Ruth Shalit Barrett Sues Over Retraction of “Mad, Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League-Obsessed Parents”

The Atlantic Nov. 2020 Retraction:

Editor’s note: New information surfaced after The Atlantic published the article. It raised serious questions about its accuracy and the authenticity of Ruth Shalit Barrett, the author.

This article has been retracted. This article is not authentic and we are unable to attest its credibility or trustworthiness.

Retraction is different from removal. The article should not be removed from the Internet. We feel that it would violate our transparency standards and therefore we think it important to keep the access for historical purposes. The online version will be removed. However, we plan to provide a PDF copy of the article in the November 2020 issue.

This is why we share with you what we’ve learned, so that you understand the reasoning behind our decisions. The Atlantic and its readers were deceived by Barrett over a portion of their story about “Sloane”.

Original version stated Sloane’s son. Sloane confirmed the fact that Sloane had a son to The Atlantic’s fact checkers before it was published. Our fact-checking unit reached out Sloane after publication to confirm certain details. Sloane, through her lawyer, informed us she doesn’t have a son. Independently, Sloane confirmed that she does not have any sons.

Sloane explained to The Atlantic why Sloane told our fact-checker that she was having a boy. Sloane’s lawyer said she did this because she didn’t want to be easily identifiable. Sloane’s attorney stated that Barrett was the one who suggested inventing a child, and encouraged Sloane not to tell The Atlantic to keep her anonymous.

Barrett initially denied these claims when we asked her about them. She said Sloane had informed Barrett she was pregnant and she believed Sloane. The following day, we again questioned Barrett about the allegations. She admitted she was complicit in “compounding deception” and said it would be unfair to Sloane to put all of the blame on her. Barrett denied that her son’s invention was her idea. She also denies giving Sloane advice to deceive The Atlantic fact-checkers. However, she told us that on some level, “I did know it was BS” so “I take responsibility.”

Sloane’s lawyer claimed there were many other mistakes about Sloane, but refused to give examples to The Atlantic. Barrett claims that her fabrication of the son was the sole detail she deceived fact-checkers, editors and others.

Many details about Sloane’s story were confirmed by us during our initial fact-checking. The only source for some of Sloane’s details was her husband, Sloane, or both.

Our fact-checking team discovered several other errors in the article after it was published.

To be more specific about the severity of a neck injury Sloane’s middle child sustained, we identified the need for clarification. Also, we identified the need for a correction to the description of the thigh injury. Originally described as deep gash, it was actually a skin tear that had bled through the uniform. Also, we corrected the incorrect location of the lacrosse family that was mentioned in the article. The family lives in Fairfield County, not Greenwich Connecticut. These errors were corrected in an online version on October 30, before the retraction.

We corrected another mistake in the story on 22 October.

We also changed Barrett’s byline. We originally referred to Barrett as Ruth S. Barrett. Barrett’s full name was Ruth Shalit Barrett when she wrote for another magazine. Barrett was her married name. Ruth Shalit was her married name. In 1999 she quit The New Republic as an associate editor after she discovered that she had been plagiarising and was reporting inaccurately. We typically defer to authors on how their byline appears—some authors use middle initials, for example, or shorter versions of their given name. Although Barrett requested that we refer to her as Ruth S. Barrett, it was not appropriate. We should have given her the byline she used in the 1990s when there were plagiarism cases. The byline for this article has been changed to Ruth Shalit Barrett.

Because Barrett’s journalistic mistakes at The New Republic lasted more than 20 years, and her recent work in respected magazines, we decided to give Barrett the freelance story. Barrett was a worthy candidate for feature stories like this. We considered the possibility. This assignment was not the right decision. This assignment reflects our poor judgement and we regret it.

Barrett’s is now suing. Below’s an extract from the recently-filed Complaint Barrett v. Atlantic Monthly Group, LLCSo you decide what you think about the argument, assuming that the facts actually are true.

Ms. Barrett wrote an investigative article in 2020. Atlantic“The Mad Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League Obsessed Parent” (hereinafter the “Article”) This Article described the efforts of the wealthy residents of Connecticut’s Gold Coast to make their children more competitive in college admissions at top universities and colleges. It was praised by collegiate athletes, journalists and established journalists. New York Times columnist Ginia Bellafante called it “an excellent article” that “outlines the shifting fortunes of wealthy and maniacal parents who immerse their children in boutique sports—squash, fencing—purely as a means of lubricating the path to the Ivy League.”

