Fired: 'LAT' Reporter Slater 'Dismissed' from Staff

By: Joe Strupp The Los Angeles Times fired reporter Eric Slater on Monday, nearly three weeks after a story he wrote about the death of a college student in Chico, Calif., drew complaints and accusations of poor reporting, questionable sources, and factual errors.

The paper reported Slater's dismissal at the end of a lengthy editor's note in today's editions, which also indicated that two named sources in Slater's story could not be verified and "methods used in reporting the story were substandard."

Slater could not be reached for comment, but the Chico Enterprise-Record reported that he would fight the dismissal. "Myself and my attorney are looking over the request and will get back to the L.A. Times by morning," Slater told the Enterprise-Record for its Tuesday editions.

Slater had written about the February death of Matthew Carrington, a student at California State University, Chico, who had died after a hazing ritual that included drinking up to five gallons of water. The story ran in the Times on March 29.

The paper first revealed problems with the story in a March 31 correction, which indicated that Slater had mistakenly reported that a fraternity pledge at a nearby community college had died of alcohol poisoning, when he was only hospitalized; that Chico has a population of 35,000, when it was really 71,317; and had quoted University President Paul Zingg without stating that the quote had been taken from another news outlet.

Today's note, however, went much further. Offering new details about the story's problems following an investigation by a Times editor.

"The paper has concluded that the article fell far short of Times standards," the editor's note said, adding that "the quotations from anonymous sources and from two named sources, a Mike Rodriguez and a Paul Greene, could not be verified."

"Additional inaccuracies found during the investigation include the following: In describing a hazing death this year, the article said that the victim died after drinking five gallons of water from a 'rubber bladder bag.' The Butte County district attorney reported that the amount of water exceeded five gallons and that it came from a plastic jug, not a bladder bag.

"The story also reported that the victim was alone at the time of his death. The D.A. reported that this was not the case," the correction said. "The article attributed to 'medical examiners' the idea that the victim may have experienced a moment of euphoria shortly before his death. That belief has been expressed by the victim's father, who told the Chico Enterprise Record that he based it on his own research. Butte County's district attorney said it does not appear in any medical reports related to the current case."

The Times also revealed that Slater's article wrongly reported that the parents of Adrian Heideman, a hazing victim who died in 2000, showed their son's day planner to a hazing expert, Hank Nuwer. Nuwer told The Times that he was not shown Heideman's day planner by his parents, but had heard it described by Heideman's father over the phone.

Finally, the Times indicated that a previous Slater story on hazing, published March 5, reported that eight fraternity brothers had been charged with involuntary manslaughter. The paper said all eight had actually been charged with hazing, while only four were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The correction ends by stating simply that Slater "has been dismissed from the staff."

Following the March 31 correction, Slater's story had gotten increased scrutiny from numerous observers, ranging from the Enterprise-Record to, a watchdog site.

Slater responded to the complaints earlier this month in an e-mail "to friends and colleagues," which was posted on, among other Web sites. It read, in part, "I wrote the worst story in my 19-year journalism career the other day. I wanted to apologize to you directly." But Slater also defended himself, saying he "would never make up a source -- not now, not ever."


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