The Atlantic retracted an article on Nov. 1 after questions were raised about its accuracy.
The magazine stated in its retraction notice that they were not able to attest to the accuracy of the article or the credibility of the author, Ruth Shalit Barrett.
The Atlantic indicated that it would preserve a copy of the original article in the interest of transparency. Though the content of the article itself has been taken down from its website, it is still available as a pdf in its November 2020 issue.
“We draw a distinction between retraction and removal. We believe that scrubbing the article from the Internet would not meet our standards for transparency, and we believe it is important to preserve access to the article for the historical record,” The Atlantic said.
A portion of The Atlantic article that Barrett wrote was based on an individual named “Sloane” and, according to the magazine, Barrett had informed the fact-checkers that Sloane had a son. This turned out to be false, as, through Sloane’s attorney, The Atlantic learned that such a son did not exist.
“In explaining Sloane’s reasoning for telling our fact-checkers that she had a son, Sloane’s attorney told The Atlantic that she wanted to make herself less readily identifiable,” the retraction note stated.
“Her attorney also said that according to Sloane, Barrett had first proposed the invention of a son, and encouraged Sloane to deceive The Atlantic as a way to protect her anonymity,” The Atlantic stated.
When the issue was brought up to Barrett, she initially denied the accusations and said that she had believed Sloane when told that she had a son. However, when questioned again, Barrett confessed that she was complicit in presenting a deception, and even though she felt like Sloane was lying to her, she went along with it and takes responsibility for her actions.
Barrett told The Atlantic that the only fabricated part of the article was Sloane’s son, however, through more thorough fact-checking, The Atlantic was able to find further inconsistencies and errors within Barrett’s article. Sloane’s attorneys also brought up several inaccuracies but did not provide any examples to The Atlantic.
Barrett was accused of plagiarism and inaccurate reporting while working for The New Republic in 1999, but The Atlantic made the decision to offer her another chance, given the time that had elapsed.
“Our fact-checking department thoroughly checked this piece, speaking with more than 40 sources and independently corroborating information,” The Atlantic said. “But we now know that the author misled our fact-checkers, lied to our editors, and is accused of inducing at least one source to lie to our fact-checking department.”