The Washington Post Since Barrett wrote the highly critical cover story, an outlet has been hostile towards Barrett. The New RepublicThe notable exception was Erik Wemple has assembled a collection of articles, tweets, and video links. Post’Chief media critic of the organization, he targeted Barrett using a continuous campaign to mudsling and denigrate her. She was a new reporter in college when he exposed her early mistakes and said that those missteps would have prevented her from being qualified for writing assignments. Atlantic Twenty-seven more years later.

He claimed that the article she wrote was filled with “distortions” and “nonsense”, and pointed out how it portrays rich parents of sports in an unfair way, making them seem more crazy and tyrannical or status-conscious than their actual circumstances. He also attacked Mr. Wemple Atlantic Ruth S. Barrett was responsible for publishing Ms. Barrett’s story under her married name. Ruth S. Barrett argued that her byline should have contained her maiden title, since it was her name she used to be accused of journalistic malpractice in her 20s.

The government is under constant pressure Post And Mr. Wemple Atlantic It was decided to retract the article of Ms. Barrett. To justify this punishment—an extremely rare occurrence in journalism, generally reserved for instances of grievous error or fraud—Atlantic published an Editor’s Note … claiming that “new information” had come to light that revealed Ms. Barrett, a contributor under contract, was actually a disreputable journalist whose facts could not be trusted. Specifically, Atlantic It claimed it was not due to any significant deficiencies, but rather because the “cannot attest the trustworthiness or credibility of the author” and so it needed to retract Barrett’s highly reported article.

To support its character, it assassinated Ms. Barrett. This was its foundation for false contention. Atlantic Could not “vouch the accuracy of this article”, Defendants claimed Ms. Barrett (1) had been forced to quit her job The New Republic Following the 1999 “discovery” of “plagiarism, inaccurate reporting”, (2) disseminated her personal history to readers. By insisting upon a misleading title she had never used before (“in the past”) (3) she induced a trusted source to lie. AtlanticAccording to (4), fact-checkers and (3) made several other mistakes in depicting that source confidential. Each one of these claims can be proven to be false.

The Editor’s Note claims that Ms. Barrett is guilty of the most serious journalistic crime of fabrication. However, this falsehood does not hold true. Atlantic Everything ever found in the Article, even after it was completed a Post-hoc Investigating) was the addition a small masking detail to conceal the identity and source of the confidential source. It is identified as Sloane in the Article. Sloane and her spouse were worried that Ms. Barrett would add a reference to “and fourth child” at their request. AtlanticMs. Barrett’s description of her as a Fairfield County mother with an advanced degree in public-health, a trampoline at her home, and her three children who squash and fence on the national level, was vivid enough to identify her. Documents and screenshots in Ms. Barrett’s possession conclusively establish that this two-word reference was included in the piece at the express request of Sloane and her husband—not at the urging of Ms. Barrett, as Atlantic False claims

This trivially erroneous detail had no material bearing on the substance of the Article, and such masking is not unusual when necessary to protect individuals—especially minor children—from being identifiable in an article. Actually, AtlanticThe Article’s editors used the same technique of masking when editing it. They proposed to change a quote from a coach in lacrosse so that it referred to “multiple” students instead of a single one. [Details omitted. -EV] …

Also, Washington will be closing its doors on the 30th of January 2021. Post Publication of a story where anonymous “sources” were included Atlantic Ms. Barrett was further questioned by the newspaper, who claimed to have the key reason for the publication’s decision to retract Barrett’s truthful, well-documented article. Atlantic The Article was rescinded after it became clear that Ms. Barrett “complicit” with the disguising of the identity the story’s main character. These anonymous Atlantic editors, along with their colleague Mr. Peck, appear to have forgotten that the story’s central character—otherwise known as the story’s central source—cooperated with Atlantic On the condition her identity would be kept secret, much like the editors who insisted that they not be named as they mislead Ms. Barrett in The Pages of The Washington Post….

The end came out exactly as Sloane and Ms. Barrett had expected. AtlanticSloane’s overly specificity regarding Sloane and her relatives made them more vulnerable to being exposed and identified. After locating the California Summer Gold Tournament roster, Mr. Wemple focused on Sloane and identified her as the only participant who withdrew.

