‘NY Times’ Completes Probe Of Free-lancer’s Work

By: Sara Kugler, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Two factual errors were found during an investigation into articles written for The New York Times Magazine by a free-lance author who previously acknowledged creating a composite character in a story last year.

An editors’ note in Sunday’s magazine said the Times‘ re-reported by telephone and made several site visits to probe six of Michael Finkel’s articles published during the past two years.

The inquiry found that in a Dec. 16 piece called “Naji’s Taliban Phase,” about two Afghan men who communicated across partisan lines, the number of letters the men exchanged was incorrect. The article said there were 20; the men say the number was seven.

In a Dec. 24, 2000, article about Palestinian youths called “Playing War,” the town Hamama was referred to as Hamman.

Finkel, 33, who has been banned from writing for the Times, said Monday he cooperated with the inquiry and felt “fully vindicated.”

“I was 100% sure the stories were clean, but it’s never comfortable to have someone picking through your work,” Finkel said from his home in Bozeman, Mont.

Times spokesman Toby Usnik said Monday the newspaper has no plans to publish any of Finkel’s stories.

The inquiry followed Finkel’s admission that he misrepresented the experiences of the title character in a Nov. 18 magazine piece called “Is Youssouf Male a Slave?” But he maintained his report accurately reflected the lives of thousands of West African youths who sell themselves into service on Ivory Coast cocoa plantations.

Times editors had questioned the veracity of that story after the author notified the newspaper in February that a photograph he had taken of a boy, published without a caption, was not a picture of Male.

A human rights organization cited in the story as helping the boy return home had contacted Finkel, saying it had located the boy in the photo and identified him as Madou Traore, the newspaper said.

Further investigation of Finkel’s notes showed the article’s description of Male’s return home was actually Traore’s experience, the Times said.

Finkel said the problems with the story “were the result of an isolated error in judgment.”

Finkel, 33, won a Livingston Award for international reporting for a June 2000 Times Magazine piece, “Desperate Passage,” which recounted the story of Haitian emigrants from their perspective.

Charles Eisendrath, director of the awards program, said Finkel’s entry was reviewed and no errors were found.

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