The Associated Press has dismissed a reporter after the news agency could not confirm the existence of people quoted by name in a number of his articles.
AP reviewed stories by Washington reporter Christopher Newton after receiving inquiries about two experts he quoted in a Sept. 8 piece about crime statistics. Editors then found a number of additional stories quoting people whose existence could not be verified. Most of these quotes were attributed to individuals with academic credentials or working in policy research.
"Chris Newton maintains these experts are real and accurately quoted, but our editors have been unable to verify that they even exist," said AP spokeswoman Kelly Smith Tunney. "The integrity of the news report is our highest priority, and we asked him to provide proof of authenticity, but he could not or would not do so."
Newton was dismissed Monday. Reached later by telephone, he declined to comment for this article.
Tunney said about 15 questionable quotations have been found among hundreds of articles written by Newton and that AP's review is continuing.
The story review began after AP received inquiries about two people quoted in a story about declining crime rates -- a Ralph Myers of Stanford University and a Bruce Fenmore of the Institute for Crime and Punishment in Chicago. Newton received queries from three crime experts and a reporter for the New York Times, who brought the matter to the attention of Newton's editor.
In AP's subsequent investigation, Newton could not provide his editors with proof that either man had been interviewed.
Newton's editors, working independently, were unable to verify the existence of either man or the Chicago institute. Last Thursday, AP asked news organizations that used the crime story to publish a corrective story saying the AP could not confirm the accuracy of the quotes or the identities of the experts.
Newton started with AP in Houston as a temporary newsman from May through July 1994 and was an intern in Dallas from May to August 1995. He joined the staff in Dallas in 1996 after graduating from Texas Christian University. Since June, Newton has been based at the Justice Department, covering federal law enforcement issues and activities.
Newton maintained the interviews that were questioned in the crime story were valid, but he was unable to provide any corroboration after they were challenged. Newton apologized to his editors, but insisted he had never fabricated news content in any way.
He gave them access to a voice mail message that seemed to suggest he was the victim of a hoax in connection with the crime story. However, neither he nor AP could verify the identity of the caller or the origination of the message.