Then Mr. Wemple discovered that Sloane doesn’t have a son. This information was passed on to Wemple. AtlanticWemple, asking for confirmation from the public. “Wemple continues to dispute the story,” said the Senior Associate Editor and fact-checker for the Article. Atlantic, Michelle Ciarrocca, texted Ms. Barrett on October 26, 2020. “[A]Sloane could be asked to answer some of these questions, but Sloane wouldn’t know what they were. “He claims she does not have a son.”

Instead of thanking Mr. Wemple, I explained that I was grateful for the opportunity to share this piece with him. Atlantic does not discuss its confidential sources—which is standard journalistic practice in this circumstance—Atlantic Ms. Barrett appeared to panic and go into panic mode. The magazine’s editors confronted Barrett, asking if Mr. Wemple had been correct about his assumption regarding Sloane and the composition of Sloane’s family. Ms. Barrett asked editors if the information was meant for magazine internal use, or whether they planned to give it to Mr. Wemple. Ms. Barrett was informed by the editors that they would disclose Sloane’s personal information to Mr. Wemple if they found out that Sloane didn’t have a son. The Washington PostNot only to them, but to the public as a separate correction.

Ms. Barrett reacted negatively to the plan. As the fact-checker suspected, she believed public disclosure of such information would be inappropriate. However, the editors disagreed with her and stated that accuracy was now priority. Ms. Barrett was basically told to honor her duty to her supervisors Atlantic She went beyond her contractual and ethical obligations towards her source. Ms. Barrett did not cooperate. Sloane, who had become darkened and stopped responding at that time, did not cooperate. AtlanticMs. Barrett received numerous inquiries from and requests for more information on her family. Ms. Barrett felt it wasn’t her right to reveal any personal information about her source, unless that was in accordance with her source’s wishes. That would be published. The Washington Post And Atlantic.

However Atlantic The story was later confirmed. Post That it was Ms. Barrett’s complicit[y]In hiding the identity of her source, which caused the Magazine to retract the Article Atlantic In the beginning, Mr. Peck made bolder statements and falsely indicated that the Article in its entirety was fraudulent and unreliable. To the editorial staff, Mr. Peck sent out an email on October 30, 2020. AtlanticThis was to ask for the patience of his editors, and he began an investigation in order “understand fully” the nature of errors and deceptions within the article. The false, defamatory memo of Mr. Peck was published to the PostErik Wemple from’s tweeted the entire thing in its entirety on the following day. Atlantic The Editor’s Note was then published. It reiterated the main claim of Peck Memorandum. “We can’t attest the credibility and trustworthiness of the author and so we cannot attest the authenticity of this article.”

To be exact Atlantic I was well placed to confirm the truthfulness of Ms. Barrett’s entire article. The magazine’s Director for Research conducted an extensive investigation in hopes of uncovering numerous “deceptions or errors” in Barrett’s article. However, only one minor factual error was found: an anonymous source of lacrosse-moms that Ms. Barrett claimed to be from Greenwich turned out to actually come from a nearby town. This point is important. Atlantic Erik Wemple pointed out a minor error in Ms. Barrett’s description of backyard hockey rinks in Darien, Connecticut. They could have been described more accurately as NHL-size or commercially-sized. Notably, AtlanticThe magazine’s senior associate editor and fact-checker also made this error. “Olympic-sized rinks can be even larger than NHL,” he said. This should have been flagged.[.]Ms. Barrett was assured by the fact-checker, that even small unintentional errors can not affect an article’s veracity. She emailed Barrett October 22nd 2020, “Every piece contains mistakes.” It’s all about who notices!

The only mistakes are not the boy, but the mom of lacrosse and the exact size of the hockey rink. Atlantic Ms. Barrett has corrected the Article. Both are errors Ms. Barrett has not yet discovered in the Article. Both are so trivial and insignificant as to hardly warrant correction—let alone the full retraction of a serious and meaningful piece of journalism…..

There have been no previous lapses Atlantic writers—some of which involved minor errors and some of which involved serious factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations—merited public repudiation of the writer or retraction of their work. [Details omitted. -EV] …

It contains an Editor’s note. Atlantic Libelously claimed that Ms. Barrett had left The New Republic She was just 29 when she discovered that her work had been plagiarising and misreported in 1999. Actually, Barrett’s journalistic errors at The New Republic They did not take place in 1999. The infractions took place over twelve months, from 1994 to 1995. Two separate instances of plagiarism resulted in six sentences being left unattributed. First, Ms. Barrett was only 23 years old when the incident took place in July 1994. The second happened in July 1995. Ms. Barrett, then 24, was involved. Contra to AtlanticFalse claims. No plagiarism, inaccurate reporting or other errors were “discovered” by her in 1999. She was also not found guilty of professional misconducts after 1994-1995.

