Another liberal magazine falls for hoax that confirms its agenda

New York Magazine fell hard for a story that was just too good to check.  A putative boy genius with the multiculturalist orgasm-inducing name of Mohammed Islam had made $72 million in the stock market.  The only problem was that he and his best friend made it all up.  Actually, the real problem was that the reporter, Jessica Pressler, and her editors believed the story.

The New York Observer, a rival publication vying for the smart set audience in Gotham, managed to uncover the hoax in short order.

Monday’s edition of New York magazine includes an irresistible story about a Stuyvesant High senior named Mohammed Islam who had made a fortune investing in the stock market. Reporter Jessica Pressler wrote regarding the precise number, “Though he is shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the “’high eight figures.’” The New York Post followed up with a story of its own, with the fat figure playing a key role in the headline: “High school student scores $72M playing the stock market.”

And now it turns out, the real number is … zero.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Islam and his friend Damir Tulemaganbetov, who also featured heavily in the New York story, the baby faced boys who dress in suits with tie clips came clean. Swept up in a tide of media adulation, they made the whole thing up.

What really happened is that the boys were in a stock investing club and did simulated trades involving no money.  They achieved great success.  Somehow (the point is not developed), Ms. Pressler got a hold of the story and publicized it, using it as part of the magazine’s “Reasons to love New York” annual feature.

That is probably the biggest clue in understanding why fact-checking did not occur.  Liberal New Yorkers desperately want to believe that the diversity they celebrate leads to geniuses from other cultures enriching their civic lives and tax base (any New Yorker making that much money is going to pay a lot of taxes).  They want to believe that their city uniquely empowers people to do great things.  And a name like Mohammed Islam is manna for the project of celebrating diversity.

Ads the Observer notes, this is a familiar story in which childish impulses go horribly wrong:

… a fib turns into a lie turns into a rumor turns into a bunch of mainstream media stories and invitations to appear on CNBC.

I feel bad for the two boys, and I hope their lives are not ruined.  As for Ms. Pressler, she has already moved on to Bloomberg, where no doubt she has some ’splainin to do this morning.  Capital New York reported eight days ago:

Photo credit: CNBC via Capital New York

New York magazine is about to lose a star in Jessica Pressler, who's heading to Bloomberg News to join the financial wire's investigative unit.

Pressler confirmed the move to Capital, telling us she'll be focusing on long-form stories about financial personalities and "the culture of wealth and money." She'll be starting in mid-January or early February depending on when she wraps her final New York assignment.

"I hear that when you go to Bloomberg, after you've been there a year, they give you a magazine that you can run into the ground," said Pressler, jokingly (we think!).

Maybe not so jokingly.

Hat tip: Clarice Feldman

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