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April 19, 2005

Not quite up to Jayson Blair's standards, but still good enough to get the writer fired

An earlier post reported an L.A. Times correction to an article that had numerous significant factual errors in it. As it turns out, the four corrections were just the tip of the iceberg. Today the Times unloads a truckload of additional corrections to that article as well as to another article written by the same author about the same incident.
On March 31, The Times published a correction of four errors in a March 29 article about controversies arising from fraternity hazing at Cal State Chico. At the same time, editors began a full review of the story, which was published on the front page of the California section. Based on that inquiry, which included a visit to Chico by a Times editor, the paper has concluded that the article fell far short of Times standards.

Beyond the specific errors, the newspaper's inquiry found that the methods used in reporting the story were substandard. The quotations from anonymous sources and from two named sources, a Mike Rodriguez and a Paul Greene, could not be verified.

Additional inaccuracies found during the investigation include the following:

• In describing a hazing death this year, the article said that the victim died after drinking five gallons of water from a "rubber bladder bag." The Butte County district attorney reported that the amount of water exceeded five gallons and that it came from a plastic jug, not a bladder bag.

• The story also reported that the victim was alone at the time of his death. The D.A. reported that this was not the case.

• The article attributed to "medical examiners" the idea that the victim may have experienced a moment of euphoria shortly before his death. That belief has been expressed by the victim's father, who told the Chico Enterprise Record that he based it on his own research. Butte County's district attorney said it does not appear in any medical reports related to the current case.

• The article said that the parents of Adrian Heideman, a hazing victim who died in 2000, showed their son's day planner to hazing expert Hank Nuwer. Nuwer informed The Times' readers' representative that he was not shown Heideman's day planner by his parents; he heard it described by Heideman's father over the phone.

Separate from the March 29 article, a review of an earlier story on the same subject revealed another error. On March 5, The Times reported that eight fraternity members had been charged with involuntary manslaughter. In fact, eight were charged with hazing, and four of them were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The writer of both articles, Eric Slater, has been dismissed from the staff.
Dunno what got into Slater's porridge, but it appears he was exploring new frontiers in sloppy reporting. The Times was certainly justified in canning the guy. Amazingly but not surprisingly, Slater is considering a wrongful-termination lawsuit against the newspaper.

(Credit: BOTW)

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