Veteran reporter in Massachusetts a serial fabulist
As journalistic fabulists go, Cape Cod Times reporter Karen Jeffrey had a long run, writing myriad stories over the years in which she made up people and quotes.
Her denouement was announced on Wednesday by Publisher Peter Meyer and editor Paul Pronovost. In a lengthy apology to readers, they described how they caught the 59-year-old Jeffrey, and provided examples of her deceit, writing: "In an audit of her work, Times editors have been unable to find 69 people in 34 stories since 1998, when we began archiving stories electronically."
They added: "The stories with suspect sourcing were typically lighter fare - a story on young voters, a story on getting ready for a hurricane, a story on the Red Sox home opener - where some or all of the people quoted cannot be located."
Jeffrey was fired on Tuesday. She started in 1981 at the Hyannis-based daily, which also covers Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. Interestingly, her undoing came about because of a story about Veterans Day. Either due to laziness, lack of curiosity, or inability to get interviews from people who supported her own views, Jeffrey invented a Boston family. It figured prominently in her story.
In "Cape Salutes Veterans," Jeffrey portrayed the fictional Chipman family as being clueless about the meaning of Veterans Day, and added that they felt "lucky" for having never known any soldiers who served in Iraq or Vietnam. She introduced them in the first sentence, writing:
Ronald Chipman and his family were strolling along Chatham's Main Street when they noticed traffic slowed. A crowd of people gathered at the small rotary ahead.
Flags, uniforms, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The Chipmans were momentarily puzzled.
"I looked at my wife. She looked back at me. We had the same guilty thought - Veterans Day - and we thought nothing about it except as a long weekend on the Cape until we saw that," said Chipman, 46, a Boston resident. "You live in the city and sometimes you forget about things like this - about things still mattering to people," he said.
Veterans Day did matter to hundreds of people across the Cape who paused on an overcast Sunday morning to remember those past and present serving in the U.S. military.
Later, Jeffrey's article noted that the Chipmans nevertheless got into the spirit of Veterans Day, attending a ceremony in the town of Chatham at a rotary known as Veterans Circle. "It was kind of moving," said the fictional Ronald Chipman.
As a result of this embarrassing episode, the paper is planning some shake-ups. "We must learn from this painful lesson and take steps to prevent this from happening again. Moving forward, we will be spot-checking reporting sources more frequently, choosing stories at random and calling sources to verify they exist."
Editors at other news outlets may want to do the same, if they aren't already doing so.