AP Fires Reporter After Existence Of Sources Questioned

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(AP) The Associated Press has dismissed a reporter after the news agency could not confirm the existence of people quoted by name in a number of his stories.

AP reviewed stories by Washington reporter Christopher Newton after receiving inquiries about two experts he quoted in a Sept. 8 piece about crime statistics. Editors then found a number of additional stories quoting people whose existence could not be verified. Most of these quotes were attributed to individuals with academic credentials or working in policy research.

“Chris Newton maintains these experts are real and accurately quoted, but our editors have been unable to verify that they even exist,” said AP spokeswoman Kelly Smith Tunney. “The integrity of the news report is our highest priority, and we asked him to provide proof of authenticity, but he could not or would not do so.”

Newton was dismissed Monday. Reached later by telephone, he declined to comment for this story.

Tunney said about 15 questionable quotations have been found among hundreds of articles written by Newton and that AP’s review is continuing. AP has discovered no instance where the questionable material was central to the story, Tunney said.

The story review began after AP received inquiries about two people quoted in a story about declining crime rates — a “Ralph Myers” of Stanford University and a “Bruce Fenmore of the Institute for Crime and Punishment in Chicago.” Newton received queries from three crime experts and a reporter for The New York Times, who brought the matter to the attention of Newton’s editor.

In AP’s subsequent investigation, Newton could not provide his editors with proof that either man had been interviewed. Newton’s editors, working independently, were unable to verify the existence of either man or the Chicago institute. Last Thursday, AP asked news organizations that used the crime story to publish a corrective story saying the AP could not confirm the accuracy of the quotes or the identities of the experts.

Newton started with AP in Houston as a temporary newsman from May through July 1994 and was an intern in Dallas from May to August 1995. He joined the staff in Dallas in 1996 after graduating from Texas Christian University. He moved to Lubbock as AP correspondent in April 1998, and transferred to the statehouse bureau in Harrisburg, Pa., in November 1999.

He transferred to Washington as a general assignment reporter in November 2000. Since June 2002, Newton has been based at the Justice Department, covering federal law enforcement issues and activities.

In the Sept. 8 crime story, the experts were quoted as suggesting that a decline in most violent crime in 2001, as reported by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, was related to the implementation of policies aimed at keeping criminals behind bars longer. Newton maintained the interviews that were questioned in the crime story were valid, but he was unable to provide any corroboration after they were challenged. Newton apologized to his editors, but insisted he had never fabricated news content in any way.

He gave them access to a voicemail message that seemed to suggest he was the victim of a hoax in connection with the crime story. However, neither he nor AP could verify the identity of the caller or the origination of the message.

Newton’s editors undertook a broader review of his work after they became aware of the problems with the crime story. Most identifications checked out, but AP researchers were unable to verify the existence of about 15 individuals. Efforts to find those individuals by telephone and Internet searches came up empty, as did telephone inquiries to purported employers and a check of records of calls from Newton’s office telephone and AP cell phone. Many of the people were identified as researchers or attorneys in specialized fields, often with a university connection.

“Credibility is AP’s most important asset, and we’re distressed that we have discovered that some of Chris Newton’s stories contain material that doesn’t hold up,” Tunney said. “It’s a violation of our most basic rules. We are intensely investigating how this happened and reviewing our editorial process to make sure it never happens again.”

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