Slater, Fired from 'LAT,' Defends Himself in an E-mail

By: E&P Staff Former Los Angeles Times reporter Eric Slater, who was fired April 18 after a story he wrote had several factual errors and contained some sources who could not be found, refuses to go quietly.

In an e-mail to friends, posted on the Web site L.A. Observed, Slater contends he was wrongly removed and accuses editors of firing him after he rescinded a resignation. He also says he will release previous, unedited copies of his story and other documents and travel records to prove his innocence, but he adds that he has no plans to sue the newspaper.

"On Monday, April 17 [sic], following a brief investigation, LA Times Managing Editor Dean Baquet told me that either I could resign or I would be fired," the letter states. "Because I could not reach my attorney at 8:30 a.m., I agreed to resign. I told Dean that I would meet with my counsel and draft a letter of resignation that I would file as soon as possible. Everyone agreed that was the way to proceed.

"A few hours later, a reporter for another paper phoned me to ask for a comment on my resignation. The Times, this journalist said, was reporting that I had resigned. She was right. Before I was given time to write my letter of resignation, the LA Times was reporting to other journalists (and Dean confirmed this personally to me) that I had indeed resigned. Following weeks of odd inquiries, thinly veiled threats about the impending ruin of my career, inappropriate questions about my health and personal life, I asked my attorney if I could retract my resignation. He encouraged me to do just that. I did. The Times fired me."

Slater's firing stemmed from a March 29 story he wrote 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 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 is 71,317; and had quoted University President Paul Zingg without stating that the quote had been taken from another news outlet.

Then, on April 19, a longer correction reporting his dismissal also revealed that a review by a Times editor found that Slater had reported other facts incorrectly and had used sources that could not be verified. In addition, accusations began to arise that he had not even visited Chico.

In his e-mail, Slater defended his work, saying "had I made anything up, had I not gone to Chico, had I anything to hide, I would have done the only honorable thing left to me: vanished. People have asked why I have not released records to defend myself. The answer is that the LA Times confiscated my laptop, corporate AmEx, notes and receipts. I have just received the notes and hard copy receipts back from the Times.

"In the near future, I will release any and all documents pertaining to the story, including original notes, AmEx and other receipts, as well as a dozen or so versions of the story as it was written, edited and rewritten. Reporters and friends also have asked me what I am seeking, why I retained a lawyer, am I going to file a lawsuit. I have no plans to file suit. The LA Times brought in its top attorney so I brought in the best attorney in LA for someone in my position. I would have been a fool not to hire counsel. I want, primarily, my reputation restored so that I can make a living as a writer. Its [sic] the only thing I know how to do."


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