Remember the controversy over that fabricated Slate article on monkeyfishing? No? Probably because it grabbed attention for a few short weeks in June 2001 before fading into the haze of media scandals past.
Well, Slate ran an article penned by James Forman about his excursion to an island in the Florida Keys where he casted for monkeys like fish, using fruit for bait. When bloggers and media outlets everywhere slammed the tale, Slate initially stood by Forman’s piece before setting the record straight and issuing an apology to readers for publishing the falsehoods.
Slate‘s initial response — which, in fact, referenced a detailed report in the Times that said the practice of monkeyfishing did exist — admitted Forman “had fabricated the lurid parts about monkeys being caught with baited lines” but maintained that he had “visited the island and taunted the monkeys from offshore.” Slate then vowed to “get to the bottom of it, possibly with help from [their] readers.”
We are pleased to report that, nearly six years later, they have:
Turns out, what they didn’t know back then was that the entire story was a lie. Yesterday, Jack Shafer, who edited and published Forman’s original piece, shed light on the how the tall tale finally has come to an end:
The scandal rested there until this week, when Forman telephoned me. Student journalists writing a story about the incident had contacted Forman, and this had prompted him to call me and confess that the story was a complete lie. He never even visited the island.
I, in turn, apologize to Slate readers for publishing the story. Although Forman still stands by the two other pieces he wrote for the magazine, there is plenty of reason not to believe him.
We just wanted to add that it’s not at all weird that all the bloggers and Times reporters and Slate staffers couldn’t get to the bottom of things, and then six years later some “student journalists” get Forman to fess up simply by making a few phone calls.
Either way, we bet the folks at Slate are relieved — they finally can stop apologizing to their readers. At least for now.
— Emily Million
UPDATE: Says a tipster: “The story was essentially responsible for the Jacob Weisberg era at Slate. You may recall that at the time “Monkeyfishing” ran, Shafer was taking his turn at the helm as part of the bakeoff that Michael Kinsley has set up between the two. After the monkeyfishing story turned out to be a fabrication, Shafer was toast in the competition.”