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Freelance reporter denies Guardian accusation of fabrication

Freelance reporter Joseph Mayton. (Source: LinkedIn)
Freelance reporter Joseph Mayton. (Source: LinkedIn)

A California-based freelance reporter has denied accusations by the Guardian that he invented sources and fabricated quotes in more than a dozen articles that was published by the news organization.

In a statement posted through Twitter, Joseph Mayton said assertions by the Guardian that he sensationalized his news pieces by making up sources and quotes was wrong.

On Thursday, the Guardian’s U.S.-based editor Lee Glendinning issued a lengthy public apology after the news organization determined Mayton had invented quotes and sources for a number of news articles that had been previously available online.

Glendinning said the Guardian first became suspicious of Mayton after the subjects of a February news feature told editors at the paper that they had not spoken to the reporter for his piece. The organization hired an independent auditor to examine more than 30 other stories and opinion pieces contributed by Mayton since 2009, including news stories he had contributed on a freelance basis from California after 2015.

After conducting approximately four dozen interviews, the auditors found that Mayton had not spoken with some of the sources he claimed to have contacted and had misquoted others in his pieces. The auditors also found Mayton covered at least two public events without attending them, according to interviews with the event organizers.

The Guardian says Mayton met with editors twice after the allegations surfaced and was given “more than a month” to explain himself and present evidence in his defense. The newspaper said he was “unable or unwilling to provide information on most sources.”

But Mayton disputes this, saying in his own statement that he provided e-mail and phone records proving that he spoke with the sources in question.

“I have given evidence, including the phone record requested by Guardian editors and emails, from sources who claimed I did not speak to them,” Mayton said, adding that the sources who claimed he did not speak to them either had a foggy memory “or refused to be truthful.” For these sources, Mayton said he regrets not recording the interviews.

Glendinning said Guardian editors took Mayton’s evidence into consideration during the course of their audit. And while their final conclusion found some of Mayton’s stories were solid, other stories were not.

Those stories were later edited to remove quotes or information that was determined that were either unfounded or invented. The Guardian said it deleted 12 articles from its website that were deemed too problematic to preserve.

Editors did not reveal publicly which stories were altered or removed, but a search of cached webpages for the Guardian’s website revealed the news organization deleted quotes mostly gathered as man-on-the-street comments or eyewitness statements made by anonymous or one-name sources.

(Click here for a comprehensive breakdown of the stories allegedly fabricated by Mayton)

Among the pieces modified was a story on the beating of a 28-year-old police chase suspect in Alameda County, California last November. In that piece, Mayton quoted a hairstylist named Atzery who drew comparisons between the beating and the fatal shooting of a Latino man by San Francisco police officers earlier in the year.

The Guardian also removed a series of eyewitness quotes attributed to Chuck Navin, whom Mayton identified as a resident of Middletown. Mayton’s story opens with Navin’s harrowing eyewitness account of watching a fast-moving wildfire that enveloped and destroyed half of the city last September. The Guardian removed five paragraphs containing quotes attributed to Navin.

A public records search by The Desk revealed two men named Charles Navin once lived in Middletown. One is in his mid-80s and has relocated to New Jersey; the other passed away in 1996.

Among the stories deleted by the Guardian was a piece in which San Francisco immigrants are quoted in response to comments made by Donald Trump over the fatal shooting of a woman by an undocumented alien. In his statement, Mayton said he misplaced or threw away some of his notes that included contact information for interview subjects at protests and other public events. He also strongly disputed assertions by the Guardian that he did not attend two public events.

“I know of one specific event that I attended and to tell me I wasn’t there is not only wrong, but insulting,” Mayton said. He did not name the event in question.

Another now-removed piece detailed a public event at the Menlo Park headquarters of Facebook in which chief executive Mark Zuckerberg held a conference with Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India. In Mayton’s piece, he contrasted Modi’s warm welcome in California to how Facebook’s open internet services had been received by the Indian population.

The deletion of the piece suggests the Facebook event was one of the two the Guardian claims Mayton did not attend in person. Mayton responded by saying he recalled attending “one specific event” and that to allege otherwise was “not only wrong but insulting.” He didn’t specify if the Facebook conference was the event he remembered attending, nor did he or the Guardian say which other event was in question.

The subject matter of the February article that prompted the Guardian’s investigation also remains unknown. A search of cached articles and websites reveal Mayton’s last published piece with the news organization focused on a sizable lottery jackpot. That article was published in January and remains on the Guardian’s website. A search of Mayton’s social media profiles also turned up empty for any Guardian articles linked to in the month of February that contained or may have contained his byline.

In addition to writing for the Guardian, Mayton contributed news stories and think pieces to the Daily Beast and the Palo Alto Post, according to the news watchdog iMediaEthics. Sydney Smith, the reporter who first revealed the Guardian’s audit of Mayton’s stories, said the Post has launched their own investigation of Mayton’s work.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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