This misleading and false timeline was created by Atlantic According to articles that the magazine published on its pages about brain development in emerging adult (18-25 year-olds), it is crucial. According to these principles, it is important that alleged violations committed by 23-year-olds or 24-year olds be treated with compassion and humanity more than they would have if they had done the same thing five years ago or six years ago. AtlanticThe defendants’ punitive sanction of Barrett for her behavior as an emerging adult is contrary to their professed moral standards, and editorial advocacy for forgiveness of errors committed by people 25 years and younger. Maybe this is the reason. Atlantic It chose to insinuate that the professional transgressions took place in 1999, when Barrett would have turned almost 30. The New Republic The intern pit.

A reader of the Editor’s Note would conclude, based on repeated references to “plagiarism” and other misdeeds in Ms. Barrett’s history, that Ms. Barrett was guilty of grave, legally-actionable plagiarism during her time as a writer. The New Republic. It is the simple fact of it all that makes this possible. Atlantic It is evident that this misconduct was particularly egregious that Barrett felt it necessary to exchume the conduct and make public an aggressive statement about it. Ms. Barrett used unattributed material improperly in her political profile-writing during the 1990s. While admittedly careless and negligent, this was gray-zone plagiarism. [Details omitted. -EV] …

Atlantic One could imagine instituting a zero tolerance policy on plagiarism, and requiring that anyone who has committed the crime should be fired from journalism. However, this is not true. Atlantic has knowingly and enthusiastically published the work of … other writers who have acknowledged a far more egregious past history of plagiarism….

AtlanticA Editor’s Note further defames Barrett, claiming that she had left The New Republic in 1999 after “… inaccurate reporting w[as]”Her work is a source of inspiration.” False. She did not “discover” any error or inaccuracy in the 1999 work. A comprehensive review was also done of The New Republic corrections archive shows that no errors were found in any of Ms. Barrett’s articles in 1998, 1997, or 1996….

Peck Memorandum as well Editor’s Notes smear Barrett by claiming that Ms. Barrett requested a different name when she was preparing Article. This falsehood is meant to trick readers into believing her personal and professional history. Contemporaneous correspondence suggests that Barrett didn’t choose her own Article byline; instead, Ruth Barrett was selected for her. [Details omitted. -EV] …

Defendants neither verified their accusations independently nor gave Ms. Barrett an opportunity to respond ahead of publishing these statements—a violation of a common journalistic practice that Atlantic Its fact-checkers regularly engage with the subjects covered in its publications. [Details omitted. -EV]

She wasn’t content to destroy her career and journalistic reputation through defamatory and false publications. Atlantic She also violated her contract. These breaches all flow from the same course of conduct—Atlantic It will abandon its writer and all obligations to her when it is confronted with criticism from a vindictive, powerful media critic who has a big voice and an aggressive streak. The Contract, for example, is required. Atlantic Hire an agent, and make such intellectual property rights accessible to interested parties. Also to commercialize such rights. These contractual obligations should be ignored. Atlantic Attempts to make derivative dramatic works were hampered.

Ms. Barrett was contacted by an executive from a Hollywood production house in November 2020. He had seen her work. Atlantic I was looking to develop it for TV and wrote a piece about niche-sports bedlam. Ms. Barrett retained an entertainer lawyer to help her. Atlantic Request a chat about “dramatic” or similar rights Atlantic He lied to this lawyer, going off-the-wall. Atlantic Intentioned to “vigorously resist” Ms. Barrett’s attempts to dramatize Barrett’s work. Such an attempt would only “breath back life into the retracted Article.” This project was thwarted, as were all attempts at creating derivative works.

Atlantic She also violated her contractual duty to fair dealing and good faith. A reputable publisher company contracts an author to do important research. The company must ensure that it does not attempt to hide the Article or deprive any individuals or entities of intellectual rights. It is at its heart. AtlanticBad faith was evident in’s behavior. When she was placed in the crosshairs by a powerful enemy, instead of supporting its writer and standing up for her, Atlantic immediately liquidated all its values and sided with the bully….