The top editor at culture magazine Rolling Stone helped conceal key details about the arrest of an ABC News journalist that made it appear the reporter was targeted for his work on articles focused on national security.
In fact, the author of the scoop knew ABC News journalist James Gordon Meek was under criminal investigation for sending, receiving and storing images of child pornography and sexual abuse involving children, but that key detail was not made clear to Rolling Stone readers until the U.S. Department of Justice made those allegations publicly known this February.
The reason why Rolling Stone readers were kept in the dark apparently had to do with some creative editing by the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Noah Shachtman, who expressed skepticism over the use of government sources in reporter Tatiana Siegel and who warned her against turning in a story that included details of why the FBI raided Meek’s home last April, according to a report published by NPR this week.
Shachtman’s involvement with Siegel’s article was unusual, because he typically did not edit her stories, NPR said, adding that the editing went so far as to discourage the magazine’s photography staffers from using a photo of Meek as the lead image on the story in favor of something that focused more on the FBI.
Siegel ultimately maneuvered around Shachtman’s demands by turning in a draft that didn’t focus on the child pornography aspect of the investigation, but did say the U.S. Justice Department’s probe against the ABC News producer was not connected to his work as a journalist focused on national security issues. Shachtman deleted these references, too, according to NPR.
The story that was ultimately published last September strongly suggested to readers that the government’s criminal probe against Meek was somehow related to his various scoops on national security matters. It noted that a raid on Meek’s apartment was carried out by heavily-armed members of federal law enforcement, and was the first kind of law enforcement against a journalist by President Joseph Biden’s administration.
After the story was published, a social media editor for Rolling Stone promoted the story by calling Meek an “Emmy-winning ABC News producer” who had not been seen by his colleagues since the April raid. It made no mention of the actual criminal allegations against the reporter, though they were known to Shachtman, Siegel and others at Rolling Stone.
Shachtman and Siegel declined to comment for NPR’s story, which was published Tuesday morning and relies almost entirely on unnamed sources.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court earlier this year and made public in February allege Meek received and stored child pornography using the messaging app Kik installed on several older-model Apple iPhones.
Messages cited in the complaint purport to show Meek communicating with several adults about sexual activity with children. In one profane conversation from early 2020, Meek allegedly told another person that it was his “dream” to rape a female toddler. During that conversation, he reportedly received a video of someone engaged in a similar act, and later sent a video along the same lines, according to the complaint.
Meek’s alleged online activity continued along this line for several months, and apparently went unnoticed until he tried to store child pornography in a Dropbox account that was linked to his e-mail address. The images triggered an alert at Dropbox, which uses software to identify potential materials related to the sexual abuse of children.
Dropbox filed a tip with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which alerted the FBI. Federal agents were able to connect the Dropbox account to Meek, and a raid on his home turned up several laptops, phones and other computer-related devices that allegedly contained numerous images of child sex abuse and conversations between Meek and other people.
The raid on Meek’s home took place in April, but he wasn’t arrested and charged with child sex abuse crimes until late January. His arrest and the criminal complaint against him were made public on February 1, about five months after Rolling Stone’s story on the raid was first published.
Meek is now reported living with his mother; the criminal case against him is still pending. He no longer works at ABC News, and a book deal with Paramount Global’s Simon & Schuster has been put on hold indefinitely.
Prior to his legal situation, Meek and Shachtman ran in some of the same journalism groups that comprise mainly of high-level reporters and investigative producers who know how to expose Washington’s secrets with nothing more than a laptop, a Twitter feed and a deep knowledge of how the government really operates (or, in some cases, doesn’t).
In his article, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik wrote Shachtman considered Meek a peer and the two were on friendly terms, and that Shachtman often told colleagues that he and Meek “travel in the same professional circles.”
The implication of Folkenflik’s reporting is that Shachtman’s admiration for Meek clouded his judgment on Rolling Stone’s article about the raid. But Shachtman’s tiptoeing around the issue wasn’t enough to keep others from ultimately reporting certain details that Shachtman tried hard to conceal.
In an unusual twist, it was Shachtman’s former employer, the Daily Beast, that first noted the raid on Meek’s apartment wasn’t tied to his work at ABC News. Editor-at-Large Lachlan Cartwright wrote that Meek resigned from ABC News the same day as the raid — which Rolling Stone didn’t report — and that the magazine apparently deleted a line about Meek’s collaboration with ABC World News anchor David Muir after the story was published and without an editor’s note.
Several weeks after the story first ran on Rolling Stone’s website, Shachtman updated the article to include a statement from a U.S. Justice Department spokesperson, the federal agency that includes the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI. The statement had been earlier obtained by Siegel, but not included in the first published version of her story; it was added after the statement appeared in the Daily Beast article, which Shachtman later linked to, NPR reported.
Siegel eventually left Rolling Stone for the entertainment trade publication Variety. Both Rolling Stone and Variety are owned by Penske Media Corporation. A spokesperson for Penske Media told NPR Siegel’s transition from one media outlet to another was in the works prior to the publication of the story about the raid on Meek’s apartment.
But that’s not quite what happened, according to NPR, which said Siegel told friends that she decided to accept the offer at Variety only days before it was announced. The implication of NPR’s report is that, while Siegel and Penske had been discussing the role at Variety, the issue surrounding Shachtman’s interference with her scoop on the raid ultimately convinced her to leave Rolling Stone.
A prolific social media user, Shachtman’s last post on Twitter was a re-tweet from Monday afternoon, about 24 hours before the NPR story on his editorializing of Siegel’s scoop dropped, according to a review of his profile by The Desk late Tuesday evening. He was a bit more active on Mastodon, where he “boosted” a post by Rolling Stone’s Digital Director Lisa Tozzi early Tuesday.
The NPR story ignited a firestorm of controversy against Shachtman online, mainly from journalists, broadcasters and columnists working at conservative media outlets.
“The government was not short on evidence here,” Ben Domenech, an editor at large for The Spectator and a contributor to the Fox News Channel, wrote on Twitter. “Noah Shachtman ran interference for a guy sharing child rape videos on Dropbox, [and] Rolling Stone tried to make him a martyr for journalism.”