Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Ethics, Media — Rick Moran @ 4:04 pm

This story is getting more bizarre as we dig deeper.

A former ABC News consultant on terrorism has been exposed as a gigantic fraud, faking interviews with famous people and having them published in a French news magazine.

Alexis Debat, a former French defense official who has been working as a consultant for ABC News since 9/11, says he hired a freelance journalist to conduct an interview with Barack Obama. When it came out in another French magazine that the Obama camp was denying the interview ever took place, Debat claimed he was “scammed” by the freelancer.

Debat says the freelancer, a Robert Sherman from Lombard, IL was paid $500 to conduct the Obama interview. A local newspaper checked out the address Debat gave for Sherman and found that no such address exists in Lombard, IL.

The French magazine where the fake interview was published, Politique Internationale, has now heard from several other subjects of supposed sit downs with Debat, all of whom claiming they never participated:

Former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have added their names to the list of people who say they were the subjects of fake interviews published in a French foreign affairs journal under the name of Alexis Debat, a former ABC News consultant.

“This guy is just sick,” said Patrick Wajsman, the editor of the magazine, Politique Internationale, a prestigious publication that has been in business for 29 years. Wajsman said he was removing all articles with Debat’s byline from the magazine’s Web site.

Yesterday, a spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said a supposed interview with Debat, published in the June 2007 edition of Politique Internationale, never occurred and was a fabrication.

And before you start feeling sorry for Politique Internationale, the magazine was contacted in 2005 by the UN Deputy Director for Communications about an interview they were going to run under Debat’s byline with Kofi Annan that never took place, threatening to expose it as a fake if the magazine went with it:

Despite that, Debat continued for the next two years to be cited as the author of interviews with a range of prominent U.S. public officials in Politique Internationale.

The U.N. official said a second supposed interview of Annan by Debat, posted earlier this year by Politique Internationale, was actually portions of a speech the secretary-general had given at Princeton University.

The magazine editor, Wajsman, told ABCNews.com he thought the problem with the Annan interview, one of the first he submitted, was “maybe a technical one” or a misunderstanding.

Wajsman said he had referred the matter to his lawyer for possible action against Debat.

“I was a victim of this man. I had no reason to suspect someone like him could lie,” Wajsman said.

Methinks Mr. Wajsman is an idiot. He had “no reason to suspect” Debat would lie after having done so with one of his first interviews for him? Sorry Mr. Editor, you were too greedy for the good stories, never questioning where they were coming from, and you have now gotten caught with your pantaloons down around your ankles. Take your medicine and resign immediately.

Debat had already been fired by ABC for a little fib he told about his PHD; he apparently never got one. Now in light of these revelations, ABC is scrambling, looking at every story Debat has done in the last 6 years to determine if he was pulling some of the same crap with them. They evidently did a cursory examination after they let him go back in June and found nothing. They now say they are doing another examination to make sure.

Why not do the job right the first time? Perhaps ABC News didn’t want to know if Debat had scammed them. They wouldn’t be the first institutional organization that went through the motions when carrying out an investigation just so that later they could say, “Well, we looked into it at the time and didn’t find anything.” Now that the pressure is on, they apparently are going to do a thorough job of it.

Blogger-Journalist Laura Rozen points up the tightrope that ABC was walking by keeping Debat on as a consultant:

My own feeling as primarily a print world reporter, and this is just one part of the complicated matter, is that it is deeply problematic for a news organization to have a paid source/consultant to sometimes put on the reporter hat and act as the reporter too. (Indeed, I don’t like the idea of paid sources at all, but it seems to be a frequent practice at TV news networks). Seriously, imagine if a New York Times reporter put an ex NSC or CIA operative on the payroll for about $2,000 to $4,000 a month as a source, cited in articles as a source, and then sometimes let him or her report news stories with a byline, without glaringly indicating to readers what was going on. But this is what ABC was doing with Debat. ABC must have known they were stretching the rules on this one. For instance, their consultant Richard Clarke is never presented as the reporter. But ABC changed the rules in the Debat case, presumably because he was bringing them such sexy scoops, that they loved flacking at the time. Now they insist the scoops were solid, but Debat misrepresented his credentials. They’re blameless.

Just a few days ago, Rozen points to this piece in the Times Online where Debat talks about a “3 day blitz” against Iran:

THE Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive airstrikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days, according to a national security expert.

Alexis Debat, director of terrorism and national security at the Nixon Center, said last week that US military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. “They’re about taking out the entire Iranian military,” he said.

Debat was speaking at a meeting organised by The National Interest, a conservative foreign policy journal. He told The Sunday Times that the US military had concluded: “Whether you go for pinprick strikes or all-out military action, the reaction from the Iranians will be the same.” It was, he added, a “very legitimate strategic calculus”.

Do we believe that he has inside information about the bombing campaign? Or is he doing one of his Walter Mitty routines?

Debat is one of those figures so beloved of today’s media; a witty, urbane scholar who comes across as authoritative on television. He bridges the gap in knowledge between a reporter and the audience and is used most frequently to fill in the background on personalities and events, usually buttressing the point being made by the reporter and producer of the piece.

Behind the camera, consultants are good for fleshing out details on stories, getting inside information by using their sources in government, and for confirming facts gathered in the course of reporting.

But Rozen is asking should these people be journalists as well? It’s a good question and something of a dilemma. Should a source for news also report it? I’m no journalist but even I can see the potential conflict. And ABC, knowing of his work with Politique Internationale as a by lined reporter, might have asked themselves some tough questions. If they had, they might not be spending the next few days combing over every story Debat ever had a hand in, making sure he did nothing untoward.

Bottom line: Guys like Debat, Jason Blair, Scott Thomas Beauchamp, and Stephen Glass get away with it because the stuff they write or bring in is just too good to be true.

And many times, it is.


  1. Obama offers plan for winding down war…

    Senator Barack Obama on Wednesday presented his most extensive plan yet for winding down the war in …

    Trackback by Unpartisan.com Political News and Blog Aggregator — 9/13/2007 @ 4:35 pm

  2. Here’s a link to the story that you reference without crediting the newspaper (Suburban Chicago Daily Herald):

    Comment by Anne — 9/13/2007 @ 7:30 pm

  3. Don’t forget Eve Fairbanks in that list of fabricators. Check “Fairbanksing” in the Urban Dictionary or just google either her name or her verb.

    Yes, she is yet another ‘journalist’ who has been called on her published writings since her days at Yale, as a reporter/researcher with TNR and her work for both the NYT and The Examiner while an editor at TNR.

    One day Franklin Foer will be “astounded” that her work did not pass fact checking, even though the evidence has been out there for a couple of years already.

    Comment by Anonymous — 9/14/2007 @ 10:09 am

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