An article in The Metro Section on March 8 profiled Donna Fenton, identifying her as a 37-year-old victim of Hurricane Katrina who had fled Biloxi, Miss., and who was frustrated in efforts to get federal aid as she and her children remained as emergency residents of a hotel in Queens.
Yesterday, the New York police arrested Ms. Fenton, charging her with several counts of welfare fraud and grand larceny. Prosecutors in Brooklyn say she was not a Katrina victim, never lived in Biloxi and had improperly received thousands of dollars in government aid. Ms. Fenton has pleaded not guilty.
For its profile, The Times did not conduct adequate interviews or public record checks to verify Ms. Fenton’s account, including her claim that she had lived in Biloxi. Such checks would have uncovered a fraud conviction and raised serious questions about the truthfulness of her account.
This is the second time in as many weeks that the NYT has had to run an editors’ note explaining that it profiled a faker. Last Saturday, the editors had to explain that reporter Hassan Fattah had been conned by a man who said he was the hooded Abu Ghraib prisoner pictured atop a cardboard box with wires attached to his fingers. If Fattah had searched the NYT’s own archives, he would have found an article reporting that military investigators had already identified the man on the box as someone else.
Once upon a time the press was so proud of its skepticism. That has gone out the window when it comes to anyone willing to speak ill of the Bush administration.