TCU Daily Skiff Masthead
Tuesday, September 17, 2002
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Former Skiff editor fired from AP for questionable sources
About 15 sources could not be verified from stories Chris Newton wrote during his career with the Associated Press, the newsgathering organization said. The inquiry stemmed from an article printed Sept. 8.
The Associated Press

The Associated Press has dismissed a former Skiff editor after the news agency could not confirm the existence of people quoted by name in a number of the reporter’s stories.

AP reviewed stories by Washington reporter Christopher Newton, a 1996 graduate, after receiving inquiries about two experts he quoted in a Sept. 8 piece about crime statistics. Editors then found a number of additional stories quoting people whose existence could not be verified. Most of these quotes were attributed to individuals with academic credentials or working in policy research.

“Chris Newton maintains these experts are real and accurately quoted, but our editors have been unable to verify that they even exist,” said AP spokeswoman Kelly Smith Tunney. “The integrity of the news report is our highest priority, and we asked him to provide proof of authenticity, but he could not or would not do so.”

Newton was dismissed Monday. Reached later by telephone, he declined to comment for this story.

The news came as a surprise to journalism department chairman Tommy Thomason, who taught Newton when he attended TCU.

“There was nothing in his editorship at TCU or experience while in Fort Worth that indicated any problem with source credibility,” Thomason said. “He was an outstanding editor. His paper won a number of state and regional awards, and Chris did, too.”

Newton started with the AP in Houston as a temporary newsman from May through July 1994. Thomason said the AP recognized Newton’s potential early on when he interned for the Dallas bureau from May to August 1995 while still in college.Newton joined the AP staff in Dallas in 1996 after graduating from TCU. He moved to Lubbock as AP correspondent in April 1998, and transferred to the statehouse bureau in Harrisburg, Pa., in November 1999.

His quick rise to an important national beat was impressive, Thomason said. He transferred to Washington as a general assignment reporter in November 2000. Since June 2002, Newton has been based at the Justice Department, covering federal law enforcement issues and activities.

“He is someone not only TCU had a great deal of pride in, but the AP as well,” Thomason said.

About 15 questionable quotations have been found among hundreds of articles written by Newton, Tunney said, and the AP has discovered no instance where the questionable material was central to the story.

The review began after AP received inquiries about two people quoted in a story about declining crime rates — a “Ralph Myers” of Stanford University and a “Bruce Fenmore of the Institute for Crime and Punishment in Chicago.”

Newton received queries from three crime experts and a reporter for The New York Times, who brought the matter to the attention of Newton’s editor.

In AP’s subsequent investigation, Newton could not provide his editors with proof that either man had been interviewed.

In the Sept. 8 crime story, the experts were quoted as suggesting that a decline in most violent crime in 2001, as reported by the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, was related to the implementation of policies aimed at keeping criminals behind bars longer.

Newton maintained the interviews that were questioned in the crime story were valid, but he was unable to provide any corroboration after they were challenged. Newton apologized to his editors, but insisted he had never fabricated news content in any way.

He gave them access to a voicemail message that seemed to suggest he was the victim of a hoax in connection with the crime story. However, neither he nor AP could verify the identity of the caller or the origination of the message.

Newton’s editors undertook a broader review of his work after they became aware of the problems with the crime story. Most identifications checked out, but AP researchers were unable to verify the existence of about 15 individuals. Efforts to find those individuals by telephone and Internet searches came up empty, as did telephone inquiries to purported employers and a check of records of calls from Newton’s office telephone and AP cell phone.

Newton’s editors, working independently, were unable to verify the existence of either man or the Chicago institute. Last Thursday, AP asked news organizations that used the crime story to publish a corrective story saying the AP could not confirm the accuracy of the quotes or the identities of the experts.

“It makes you wonder,” Thomason said. “We are seeking to foster the highest ethical standards in our students here. ... We try to work ethics into all the courses we teach so that students will see the importance we place on it.”

He said Newton was a caretaker of not only the AP’s, but the public’s trust.

Paul Harral, vice president and editorial director for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said credibility is the stock and trade for any journalist and issues that cause that to be brought into question damages the entire profession.

“I hope this turns out to be untrue,” he said.

Associate Editor Alisha Brown contributed to this report.


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