Jay Forman, author of an article about fishing for monkeys off Florida’s Lois Key that was published on Slate.com in June 2001, has changed his story for a third time, saying he made it all up.
According to The New York Times, journalism graduate students at Columbia University contacted Forman in early February 2007, asking about the story and his admission that parts of it were fabricated. This prompted Forman to contact his former editor at Slate, admit the entire story was fabricated, and apologize.
Jack Shafer was then-deputy editor for Slate online magazine and is now the editor at large and media critic. On February 6, Shafer said in his Slate “Press Box” column that Forman had called and later sent him a note to confess that the story was “a complete lie.”
“In a note to me, Forman apologized for betraying Slate’s trust and for taking so long to come clean,” said Shafer. “I, in turn, apologize to Slate readers for publishing the story.”
The original story, which appeared on June 8, 2001, in Slate’s “Vice” section, recounted a 1996 boating excursion Forman took with a journalist friend to Lois Key, where, until 1999, rhesus monkeys were kept by a pharmaceutical company to be sold for medical research.
The story explained that a fisherman had taken the two reporters to the island to demonstrate the local practice of “monkeyfishing:” baiting hooked fishing lines with fruit, casting them into trees from the boat and pulling the monkeys down into the water before releasing them.
Skeptical Slate readers responded with postings to message boards, as well as other Web sites like TransparencyNow.com and Inside.com. On The Wall Street Journal’s OpinionJournal Web site, Editor James Taranto called the story “preposterous” and chided Slate’s editors for falling victim to “an obvious hoax.”
An article published on June 25, 2001 in The New York Times challenged key details of the story, and said that the hooking of monkeys and pulling them from trees never took place. Times reporter Alex Kuczynski quoted Fraser’s friend from the trip, Marc Caputo, a reporter for the Palm Beach Post, who said that although lines were baited and cast, no monkeys were actually hooked.
Kuczynski also spoke with the local fisherman who, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he remembered taking the reporters on the trip but described the trip to Lois Key as “a crazy one-time drunken thing,” not the local tradition Forman had described.
Slate editor Michael Kinsley wrote the same day as The Times article was published that, while the fishing trip had taken place, Kuczynski’s article “establishes beyond all reasonable challenge” that key details of the story were false.
That was where the scandal had been left until Forman broke his long silence in February, telling Shafer and the Columbia University graduate students that there had been no boating trip at all.
Asked about any lessons he learned from the episode, Shafer told The Times, “any publication can be duped by a writer who is prepared to lie in a suicidal fashion and commit career suicide.”
The original Forman story and the related editorial notes, discussion and links can be found at http://www.slate.com/ by conducting a search for the term “monkeyfishing.”
– Patrick File, Silha Research Assistant