously been less strict. “You could get by with giving them a nickname. You didn't have to give their shoe size, their hair color.” When he was hired by the Boston Herald in 2004, Barnicle cheekily said he had devised a new foolproof writing strategy: “I am now going to provide people’s Social Security numbers in the paper next to their names.”

Nicholas Sylvester

Fudging the details in a Village Voice cover story cost Nicholas Sylvester his editor’s post at the famed New York City alternative weekly in March 2006. In “The Secret Society of Pickup Artists,” a story about a book by Neil Strauss on dating, Sylvester claimed to have met with a number of L.A.-based television writers, all in the name of finding single women. Unfortunately for Sylvester, as the Voice later acknowledged, “That scene never happened.” When it came out that Sylvester had created a “composite” scene at New York’s Bar 151 that included a TV writer who wasn’t there, the Village Voice suspended the senior editor and removed the piece from its website. Sylvester also was working for Pitchfork, the music-review site, at the time of the scandal and resigned his position after the accusations of fabrication arose.