(AP) Slate magazine is looking for an unknown writer who duped the online publication with fake diary entries about his life as an executive of a European auto manufacturer.
In a message posted on the Web site March 5, Slate editor Jack Shafer apologized for the hoax.
“We have removed the entries from the Diary section of Slate because we believe them to be fiction,” Shafer wrote. “But because you can no more unpublish an article on the Web than you can unring a bell, we have also decided to post them … as a sidebar.”
“We do this in the interests of transparency, and as a reminder to ourselves that we’ve failed your trust,” he wrote. “Slate apologizes to its readers and promises greater vigilance in the future.”
Shafer said he hopes to unmask the hoaxer. The writer tricked Slate into believing he was “Robert Klingler,” who was “the North American head of a European auto manufacturer,” Shafer said.
The hoaxer regaled readers with tales of his life as an auto executive, explaining in one entry how he used a clip-on voice recorder to log his impressions while test driving a new car model.
One of the e-mails appeared to originate from the auto manufacturer, and the unknown writer asked Slate to correspond with him through his AOL e-mail account so that he could keep personal and business correspondence separate.
Slate editors agreed to use the AOL account, and to identify the person only as “the North American head of a European auto manufacturer.” Shafer wrote in his posting that they shouldn’t have agreed to do either of those things.
The hoax was discovered when Slate readers notified the editors that neither Google.com nor Nexis searches produced any hits for “Robert Klingler and the automobile industry.”
Shafer said repeated e-mails sent to the writer’s business e-mail address bounced back as “undeliverable.” He said headers from the business address showed conclusively that the return address was forged, and the e-mails actually originated from a private Internet domain registered to an individual on the West Coast.
The phone number was no longer in service, Shafer told readers.
Slate, one of the earliest online magazines to make a name for itself, has been among the most respected magazines on the Web with a reputation for excellence and thoughtful commentary.
Shafer replaced Michael Kinsley as editor of Slate last month. Kinsley stepped down after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Kinsley founded the magazine with Microsoft Corp. backing in 1996.