Rolling Stone Magazine Faces New Journalism Scandal After Misleading Readers in a Big Way

In this screen shot provided by Rolling Stone magazine, the RollingStone.com website is shown.(AP Photo/Rolling Stone)

Back in October, an ABC News reporter’s home was raided by the FBI. That producer, James Gordon Meek, then promptly disappeared from the public eye, leading to a lot of speculation.

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Like other outlets, we covered the Meek home raid in October, with our own Jennifer Oliver O’Connell noting how chilling it is for a reporter to be “disappeared” by the feds so suddenly.

On April 27, 2022, the FBI raided Meek’s home and leaked the information that Meek had classified information on his laptop, which precipitated the need to conduct the raid. Purportedly, the warrant and the reasons behind the raid should be under seal; but such is the nature of this FBI.

The initial reporting on this story came from Rolling Stone, which had promoted its story on Twitter with the caption “Exclusive: Emmy-winning ABC News producer James Gordon Meek had his home raided by the FBI. His colleagues say they haven’t seen him since.”

The story itself stated that “Meek appears to be on the wrong side of the national-security apparatus.”

However, new information has come to light in the months since the initial story was released, calling Rolling Stone’s reporting into question. The problem isn’t the original author of the story, Tatiana Siegel. In her original drafts of the story, she included information she had gleaned from her sources: Meek was part of a federal investigation into images of child sex abuse.

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Curiously, it was an editor at Rolling Stone, Noah Shachtman, who pulled that information from the story. Via NPR:

As a longtime national security reporter himself, Shachtman has periodically expressed to colleagues at various outlets his skepticism of the veracity of government sources. When Siegel detailed the seriousness of the allegations against Meek, Shachtman warned her against turning in a story that included the words “child pornography” in it.

[…]

The accounts given by the associates, colleagues and friends of the two key figures — Siegel and Shachtman — diverge here. According to what Siegel told others, Shachtman and she agreed that the article would reflect that the FBI’s interest stemmed from concerns of possible criminal behavior outside the scope of Meek’s work — that is, it had nothing to do with national security or journalism.

Shachtman later told others that he did not believe that she had nailed down her sourcing adequately. Rolling Stone parent company Penske Media notes that authority to make such choices for Rolling Stone‘s coverage lies with Shachtman. “That was true in this case, as reflected in the final edits to the story,” the company said in a statement to NPR. “Some material was added late in the process, other material was dropped.”

Siegel did not have as much of a say in the final product (the piece that was eventually published) as she was led to believe. She had taken leave to be with her ailing mother, though she and Shachtman stayed in touch and worked through the editing process together.

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However, it appears that in the final draft, all references to investigations not related to Meek’s work as a national security reporter were pulled from the article. As a result, those of us who heard or read the story of James Gordon Meek only knew the details Rolling Stone provided.

In later reporting, the Daily Beast (an outlet Shachtman was an editor for prior to joining Rolling Stone) followed up on the story about Meek – and undercut Rolling Stone’s reporting in the process.

Rolling Stone’s big scoop last week, headlined “FBI Raids Star ABC News Producer’s Home,” read like a Tom Clancy thriller and raised serious concerns that the feds raided a journalist over his work.

However, there’s more to the story than meets the eye, ABC reporters, producers, and executives told Confider.

[…]

Inside ABC News, however, staffers were baffled by this framing, since Meek resigned from the network via email on April 27—the same day as the raid—citing “personal reasons” and told friends it was to “save colleagues and the company any embarrassment,” according to two people familiar with the situation.

Although the FBI declined to comment on the probe, the DOJ was more forthcoming, suggesting in a statement to Confider that the raid was not actually about Meek’s reporting work, despite what the Rolling Stone article seemed to indicate.

But had Siegel’s original reporting remained in the story, the Daily Beast’s reporting would not have been a brutal takedown but rather an affirmation of Seigel’s reporting.

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Shachtman was not willing to run that information, however, and it seems that his professional relationship – bordering perhaps on friendship – with Meek may have been part of the reasoning there. More from the NPR piece:

Prior to Meek’s arrest, Shachtman considered Meek a peer with whom he was friendly, according to associates.

Shachtman has told colleagues that the two men travel in the same professional circles.

Shachtman boasts his own distinguished record as a national security journalist. Earlier in his career, he founded and led the national security blog Danger Room for Wired magazine. In 2010, the writer Spencer Ackerman referred in a post on the blog to “our friend James Gordon Meek.” Shachtman later worked for Foreign Policy magazine before becoming the No. 2 editor and then editor-in-chief at the Daily Beast.

Rolling Stone’s Troubled History

This is not the first time Rolling Stone has abused and discarded facts about a major story in order to (possibly) push an agenda. The magazine landed in serious hot water several years ago after publishing a “bombshell” report about a gang rape on the University of Virginia campus. That “bombshell,” though, turned out to be entirely fabricated.

That story led to a major defamation case against the magazine. They were found guilty, and the resulting damages ultimately resulted in the sale of the magazine.

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Of course, the magazine has a well-known leftward bent, more recently calling Democrat Joe Manchin a destroyer of worlds and attacking ivermectin during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case of Siegel’s report on Meek, however, isn’t so much a story of lefty reporting. It’s a story of the inherent corruption of the media in general. People naturally want to protect their friends and colleagues, but in some professions – like the supposedly objective profession of “journalism” – you must stick to the facts. Shachtman could not ignore the facts and instead chose to find reasons to dismiss them. Ultimately, that undercut the reporting his outlet was supposed to be doing.

Siegel has since left the magazine, heading over to the sister publication Variety. Good for her.

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