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.
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 reporters
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
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 Newtons 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
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 Newtons editor.
In APs subsequent investigation, Newton could
not provide his editors with proof that either man had
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 Departments 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.
Newtons 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 Newtons office
telephone and AP cell phone.
Newtons 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 APs,
but the publics 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
I hope this turns out to be untrue, he said.
Associate Editor Alisha Brown contributed to this report.