Freelance writer Ruth Shalit Barrett accuses Atlantic of libel

Freelance writer Ruth Shalit Barrett has charged The Atlantic with libel in a lawsuit centered on the rare retraction of a magazine article.

Mrs. Barrett was the author of “The crazy, crazy world of niche sportsAn investigative article on wealthy Connecticut parents pursuing Ivy League admissions for their children through various athletic pursuits. The Atlantic published the article online in October 2020 and in its print issue in November 2020.

After questions were raised by the Washington Post media critic, Erik Wemple, The Atlantic took the very unusual decision to retract the entire article. In a long Editor’s Note, the outlet said “new information” had emerged which cast doubt on the accuracy of the article and the “reliability” of Ms Barrett. The Atlantic also said Ms Barrett encouraged a source to lie to her fact-checkers and noted details of Ms Barrett’s background, including plagiarism accusations against her in the 1990s when she was a reporter at The New Republic.

In a trial filed on Saturday in U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, seeking $ 1 million in damages, Ms Barrett charged The Atlantic and Donald Peck, its senior newspaper editor at the time , to have tarnished its reputation.

The Atlantic had bowed to pressure from Mr Wemple, she said, who, in a series of columns, had both questioned the veracity of some of the details of the article, including the description of ‘a fencing injury, and if the Atlantic had tricked readers into not including Ms. Barrett’s maiden name, which she used at The New Republic.

Ms Barrett said in the lawsuit that the only “lie” The Atlantic uncovered was the addition of a non-existent son to the family of “Sloane”, a central figure in the article. Ms Barrett said she added the son at the request of the anonymous source to help conceal his identity.

Ms Barrett added that the editors of The Atlantic used a similar tactic by altering a quote in her article to protect someone’s identity because of a “legal demand.” A spokeswoman for The Atlantic, Anna Bross, said in an email: “Our attorneys have never, in this case or any other, advised editors to change direct quotes. It is a basic journalistic principle; of course we do not change the quotes.

Ms Barrett argued that the son’s inclusion was necessary to protect her source and that she “was acting in accordance with the law and the ethical precepts of the journalistic profession.” She also said in the lawsuit that the two factual inaccuracies regarding the city a person came from and the size of the hockey rinks in the backyard were “so trivial and trivial that they hardly warranted correction – let alone the complete retraction of a serious and meaningful journalistic article. “

The Atlantic, in a nearly 1,000-word memo, said its fact-checking department reviewed the article and spoke with more than 40 sources, but Ms Barrett misled the auditors and lied to the editors.

“We cannot guarantee the accuracy of this article,” the note said.

In the lawsuit, Ms Barrett also accused The Atlantic of distorting his background and destroying his career as a journalist through what he said publicly about her.

Ms Barrett was a rising star of political journalism in the 1990s, in her twenties and writing under her maiden name Ruth Shalit. She was accused of plagiarism in 1994 and 1995 on several passages and phrases in some of her work which resembled the work of other journalists. She quit her job at The New Republic in 1999 and has had few articles published in the past 20 years.

The Atlantic said in the editor’s note that it originally used the signature “Ruth S. Barrett” at the request of Mrs. Barrett “but in the interest of transparency we should have included the name that she used as a signature in the 1990s “. The memo said Ms Barrett had been given the story because “more than two decades had separated her from her malpractice as a reporter at The New Republic,” but the editors regretted the decision.

In the lawsuit, Ms Barrett accused The Atlantic of bending to Mr Wemple’s pressure and distorting his track record. She said she had an “antagonistic relationship” with the Post reporter dating back to the 1990s, when he worked at the Washington City Paper.

Mr Wemple said in an email that he did not recall meeting or interacting with Ms Barrett until 2020, when he wrote his columns on her history in the Atlantic.

“I was doing my job as a media critic,” Mr. Wemple said.

Ms Bross, a spokesperson for The Atlantic, said the post maintained its retraction and editor’s note.

“We completely reject the allegations and believe the lawsuit to be without merit, will file a motion to dismiss and are confident that we will prevail eventually,” she said in a statement.

Barrett’s lawyers offered in early December to settle the case before taking legal action. In a letter sent to The Atlantic and obtained by The New York Times, Ms Barrett’s attorneys said they would not prosecute if The Atlantic agreed to make corrections to its editorial note, cede the property rights. intellectual about the article and pay Ms. Barrett’s legal fees. fees, which at the time were close to $ 120,000.

“Any post-lawsuit settlement would require monetary compensation, which Ms Barrett is prepared to waive at this stage in order to obtain minimal redress for her reputation as a journalist,” the letter said.

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