We wonder if the folks over at Truthout.org are rethinking their affiliation with reporter and serial fabulist Jason Leopold. Leopold, you may recall, is the freelance reporter who was caught making stuff up in a 2002 Salon.com article, self-admittedly “getting it completely wrong” in pieces for Dow Jones, and had his own memoir cancelled because of concerns over the accuracy of quotations.
Leopold’s latest addition to his application for membership in the Stephen Glass school of journalism came on May 12 of this year, when he got what appeared to be the scoop of a lifetime. Now writing for Truthout.org, Leopold reported that Karl Rove “told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials,” that he was about to be indicted in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case, “according to people knowledgeable about these discussions.”
Leopold claimed that multiple sources “confirmed Rove’s indictment is imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove’s situation.”
Well, today we
Truthout’s executive director Marc Ash originally stood by Leopold’s story — even as no other news organization could confirm it, and Rove’s attorney vociferously denied it. On May 18, Ash wrote that the site had “additional, independent sources,” and that “additional sources have now come forward and offered corroboration to us.” But just a day later, Ash issued an odd “partial apology” for “getting too far out in front of the news-cycle,” on the story — a note which smelled a bit like a preemptive backtrack.
But Ash again changed course on May 25, when he wrote for Truthout that he now had “three independent sources confirming that attorneys for Karl Rove were handed an indictment either late in the night of May 12 or early in the morning of May 13. We know that each source was in a position to know what they were talking about.”
After all this certainty comes Ash’s latest version of the story, published yesterday, where he writes that Truthout based its original article “on single source information and general background information obtained from experts. The conclusions we arrive at should be considered carefully, but not taken as statements of fact, per se.” Ash makes no mention of those “three independent sources” who were “in a position to know” that he trumpeted less than three weeks ago.
Now that we finally have a look at what Leopold and Ash have been working from, it looks pretty thin. Ash says that he knows “for certain” that there exists a federal indictment called “06 cr 128” which he refers to as “(Sealed vs. Sealed)” since neither party’s name is on the document. He also knows that this indictment “was returned by the same grand jury that has been hearing matters related to the Fitzgerald/Plame investigation.”
So much for what Ash knows. Apparently, Ash is a very religious man, because he “believes” quite a bit about the alleged indictment. He believes that it “is directly related to the Fitzgerald/Plame investigation. That’s based on a single credible source.” He goes on to list several other things he “believes” to be true, all fed to him by, in his words, the “same single credible source.” (Once again, Ash’s “three independent sources” are nowhere to be found.)
As for what you should believe about Leopold’s story, it’s worth looking at his background in more detail.
When Leopold’s story was first called into question a few weeks ago, Salon’s Tim Grieve reminded readers of Leopold’s checkered history with the publication. Salon removed Leopold’s August 29, 2002 story about Enron from its site after it was discovered that he plagiarized parts from the Financial Times and was unable to provide a copy of an email that was critical to the piece. Leopold’s response? A hysterical rant (linked above) which claimed that Salon’s version of events was “nothing but lies,” and that “At this point, I wonder why Salon would go to great lengths to further twist the knife into my back. I suppose the New York Times will now release their version of the events. I can see the headline now ‘Jason Leopold Must Die.’” In other words, people are out to get him, and it’s not his fault.
Fast forward to March 2005, when Leopold’s memoir, Off the Record, was set to be released. In the book, according to Howard Kurtz, Leopold says that he details his own “lying, cheating and backstabbing,” and comes clean about how he got fired from the Los Angeles Times and quit Dow Jones just before they fired him because, as he said, it “Seems I got all of the facts wrong” on a story about Enron.
But the book was not to be. Rowman & Littlefield, the book’s publisher, cancelled production just before it went to press after one of the book’s sources threatened to sue. That source, Steven Maviglio, who was a spokesman for California Governor Gray Davis, said that Leopold “just got it completely wrong” when recounting how he allegedly told Leopold that he “might have broken the law by investing in energy companies using inside information.”
True to form, Leopold blamed his publisher for the controversy, claiming the allegations about Maviglio were not in his book, and, as Kurtz summarized it, “the company’s publicist took that and other material from his book proposal, not the finished manuscript.”
If there is one common theme that emerges from all of Leopold’s journalistic snafus, it’s that none of it seems to be his fault. We probably won’t have to wait long before we hear the same tired refrain from him about the Rove story.
But we wonder when editors will finally figure out his game, save themselves the trouble, and just stop publishing him.
Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.
Editor’s Note: Initially this post mistakenly attributed certain statements made by Mark Ash, Jason Leopold’s editor, to Leopold himself. The attribution has since been corrected.