OLD Media Moves

Shafer: Gladwell's story about his Washington Post biz reporting is bunk

March 19, 2008

Jack Shafer of Slate.com writes Wednesday that well-known book author Malcolm Gladwell‘s recent tale about his early career as a business journalist at the Washington Post is part fabrication to embellish the story.

Malcolm GladwellShafer writes that Gladwell recently told a public forum about an earnings story where he got the financial results wrong.

Shafer wrote, “‘Unfortunately, I wrote that the firm lost $5 million in the previous quarter, and they, in fact, had made $5 million in the previous quarter,’ he says. This error caused the company’s stock to drop 10 points, Gladwell says, and prompted the company’s CEO to call Post Executive Editor Ben Bradlee and ‘chew him out.’ The paper placed Gladwell on probation, too, he says.

“A reportorial screw-up that moved a stock 10 points surely would have made news, yet I can find no record of the incident in the Washington Post, Nexis, or elsewhere. I can’t even find a trace of ‘Maryland Biosciences.’ Ben Bradlee could not recall the incident Gladwell describes when interviewed, nor could Frank Swoboda, who ran the Post business section at the time. Swoboda says he would remember if Gladwell had been put on probation, which he doesn’t.

“Like some of the tall tales in Gladwell’s talk, this anecdote contains a sliver of truth. Gladwell mistakenly reported in an Aug. 25, 1987, Post story—not his first—that ERC International lost $3.8 million the previous year when it had actually made $337,000. A correction followed in the next day’s paper. (ERCI was a Fairfax, Va., firm that did defense and energy work.)”

Read more here.

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