The PJ Tatler

WaPo Media Critic a Serial Fabricator in the Past

Washington Post blogger Erik Wemple writes about media, and media ethics for a living. But according to RealClearReligion writer Mark Judge, Wemple doesn’t have any business commenting on how the media covers stories.

While an editor at the Washington, D.C. alt/weekly City Paper, Wemple systematically altered stories, fabricated quotes, misrepresented the intent of journalists, and committed other ethics violations.

I had become friends with Cathy Alter after she interviewed me for an article in 1996 that appeared in the City Paper. Shortly after, she told me a story of hers had been altered by an editor there. The article in question, “Voyeur Eyes Only,” was about a woman named Jennifer Ringley, who had become a sensation by broadcasting her private life over the internet — a scandal in the pre-YouTube days.

Cathy Alter is now a successful book author who has been on the Today show, but at the time she was a freelancer. She met Ringley and liked her, and wrote a favorable profile. This, according to Wemple, was a major violation. The City Paper had what it called its “freak of the week,” a person who served as a pinata for the editors and readers. So Wemple altered the copy. Alter was outraged, and told Wemple, to no avail.

I spoke to Alter recently, and she still remembers watching her copy become unrecognizable. She recalls that Wemple was insistent on portraying Ringley, the freak of the week, as fat. “He kept saying ‘I was a fat kid and got teased, she’ll get over it,’ Alter says. The piece refers to Ringley as “a chunky lover of Pooh” — as in Winnie-the-Pooh. “I definitely did not write that,” Alter says.

After meeting Alter in 1996, I began to notice that the City Paper was getting letters, and lots of them, from profile subjects claiming that they had been misquoted and misrepresented. Of course, every journalist will get a few of these in their life. But this was a steady stream.

Some subjects claimed that Wemple totally fabricated quotes. So the question can legitimately be asked, why is this person in a position to be commenting on the ethics of others when his own questionable past proves he has no  standing to do so?

In the sidebar of his Post blog, it says “Erik Wemple is an editor-turned-blogger who’s obsessed with the media issues of the day, and of yesterday as well.”

Would that this were true.